Tag Archives: Asian American

Quilting: PreVedic Folk Art Woven from Saris

I stood outside the Deaf Initiative’s Keepsake Theme Quilts Center in Columbus on a mildly cold September morning. I was in the city attending the India Youth Advocacy & Disability Program under Columbus International Program (CIP). The name Keepsake Theme Quilts Center (KTQ) caught my attention because India also has a living tradition of quilt-making craft dating back 4,000 years. 

Meredith Crane, the super energetic Director of KTQ took us around and introduced us to the staff who were hearing impaired. Their Office Assistant Shonna took us through a brief presentation in sign language which was interpreted for us by volunteer interpreter Jessica.   

The Quiling Team at Keepsake Theme Quilts Center

This unique, personalized quilt-making center specializes in customized T-shirt quilts. We saw one such quilt in the making where T-shirts of various members of a family were cut into equal-sized pieces, then bound and stitched into a beautiful Memory Quilt. On another table, themed T-shirt logos were tacked and pinned to soft flannel fabric in preparation for a birthday present for a customer’s granddaughter. We assisted with the creative process – it was the most enjoyable activity of our program. 

T-Shirt Quilts

Keepsake Theme Quilts reminded me of the quilt-making culture in our country – one of the oldest forms of embroidery whose origins can be traced back to the ancient pre-Vedic ages. In India, different states produce different varieties of quilt –Koudis in Karnataka, Kanthas in Bengal and Odissa, Sujnis in Bihar, Ledras in Jharkhand, Gudris in Rajasthan, and the Goa quilts, to name a few. Unlike quilts from other parts of the world, Indian quilts are always created from old, discarded clothes. In Sanskrit, the word ‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ , reflecting the fact that kantha embroidery is made up of discarded garments or clothes. Old saris, dhotis, and lungis are sewn into layers, first by simple running stitches along the edge and then all across the body. Heavier and warmer quilts use three to four layers of saris sewn together and encased in colorful sari borders. Traditionally, the thread used for stitching comes from the heavily threaded borders of the sari itself. 

Quiltmaking is one of the earliest forms of recycling. 

For centuries, embroidered quilts (kantha)were made in rural Bengal by Hindus and Muslims alike and initially only used by mendicants and fakirs. Much later they became an integral part of the art of Indian textiles.

Indian quilt stitching patterns are a simple but colorful patchwork of printed cloth or intricate designs and motifs.  Early kantha embroidery included motifs derived from ancient art, reflecting nature – the sun, the tree of life, and the universe. Symbols also included flowers, animals, birds, fish, themes of everyday life and geometrical shapes.

The Kanthas (according to expert sources) reflect India’s artistic textile heritage, and served primarily as light wraps, and in Bengal, small kanthas were traditionally used as swaddling cloths for babies. Bengal kanthas range from Lep kanthas (winter quilts) and Sujni kanthas (spreads and coverlets) to the Asan (a spread for sitting), the Bastani or Gatri (a wrapper for clothes and other valuables), the Arshilata (cover for mirrors), the Dastarkhan (a spread for placing food and plates during dinner), the Gilaf (an envelope-shaped kantha to cover the Quran) and the Jainamaz (prayer rug). 

In Karnataka, some interesting customs accompany the completion of a quilt. A quilt is considered a living entity that should not be left hungry, so quilters feed the ‘mouth’ of the quilt a little cooked rice or roti before it’s sealed. Another custom says a pregnant woman should not complete it otherwise her womb will close as well. 

Today, it’s increasingly difficult to maintain this beautiful folk art, even though quilts have grown in popularity and commercial value.  There is a dearth of used materials like saris and dhotis as these soft, flowing clothes have been replaced today by western outfits which can’t be reused to make kanthas. The newer fabrics have a different look, feel, and character. Furthermore, today’s fast-paced life makes it impossible to dedicate the time required for quilt embroidery. Rural housewives in West Bengal played a significant part in the evolution of kantha embroidery. It was customary for them to use the typical running stitch and embroidery techniques to create quilts for their families, as well as embroider personal fabrics and garments such as sarees, dhotis and handkerchiefs with the simple, traditional kantha stitch. 

For centuries, the techniques of this hereditary craft were passed down from mother to daughter. With the advance of technology, the long days of quilt making by the women of the house during leisure hours or lazy monsoon months are gone. Now organized industries and NGOs hire women to make kanthas and earn their living. It is no longer based on personal involvement or individual artistry but a mechanized job of stitching given designs. In modern lifestyles old fashioned quilts have lost their use. Rugs have replaced sujnis, factory produced sheets adorn our beds instead of kantha spreads, readymade machine quilts replace handmade quilts, new shawls are preferred to old sari based kanthas and diapers have replaced the old-time swaddling cloth of babies. 

It is unfortunate that some quilting genres such as balaposh and the more intricate kanthas of Bengal are already vanishing. NGOs are stepping in to preserve this folk art form through revitalization movements, sometimes with State and Central government aid.

In my opinion, the changing lifestyle that caused the disappearance of quilt making has also led to depriving society of its benefits. The concentration and contemplation that goes into the harmonization of color, design and execution of each quilt is similar to that of a spiritual exercise and thus has a therapeutic effect on its maker. The warmth and joy of the quiltmakers get transferred through each seam into their creations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these products are warmer and cozier than other quilts!


Anjana Chattopadhyay is a freelance Translator, Journalist, and Social Worker. Anjana runs her own NGO – Metta Foundation. She has authored two books in Bengali and also is a Member of the Council of International Programs (CIPUSA), an international social workers’ organization. Anjana loves to travel, exploring new places, new people, and new cultures. She lives in Kolkata.

Indian Kitchen Secrets That Boost Your Health

It is not an understatement to say that along with words like quarantine and lockdown, immunity was also one of 2020’s buzz words.  Immunity simply means protection and in the context of the human body, refers to its capacity to fight infections by resisting the action of ‘foreign’ bodies or toxins, thereby protecting the body.  

Immunity is built over a period of time through lifestyle and dietary changes.  Nourishing your body with the right foods, exercising, keeping your mind stress free and getting enough sleep, are just some of the ways you can help keep your body healthy and strong.

Indian Kitchen: a treasure house for immunity boosting foods

There are several foods that help build immunity in the body and with seasonal changes around the corner, it is important to include them in your diet to keep protected against colds, coughs and minor infections of the throat.  

Citrus fruits, whole nuts, leafy greens and fermented foods like yogurt work wonders in nourishing the immune system. 

It’s no secret that the Indian kitchen is replete with foods that boost immunity.  The Indian pantry is full of indigenous ingredients used for centuries to keep the body nourished and healthy.  Traditional recipes, basically the ones grandma always recommended – “haldi doodh” (popularly called turmeric latte in the west), dry fruit ladoos made from ghee, or even the amala (gooseberry) candies you pop into your mouth to fight nausea, are some of the commonly known home remedies to boost internal health.  

While the benefits of pepper, ginger, garlic and turmeric are well known, other commonly used ingredients like cinnamon, cumin, honey, and jaggery also have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial properties that help keep the body healthy.    

Here’s a look at the benefits of these spices:

  • Cinnamon: a delectable spice we are all familiar with, cinnamon is highly effective against bacterial and fungal infections and is known to have positive effects on heart health as well as blood sugar levels.
  • Coriander seeds (dhania): are rich in vitamin A and C, effective in curing coughs and colds, and also aids digestion.
  • Cumin seeds (jeera): a commonly used spice, jeera has several anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and is known to aid in weight loss as well improve digestive health.
  • Carom (ajwain): is yet another elixir for gut health, flatulence and helps aid weight loss.
  • Fennel seeds (saunf): has several nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, potassium etc. and helps aid digestion.
  • Jaggery is rich in minerals like iron and zinc and is a good source of energy.  It is a blood purifier, cleanses the body and is excellent for liver and intestinal health.
  • Honey has healing properties and is a good source of antioxidants apart from having positive effects on cholesterol and blood pressure levels.  It is used to heal coughs, colds and sore throats and builds immunity.

Here are some home remedies that are effective in protecting your body against common ailments.

Home-made mixture for cough, cold and sore throat

  • Ginger powder: 1 tbsp or 2 tbsp freshly extracted ginger juice
  • Cinnamon powder: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric: 1 tsp
  • Pepper: 1 tsp
  • Honey: 2-3 tbsp
  • Mix the above powders thoroughly and then add honey.  Mix well.  Consume 2-3 times a day.

Home-made Kashayam (herbal tea) that helps build immunity

Dry roast the below ingredients and blend into a fine powder:

  • Coriander seeds: 2 tbsp
  • Jeera seeds: 1 tbsp
  • Fennel seeds: 2 tsp
  • Carom seeds: 2 tsp
  • Peppercorns: 1 tsp

You can increase the quantities and store the powder in an airtight jar.

Take 2 tsp of Kashayam, add it to a glass of hot milk.  Add 1-2 tsp of jaggery per your taste and consume hot. This Kashayam is a perfect panacea if you are down with body ache, sore throat or slight temperature.  

Herbal teas to prepare at home using greens that are a powerhouse of nutrients.

  • Lemon grass: replete with antioxidants, this fragrant shrub has eugenol which is a stress reliever.  It also helps regulate blood sugar levels and is rich in vitamin A, C and potassium.
  • Rosemary: again, an excellent herb known for its aromatic flavor, rosemary is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and known to improve blood circulation.  Excellent for the skin and hair, it is also a great stress reliever and helps improve one’s mood.
  • Brahmi: known as the herb of grace, brahmi is intrinsic to all Ayurvedic medicines and is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.  Apart from being good for the hair and skin, it is a memory booster, effective for reducing fever and is known for its positive effects on patients suffering from diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer’s.  

For preparing the tea, just brew 3-4 leaves of brahmi (or 1 small strand of Lemon grass or 1 sprig in case of rosemary) in water for about five minutes.  You can add a tsp of pepper, elaichi powder and some jaggery (or honey) for taste.  Mix well and drink when hot.  

Natural mixture for inhalation

Nothing compares to the relief rendered by a quick steam inhalation when you are down with a flu, stuffy nose or headache.  Consider using some ingredients mentioned above to prepare a healthy mix for inhalation.  Take a thick bottom vessel, add sufficient water and add in a tsp of turmeric powder along with one or more of any of the following ingredients:

  • 2-3 used lemon peels left over after extracting the juice
  • Peel of half an orange 
  • Peel of a small piece of ginger 
  • 3-4 strands of lemon grass
  • a sprig of rosemary

Boil the water thoroughly, cover your head with a towel  and inhale for at least 2 minutes. 


Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer from Bangalore, India. She mainly writes on lifestyle, culture, food, and decor. She has been published in Indian national newspapers and international publications like NatGeo Traveller.
Photo by Ratul Ghosh on Unsplash
Photo by Marion Botella on Unsplash

Shikara – The Untold Story of Kashmiri Pundits

A movie about Kashmir is a natural magnet for me, since my mother was born and brought up in Srinagar. I’ve grown up listening to her stories of this Shangri-La, where every garden bloomed with apple and cherry trees, and where nature was like a gorgeous and generous mother, her bounty of fruit and flowers overflowing on the bosom of a land crisscrossed by crystalline streams and clear blue lakes.

The exodus of my mother’s side of the family from Kashmir during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 wasn’t considered a permanent separation. Like most Kashmiri refugees at the time, they considered themselves Kashmiris first, and Punjabis, second. They were sure things would settle down, treaties would be signed, a peace accord reached, and they would be able to return to their homes, and their beloved Kashmir.

Shikara is a movie about the flight of Kashmiri Pandits to India in the early 1990’s. The same journey my mother’s family had undertaken in 1947 was repeating itself with a different population in 1990, but with a similar, sadly predictable ending – no one gets to go back once a land is dipped in the bloodletting hatred of communalism.

Sadia Khateeb and Aadil Khan in Shikara

The movie begins in the late 1980’s when unrest is beginning to heat up. The two newcomers who play the lead, Aadil Khan and Sadia Khateeb, are a delightful, romantic pair, and the movie diffuses the brutal, bloody violence of strife between Hindus and Muslims through the soft prism of their young, idealistic love.  Aadil Khan plays Shiv Kumar Dhar, who falls in love with Shanti (Khateeb) after accidentally being paired with her as an extra during a movie shoot in Srinagar. 

This thread of an eternal love story which survives the cruelties and trauma of communal violence by clinging fiercely to each other is one frame of the movie. The other frame is the thousands of letters, one every day, that Shiv writes to the President of America to plead for help when they become stateless refugees. 

In the first half we see the innocence and beauty of an era where Shiv’s best friend, Lateef Lone (Zain Khan Durrani) is the messenger who carries Shiv’s declaration of infatuation to Shanti. Their wedding is simple, involving immediate friends and family and Shiv insists on including Lateef and his father (whom he calls Abbajaan) in his family wedding photo. We see the young couple endearingly in love, finding the perfect place to build their own house, and Lateef’s father bringing stones for the foundation of their future home from his own land. Hindu or Muslim, they are Kashmiri’s first. 

Shiv is a dreamy poet who’s working on his PHD in Literature and plans to teach, while Shanti is content being a housewife and doting on him. Their little piece of paradise is shattered by the death of Lateef’s father, Abbajaan, in one of those ‘unfortunate incidents’ which are all too common in Kashmir – a trigger happy government force fires on a peaceful protest. This trauma turns Lateef into a terrorist, determined to exact revenge for his father’s death, and aligned with the cause of the Mujahedeen who want to make Kashmir an all Islamic state.

The movie tries to depict both sides of this thorny issue, but the weight of suffering is clearly on the Kashmiri Pandit end. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra tries to bring balance by depicting both the ‘good’ Muslim neighbors (who help the Dhars escape when violence escalates) and the ‘bad’ ones (their doodhwaala who openly eyes their house, informing Shanti that he plans to move in when they leave, and then enters and squats illegally once they’re gone). But we are clearly primed to sympathize with the minority Pandits and their burning homes. 

The movie has some very poignant, cinematic moments which capture the pain of forced displacement – the exodus in crowded, overladen buses and cars which jams the highway to Jammu; an old man at the Jammu refugee camp crying incessantly that he wants to go back to his home in Srinagar; and incident when a truck, laden with tomatoes to distribute to the refugees, makes the state of beggary they have been reduced to painfully clear to Shiv and Shanti.

However, Shiv and Shanti’s idyllic love story, which is the prism through which we view the movie, has the reverse effect of diluting its primary message – the loss of dignity and trauma, the displaced feel, and the government’s apathy to the plight of permanent refugees; their helplessness in the face of the political forces twisting an individual’s destiny. It romanticizes and simplifies the experience of becoming a refugee refuge by creating a dream like quality to the narrative, especially in the second half.

The narrative also leaves gaping holes in the story, which beg for answers: 

Why have these refugee camps become permanent? How and where did most of those who decide to leave the camp resettle? How culpable were the Indian forces in stoking anti-India hatred by their excesses. What about Pakistan’s involvement in creating terrorism? Chopra doesn’t address any of these issues throbbing in the foreground of Shiv and Shanti’s invincible love story.

Shikara is an enjoyable, melancholy love story, which doesn’t ask any gritty questions or deliver thoughtful answers—it deals with emotions, but in a sanitized, over romanticized way. Aadil Khan and Sadia carry it on the backs of their excellent performances, and obvious chemistry. It’s watchable, but not memorable.

I would give it two and half stars. Four stars for the actors! Now on Amazon Prime.


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

COVID Creates Hunger Crisis in India

As the COVD-19 tsunami began its global spread, it exacerbated crises that were already taking a toll of vulnerable populations across the world.

In India the pandemic triggered a domestic migrant worker disaster. In Yemen it threatened a death toll far worse than the one inflicted by civil war.  And in Central America, where farming was destroyed by years of extreme climate events, the pandemic wrecked food security for 1.7 million people, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)

“COVID is making the poorest of the world poorer and the hungriest hungrier,” said Steve Taravella, a senior spokesperson for the WFP, at an ethnic media press briefing on February 26 to discuss the fallout from the pandemic. Advocates warned that a coronavirus-induced global famine loomed for millions.

“270 million people marching towards the brink of starvation need our help today more than ever,”  WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council last year. “Famine is literally on the horizon.”

The pandemic has inflicted its heaviest toll on poorer communities in the developing world, exposing the inequities driven by poverty and economic inequality that plague marginalized populations.

In India nearly 1 in 3 people face moderate or severe food insecurity, said Parul Sachdeva, India Country Representative for Give2Asia, a non-profit that supports charities in the Asia Pacific. India has the distinction of being the country with the largest number of food insecure people, and accounts for 22% of the global burden of food insecurity. When the pandemic hit, people were already struggling with poverty and socio-economic crises that gave them less food to eat. The lockdown that followed disrupted both the harvest and the food supply chain. More than a hundred million people and their incomes were affected by the inability to harvest crops in time.

When India enforced a shutdown to stop the coronavirus spread, it forced tens of thousands of migrant workers to make the long trek back to their villages after they lost jobs and wages. Without ration cards or money to buy food, the disruption to food chains put thousands at risk of hunger, leaving them to rely on NGOs and charitable civic organizations like Akshaya Patra, rather than the government, to provide food aid.

In a double whammy, the pandemic lockdown that increased food insecurity also fueled gender-based violence (GBV).

During lockdown, reported cases of gender-based violence more than doubled during the pandemic, said Aradhana Srivastava, of WFP’s India office. “The extent of suffering is actually much larger than what is being seen.” Research shows that domestic violence closely correlates with income levels, said Srivastava, and GBV is higher among lower-income households and food-insecure families. Increased food insecurity causes mental stress in households and triggers domestic violence towards women. “The increased incidence of domestic violence is linked to loss of livelihoods, loss of access to food — so there is a direct bearing.”

Since 2014, prolonged drought and excessive hurricanes in Central America have destroyed staple crops. But severe climate events and poverty – the key causes of food insecurity – have worsened with the pandemic. “The face of hunger In Central America has changed,” stated Elio Rujano, a Communications Officer for the World Food program. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, food insecurity has now spread from rural communities into urban areas. COVID lockdowns have taken away income from daily wage earners – 50% of the economy depends on informal labor – which has made it harder for people to meet basic needs like food.

Six years of conflict inYemen has ripped apart the country’s infrastructure and fragile heath system, displacing almost 4 million of its 30 million inhabitants. Conflict has become the main driver of hunger, as food prices skyrocket, and frontlines move. With COVID and the ensuing lockdown, the hunger situation hit new peak in Yemen. WFP forecasts a severe risk of famine and acute malnutrition in 2021 for 2 million children aged 1 to 5, which will have severe long term impact felt by “generations to come.” But famine has not been declared in Yemen even though “people are dying of hunger,” said Annabel Symington – Head of Communications for the WFP in Yemen, calling for funds to mount programs and interventions. “The time to act is now.”

The WFP feeds 100 million in 88 countries every year divided between 3 initiatives:1.Natural disasters, typhoon, cyclones, 2. Conflicts, and 3. Ongoing non-emergency aid such as school meals, pregnant women new mother nutrition, community help, and small farmers. In 2020, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger.

“We provide basics for sustainability till long term solutions can be developed,” said Taravella.  For years the WFP “chipped away” effectively at hunger rates. But conflict, climate and COVID-19 are causing  humanitarian crises of catastrophic proportions, making it impossible for people to access food. Before COVID-19 there were about 135 million hungry people in the world. Today nearly 690 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. WFP projects they need $13.5 billion to bridge the gaps in their budget.

According to Taravella, a small group of 2200 billionaires hold about $8 trillion in global wealth. They could help to overturn the tidal wave of food insecurity washing over the world’s poor.

“We are making an appeal to the world’s exceptionally wealthy people to help us close that gap,” he added.

To donate

https://secure.wfpusa.org/donate/save-lives-giving-food-today-donate-now-7?ms=2000_UNR_wfp_redirect_EX&redirected=UShttps://secure.wfpusa.org/donate/save-lives-giving-food-today-donate-now-7?ms=2000_UNR_wfp_redirect_EX&redirected=US

https://sharethemeal.org/en/index.html


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.
Image by billy cedeno from Pixabay

Working Women of Color in Crisis

On Monday, March 8 as we celebrated International Women’s Day, I received many empowering messages from my female friends from all walks of life.  But at this moment in history, the irony of the situation is that while women have made tremendous strides in the workplace with fulfilling careers and increasing pay in the past half-century, the pandemic has upended all that progress in just one year.  

Workforce participation of women has reached a level last seen in 1988.  The Gender Wage gap is estimated to widen even further from 81 cents on the dollar to 76 cents on the dollar.  

President Biden has called it a national emergency and on that same Monday, March 8 on International Women’s Day, he signed an executive order establishing the Gender Policy Council within the White House to focus on uplifting the rights of women and address gender-based discrimination and violence among many other such goals.  But a telling addition to his broad gender policy initiative was its particular focus on addressing the coronavirus pandemic and its disproportionate impact on women by engaging with the White House coronavirus task force. 

Here are some sobering statistics from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.  Nearly 3 million women in the U.S. have left the labor force in the past year. Those who are employed make up an outsized share of the high-risk essential workforce, holding 78% of all hospital jobs, 70% of pharmacy jobs, and 51% of grocery store jobs. Two out of three women are caregivers, putting them at risk of depression and anxiety. Nearly two-thirds of mothers are in charge of supporting their children’s remote learning. 

“We saw all of these economic cleavages that were underneath those gains laid bare for us,” says C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.,  president, and chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Women fell out of the workforce at four times the rate of men and have a disproportionate number of job losses mainly because they are overrepresented in the hardest-hit sectors like the service sector, leisure, hospitality, education, and healthcare.  Black and Latino women in particular make up a little over a quarter of all jobs in the service sector.  If you couple this with the lower wages, pay inequality, fewer benefits in those jobs, it has been economically devastating for the women in this country.  

We were already dealing with a broken child care infrastructure and the pandemic brought this into focus for many American families.  School closures had a disproportionate effect on women as well.  In August 2020, when schools did not reopen, 860,000 women exited the workplace because they had to make the tough choice between their families and their jobs. 

Many of these women according to Dr. Mason are the primary breadwinners in their family and make less than 40k a year but still had to make this desperate choice because their children were failing virtual school.

Not surprisingly,  mothers are also doing a disproportionate share of pandemic parenting, regardless of employment. This raises the question, why are mothers taking on so much more of the parenting responsibilities during this pandemic, even when they have a partner who could share the duties? And especially when those partners see the devastating effect it is having on the mothers, both emotionally and economically. 

“This is because of the gendered structures of paid work that existed long before the pandemic” according to Dr. Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. This division of unpaid labor that women in families have always done has been starkly laid bare during this pandemic.  Women are in crisis. They are tired, depressed, and scared.

Many of the work-from-home mothers described having little choice but to sacrifice their paid work for their families during the pandemic because they were the only parent able to work from home or they earned substantially less than their male partners or because their children demanded more of their attention at home.  This leads to a combination of frustration, resentment, and then guilt – all taking a toll on their wellbeing and having an adverse effect on all aspects of their family’s life. 

More than a quarter of mothers report more verbal or physical fights with their partners or spouses.  30% say they are yelling more at their kids.  Another third says they are more frustrated with their children. Mothers also feel tremendous guilt at the amount of screen time their children are exposed to, because of virtual school and for entertainment. 

Dr. Calarco’s research shows that the pandemic is having serious consequences for mothers’ paid work, relationships, and wellbeing. She says these inequalities exposed by the pandemic reflect the gendered inequalities in our workplace and are “not just the function of men not stepping up to do their part”.  They are a function of failed policies, of the lack of affordable childcare, and lack of maternity leave.  This forced women into lower-paid jobs and part-time work even before the pandemic and now leave them feeling like “they have no choice but to sacrifice their own careers and wellbeing for their husband’s higher earning jobs.” 

When the recovery begins, it is very important to create economic policies that support this sector that was hardest hit – women and especially women of color and lower-wage workers. Some of the policies that could help women recover their place in the workplace include a minimum wage increase, especially for women of color.  If the Federal government cannot pass this legislation, follow the lead of many states and cities that have done so.  Healthcare, childcare support, and paid leave investments are also critical policies that need to be legislated.  Education and job training opportunities for women coming back to work after the pandemic is also critical.  And most importantly, we need vaccines in the arms of all Americans so that we can safely open schools and daycares and get women back to work.  

Corporate America should open back-to-work programs and reduce barriers for women to return to work. Paid leave and childcare facilities could increase flexibility that frankly, most employees with families want.   In many cases, the executives who are women and mothers with children at home and are saying to Maria Aspan, senior writer at Fortune,  “I am not just worrying about this for my employees, I am living this.”

There is a genuine desire to work on these issues, but, says Ms. Aspan, we have to wait to see if there is “any action behind the rhetoric”. 

This is a unifying time for all women, of all socioeconomic levels, that have been hit hard by this pandemic. We need to hold both the government and the private sector accountable.  It is time for all of us to band together to advocate for policies that will help all women thrive emotionally and economically.  And we will take our partners with us into this more equitable future.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality, and public education.

Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash

Desi Feminist Men – It Does Not Have To Be An Oxymoron

(Featured Image: Cover of the book, Men and Feminism: Seal Studies by Shira Tarrant)

In its simplest form, feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” In other words, because women have traditionally had fewer rights, feminism is about asserting and working to achieve equal rights for women. However, nowhere does this imply that achieving equality should be solely women’s fight or women’s goal.

There are but scarce instances when men made it their business to fight for women’s causes. A shining example is the active participation of Indian men in the many marches that took place all over India in 2012 after the horrific “Delhi rape.” Rather than retreating behind rationalizations such as “men will be men,” or “it has always been thus,” or blaming women for their choice of attire and pursuit of activities outside the safe confines of home, thousands of men agitated for respect and safety for the women in their lives — their daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, coworkers, and neighbors. The men showed that women’s lives matter and that they matter to them.

In taking this proactive stand, the men were following the example set by a few men who came before. In this essay, I want to highlight a few of them.

Dr. Anand-bai Joshee

I am sure many know about Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor, and her heroic struggle to bring medical care to the women of India. I just published “Radical Spirits,” her deeply-researched biography. In the course of my research, I came across a letter that her husband, Gopal, wrote in 1878 to an American missionary requesting help to educate his wife. The letter makes an eloquent and heartfelt case for the importance of empowering women and men’s essential role in making that happen:

Ever since I began to think independently for myself, female education has been my favorite subject. I keenly felt the growing want of it to raise the nation to eminence among civilized countries. It is the source of happiness in a family. As every reform must begin at home, I considered it my duty to give my wife a thorough education, that she might be able to impart it to her country-sisters…. On the other hand, female education is much looked down upon among my people… My attempts have been frustrated, my object universally condemned by my own people. … and yet I cannot give up the point. I will try to the last, there being nothing so important as female education for our elevation morally and spiritually.

Gopal Joshee believed that it was important to educate and empower women, but not just for their own good. He saw that this was an indispensable component of the good of families, communities, and country. Indeed, he went so far as to state that the state of women was a hallmark of a civilized society. And, in pursuit of this goal, he stood alone against his community and defied its regressive views.

Another great example of a feminist man is Ziauddin Yousufzai, father of Malala. In his TED talk, he said:

Ladies and gentlemen, this plight of millions of women could be changed if we think differently, if women and men think differently, if men and women in the tribal and patriarchal societies in the developing countries, if they can break a few norms of family and society, if they can abolish the discriminatory laws of the systems in their states, which go against the basic human rights of the women.

In other words, he made it his personal mission to empower his own daughter and to champion the empowerment of girls and women all over the world. The title of his memoir, “Let Her Fly,” says it all.

These two men, Gopal Joshee and Ziauddin Yousufzai, are separated by almost 150 years. Ironically, both were thrust into the limelight because of the tragedies of their protégés. However, these tragedies now live on as triumphs. Despite Anandi Joshee’s early death, or maybe because of the shock and tremendous loss that it represented, segments of 19th century Indian society took a decisive turn towards acknowledging women’s full humanity and their potential. Similarly, because of the violent attack on young Malala, there is greater awareness all over the world of girls’ right to education and empowerment.

Fortunately, tragedy is no longer a prerequisite to creating fundamental change for women. There can be no better example of this than what Indian states are doing to ensure and encourage access to education for girls.

  1. Tamil Nadu: The government offered a 50% subsidy to girls/women to buy scooters and laptops
  2. Uttarakhand: Girls enrolled in school get free bicycles
  3. Kerala: Sanitary napkin vending machines have been made mandatory in all higher secondary schools
  4. Karnataka: Girls studying in government and aided private degree colleges receive free education
  5. Gujarat: Free medical education to female students

Undoubtedly, there are countless nameless men fighting the good fight within their circles of influence, be it in their families or workplaces, or communities. For example, I know of a farmer who sold part of his land to finance the education of his daughters.

However, the battle is far from over. Many issues continue to challenge women. Starting from the management of menstruation and early marriage to access to education and medical care, they extend all the way to sexual harassment and rape, family and maternity leave, and equal pay.

So, here is a challenge for men to be more active feminists. Encourage your daughter as much as you do your son. Create a safe and welcoming family and work environments. Agitate for equal pay for women. Be compassionate and generous to your women coworkers and your subordinates (including household help where applicable).

Make every day Women’s Day and make every month Women’s History Month. The goal should be to make women’s disempowerment a historical artifact rather than a present-day scourge. Rather than diminish your power, it will only empower YOU more.


Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and co-founder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. Her book, “Radical Spirits,” tells the deeply-researched story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor.
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

COVID Slams Ethnic Minorities

As the COVID-19 vaccination program rolls out erratically across the US, research increasingly shows that health inequities underlying who gets infected will also affect who gets vaccinated.

In telling statistics reported by the CDC and KFF, people of color are more likely to be infected or hospitalized, and more likely to die from the coronavirus.

The numbers are stark.

Compared to whites, American Indians are 1.9 times more likely to be infected, African Americans nearly 3 times more likely to be hospitalized, and Latinx people 2.4 times more likely to die.

Asian Americans are the highest risk for hospitalization and death among any ethnic group. In San Francisco, it’s reported that  Asian Americans consistently account for nearly half of COVID-19 deaths.

It’s impossible to ignore the disproportionate toll of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities. Even though all communities are at risk for COVID-19, the socioeconomic status of people of color, and their occupations in frontline, essential and infrastructure jobs puts them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

For minority communities, it means that where you live and where you work shapes how the virus impacts your health, while inadequate access to healthcare makes you more vulnerable to its consequences.

“The pandemic has exposed the “underlying health disparities, social determinants of health, systemic inequalities and discrimination contribute to the disproportionate impact the virus has had on all communities of color,” said Adam Carbullido of AAPCHO, at an EMS press briefing on February 12, about health inequities in the pandemic.

Health advocates predicted that an inequitable distribution of vaccines was inevitable, given the high rates at which Blacks, Latinos and other ethnic groups were being infected and dying in each wave of the pandemic.

This is borne out by data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) which is tracking vaccine distribution. For example, fewer black people are getting vaccines despite a higher rate of COVID 19 cases. In Delaware only 6% of Blacks were vaccinated though 24% were infected, and in Louisiana, only 13% of Blacks received vaccines though 34% were infected, while in Mississippi, 38% of Blacks were infected but only 17% got the vaccine.

However, the lack of disaggregated racial data at the state and national level is hobbling equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, noted Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras of the Latino Coalition Against COVID-19. Currently only 20 US states are reporting racial data.

Given that it’s primarily Black and Latino workers in essential jobs,  it’s imperative to consider who’s at high risk when making decisions about reopening the economy, he added.

If we cannot quantify racial disparity in vaccine distribution, warned Lloveras, it will be difficult to develop interventions to ensure vaccines are given to those who need it most.

Health disparities between whites and people of color that are impacting vaccine distribution, are “gaps that have become chasms,” said Lloveras. The vaccine roll out “inherently prioritizes a population that is not reflective of the people who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus”, added Virginia Hedrick, of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health.

In American Indian country, inequitable vaccine distribution is merely a reflection of the historical trauma inflicted on indigenous communities that has negatively impacted their health and wellbeing over the long term, said Hedric resulting in the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and substance use disorders. Its only because of advocacy that the Indian Health Service has a separate vaccine reserve allocated to urban and tribal Indian American communities.

Barriers to Better Health  & Vaccines

Several other factors create barriers to better health and getting a vaccine among people of color.

Ethnic minorities tend to live in densely populated areas which makes social distancing difficult, and often in multi generation family homes which put elders at risk. They may use public transportation which could expose them the virus, and lack health insurance or healthcare access.

Farmworkers and the elderly face similar barriers in the form of digital literacy, language barriers and internet access, said Lloveras.  With stay at home orders in place, telehealth depends on who has access to technology. He suggested providing Internet access hotspots and community classes on computer literacy to expand digital access for underserved minorities.

The lack of a robust public healthcare system requires that we provide the technology to help people see a doctor and register for vaccines.

In Asian communities, added Carbullido, patients of Asian descent report fear in getting help they need because of emotional trauma caused by racism and xenophobic attacks associated with the virus.

Yet, many ethnic minorities are reluctant to get their shot because they mistrust the government. Kaiser Family Foundation’s vaccine tracker data reports ‘fear of side effects” prevents people from obtaining the vaccine.

Lloveras proposed ‘a gigantic digital patient engagement project’ to address vaccine hesitancy to set the path to herd immunity and a semblance of normal life .

Missteps in California

Each state’s scramble to acquire and distribute vaccines signaled an unpreparedness for a public health crisis like the coronavirus, said Dr.David Carlyle, President and CEO of the Charles R. Drew University of Science and Medicine, calling California’s missteps in the pandemic a “failure of public policy.”

When MLK Community Hospital, a 130-bed facility at the epicenter of the pandemic in Los Angeles County tried to transfer its sickest patients to nearby tertiary hospitals for oxygenation, they were repeatedly refused because because their patients did not have health insurance. When the vaccine roll out flatlined mid-February, high volume vaccine centers (LA Forum, Dodgers Stadium) in LA county closed mid -February, because supplies of vaccine doses ran out. Commercial pharmacies placed vaccination sites in smaller, less diverse towns like Huntington Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach, while Los Angeles, a city of 8 million was allotted just one site.

“In my estimation we weren’t prepared for COVID 19.” Carlyle concluded.

A Robust Rescue Package

Given the lack of a robust public health system, panelists urged Congress to bolster the public health infrastructure with a bold COVID 19 rescue package for testing, treatment, vaccine distribution.

They called for increased investment in public health and community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve marginalized communities which have more chronic medical issues and higher risk factors for complications of COVID19.  CBOs are vital in reaching communities of color and other hard hit communities, by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services where government and private institutions have fallen short. Supporting CBOs could mitigate the health inequities of the COVID19 crisis, said Carbullido.

The pandemic overwhelmed most healthcare systems which were not prepared or adequately funded creating crises like the MLKCH that Carlyle called “a  perfect example of the inhumanity of equities in healthcare.”

But “the pandemic has not created these inequities,” concluded Hedrick, “it’s simply highlighting them.”

More information is available at:
https://bit.ly/vaccines-race-data
https://ccuih.org/


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

Why The Senior Vote Matters!

Senior citizens have always been a very reliable voting bloc in the United States.  We assume that this is because they have the time to go vote.  While that might be somewhat true, the fact is that retired people are most vulnerable to any policy changes made by the government.  When Social Security constitutes a sizable part of your income and Medicare is your only option for health care, voting is much more than just your civic duty – it becomes the most important thing you must do to maintain your quality of life.

Just like all older voters, older Asian Voters are more likely to be registered and to vote. They reliably show up to the polls to vote in larger numbers than their younger brethren.  Infact, in presidential elections, voter turnout is even higher for foreign born Asians than those that are U.S. born.

According to the National Survey of Older Voters During COVID-19: Asian Americans, conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of AARP, although 86% are “very likely” to vote in 2020, the majority of Asian American voters 50+ are not being engaged or contacted by either party affiliation (61%) or community organizations (74%), according to (AAVS).

This data is so puzzling but what does this mean and how does this impact this large voting bloc?  It means that this group is invisible.

When you think of a Asian American voter, your mind immediately conjures up a 30 something year old, highly educated person with a good paycheck; painting a picture of a young, educated, middle class person.  This image belies the fact that many of these voters are senior citizens or at least 50+ and this is the demographic that AARP  (American Association of Retired Persons) is interested in.

Turning 50 is life changing in many ways, but the significance of that particular number becomes even more acute when you receive your welcome package from AARP.  I am not old and I am certainly not retiring anytime soon you think and you are right.  But AARP is not just for old, retired people.

AARP is working to have your (50+)  voice heard on the issues that matter to this demographic.  Protecting social security and medicare, lowering prices of prescription drugs, and ensuring your right to vote safely among many other issues. While these might not be issues that are top of mind for you at 50, you know it will be very soon.

Speakers at the Oct 21 AARP briefing released new findings from recent national surveys exploring the key priorities and concerns of Asian American voters aged 50 and older. Results from the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey (AAVS), conducted by AAPI Data on behalf of AARP, APIAVote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, show that 93% of Asian Americans 50-plus view health care as important heading into the election, making it the top most important issue. Jobs and the economy follow as the second most important issue, with 89% of respondents citing them either as “extremely” or “very” important.

With over 50k+ nursing home deaths and the disproportionate vulnerability of our elders to the current pandemic, these survey results are not surprising. COVID-19 has underscored the importance of healthcare as a voter issue and has caused a sense of insecurity related to the economy, health, freedom from discrimination, elections and voting.

Additional findings from the survey on 50+ AAPI (Asian American & Pacific Islander)  – which is the category under which South Asians voters are aggregated include:

  • Plurality of older Asian voters identify as Democrat but the majority describe themselves as moderate.  They are more united around ideology than around a party affiliation.

  • Older asian voters value opportunity and freedom.  They also value entrepreneurial spirit, respecting people with different ideologies and have a greater willingness to accept refugees.

  • Majorities of older Asian American voters support action for equality and equity and agree that there is racial and ethnic discrimination in this country.

  • 50+ Asian voters have become more progressive since the 2016 elections.

  • Over 75% of the older Asian voters get their election information from traditional media and about 42% from talking to their family.

If the 50+ Asian voter is so engaged and likely to vote, why are they not on the radar for either party? 

One piece of data that is striking is this :  85% of 50+ Asian American voters are foreign born. One reason for this opportunity gap is the need to reach out in different languages in order to communicate effectively with this community.

But the larger reason for this lack of engagement is education about the numbers and their impact.  “They don’t pay attention if there is no data,” says Daphne Kwok of AARP.  “But now we are proving that this cohort is an important part of the electorate.  For the political parties, it is so key that they start to hear from AAPI 50+” continues Kwok.  Our issues and concerns have to be raised and addressed.

“We have seen over the past election cycles, more and more AAPIs getting involved politically, voting, and hopefully our voice is starting to become louder.”  Kwok is also optimistic because it has also been proven in the last election that AAPIs have become the margin of victory in many races. Hopefully this is the incentive both parties see to reach out to this voting bloc that could make a difference for their candidate.

So let’s get out the Vote in our 50+ community.  Each state has different rules, different timelines, and different procedures.

Everything you need to know to vote safely is at aarp.org/election2020  and APIAvote.org.

Older voters are more likely to vote in person.  If there is a vulnerable senior citizen in your family, please take the proper precautions but help them make their vote count.

We can’t afford to let anyone’s vote go uncounted.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

image: BBH Singapore on Unsplash

Will California Voters Bring Back Affirmative Action?

Will California voters pass Proposition 16 and bring back Affirmative Action?

In California today, African American and Latino students make up 60% of high school seniors in public schools statewide, and, yet they represent only 29% of undergraduates of the UC system at all campuses.

That statistic is “a measure of the dramatic disparities that we continue to see in the state of California that we are not able to address aggressively because of Proposition 209, enacted in1996,” said Thomas Saenz,  Chair of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), at an EMS telebriefing on September 18.

Saenz called the divisive measure which banned the use of Affirmative Action techniques in public education, a ‘misleadingly labelled California Civil Rights Initiative.”

Twenty four years after voters banned race and gender preferences in admissions to public universities in California, Proposition 209 is on the chopping block. In its stead, Proposition 16 is on the ballot to restore Affirmative Action in the upcoming November election.

The wrangling over race-based college admissions is part of an ongoing nationwide debate over Affirmative Action, which is under siege as it battles legal challenges by opponents in the Supreme Court. Last month, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice accused Yale University of illegal admissions discrimination against white and Asian American students.

In California which is already grappling with pandemic-driven economic and health crises, as well as blistering protests against racial injustices, overturning Prop. 209 is proving to be contentious for Affirmative Action advocates.

At the briefing, proponents of YES on Proposition16 sought to explain why they are seeking to repeal Prop. 29 on the November ballot. These civil rights leaders support Affirmative Action as an effective tool for bridging racial inequities in higher education and the workplace.

Over the last six months, the pandemic has exposed systemic inequities and disparities experienced by people of color, said Saenz.  A crippling economic recession, restrictive public health measures, and the police brutality that triggered the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, have forced the nation to acknowledge that communities of color face the brunt of systemic injustice and discrimination.

The pandemic has shown that higher rates of infection and death occur among communities of color, stated Saenz, while the economic recession has particularly hit African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans, who have endured severe job loss and reduction in wages.

But, the BLM demonstrations which invigorated a necessary discussion on reforming law enforcement practices in the country, clearly frames why passing Prop 16 is vital.

Impact of Prop. 209

Prop. 209 is responsible for the shortage of qualified officers and sheriffs deputies in California, stated Saenz. Counties and cities in the state “could not engage in targeted hiring of Black, Latino or Asian American officers,” solely because of Prop. 209.

“What Prop. 209 did was to add a paragraph to the state Constitution, prohibiting the use of Affirmative Action techniques – race conscious, gender conscious techniques in public education, public employment and public contracting,” he commented.

It posed curbs on K-12 public education and higher education, that culminated in a dramatic drop in the number of African American and Latino students on University of California campuses, noted Saenz, adding that, “most notoriously, the University of California Law School at Berkeley ended up with just one African American student in the first class selected after Prop. 209.”

Proposition 209 passed in 1996 with 55% of the California vote, but, an LA Times exit poll reported that a super majority of voters opposed Prop 209 with 79%  Latino, 74% African American, 61 % of Asian Americans and 52 % of women of all races voting NO on the measure.

Twenty four years later the impact of Prop. 209 is still evident. But as demographics of voters have changed in California, said Saenz, he racially divisive measure would have had a totally different outcome if the percentages of “super majorities’ among voters of color in opposition to Prop 209 apply today. Now voters of color form almost 42% of registered voters in California, a substantially higher figure than those that went to the polls than1996.

The Supreme Court & Affirmative Action

Another change is that the US Supreme Court has considerably narrowed the circumstances under which any public entity can employ race or gender-based Affirmative Action, restrictions which will apply in California even if Prop 16 passes. It has has weighed in on Affirmative Action programs since 1996, said Saenz, citing cases from the University of Michigan and University of Texas as evidence. The upshot is that the Supreme Court has become much more ‘descriptive’ about what is permitted and what is required in pursuing Affirmative Action.

Since 1978, the Supreme Court has prohibited the use of quotas or ‘set asides’ based on race or gender in the public realm. It also has mandated that any public entity considering Affirmative Action must first undergo a ‘rigorous analysis’ of disparities and consideration of policy changes before they put in place a narrowly tailored program to consider race or gender. That would involve for example, examining disparities in the percentages of 12 graders versus undergraduates, identifying the causes of those disparities, and considering race or gender-neutral approaches to address them, before implementing Affirmative Action measures.

This could result in positive effects for all races and genders created as a result of Prop.16, noted Saenz. However, despite the Supreme Court requirement that predates Prop. 209, the UC system has prevented the rigorous examination of such disparities.  Prop. 209 unfortunately, has prevented state policymakers from engaging in the careful consideration of policy approaches that could help resolve the problem.

At its core, Affirmative Action is intended to correct socio-economic equities that go back generations. Together with the Supreme Court requirement for scrutiny, Prop. 16 will help eliminate biased criterion from hiring practices or university admissions in the public arena. For example, it could remove discriminatory standardized tests from the university admissions process, since they do not co-relate to student performance after their freshman year, and it would put pressure on policy makers to engage in the rigorous analysis of disparities.

Given the fallout of the pandemic on people of color, passing Prop. 16 is critical to the future of equal opportunity for people of color in California, reiterated Saenz.

The term Affirmative Action may have worn out its political welcome, but will California voters see Prop. 16 leveling the playing field or simply as a zero sum game?


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

Is Kamala Devi Harris Desi Enough?

I just spent the last fifteen minutes enjoying a new TikTok cultural phenomenon. Wakhra Dougie.  It’s blowing up on TikTok.   Combining the Dougie with bhangra dance moves is certainly fun, but on a deeper level,  isn’t it a lot more? What could be a better way to express joy in the choice of Kamala Harris as the next VP candidate for the Democratic party?

Kamala Harris made history last week when she became Joe Biden’s running mate.  Immediately, every desi had an opinion on it.  While most were excited to see a person from their part of the world represented, it brought on the doubters. She is often described as the “first Black woman” every time she breaks another glass ceiling.  That irks the Indians.  Is Kamala Harris desi enough?  She’s only half Indian and why doesn’t she speak to it more often? She only comes to our community when she needs to raise money but not much else. How can she represent us?

I am sure there is a reason for that, part deeply personal and part, a commentary of our cultural expectations. 

Senator Harris was raised in the East Bay in the sixties, but it was not the Bay Area we know of now.  Her mother Shyamala Gopalan fell in love with a Jamaican economist, married him, and had two daughters. Raising two girls who were mixed brown and black was not that easy then, and not now either.  If we desis are honest with ourselves, we know that we are not the most open of cultures to “otherness”.  

My guess is that her mother recognized this and decided that she would raise her children in a culture that would be more accepting of them.   As Ms. Harris described in her memoir, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls.” Going on to study at a HBCU (Historically Black College and Universities)  Howard University helped cement this identity.  

Then, there is the larger society as well.  Since they were racially half Black and appeared Black, they would always be identified as Black.  As research by the Pew Center says, “How you were raised, how you see yourself and how the world sees you have a profound effect in shaping multiracial identity.” 

I always found it very curious that President Obama, who was essentially raised by his white mother and grandparents, identified as a Black man.  

What does that say about our society’s cultural expectations?

My daughter, raised in America to a Sindhi dad and me, a Tamilian mom, says “Because I can’t speak any Indian language, my friends tell me I’m not actually Desi-American—that I’m just a coconut—brown on the outside and white on the inside.”  A friend of mine in San Diego was lamenting how her half desi-half Peruvian teenage daughter is not invited to the Indian parties of her peers because she is not “Indian enough”. 

What in the world does that even mean? If we are this quick to judge kids, who for the most part are proud of their biracial identities, imagine the Harris family in the 1960s.  

Kamala Harris has often admitted herself that she struggles to define herself for others. For me, she is a representation of our multicultural, blended, fluid society where everything is up for grabs.  Why not race?  She “is both”  Black and Indian.  

Why are we expecting her to be everything to both communities?

But as we are all learning through the stories of the BLM movement this year, our histories ( Black and Asian Americans) are intertwined.  Rev. Martin Luther King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha movement which led to the Civil Rights movement here in America.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which directly affected most of us Asians in this country.  It opened up the door for us to immigrate.  We would not be here if not for the thousands of Black Americans who took to the streets to fight for their rights.  

At a time in history now, where civil rights and immigration are at the center of our civil and political discourse, Senator Kamala Harris uniquely brings a viewpoint and life experience that could help us move forward.  

The fact is that both parties in the United States use racial identity to segment the voting blocs to their advantage.  Although the financial power of the Indians is increasing, statistically we do not make up a large part of the electorate yet.  Eleven million Asian Americans will vote this year but the number of Black voters is estimated at 30 million.  

But the funny thing is that the population of people who are two or more races is projected to be the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group over the next several decades, followed by Asians and Hispanics. So, does it really matter how Desi or how Black Kamala Harris is?  It should not. 

She is both and uniquely American at the end of the day.   Let our lack of imagination not box her into one identity.

Her story, her blended heritage will speak more to our children and grandchildren than we can imagine and inspire them to public service and politics.  There will come a time very soon, where people like her will be the norm, not the exception in this flat world. 

But it would behoove Senator Harris to reach out to our community in a more meaningful manner.  We would love to be a part of her journey and have our voices amplified.  

Vote for Harris and Biden if you think their policies will be good for America, not what Kamala looks like and which race she belongs to. 

We have come a long way, America!  I am excited by the journey ahead and I remain optimistic.  Maybe doing a Wakhra Dougie mashup TikTok video will be the most patriotic thing you will do today.  And Vote!


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Hate Unmasked In America

“You are the most selfish f—ing people on the planet.”

I jerked my head to the left, where I saw a neighbor glaring at us from his driveway while unloading groceries from his trunk.

“Where’s your f—ing mask?” he said. “Unbelievable.”

 

Marigold Ganz, 3, wore this mask for five minutes outside and then threw it away. We haven’t been able to find it since. In the background is her grandfather, Jovit Almendrala, trying his own mask out for the first time. (Courtesy of Anna Almendrala)

My jaw dropped. I had just walked three blocks home with my toddler and my dad in our leafy, mostly empty Los Angeles neighborhood because my kid had thrown a tantrum in the car.

And we had forgotten our masks. Four days earlier, Mayor Eric Garcetti had ordered protective face coverings anytime we left home, not just when we entered essential businesses.

I pointed out my house to the neighbor to explain how close we were, just a few doors down from him. He cut me off.

“I don’t give a f– where you live, and I don’t give a f– what your reason is.”

Then my dad jumped in. “Sorry, sir, we forgot our masks. I’m sorry, sir.”

Still, the man didn’t soften.

“You should be sorry. And you should make her be sorry, too,” he gestured toward me. After a few more agonizing seconds, he dismissed us.

Our neighbor’s mask, by the way? It was off his face, hanging loosely around his neck. All the better to shout at us.

As a health care reporter, I had covered America’s evolution on masks as the coronavirus spread across the globe. Back in January, I wrote an article about why Chinese immigrants insisted on wearing surgical and construction masks in the U.S., even though it went against official health recommendations at the time. In February, I wrote about Asian families in California clashing with schools over whether their children should be allowed to wear masks in class.

At that time, Asian people wearing masks were targets for verbal and physical abuse. Attackers saw masks on Asian faces as signs of disease and invasion; people were punched and kicked, harassed on public transit, bullied at school and worse.

Now, of course, masks are the norm. And they’ve become more than just personal protection; they are symbols of courtesy and scientific buy-in. They have, to some extent, also become political signifiers. In a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70% of Democrats said they wear a protective mask “every time” they leave their house, versus 37% of Republicans. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

After our verbal beatdown, my dad and I walked home stone-faced, and then retreated to our separate rooms to nurse our wounds.

I have no idea if the neighbor’s comments had a racist undertone. But it felt like the times in my childhood, first in New Zealand, then in a Bay Area suburb, when I had seen my Philippines-born parents, stunned and silent, get dressed down or humiliated by angry, callous white people. Now it was my 3-year-old daughter’s turn to see me dumbstruck. As I began telling my husband the story, I started crying so hard that I got a headache.

After my tears came reflection, and an attempt at empathy.

My neighbor was obviously scared. He was older, and potentially more medically vulnerable. His trunk had been packed with overstuffed shopping bags ― probably enough food for weeks, to avoid leaving his house.

He had just come from the grocery store, an enclosed space full of things and people that could potentially infect him. I understand the stress that comes with shopping during the pandemic.

Like many of us, my neighbor could be struggling with how to live in mortal fear of the coronavirus. And for him, at least that morning, that struggle got the better of him.

Later that day, I wrote the neighbor a card introducing ourselves. I apologized for making him feel unsafe and acknowledged that he was right about the masks. But I also said he had unfairly used us as a target for his fear and frustration, and I told him I was shocked and saddened he would treat a neighbor with so much hate. I haven’t heard back from him.

My dad spent the rest of that morning praying that the man didn’t get the coronavirus — lest he blame us and all Asians, forever.

Since that day, no one in my family has left the house without a mask on their face, and I’m anxious to train my daughter to wear one, although she resists it the way she has refused hats and headbands in the past.

We can’t stop noticing that most other exercisers and dog-walkers in our neighborhood ― all white ― fly past us without them. They don’t seem to worry about getting caught on the wrong side of whatever America happens to believe about masks on any given day. But my family can’t risk it.


This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Images (Courtesy of Anna Almendrala)

Asian Americans Unite Against the True Virus

On April 25th, nearly 400 people logged into the Asian American Unification Seminar to strongly and forthrightly speak with one unified voice against racism and xenophobic acts targeting Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and blaming them for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar, hosted on Zoom, was presented by the Asian American Unity Coalition (AAUC), in partnership with Ding Ding TV, and sponsored by Civic Leadership USA (CLUSA),  and APAPA.

Moderator Anthony Le introduced Dr. S.K Lo, President of the Asian American Unity Coalition (AAUC),  who welcomed participants to the gathering and highlighted contributions and donations made by Asian Americans during the pandemic. 

A video showed  Yen Marshall, the Executive Director, Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA), and members of APAPA chapters in NY, Texas, and Seattle, serving their communities by contributing PPE, get well cards, and other equipment to fight the pandemic. 

New York City Comptroller Scott M Stringer, assured Asian Americans on behalf of his city, which has seen a rise in Asian American hate crimes, that they were not alone. “There are public officials, advocates, activists from around the city, and the United States that are going to protect and defend the enormous contributions of the Asian American community.” He expressed admiration for the Asian American front line workers who fearlessly go to work every day.

Keynote speaker, NY Congresswoman Grace Meng, who was traveling with her two sons from Washington DC to New York, dialed into the webinar from her car.  Rep. Meng, a founder, and Co-Chair of the Kids’ Safety Caucus was introduced by Stringer as a defender of liberty who understands diversity. “When any community is under attack, when hate comes to Latinos, Jewish or any community she is the first one to show up,” said Stringer. “She is making a name for herself on the national stage and is being recognized as the next generational leadership in the United States of America.” Like Meng, Stringer is the father of two boys and does not want to leave a legacy of hate for them.  

“Attacks on Asian Americans have skyrocketed to 100 per day during the pandemic,” said Meng, who has introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to denounce the anti-Asian sentiment caused by reaction to the pandemic. The resolution has 124 cosponsors including Kamala Harris.

She pointed out that, “The increased use of anti-Asian rhetoric, particularly from our nation’s leaders such as the President, and their use of terms like ‘Chinese virus,’ ‘Wuhan virus,’ and ‘Kung-flu,’ is not only irresponsible, reckless, and downright disgusting, it threatens the safety of the Asian American community; such language demeans, disparages, and scapegoats Asian Americans.”  Meng urged people to speak up.  “It is because we spoke up that the President has taken note.”

Ding Ding TV Webinar

The rest of the webinar featured presentations and community sharing – audience contributions moderated by host Anthony Le. Speakers reported racist incidents and shared statistics about bias and hate crimes which have surged against the AAPI community, after the coronavirus crisis.  

Some participants reported that small businesses in areas with high Asian American populations have been vandalized.

Stop AAPI Hate, a website created by California-based advocacy organizations to document hate crimes in seven languages, reported more than 1,600 incidents in the three weeks since it launched, escalating to a rate of about 100 per day. Organizers say it’s likely that the rate of reporting severely undercounts the actual number of incidents taking place every day across the country.

Jason Tengco, Senior Advisor, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA),  moderated sessions on hate and bias interventions, and on resources and non-profits that offer support.

AAJC and Hollaback! announced bystander intervention training sessions that teach people how to safely intervene when they see harassment happening

In a final interactive reflection exercise, people who were witnesses to hate crimes, were encouraged to commit to action: report the incident ( Stand Against Hate offers legal aid), partner anti-bullying organizations like Act To Change (a national nonprofit dedicated to ending bullying in the AAPI community, participate in AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hatred on May 18, and, sign up for bystander intervention training provided by Asians Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and Hollaback! 

Online surveys were conducted by the host before, and during the webinar to assess the mood of the audience which was calm and relaxed to begin with and then became nervous, worried, anxious, and unsure resulting from the backlash of the pandemic on APIA. 

It was clear that the virus of hate chokes the life out of us as much as the virus of COVID-19.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.