Tag Archives: Bay area

Letters to the Editor: Response to Instagram Filters

Dear India Currents and Medha,

Medha, may I take the liberty of stating you looked so much better and more natural with no filter than with it?

I love your points about society deeming certain White physical traits as attractive ones, however, we don’t have to pander to it. We can simply ignore those standards and learn to feel comfortable in our own skin. No one is holding a gun to the heads of Indian women and forcing them to get blonde highlights, or worse, go totally blonde, yet many Indian women do. It will be a while before Indians feel pride in their nation, their religion, their dress, their food, their customs, and their languages. It is the unfortunate aftermath of the toxic British colonialistic legacy that still lingers on and makes us belittle ourselves.
It has nothing to do with White culture, and everything to do with how we Indians feel about ourselves. Let’s take accountability for it and begin the change from within. Kudos to you for your candid self-expression.
Go ahead and eat that idli-sambar and lick your fingers clean!

Sincerely,

Gayathri Chakravarthy

Cupertino, CA

Left to Right: LaToya Fernandez, Urmila Vudali, Lisa Rosenberg, and Ray Furuta.

Celebrating Good Trouble in Bay Area Arts

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

Coined by the late Congressman John Lewis, the concept of “Good Trouble” is rooted in the belief that certain types of expression and feather-ruffling are necessary to fight back against injustice. At Mosaic, we believe that art is a perfect vehicle for causing Good Trouble and bringing awareness to the important issues we must tackle as an ever-evolving nation.

To celebrate this idea, we recently hosted four of our dear artists and friends who are committed to creating their own kinds of Good Trouble through their art, music, dance, and poetry, in “Celebrating Good Trouble”

  • LaToya Fernandez, an educator, poet, and youth advocate from San Jose
  • Lisa Rosenberg, an author and former Poet Laureate of San Mateo County
  • Urmila Vudali, a high school student, dancer, and leader of the Mosaic Saratoga High School Club, and
  • Ray Furuta, a flutist, composer, and music professor

While each artist’s work carries a thread of Good Trouble and cross-cultural collaboration, they also each lent a unique perspective.

LaToya’s reading of her poem “Angry Black Woman, A Letter to Women,” which delves into the stereotypes that are put on Black women for being vocal, sparked a reverence for how that can penetrate one’s psyche. Her art, she says, is grounded in the pursuit of doing what’s right — even if it’s not easy, because it’s what’s necessary. “I’m always in trouble,” she laughed, reflecting Lewis’s sentiment that the quest for freedom is not a state of being, but the “continuous action we all must take.”

And as a reminder of how art is a necessary critique of the systems that reinforce societal ills on marginalized communities, Lisa shared some of her works, including poems titled “Space To” and “Perseverance.”

“All art is considered criticism or an act of political power, just because you are claiming your voice,” Lisa said. “Even creating a disturbance with a new voice, a new observation, a new point of view, we are disrupting the status quo and creating an opening to start perceiving things differently. And that includes our opportunity to take back some power.”

This is perhaps one of the most critical aspects of creating Good Trouble in the arts — using your voice and creativity to create something utterly different and challenge the status quo. And when it comes to breaking the mold, Ray Furuta’s journey from the conservatory to becoming an innovator of music here in Silicon Valley provides a perfect representation.

Ray, who also founded the Silicon Valley Music Festival 10 years ago, shared two of his works — Precious Scars, presented by Mosaic, which created a powerful, cross-medium remembrance of the Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants who were incarcerated during WWII; and Primal Reboot, which brought together artists of different backgrounds and genres to reimagine Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

These two works stood as a testament to how Ray said he viewed the concept of Good Trouble in the arts: “It alludes to this idea of coexistence — that in the arts, we can all exist, and we can all amplify each other in a really positive way.”

The concept of working together to amplify the voices of all is critically important to our mission of creating a sense of belonging within our communities and in our country. And naturally, that played out in introducing dancer Urmila Vudali, who also participated in Primal Reboot. Now, as a high school senior, Urmila aims to bring together students who are culturally isolated and develop greater cultural awareness across their real and imagined silos. Two of Urmila’s collaborations, Confluencia and The Flower Seller, both focused on the commonalities between various forms of dance and music.

“Finding those commonalities allowed me to learn a little bit about a culture that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about otherwise,” said Urmila. “And pushing the boundaries of my traditional dance and causing that Good Trouble really allowed me to widen my horizons.”

Each of these works and perspectives allows us a greater look into how artists view their own role as Good Trouble-makers, and how we can learn and grow together by simply being curious.

How are you making your own version of Good Trouble? 

 

Good Trouble was the theme of our partner the New Museum of Los Gatos’ (NUMU) annual juried high school art exhibition ArtNow, which invited hundreds of high school students from across Santa Clara County to submit their interpretations of the global issues facing our world. In partnership with NUMU, we collaborated to bring another iteration of this Good Trouble programming to the public.


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.


 

Kala Bagai Way: The First Street In the US Named After a Historic Indian American Woman

When Kalai Bagai first arrived in San Francisco on September 6th, 1915 with her husband Vaishno and three sons, local newspapers flocked to cover the story of the first Indian-American woman to enter the Bay Area. Fleeing British imperialism in her homeland, Bagai was exposed to the very casual racism and persecution she thought she had escaped. When her family purchased their first home, she remembered her neighbors attempting to stop them from moving in. 

Newspaper article from September 1915 issue of San Francisco Call & Post describing Kala Bagai’s arrival in the United States with her family. (South Asian American Digital Archive)

“All of our luggage and everything was loaded on the trucks,’ she said. “I told Mr. Bagai I don’t want to live in this neighborhood. I don’t want to live in this house, because they might hurt my children, and I don’t want it. We paid for the house and they locked the doors? No!'”

Although one in the hundreds of immigrants searching for new lives in the United States, Kala Bagai was singled out for her Indian heritage by the masses — ridiculed for her nose ring and skin color. Bagai, like so many other activists of color, was stenciled into America’s history for her “otherness”, and for her struggle to take ownership of her cultural identity. 

The story of Kala Bagai is defined by risk — the risk to emigrate to the nascent United States with precarious citizenship laws, the risk to leave India without knowing a word of English, the risk to challenge this sense of “otherness” that permeated the public consciousness.

Though one of the first South Asians to find a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kala Bagai was aware that she would not be the last. As new Indian American families emigrated to her area, they were welcomed with a smile and a warm meal prepared by Bagai. She was endearingly named “Mother India” by Indian locals. By blurring the boundaries between California Americanisms and Desi customs, Bagai redefined this sense of “otherness” — she created a community out of the ambiguous and alienating identity that was given to her. 

Then the United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case defined Indians as citizens of color, ineligible for U.S. citizenship. Still, in shock over his sudden denaturalization, Vaishno Bagai took his own life. The Bagais were left without citizenship, livelihood, or home. And it was at their lowest that Kala Bagai began to fight back. Despite the loss of her husband, she advocated fiercely for Indian American rights and found ways to support anti-colonialism movements in India. Kala Bagai put all three of her sons through college, taking great pride in supporting their higher education. Before passing away at 90 years in 1983, Bagai had hosted a number of Indian festivals, community halls, and theatres — events continued in her honor to this day.

Kala Bagai was ostracized for her “otherness”. Today, the Berkeley community is ready to celebrate her for it. With a thriving South Asian American community, Berkeley has spent the past couple of months trying to find a name for a 2-block stretch of Shattuck Avenue East. In the heart of Berkeley downtown, this street has the potential to recognize and uplift America’s rich South Asian American cultural community. Because in an unexpected, yet beautiful turn of events, the Bay Area community is ready to name this street Kala Bagai Way. Anirvan Chatterjee, a San Francisco Bay Area activist who helped organize community support for the name, discusses the implications of this historic naming process in an exclusive interview with India Currents. 

“Berkeley is a roughly 20% Asian American city, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the street names”, Chatterjee said. “I think Kala Bagai was a good fit because she was Asian American, a woman, an immigrant, a member of a minority faith, a survivor of local and federal racism. But she was more than her identity, or what was done to her family. She persisted through heartbreak, emerging as a critical California immigrant community-builder well into her forties. She demonstrated a model of quiet activism that sometimes doesn’t get recognized, but is so critical in our movements and communities.

In terms of her connection to Berkeley, her story shed light on the city’s difficult history around race and housing. It’s easier to honor someone who is a long-term resident, but more challenging—and interesting—to name a street after somebody who wanted to be a neighbor, but was kept out by community racism.” 

Turning a downtown Berkeley street into Kala Bagai Way was certainly an uphill battle. Chatterjee and other local activists worked with descendants of Kala Bagai to tell her story to the media and represent her legacy. They even created a Wikipedia page dedicated to her, so that Berkeley locals could educate themselves on her role in Indian American activism. Chatterjee attended the final meeting of the Berkeley naming advisory committee and noted a discrepancy in Berkeley’s representation and the area itself. Only 2 of the 9 members of the committee were people of color. And while this committee wanted to honor the city’s rich history, they realized that naming the street after Kala Bagai was defined, much like Bagai herself, by risk. 

Kala Bagai (South Asian American Digital Archive)
Kala Bagai (South Asian American Digital Archive)

“She wasn’t the safest possible choice, because her most relevant connection to Berkeley was the way she and her family were kept out,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street after her also means naming an uncomfortable past, and also serves as a reminder to defend all of today’s Kala Bagais, by resisting displacement and welcoming newcomers.”

While Kala Bagai Way is a victory for the Asian American community, it’s hard to celebrate this achievement without recognizing the current backdrop of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Just three weeks ago, a man opened fire at three different massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, killing six Asian American women. This is not an isolated atrocity, but rather one in the many crimes which suggest that America’s terrifying history of prejudice and xenophobia is far from over. Chatterjee thinks that in the wake of these hate crimes, naming this street after a South Asian American activist only grows more necessary. 

“Anti-Asian racism is often rooted in the stereotype of Asian Americans as eternal foreigners, generation after generation,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street isn’t just about community pride, but also about shifting that culture. Naming a downtown street after an Asian American activist who tried to move to Berkeley over a century ago is making a claim to belonging, and is a tiny part of much larger anti-racist movements.” 

While no one knows what the future holds in store for America’s immigrant communities, we hope that symbolic progress leads to constructive change. Indian Americans have played a major role in shaping today’s America, but they often don’t see themselves represented by the local or national leadership. Chatterjee believes that Kala Bagai Way is a foot in the door, and serves as a homage to the footsteps of Asian American activists before him. 

“Our histories are important, both because they’re ours, and also because they connect to larger stories,” Chatterjee says. “We’re walking a path paved by the activism of other communities, like Black activists taking on the honoring of the Confederacy, or Native American activists taking on racist sports teams. The point isn’t just to change the names, but to address what the names represent.”

This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we honor Kala Bagai for all her contributions to our Indian American communities in California.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the 2020 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 


 

Left to Right: Artists in 'Rivers of India' video, Amrit Ramnath and Bombay Jayashri. (Image provided by Kanniks Kannikeswaran)

A Musical Tribute to the Rivers of India Features a Bay Area Chorus

Covid has hit India hard. What started in one part of the world last year, ended up in another part of the world this year. It is a challenging period in human history. Collective global health is on top of all our minds. This period in time has unleashed an invisible, yet, mighty virus that has brought our community to its knees. 

Let us do every bit that we can to help mitigate this suffering. Let us support organizations that are doing the work on the ground. And as we get back to ‘normal’ let us resolve to be mindful – and unite as a kinder, gentler planet.

Rivers of India is a song that evokes exactly this response – it carries a message about ‘water consciousness’ and the consequences of unfettered exploitation of natural resources.

The video tells the story of Indias regard and reverence towards rivers, the growing dependence of an increasing population on rivers, human exploitation of water resources, and its consequences. The video ends with a message of hope and a call to humanity to unite and to work towards protecting our precious water resources.  

Internationally renowned composer, Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran released the music video titled Rivers of India on Earthday 2021. Featured in the video are musical celebrities Padmashri Bombay Jayashri, Kaushiki Chakraborty, Amrit Ramnath, Rishith Desikan, and Sai Shravanam (Production) along with a supporting virtual chorus of committed singers from around the world. The video is released by the International Center for Clean Water, IIT Madras with the objective of creating awareness about our precious water bodies. 

The music was composed just prior to the pandemic and the production commenced in September 2020. It was a collaborative process, with the composer sharing ‘Logic Pro’ sessions on Dropbox, and the Chennai music production team compiling the artists’ recordings in the midst of the pandemic.

Kaushiki Chakraborty and her son recorded in Kolkata, while the 50 singers from all over the world including many from the Bay Area, CA, recorded in their respective cities. The tracks were assembled and the soundscape was created and mixed down by Sai Shravanam at Resound India Studios. Video captures from Chennai, Kolkata, and the United States were integrated into the final music video.  

Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran in a still from 'Rivers of India' video. (Image provided by Kanniks Kannikeswaran)
Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran in a still from ‘Rivers of India’ video. (Image provided by Kanniks Kannikeswaran)

Rivers of India is a tribute to the timeless spirit of India that literally accords a revered status to the life-sustaining water bodies. The music strings together the names of rivers across India and it also includes an iconic line from the Tamil classic, Silappathikaram.  

This music video is the brainchild of Dr. Kannikeswaran. He is a visionary music composer, educator based in the United States and is known for his pioneering work in raga-based choral, orchestral music. All of his productions are consistent with his vision of building bridges across communities, celebrating the message of the interconnectedness of all of life. Kannikeswaran has been described as a renaissance personality who effortlessly traverses diverse disciplines such as music, spirituality, and innovation.

“It is important to call out the rivers by name,” says the composer, “We are inheritors of a legacy that held water resources in the highest regard.”

“The Center for Clean Water hopes that the video will create the much-needed awareness and prompt global audiences to visit our website and figure out how they can be a part of the solution,” says E. Nandakumar, the CEO of the ICCW. The ICCW is an initiative of IIT Madras with a team of water professionals connecting industry with academia. 

 


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

Letters to the Editor: Boost Your Immune Response to COVID

Dear India Currents,

It appears Covid-19 will be with us for a while, and so it makes sense that we prepare ourselves to fight off the virus as best as we can.

Several factors determine how sick one might get from Covid-19. Principal among the reasons appear to be: (1) Viral load carried by the transmitter, (2) Distance from the transmitter to the receiver, (3) Duration for which the receiver remains in the vicinity of the transmitter, and (4) Immunity of the receiver. This brief article focuses on the last x-factor in this list.

First, Yoshinori Ohsumi received the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for showing how fasting is supportive of health and longevity. Researchers report that fasting activates autophagy, the process of cell recycle and renewal, which helps slow the aging process and has a positive impact on cell renewal. Along these lines, supplements such as vitamins D have also been reported to boost immune response.

At the fundamental level, scientists say that they have identified a set of genes that fight the Covid-19 infection. These genes are related to interferons, a group of signaling proteins made and released by the host cells in response to the presence of viruses. The researchers found that a weak interferon response to the infection results in some of the more severe cases of COVID-19. This understanding led researchers to search for the genes that are triggered by interferons, known as interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), which act to limit SARS-CoV-2 infection, and they identified eight such genes.

Against this background, medical researchers have found that meditation lengthens telomeres and slow aging. It is plausible that meditation may strengthen the interferon response, boosting immunity to Covid-19. By now, the medical benefits of meditation are widely documented.

Covid-19 being primarily a disease of the lungs, enhancing the functioning of the lungs should be supportive of higher immunity to the disease as well.

A 2014 report in Nature found that pranayam (breathing exercises) and meditation could help fight flu-like systems. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, The Healing Power of Breathing offered evidence of the medical benefits of proper breathing.

Maybe with the regular practice of pranayam and meditation, fewer people will be sickened by the dreaded disease, and those who do get sick, will not become as sick. Be sure to talk to your healthcare service provider before adopting these suggestions.

Sincerely,

Pradeep B. Deshpande & James P. Kowall


Pradeep B. Deshpande is Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at the University of Louisville, and President of Six Sigma and Advanced Controls, Inc.

James P. Kowall is an independent researcher based in suburban Eugene, Oregon. He is a retired physician certified in Neurology, Internal Medicine, and Sleep Disorder Medicine, and he additionally holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics.

If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact editor@indiacurrents.com with a submission or note. 


 

Amma reading to Medha (Image by Author)

My Mother Kept Her Promise

Like many of us, one of my biggest fears was always that of losing my mother.  Life without her was not conceivable. 

When I was a little girl, and I was exposed to the idea of death for the first time, I remember asking her, “Amma, will you die too?” 

My mother sat me down, looked me in the eyes, and with complete confidence told me, “I will be here as long as you need me.  I will go only when you tell me that you do not need me anymore,”

In my childish mind, that was all the reassurance I wanted.  I would always “need” my mother, and that meant she could not leave me.

Life went on with my relationship with my mother evolving and changing as time went by.  By the time I was 44, my mother was older and frailer, and my relationship with her was that of one between two close buddies.  It was a two-way relationship with my relying on my mother for advice about raising my kids, and seeking comfort when some worldly affair troubled me.  My mother started relying on me to discuss her innermost worries about her health and the family.  The two of us settled into a very comfortable symbiotic relationship. 

This was until January of 2013 when my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  I was now in the US teaching at a university and raising two kids under the age of 10.   The news hit me like a ton of bricks.  I applied for a sabbatical from work to make the most of the time I had left with my mother.  The year was spent shuttling between India and the US, and trying my best to stay present wherever I was.  In March 2013, I was in India for my mother’s 74th birthday.  I got a cake, invited some neighbors, and had as normal a party as possible.   My mother and I both knew but did not acknowledge the elephant in the room – that this could be my mother’s last birthday with us.  My father was not aware of the gravity of the situation, and none of us had the courage to tell him the harsh truth. 

One of my brothers and I took turns to be in India to help our parents.  When I went back in June 2013, my mother, who by now was a lot weaker, still made trips to the local market with me.  Shopping for kitchen goods was our shared passion and, in a typical Indian steel kitchenware store, we both behaved like kids in a candy store.  I could tell that my mother was pushing herself to make the most of the time she had left.  When we sat down in a coffee shop, I could no longer hold the sorrow inside. 

I blurted out to my mother – “Amma, I cannot live without you.”

My mother looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I will leave you only when you are brave enough to let me go.”

I responded “Amma, that will never happen.”   

In my vulnerable mind, if my mother had promised not to leave me until I was ready to let her go, she couldn’t leave.  She always keeps her promises. 

Amma Sadabhishekam
Amma sadabhishekam (Image provided by Author)

September 2013 –  I traveled back to India to give my brother a break from caregiving.  My mother was in the ICU.  Her condition came as a shock to me.  She could barely talk and she could not see anymore.  We did not know this then, but the cancer had found its way to her brain.  The two weeks following that were a blur.  My mother faded into a semi-coma.  Her body was still there but we could no longer communicate with her.   It killed me to see her stare into space when we called her name. 

Then, the bad news arrived.  It was confirmed that the cancer was in the brain.  Our family doctor told us that this was the end and that we should not try any more life-saving measures. The next day, when I was in the hospital, I told the resident doctor in the ICU that we had decided to sign the “Do Not Resuscitate” order.  He pulled out a form and had me read through it.  From where I sat at the doctor’s desk in the ICU, I could see my mother – eyes taped shut, and all kinds of tubes going into her to keep her alive.  The doctor explained to me that when she fails to breathe on her own, her throat would be punctured to insert a ventilator.   Those words punctured my heart.  I looked at my mother feeling fiercely protective of her and told her in my mind: “Amma, I won’t let anyone trouble you anymore.” 

Without any hesitation and without any tears in my eyes, I signed the form.  I walked over to my mother and whispered in her ear “Amma, please go.  This body is not working anymore.  Don’t worry about Appa.  I will take care of him.  Look at me, I am not crying.  I am fine.  Please go”. 

My mother hung on for a few more days, giving my other siblings the opportunity to see her before she passed away on October 9th early in the morning.  I felt numb.  But, I also felt a strange peace.  My mother was no longer suffering.  She had escaped her cancer-ridden body.  She was free. 

A few days later, I remembered my mother’s promise to me –  “I will leave you only when you are brave enough to let me go”.  I cried.  My mother had kept her promise. 

I returned to the US back to my husband and my children. 

My 9-year-old son snuggled up with me one night and asked me, “Mamma, will you die too?” 

I said to him, “I will be here as long as you need me.  I will go only when you tell me that you do not need me anymore.” 

My son heaved a sigh of relief, hugged me tight, and fell asleep.


Shailaja Venkatsubramanyan has taught information systems at San Jose State.  She volunteers with the Plant-Based Advocates of Los Gatos.  http://www.plantbasedadvocates.com/


 

India Currents' Publisher, Vandana Kumar with her mother in India (Image by Vandana Kumar)

Coming Back From India? Follow These Santa Clara County Guidelines

Indian Americans have been traveling to and from India in this time of crisis to spend time with ailing parents and family members. Our Publisher, Vandana Kumar, left San Jose to visit her aging mother in Jamshedpur 3 weeks ago, whom she had not seen in 2 years. Unknowingly, she ended up experiencing peak COVID chaos in India which culminated in a lockdown. Perhaps a bittersweet reminder of why she made the trip in the first place – to spend quality alone time with her mother.

“Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible,” She comments with poignancy in her article about traveling to India in April 2021.

Luckily, Santa Clara County has information and resources to support community members impacted by the crisis. The County offers the following guidance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect the entire community’s health, and provide support and resources to those who have traveled recently.

Although the US government is restricting travel from India as of May 4, 2021, this guidance applies to those who have recently arrived from India and any travelers who are exempt from the travel restriction.

Recommendations for Travelers Arriving from India:

All unvaccinated travelers should immediately quarantine for 10 days:

The County strongly urges unvaccinated travelers returning from India to immediately quarantine for 10 days after arriving in Santa Clara County, as recommended by the California Department of Public Health. Travelers should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms throughout the quarantine period. Visit www.sccstayhome.org to learn more.

The quarantining traveler(s) should remain separate from people they did not travel with, meaning that the arriving traveler(s) should stay in a separate room within a home or stay in a hotel.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in India should quarantine for 10 days:

The recommendation to quarantine applies despite vaccination, given the extremely high rates of COVID-19 and incomplete information about vaccines currently deployed in India.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in the US do not need to quarantine:

For travelers who have been fully vaccinated with one of the three vaccines with Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA (Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson), the recommendation to quarantine does not apply.

All travelers should get a COVID-19 Test 3-5 Days After Arrival in the US:

All arriving travelers should test on day 3, 4, or 5 after arriving in the US, even if vaccinated.

The County offers many options for free testing, including drive-through testing. Visit www.sccfreetest.org to learn more and find a location. Testing does not require insurance.

If a Traveler test positive, they should isolate:

If an arriving traveler tests positive for COVID-19, they should isolate to protect others from getting infected. This means that the person who tested positive should stay home, separate themselves from others in the home (i.e., in a separate room), not allow visitors, not use public transportation, and not prepare or serve food for others.

The County offers resources, including motel placements and assistance with food, for those who cannot afford to isolate themselves without help. Visit www.sccstayhome.org  or call (408) 808-7770.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

BLM Organizer At My School Was Targeted By A Gun Dealer: A Next-Gen Desi Reflection

(Featured Image: Denel McMahan speaking with ABC News)

Weeks before a youth-led Black Lives Matter protest that took place outside the Dublin Civic Center, owner of local gun business Mike Grant posted a picture of the 17-year old organizer, Denel McMahan, on his Facebook page. The caption read, “Please bring your vests and helmets in case these BLM people start trouble. Remember this group is known as a left-wing anti-government group. Take Dublin back!”

Within days, the veiled threat garnered a swift and strong backlash from the Dublin community and beyond. From city residents to Congressman Eric Swalwell, people came together to defend “these BLM people” and the cause they champion. 

When I first learned about the situation, I was curious to know who “these BLM people” were, and how Grant’s social media targeting has affected them in this increasingly polarized climate. I had a chat with high school senior, Denel McMahan, president of Dublin High’s Black Student Union, member of the Tri-Valley Black Lives Matter movement, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award at the City of Pleasanton’s annual Community of Character Collaborative. Denel was inspired by the string of protests that captured the heart of America this past summer and wanted to bring peaceful advocacy to his city.  

Denel McMahan’s Thoughts

1) You’re a staunch supporter of racial equality and a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a Gen Z activist, how do you think social media and the Internet Age have affected both racism and social advocacy? 

I think that social media has been a great resource throughout this period of COVID-19 and quarantine. The thing that I love about it is that social media has no boundary when it comes to education. People are free to post about whatever in its true form. This includes history. In school, history is heavily censored and manipulated in order to make students comfortable. However, to make real change we need to stop desiring comfortability. We learn about history to avoid repeating it, but we are right now due to sheltering students from traumatic concepts. The same goes for the internet too. I’ve learned more Black history myself through Google than I have in my 11 and a half years of schooling. My parents are also a great resource, but not everyone has parents who understand Black history in its entirety or are Black in general. So, if you want to learn more about truthful history, I recommend looking through Social Media and researching through Google. 

2) At school, you’re the president of the Black Student Union. How has this experience shaped your journey of raising awareness and initiating change in your community as a whole?

My presidency has allowed me to earn a platform that is being taken seriously by our administration. For 3 years, I sat and watched the past presidents and how they ran the BSU. Through that, I began to shape my leading style and figured out what I wanted to do with my position. With it, I wanted to do the best I could. I not only wanted to improve our BSU and increase its presence on campus, but I wanted to make sure that we were involved in the Black Lives Matter movement efforts in Dublin. A protest was held in Dublin and there was so much support. Eventually, the other BSU officers and I drafted plans for school change, and our admin engaged heavily with us and is even making more opportunities for us to help the community out more.  

3) Post the election, we find ourselves at the precipice of extraordinary political change. What legislative changes do you hope our new administration will bring to address racism, criminal justice, and police brutality?

I just hope that there’s some sense of accountability that comes with a new president. Of course, the President doesn’t have all the power in the federal government, but I feel that at least when incidents of brutality happen, we will have his support. The other big thing that I would want to see is national reparations. Those have been promised to Black Americans since the end of Slavery, but they haven’t been done. They are currently planning a reparations task force in California, so that would be interesting to see what they try to implement. However, they need to be done at the national level since slavery was pretty much a national thing before it ended. 

4) If you’re comfortable speaking about this, what was the experience of seeing Mr. Grant’s Facebook post like? Was this kind of backlash something you’ve experienced in the past?

It was very worrying for me. When I saw the post, I was in Las Vegas for my sister’s 21st birthday. When I got word of the post, I was physically shaking. My face had been posted in a public, alt-right Facebook group for many conservatives to see. I saw that it had 29 shares, so that was 30 people who saw me as some thug trying to destroy Dublin, which in no case I was. The event was passed unanimously and was city-sponsored. A huge part of my nervousness was also because this was the first time I received public backlash. I knew I would eventually get some, but never that quick and never by a grown man. 

5) In a conversation with ABC News, you mentioned that you’re willing to have a conversation with Mr. Grant. Do you feel like conversations like this are possible at a larger scale, where protestors and counter-protestors can reach a middle ground in constructive, innocuous ways?

Honestly, I believe that the political climate has destroyed any possibility of large-scale, constructive conversations. I think the best way to have them is in private so that all you need to do is to listen. A simple one-on-one conversation to get to a middle ground is the most effective way to do so. However, I hope that one day, groups of people from different beliefs can come together and conversate without it becoming ineffective or violent. 

6) What advice do you have for other young people who want to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement?

My advice is to be vocal. In this time, silence also means compliance. Take the time to understand it and bring it close to you. Even in this time of COVID, there are social media platforms. Making and sharing posts are still great ways to advocate for the movement. If you find yourself wanting to protest, don’t be scared. The supporters will always outweigh the opposition. 

The Sign Garden For Justice Project was organized by Tri-Valley Black Lives Matter (Photo: Denel McMahan)

My Thoughts

These are wise words, especially coming from an individual who helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest on November 15th. The demonstration was both peaceful and successful, with Denel and his peers giving speeches about racism, their participation in the Black Student Union, and the harsh realities of police brutality in America. In a creative display of solidarity, this protest featured a ‘Sign Garden’, where signs and posters supporting the Black Lives Matter were placed everywhere from City Hall to the Civic Plaza. These signs were both positive and united, some of them including messages like, “Fear and hate have no place here” and “Color is not a crime”. 

Personally, I’m both relieved and overjoyed that this demonstration, despite the initial conflict, remained peaceful and constructive. It was interesting to see this single cause bring together different generations, ethnicities, and cities to reflect on racial justice. But I can’t help but harken back to Denel’s comment about initiating a conversation with Grant. What does the exchange between these two political antipodes suggest about the future of race relations in America? 

In a flash of optimism, I’d like to believe that recorded displays of police brutality, such as the tragic murder of George Floyd, will bring different ends of the socio-political spectrum together. As said by Will Smith, “Racism is not getting worse; it’s getting recorded.” Before videos of racism had the opportunity to go viral on social media and mainstream news outlets, it was far easier for American citizens to exist within an ideological bubble, where systemic oppression did not exist. That’s much harder to do when they’re being confronted by a live video of police brutality and racial profiling at its worst. 

Furthermore, I do think that the coronavirus outbreak may offer a moment for the public to self-reflect, and consider how racial and socio-economic privilege has ravaged the very ideals we consider the ‘soul’ of America. After the strong online response to his incendiary post, Grant discussed how he became ‘educated’ about what it means to be a person of color in the United States in a phone interview with ABC

“I never thought a 17-year old-boy could teach a 65-year-old man something, but he did,” said Grant. “For the last four-and-a-half days I’ve lived it. Just with phone calls, and texts, and hate mail and stuff. Now I think I understand why this young man is doing this, to try to educate people.” 

The First Amendment of the American Constitution offers each one of us a voice, but these voices are muffled or confined in echo chambers due to political polarization. And personally, I can attest to subscribing to certain echo chambers myself. My social media feed is primarily consumed by individuals who shared the same political views that I do. My choices in mainstream media are a reflection of my opinions as well.

As an Indian-American, I think my identity as an immigrant has definitely been splintered along the lines of these echo chambers as well. During the 2020 election, for example, I found myself isolating myself from certain subsets of the Indian-American population who identified as Trump supporters. Amid the growing strength of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve seen so many Indian-Americans distance themselves from conversations about racial equality because they don’t learn (and perhaps don’t want to learn) about racial hierarchies and the myth that is America’s “Model Minority”. As immigrants, the echo chambers of this nation have only made our ignorance of the issues that plague our communities more convenient. 

And while these tendencies may be very normal on both ends of the spectrum in our heated political climate, they also contribute to ideological myopia. Men like Mike Grant have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man, constantly targeted and unjustly policed. They read and watch media which feeds them highly distorted narratives on race in this country, and it shows.

Prior to this incident, I can’t help but wonder if Grant has ever had a constructive, honest conversation with a supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Could this gap be bridged? Perhaps the path to an educated America — an America willing to recognize its racism for what it is — requires a space where these conversations can take place.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. Kanchan is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, and was the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 

Children volunteering at a Save The Bay project

Saving The Bay On A Sunday Morning

At the Front Door: Climate Change & the Bay Area –  a column on climate change in our lives

A few years ago, I started to wonder what success means to me. I came across the story of Watsi, the first non-profit to join Y-Combinator. In his startup school video, Chase Adams, the founder, talks about his journey building Watsi. The most impactful part of his story is the message that success to him meant helping just one more person and trying to do something that mattered more than his personal needs. This message resonated with me. The companies we work at, the job titles we hold, the money we make, the size of our homes, the cars we drive, the holidays we take, are not a measure of how successful we are.

The question to ask is, can we make a positive impact on at least one life, human or otherwise? If so, it is impossible for us to fail. 

I started on my journey to find something that mattered more than just my personal needs and wants. I found that environmental related charities received only 3% of all charitable donations and volunteering hours. This was a surprise to me given that climate change is the biggest threat we face. There were large gaps in awareness of the climate change crisis and a lack of  involvement from governments, business leaders and communities to solve the problem.

I started looking into how to be part of the solutions and where to start. 

Through friends at work, I connected with  organizations such as Save the Bay and  started seeking out other local organizations. I found that Our City Forest held several volunteering events over the weekend to plant trees in the Bay Area. It was a perfect opportunity to engage our children in something we can do together outdoors while also helping to make our community greener.

Kids participate in tree planting with Our City Forest in the Bay Area
Seema’s son volunteering with Our City Forest

I enrolled in Climate Reality Leadership Corps training led by Al Gore and engaged with my employer’s Green Employee resource group. As I started to become more aware of the various problems we face, so did the kids. They started to ask questions about things that didn’t look right.

“Mom, why is there so much plastic packaging?” “Why are there so many cars on the road?”

I encouraged them to pose the same question to business leaders and government officials – how will they solve these problems? I helped my kids write letters to the head of BART, the mayor of San Jose and to business leaders at Emirates, Kiwi Crate, and Amazon. Sometimes we heard back, but more importantly, we talked about how important it is to use our voice and refuse to accept the status quo in situations that can be harmful to our future. Kids are now using their skills to help create media to spread the message of climate change and what each of us can do about it.

Last year, on a cold November Saturday morning, I woke up my 7 year old son and 4 year old daughter early, packed some snacks and headed towards Marin. We were going to volunteer with Save The Bay at Bel Marin Keys to help restore wetlands. This was our first volunteering event together and we had a blast being outdoors, working to help restore nature. Since then, as a family, we have volunteered to plant trees, created videos and stories to share information about climate change, written to business leaders and government officials to do their part to tackle climate change and designed clothing to promote climate advocacy.

At home, we started with small changes to reduce our personal impact. We switched to bamboo toothbrushes, started to buy used books, exchange clothes instead of buying new ones, limit water wastage, use refillable bathroom products and to limit the use of products that have plastic materials or packaging. But we know that the biggest impact that we can have at a personal level is transitioning to clean energy for heating, cooling and transportation and changing our diets to be meat and dairy free. 

We have taken advantage of the opportunity to switch to 100% clean electricity through TotalGreen San Jose and are looking into how to transition to electric heaters from natural gas. And, while being vegetarian is an easier change for us, growing up with dairy products makes this change harder. However, black tea is turning out to be just as satisfying!  

When we think about sustainability, what we have to give up is not as important as t what we will gain. We will gain a healthier life, breathe cleaner air, drink purer water, live in a world where nature and biodiversity are thriving, giving us the opportunity to explore nature at its best. 

Start with small changes and work your way towards a truly sustainable lifestyle that becomes second nature to us. 


Seema Jethani is a sustainability advocate and a Climate Reality Leader with the Climate Reality Project.  She lives in San Jose with her husband and two elementary school age kids with whom she has been actively working in the community on the climate crisis, through various initiatives such as volunteering, social media engagement and petitioning elected officials and business leaders.

Edited by Meera Kymal, the contributing editor at India Currents.

Come Celebrate The Holidays At Filoli

Holidays at Filoli is the perfect season to make special memories with loved ones and friends. The historic House and Garden will be glittering and glowing with festive cheer every day and night of the week through January 3. Filoli is one of a kind. With its 16-acres of historic garden the unique landscape provides the perfect setting to connect with loved ones and appreciate beauty.

For fun festivities join us on Mondays for Holiday Themed Nights! From Pajama Party to Solstice Night, we’re making Mondays merry and bright with a selection of jolly dress-up prompts. Match the theme and get a special gift. On select Saturdays in December our ever-popular Santa Saturdays are back with a twist! Santa will be located outdoors on our beautiful Woodland Garden Court. You and yours are invited to take a socially distanced selfie with Santa himself.

To get you in the spirit we’re hosting a Holiday Bar on the Woodland Garden Court throughout the Holiday season, featuring a selection of wine, beer, warm libations, and mixed cocktails. Cozy up to a firepit and enjoy a beverage of your choice. Festive food and treats are available at the Quail’s Nest Cafe by the Town Kitchen. Highlights from the menu include peppermint hot chocolate and tasty seasonal coffee drinks in addition to holiday cookies and confections.

The Clock Tower Shop is the destination for carefully curated holiday gifts and decor. Our outdoor Courtyard will be filled with holiday greens, specialty and dwarf conifers, garden sculptures and ceramics as well as unique varieties of camellias, daphne and azaleas. And don’t forget to look for our favorite tulip and daffodil bulbs! In the Shop themes of Mrs. Claus’ Bakeshop, Elves in the Toyshop, and Nature Wonderland come to life with beautiful displays featuring blown glass ornaments, tea towels, baking dishes, artisanal soaps, stuffed animals and more.

We’re open every day and every night of the week for you to enjoy the wonder of Holidays at Filoli to your heart’s content! Purchase your tickets online for Daytime or Evening Admission today, we’re open 7 days a week from 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Advanced registration is required. Each year we look ahead with great hope about the joy this season will bring. We can’t wait to see you!

 

Silicon Valley’s Success Sits on Toxic ‘Superfund’ Sites

At the Front Door – a column on climate change in our lives

The Environmental Burdens on our Neighbors

Silicon Valley has been one of the greatest wealth generators in the United States. Yet this wealth has come at a price, one that hasn’t been shared equally amongst the residents of the Bay Area. The more ‘visual’ costs, such as skyrocketing rents and urban sprawl obscure the more subtle, but far more dangerous and long-terms costs right beneath our feet. Literally. The true cost of Silicon Valley’s success is in the ground you stand on. Santa Clara County is home to 23 superfund sites, the most of any county in the United States. If you live in the South Bay, you are never more than a short drive from one of these sites. If you live in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, or San Jose, you can probably walk to one.

A site gains a superfund status if it scores above a 28.5 or higher out of 100 on the EPA’s Hazard Ranking System, which is a measurement of the site’s threat to human health. Sites must reach a certain level of severity before they can be designated as a ‘superfund’, which lets the government to force the parties responsible to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup. There are also hundreds of other toxic sites which don’t qualify as superfund sites which are scattered across Silicon Valley.

To understand where we are, we need to look at where we have been. Silicon Valley earned its name by hosting semiconductor and microprocessor companies such as Atari, Fairchild, Hewlett-Packard. These companies used a solvent called trichloroethylene (TCE) in their manufacturing process. TCE is now a known human carcinogen and can also cause birth defects. After use, the TCE was poured down drains or kept in storage tanks which subsequently leaded and contaminated local groundwater.  In some instance, the pollutants can re-emerge as vapor and result in ‘toxic plumes’ or ‘vapor intrusion zones’.

The environmental burden of these sites fallen unevenly upon the shoulders of people of color and the poor, as most sites “are predominantly situated in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara County cities which are comprised of the highest percentage of low socioeconomic immigrants of color.” Unsurprisingly, the whiter cities of Palo Alto and Cupertino host far fewer sites.

I live in northern Sunnyvale and I can easily walk to half a dozen, three of which are collectively called the ‘Sunnyvale Triple-site’. The vapor intrusion zone from this site encompass 400 homes and four schools, including the majority-Latino San Miguel Elementary School. Polluted in the 1980, the site was only fully cleaned up in the last decade and is now closely monitored by authorities.

Superfund sites are not the only environmental legacy of the economic boom. Another is traffic, a problem which plagues most of the Bay area, and Highway 101 is the “area’s most toxic industrial belt, with contamination impacting air, water, and soil.”

It is not a coincidence that Highway 101 through the same areas of Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and San Jose which host the highest concentration of minorities (and superfund sites).

The highway also runs through East Palo Alto on its way to San Francisco. East Palo Alto is diverse city with 61%  of its residents identifying as Latino, 15.6% African American/Black, and 11% Asian. The median income in 2018 was $58,783, a far cry from the average of $137,000 in whiter neighboring Palo Alto. Children in East Palo Alto are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from asthma as children in the rest of San Mateo County, and life expectancy is 13 years shorter.

And East Palo Alto isn’t an exception but rather part of a trend, a paper published by researchers at Santa Clara University noted that,

“Environmental burdens are concentrated along transportation routes and industrial centers that represent Silicon Valley’s rapid development. Hispanic populations, people of color, and socially vulnerable populations…are more likely to be exposed to multiple environmental hazards than other groups.”

The term ‘environmental burdens’ doesn’t quite convey the truth that our neighbors who bear these ‘burden’ will be sicker and die sooner than our neighbors without such burdens.

I felt two things when I learned this: shocked and lucky. Shocked, because I had no idea of the history of pollution and injustice which underlay the success of Silicon Valley.  And lucky, because while traffic is annoying I don’t live in an area where I have to worry that car exhaust will damage my health or the health of my family. Nor do I have to decide between affordable housing and living in an area which could be exposed to toxic vapor plumes.

And now I feel determined, because I can do something to help my neighbors who do have to worry about these things. I can vote for people who take environmental issues seriously, and who support clean public transportation. I can advocate at the state and local level for our legislators to ensure that the benefits and burdens of success are distributed more equally. I can speak up because we are all part of this community, and it is my responsibility to help my neighbors.


Erin Zimmerman was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project  and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Image by Hermina Olah Vass  @beautymakesasound

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