Tag Archives: Community

Deepen Your Roots: ASAWA Models Community Outreach

I remember my first day at my Americorps program, Public Allies Silicon Valley – a program which recruits young people to engage in grassroots activism. I stood alone – the only Indian in the room of 40 people. Discomfort was the first emotion. Will anyone understand my SRK references? Soon after, I was perplexed. I live in the Bay Area, how could this be? 

Growing up as a first generation Indian American, I would get frustrated with my parent’s generation. Though immigrants, like my parents, are integral members of their community, they sometimes lack awareness about the foreign land we are now structurally a part of and the diversity of the people around us. 

Community engagement and interest in the space around them is what will make America feel like their own, but they forget to empower and uplift our colleagues and allies. Their pursuits don’t align with social justice.

I yearn for South Asian activism, which at times has felt nonexistent or ignorant. 

I am always astounded by the inimitable perseverance I’ve seen from my immigrant parents, friends and their families. Caught in an unfamiliar culture, they stand focused, driven, patient, invested in their children and their future.

I have come to understand them better and I don’t blame them. They were preoccupied with survival. I am preoccupied with the future. A condition of privilege.

Truly a minority in the U.S., constituting 1.6% of the American population, South Asian Americans are left to their own devices–trying to string together a network of people with the limited resources they have. Since 2010, the South Asian population in America has increased by 40%. There is a growing need for community based activism.

Our culture is a non native seedling in a brush of old plants with deep roots. In order for the new roots to take, it must be given water and nutrition, nurture and care. Without it, it will be overtaken.

But it’s a new time. A new generation of South Asian immigrants. And someone needed to remind me.

Who better to introduce me to my changing landscape in Almaden, South San Jose, California, but my mother. 

I walked into the Almaden Library and Community Center on October 19, 2019, my first time in 10 years, to attend a Diwali event. I was there in support of my mother’s dance group, as the duties of the devoted fangirl requires.

I scanned the room for a familiar face. To my surprise, I didn’t recognize a single person in the room. What’s more? There was a niche group of women, members of the Almaden South Asian Women’s Association (ASAWA), running the event. 

Oomung Bollywood Dance at ASAWA’s Diwali Event

ASAWA had put on a Diwali event with local artists, performers, and vendors, to fundraise for breast cancer. I immediately felt like my community had been revitalized. There was a fresh energy in this room of 275 people, more people than I’d ever seen at the community center. There were children dancing to ‘Coca Cola Tu’, parents running after their babies with a samosa in hand, high school students collecting event donations, performances ranging from poetry to singing and dancing. Every age group was engaged and the feeling was palpable. The town I had grown up in and felt I had known, had transformed. 

ASAWA was founded by Suchitra Patri, a working mother of two, with no familial network in Almaden. When she fell sick six years ago, she had to rely on her husband to take her to doctor’s appointments. The implications of being an immigrant and the void of being without parents and siblings created the impetus to form ASAWA in March of 2019. They didn’t have financing or 501(c)(3) status but it was the non financial help from friends like Aruna Iyer, that gave AWAWA life. ASAWA could be the network that would support without the implied feeling of burden; an organization borne to nurture and shower the sapling roots that push through the dry dirt and established roots, to find some space for themselves. 

Since then, ASAWA has opened its doors to a wide variety of people – Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Caribbean, and everything in between. It  prides itself on inclusivity and ensuring that every South Asian demographic has a safe space– They have tackled youth, senior, health, and education initiatives and developed a community and an advocate base. ASAWA isn’t tied to political or religious views, rather, they extend a helping hand where they see disparity. 

Their efforts are novel and forward-thinking, creating dialogue in the Almaden South Asian diaspora – and include inviting San Jose Mental Health Awareness Group to de-stigmatize mental health, leveraging social services programs to help visiting parents who may not have health insurance and advocating for children at their local schools against racism.

ASAWA is a model for what is and what can be; community specific work that addresses the needs of the community. ASAWA is one of the few South Asian organizations in the Bay Area trying to contribute back to its microcosm. 

Numerous studies show how important representation can be for minorities and people of color. The next generation of minority children are more likely to pursue diverse career pathways if they see someone like themselves having done it before them. The next generation needs strong role models and activists; people that are fighting for them and their interests. If you are interested in getting involved with ASAWA or have ideas, check out their website here

We are stronger together and we are here to stay.

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

Falguni Pathak Sings for Local Bay Area Charity

This season of Navaratri brings with it garba, dandiya, music, masti, and hordes of Indian Americans ready to celebrate! Traditionally, garba/dandiya is associated with the region of Gujarat, however, all over America, this practice has been adopted by all. Uttar Pradesh Mandal of America (UPMA) is one such local Bay Area organization that has used the love of garba and dandiya for a good cause. On Friday, October 18th, at the San Jose Convention Center, UPMA held a benefit garba, Festival of Life “Dandiya Dhoom”, with world renowned singer, Falguni Pathak. UPMA has used the money they have raised over the past year from such events to build 10 daycare centers in Chitrakoot and helped 15,000 underprivileged women become empowered and get married. I was lucky to attend such an event on Friday October 18th; it was a night of synchronization, music, energy made unforgettable by Falguni Pathak’s infectious energy. 

“Every penny earned [by UPMA] is sent back to India.”

From left to right, Ashish Rastogi, Kiran Pandey, Manju Mishra, Nilu Gupta.

UPMA’s light and energy is sourced from founder, former President, and current Chairperson, Nilu Gupta. Nilu Gupta and Prakash Agrawal co-founded the organization in 2006 when they saw a gap in knowledge and retention of UP culture in the Bay Area.

As a Hindi professor at De Anza Community College, Nilu Ji also runs one of the few college credit Hindi courses in California; she is trying to inspire the next generation of Indian Americans to grasp their native language and keep it alive.

UPMA is not without a team of volunteers and the current president, Ritesh Tandon, is working tirelessly to keep the organization vibrant. Attending events like Festival of Life shows support for Indian culture in the Bay Area and allows us to be civically engaged transcontinentally. To learn more about UPMA, to volunteer, or to find out about upcoming events check out their website http://upmaglobal.org/.

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Inder Singh: A Loss to Our Community

Inder Singh a local, national and global leader of the Indian community has passed. He leaves behind his wife, a son, a daughter, two granddaughters, numerous friends and relatives, and a community he deeply loved. He showed a profound dedication and caring for his community, and has left a lasting legacy.

Mr. Singh started several Indian community organizations in the last 45 years.  He presided over an umbrella group (FIA of southern California), became President and CEO of a national organization (NFIA), President (2004-9) and chairman (2009-16) of a global Diaspora organization – Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and was an Executive Trustee of the GOPIO Foundation. In 2015, he chaired the Regional Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (RPBD) organization in Los Angeles.

Mr. Singh has chaired reception committees hosting serving presidents of two countries: President of India, Giani Zail Singh (in 1984); and the President of the United States, George H.W. Bush (in 1989 and 1991). He also facilitated the reception of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by the Mayor of Los Angeles. He has organized numerous events involving dignitaries including California governors, US congressmen & senators, Indian ambassadors & Consuls General, ministers from India, and local elected officials. The Counsel General of India in San Francisco, Mr. Sanjay Panda, visited Mr. Singh’s wife, Mrs. Gurdip Inder (Deepi) Singh, to share his condolences from the community. Mr. Singh will be missed.

Involvement with the Indian community at the global level

Mr. Inder Singh was an Executive Trustee of the GOPIO Foundation. Through GOPIO, an international body serving the interests of the globally spread Indian Diaspora, he was chairman from 2009-16, and president and CEO from 2004 to 2009.  As president of GOPIO, Mr. Singh expanded the reach of the organization by over 10-fold. Twelve international conferences were organized to increase networking of overseas Indians.

Campaign against Supply of AWACS

Mr. Singh successfully championed a nation-wide campaign against the supply of highly sophisticated military hardware, including AWACS. He convinced many US lawmakers about the potential dangers.

Recognizing and Rewarding Talent

Mr. Singh, who encouraged higher education as one of his many passions, created the  Indian American Heritage Foundation (IAHF) 34 years ago. As chairman and president, he instituted an awards function in 1987 to recognize and reward talented Indian American high school graduates. Starting with eight scholarships, the number and amount of scholarships has been increased steadily. For the last few years, twenty-four scholarships are given out annually.

Mr Singh will be deeply missed; his legacy lives on in our hearts and minds.

Towards Richness of Life: A New Silicon Valley Institution

By: Kailash Joshi Ph.D., President- Hindu Community Institute

Rich Hindu wisdom, traditions, and extended family support are a great blessing when it comes to celebrations, the passage of life and matters relating to the quality of life. 

I was a beneficiary of this heritage when I was left in deep distress at the sudden passing of my late wife Hem Lata following a serious illness. My family and friends helped with the last rites, new living arrangements, and the disposition of untold household possessions. I will be ever grateful to those who maintained a regular program of bhajans and potluck dinners for over a year. That helped me greatly with my bereavement and restoration of hope.

Psychology of Counseling by HCI Dean Dr. Naras Bhat (L) and Dr Kusum Bhat (visiting)

In May 2018, after years of deliberations, a group of professionals and executives in Silicon Valley founded the Hindu Community Institute, HCI, and launched its inaugural course. On August 18th 2019, twenty Counselors of Hindu Tradition (CHT’s) will receive their certificates and begin serving families and institutions. This Fall the second course will begin with Sunday-classes at Milpitas, CA and online for students from other major cities.

Panel on Facets of Elder Care (L-to-R Dr. Rita Ghatak, Dr. Neelu Mehra,: Dr. Anjali Sagdeo, Dr. Jerina Kapoor, Dr Jyoti Lulla)

The mission of  HCI (www.hinduci.org) is to provide world-class quality of life education to professionals who want to “give back” and “learn to serve”. The curriculum includes counseling skills, the teachings of Bhagavad Gita and best practices from all traditions.

The 300,000 Hindus living in the greater Bay Area now have a network of CHT’s to guide in their celebrations, grieving and life situations. The services are equally available to non-Hindus.

Invitation to Serve and be Served

By: Gaurav Rastogi, Academic Dean- Hindu Community Institute

Karma Yoga for Modern Professionals, by HCI Dean Gaurav Rastogi

If you are ready to contribute, we invite you to volunteer, make donations and join the CHT course.  If you need to receive guidance on some matters, please call our dedicated line listed on the website (http://www.hinduci.org). 

Doing things for others gives great satisfaction. A mother’s joy at feeding her child, devotees making garlands at the temple, or simply opening the door for strangers. But to learn to serve as a lifelong capability, we created the CHT course for professionals from all walks of life.

HCI’s CHTs Engaged in Class Discussion

Since launching HCI, we learned that teaching is a powerful service. More than 30 doctors, academics and experts accepted our request to teach and delightfully, no one declined. ( HCI faculty https://www.hinduci.org/about)

We learned that learning to serve is a lifelong gift to yourself, your community, clients, and to your family. (Join CHT 2020 course https://www.hinduci.org/counselor-course)

We learned that there is a latent yearning to serve. For every US dollar donation, we receive 9-dollars equivalent in volunteer services contribution. We call these “Om Dollars”, and these simplify our fundraising by directly getting us the needed services, and volunteers are happy to build their Om dollar accounts. (Volunteer positions https://www.hinduci.org/join)

In addition to Om dollars, HCI requires US dollar contributions for technical support and to create vital long-term infrastructure. (Donate Uncle Sam money  https://www.hinduci.org/donate)

In summary, as the Hindu diaspora becomes mainstream, it needs institutions like HCI to support the rich traditions and serve the wider society. Join us on this exciting journey! 

First Sari Parade Held in San Francisco

All photos: Alpana Aras. www.alpanaaras.com

WomenNow organized a Sari Parade where over 600 participants walked down the streets of San Francisco, flaunting their culture and identity woven in five yards of grace.

The Sari Parade was held at the fifth annual Spring India Day Festival this June and this unique parade took place for the first time ever. Both events were free for all, resulting in an amalgamation of cultures tied together with dance and music. Lining the parade were stalls of food, clothes and jewelry similar to a street market in India.

The buzzing excitement of participants wearing Incredible India sashes, the dances along with live Dhol, and the colorful landscape of Union Square evoked emotions beyond a national pride. This truly was a showcase of India’s true colors and heritage.

Photo: Alpana Aras. www.alpanaaras.com

The event was held in collaboration with Compassionate Chef, which works with the Tenderloin After School Program to help impoverished kids obtain the resources to become global citizens.

Notable guests in attendance included Mayor London Breed and the Consul General of India, Sanjay Panda.

Mayor London Breed gave an encouraging speech about how our different cultures and families bring us together, and how our different backgrounds are an important identity of the city of San Francisco.
A vast spectrum of participants from housewives, to models, Silicon Valley technology gurus, doctors, engineers, as well as representatives from every other professions were present. The vast spectrum of saris were showcased and every style of sari from traditional to modern, every type of drape, and every color were in attendance.
In the midst of the parade were demonstrations of how to drape a sari in various styles for everyone to learn more about what exactly a sari means to an Indian women.
The parade was sponsored by Incredible India! India’s official tourism agency, to showcase Indian tourism. Other sponsors include Zee TV, Rotimatic Singapore and Shasta India.

San Jose Makes Plans for Coyote Valley

Under the watchful eyes of dozens of community activists who hours earlier had rallied outside on the plaza, San Jose’s City Council held a study session Jan. 22 to discuss plans for Coyote Valley.

The valley is a 7,400-acre swath of farms and undeveloped land extending south from San Jose to Morgan Hill, between the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west and the Diablo Range to the east.

By an overwhelming margin 71%  voters in November endorsed Measure T, which authorized the city to float $650 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements throughout San Jose, including up to $50 million to buy land in Coyote Valley for conservation purposes.

Among the expected benefits are natural flood mitigation, enhanced groundwater protection and wildlife habitat and open space for recreational purposes.

The city must now decide how to spend the bond money. Besides Coyote Valley, the city is looking at what to prioritize with the other $600 million of bond money, intended to be spent fixing roads and bridges and upgrading fire stations and emergency operations.

But the Jan. 22 study session was all about how to proceed in Coyote Valley. And although the voting public spoke clearly in its 71% support of Measure T, developers and Coyote Valley property owners are holding out hopes of making more money by building there. The city could opt to spend less than the $50 million voters authorized, or look for options that would still allow some Coyote Valley development. But, Greenbelt Alliance program director Brian Schmidt told Ethnic Media Services, doing so would “not be following the spirit of the measure.”

Over the course of four and a half hours, the City Council heard presentations organized into three categories: “Land Use Planning,” “Environmental Perspective” and “Development Perspective.” Then, for 45 minutes, the public was allowed a chance to address the council, in one-minute increments per speaker.

Opening the land use planning portion of the discussions, Chris Burton, deputy director of the city’s Office of Economic Development, reminded the council that Coyote Valley development had long factored into the city’s planning as an “employment lands growth area.” As such, it has been expected to deliver tens of thousands of jobs, primarily from an industrialized northern sector of the valley. San Jose land with that designation is in relatively short supply and job opportunities are limited for those without higher education degrees.

The environmental panel emphasized the hope of creating a wildlife corridor so animals can range freely between the mountain ranges. By restoring the valley’s Laguna Seca wetlands and taking full advantage of unpaved ground’s ability to absorb rainfall, the city will be protecting and replenishing the aquifer, they argued, safeguarding the source of a third of the city’s drinking water. Doing so would also help prevent catastrophic flooding such as the city experienced in December 2017 ꟷ and is continuing to remediate, at a cost surpassing $100 million. They also emphasized the value of protecting a natural habitat for people’s recreational use and reminded the council that aesthetic values also can provide economic benefits.

Burton also led the development presentation, with representatives of real estate developer Scannell Corp, real estate investment firm Jones, Lang LaSalle, and Kate Sofis, of SFMake and Manufacture: San Jose.

Collectively, they argued that Coyote Valley represents the city’s best opportunity to attract businesses that can’t afford downtown rents and would otherwise find Newark, Fremont, Tracy or Livermore more attractive options.

In the question-and-answer period that followed, Mayor Sam Liccardo asked them about the added cost developers face due to the state’s VMT  vehicle miles traveled assessment. The VMT factor is a product of the state legislature’s SB 743 from 2013, which San Jose chose to implement in 2018. It will apply statewide by July 2020, part of the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases, it imposes a fee on new projects based on their anticipated traffic impacts.

A 200,000- to 500,000-square-foot facility, employing 1,000-1,200 workers, would incur about $17 million in transit fees, the Scannell Corporation representative calculated.

“No matter how much they want to be near San Jose, they’re going to move to Tracy or Livermore,” he said.

“The state (California) may have just decided this for us,” Liccardo replied.

District 10 council rep Johnny Khamis asked how much flooding might be prevented by preserving the open space, and had some pointed questions about the effect of surrendering possible job creation by declining to industrialize Coyote Valley.

An unofficial appraisal of the privately held Coyote Valley lands is about $130 million. The Peninsula Open Space Trust has pledged to pony up what the city cannot and already begun the process.

Other possible sources of funding include FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the Army Corps of Engineers, which support flood mitigation efforts.

Dozens of people filled out public comment cards for the opportunity to voice their opinions at the conclusion of the session. Some called for “a balanced approach.” Others bemoaned a “short-term pursuit of tax revenue,” saying “the jobs are not going to be coming full force” because changes in technology, for example, are likely to alter the economic landscape.

Others emphasized the special qualities of the land in its natural state. “This is unique, irreplaceable and also a flood plain,” one said. “Coyote Valley is doing its actual, natural job. Just protect the land and stick with the voters.”

The next City Council meeting, on Feb. 12, will feature more comprehensive discussions about Measure T.  Three council members were absent for the Coyote Valley study session: District 4’s Lan Diep, District 5’s Magdalena Carrasco and District 8’s Sylvia Arenas.

The worst possible outcome, Schmidt told Ethnic Media Services, would be if proposed warehouse development were approved. Such spaces, which provide only a few jobs, would avoid the disincentive posed by the VMT assessment but have an outsized environmental effect by paving over the natural sponge that open land provides.

Multi-year Effort to Revitalize the Crissy Field Area

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Presidio Trust launched the planning and public engagement process for a multi-year effort to revitalize the Crissy Field area of the Presidio. With a growing urban population, unique natural and cultural features, and a changing bay environment, the next chapter of the much-beloved Crissy Field begins. The project, named  HYPERLINK “http://www.nps.gov/goga/crissyfieldnext.htm” Crissy Field Next, is especially focused on gathering input and ideas from existing as well as new audiences to create an inclusive, welcoming space for all communities.

“We’re excited to be taking the widely popular Crissy Field to another level through improved services and better maintenance for all of our communities to enjoy,” said Laura Joss, Golden Gate National Recreation Area General Superintendent.  

The National Park Service and the Parks Conservancy began transforming Crissy Field in 1998 from an army airfield into the first visitor destination within the Presidio, a national park site. A few years later, the Presidio Trust began developing the buildings along Mason Street, welcoming in visitor-serving park tenants – and now is working in partnership with the Park Conservancy and the NPS on the Presidio Tunnel Tops, connecting the Main Post of the Presidio to Crissy Field. Now, nearly 20 years after its restoration, parts of Crissy Field are in need of repair and rehabilitation, while other areas may not be used to their full potential. Crissy Field Next offers an opportunity to make improvements to Crissy Field so that all visitors are able to enjoy and connect with this location in the park. There may be new features, while the sense of tranquility and history that makes it such a special place will always be preserved.

“When we began the transformation of Crissy Field 20 years ago, we knew it was a special place worth saving, but what we didn’t realize was how important a role Crissy Field would play for San Francisco residents and visitors alike,” remarked Greg Moore, Parks Conservancy President & CEO.

 “We are excited to champion Crissy Field in its next chapter, and hope through this process that we come up with more ways to connect visitors with this beloved bayfront area and the rest of the 1500- acre Presidio,” said Jean Fraser, CEO of the Presidio Trust.

Crissy Field Next has five project goals to address in six topic areas: community, recreation,
access and safety, ecology, history, and sustainability. Goals include:
 To connect with the community by creating an inclusive, welcoming space that’s
accessible and easy to enjoy.
 To add more opportunities for recreation, renewal, and reflection — a visitor experience
worth a day trip or more.
 To improve access and safety for Crissy Field visitors, with smoother traffic flow,
practical parking options, and safer ways for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel.
 To preserve and enhance the value of the ecology and history of Crissy Field, with
educational opportunities and insights that respect the richness of the place.
 The ultimate goal is to create a sustainable, well-designed space that’s durable,
flexible, and easy to maintain in the decades to come and is inviting to current and new
audiences.
As part of the planning and public engagement process, the project team and partners are
inviting our communities to a special family-friendly kick-off event for Crissy Field Next. This day
will invite current and new community members to learn more about the unique areas within
Crissy Field and provide ideas and input on what they want to see next in each area. There will
also be a representative from the Tunnel Tops project – which will add 14-acres of new national
parkland over the freeway tunnels – to provide important information on how the two projects are
connected in making a new Presidio visitor experience.

Crissy Field Day will be held on Saturday, October 20, from 11 am- 2 pm, at Crissy Field East
Beach (1199 East Beach, San Francisco, CA). This family-friendly event will have hands-on
crafts and science fun, live music, and free gifts.

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About the National Park Service
The National Park Service (NPS) is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior
charged with managing the preservation and public use of America’s most significant natural,
scenic, historic, and cultural treasures. The NPS manages the Golden Gate National Recreation
Area, as well as 417 other park sites across the U.S. For more information, visit nps.gov/goga.
About Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is the nonprofit membership organization that
supports the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—one of the most-visited units in the
national park system in the U.S. Since 1981, the Parks Conservancy has provided over $500
million of support to site transformations, habitat restorations, research and conservation,
volunteer and youth engagement, and interpretive and educational programs. Learn more at
parksconservancy.org or call (415) 561-3000.

About the Presidio Trust
The Presidio Trust is a federal agency that manages the Presidio of San Francisco, a national
park at the heart of the 82,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In partnership with
the National Park Service and the non-profit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the
Presidio Trust brings alive the park’s historic, natural, and recreational assets for the inspiration,
education, health, and enjoyment of all people at no cost to taxpayers. Learn more at www.presidio.gov

Senate Should Pass Proposed Legislation Protecting Religious Institutions

Washington, DC (April 19, 2018) — With hate crimes motivated by religious bias on the rise, according to the latest FBI statistics, it’s vital that Congress pass legislation making threats against religious institutions a Federal crime and imposing criminal penalties for causing damage or destruction to religious property.

As such, the Hindu American Foundation strongly urges the Senate to pass S. 994, the Protecting Religiously-Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017.

This legislation amends the existing Church Arson Prevention Act to cover bomb threats and other credible threats of violence to community religious institutions and community centers.

The House version of this legislation, HR 1730, was passed last December with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Expressing support for this legislation, HAF leaders say: “Religious communities are feeling increasingly insecure, given the recent uptick in hate motivated incidents and threats, including the recent spate of bomb threats and vandalism against Jewish community institutions and cemeteries, the burning of a mosque in Texas, the vandalism against two Hindu temples in Washington, and the hate crime shooting of Hindu immigrants, Srinivas Kuchibotla and Alok Madasani in Kansas.”

HAF has sent a letter urging passage of S. 994 to Sen. Charles Grassley, Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, and to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member, Committee of the Judiciary. Read the full letter here.

The bill is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

Indian American Impact Fund Announces First 2018 Endorsements

The Indian American Impact Fund (“Impact Fund”) endorsed the following top-tier candidates in closely watched upcoming elections:
  • Maryland State Delegate Aruna Miller in her bid for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. An engineer by trade, Miller has served in the Maryland State House since 2010 where she has worked to invest in STEM education, streamline the regulatory process for small businesses, and bring 21st century jobs to Maryland. Miller has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, 314 Action, all four sitting Indian American members of the House of Representatives, and a number of state and local elected officials. If elected, Miller will be the second Indian American woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives.
  • Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval in Ohio’s 1st Congressional District. In 2016, Pureval won an upset victory, defeating a member of a powerful political family and claiming a seat that had been held by the other party for over 100 years. A former federal prosecutor and attorney for Procter & Gamble, Aftab has already delivered for his constituents by overhauling the Hamilton County Courts website, expanding its hours, opening a legal help center, and streamlining operations in order to return over $800,000 to the county’s general fund.
  • Ram Villivalam in his bid for Illinois 8th State Senate District. Villivalam is taking on an incumbent State Senator who was recently stripped of his leadership position and found to have violated the Ethics Act by the Illinois Inspector General. The 8th State Senate District has the highest percentage of Asian Americans in the state of Illinois. Villivalam has earned the endorsements of several Members Congress, including U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna as well as constituency groups such as the Sierra Club and Equality Illinois PAC. If elected, Villivalam would be the first Indian American ever elected to the Illinois state legislature.
“Not only do these individuals showcase the talent and patriotism of the Indian American community, they also represent the next generation of American political leadership,” said Deepak Raj, co-founder of Impact and chair of the Impact Fund. “Voters are hungry for fresh faces and new ideas. These candidates are well-positioned to be part of a new wave of national and state leaders who will help fight back against xenophobic rhetoric and regressive policies and fight for economic opportunity and a stronger, fairer economy.”
In addition, Impact Fund has endorsed for re-election all four Indian American Members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Ami Bera (CA-07), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08), and Ro Khanna (CA-17).
Added Raj Goyle, co-founder of Impact and former member of the Kansas House of Representatives, “These four Members of Congress exemplify what it means to be an Indian American elected official. Not only have they fought tirelessly for their constituents, they have provided bold leadership for our entire country. They are proof that our work matters.”
A political action committee, Impact Fund works with experienced operatives, campaign strategists, and donors to endorse candidates based on their viability and commitment to advocating for the needs and values of the Indian American community. Impact Fund continues to track nearly 60 Indian Americans running for office in 2018, including over 20 first-time Congressional candidates, and will issue further endorsements in coming months.

Turning American

ASIAN AMERICAN DREAMS by Helen Zia. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 319 pp. $26.

Asian American Dreams by Helen Zia
Asian American Dreams by Helen Zia

A week before his wedding In 1982, a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by two white men who mistook him for a Japanese and vented at him their anger at the demise of the American auto industry. Although the perpetrators pleaded guilty to Chin’s beating death, a white judge sentenced them only to probation, thereby initiating the political mobilization of an entire Asian American community. Eventually, the murderers were found guilty of the racially motivated crime in a federal civil rights court in 1984, only to be acquitted upon appeal three years later by a mostly white jury in Cincinnati. “Vincent’s soul will never rest. My life is over,” Vincent’s mother wailed upon hearing the final verdict.

Through moving stories like these, Helen Zia chronicles the Asian American struggle for civil rights in her first book, Asian American Dreams. Each chapter of Asian American Dreams offers a tale from a different ethnic community.

Bong Jae Jang, the Korean owner of the Red Apple Market in Brooklyn, was arrested in 1990, for example, after Jiselaine Felissaint, a Haitian immigrant, accused him of beating her. The African American community in Brooklyn boycotted the Red Apple and other Korean stores. The lack of political will on the part of New York Mayor David Dinkins made it possible for the standoff to continue for seventeen months.

Interspersing these tales are brief autobiographical essays chronicling the author’s passage from her childhood in a working class Chinese family in New Jersey, to medical school, to the auto assembly line in Detroit, and finally, to her current life as a social activist and writer.

The Vincent Chin case explains Zia’s initiation in politics, since she happened to be living in Detroit at the time and was instrumental in organizing the Chinese community there.

The chapters in the book open up like petals of an Asian water lily; from stories of individuals battling against personal discrimination and prejudice, they progress to stirring tales of civic struggles in which entire neighborhoods, cities, and communities are involved. These stories might have taken on maudlin overtones, had they not been fortified with rigorous accounts of the legal, social, and political activism springing fourth in their wake.

A case in point is the saga of the migrant Filipino workers seeking redress for segregation and hardship they faced in the salmon canneries of Alaska during the early part of the twentieth century. The story becomes especially poignant because of the strong political clout exerted in Washington by Wards Cove, the only cannery to resist settlement until the end. In this tale, as in many others, the politics in the immigrants’ native country comes into play as well, since, ironically, the Filipino workers’ union was directly in conflict with the Marcos loyalists in America.

Not all the pictures Zia paints can be seen in such black and white tones, however. There is the story of the fifteen-year-old girl Natasha Harlins, shot and killed by a Korean shopkeeper in South Central L.A. on suspicion of robbing a bottle of orange juice. The account of the subsequent Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict will bring goose bumps to most readers, particularly since the white establishment’s indifference to the destruction of one minority at the hands of another is unmistakable.

Aftermath of the L.A. Riots
Aftermath of the L.A. Riots

The struggle moves on to a much broader stage, literally and figuratively speaking, when Jonathan Pryce arrives on Broadway to play an Asian pimp despite protests by Asian American actors.

Alas, Hollywood style happy endings are not in store for the major players in these stories. Most do not deliver impassioned speeches after stunning victories in court, nor do they walk out of their inner city ghettos and into a Beverly Hills sunset. Instead, it is through the very defeat of their specific causes that a larger change in American attitudes and institutions is often brought about. Asian American actors alone would play Asian characters on Broadway in future, for example, and the racist content of shows like Miss Saigon would come under increasing scrutiny.

Zia shifts gears as she discusses the successful affluent South Asian immigrant community. Her observations about the class distinctions within the Indian immigrant community are astute, as are her remarks about the conflicting demands faced by women and girls in the group. Zia points to Hindu role models many young women are asked to imitate, while also fulfilling the high academic expectations of their parents. She uncannily notes the rise in domestic violence and the recent spurt in Indian women’s organizations to combat it.

Silicon Valley Indians might feel offended by Zia’s indictment of The IndUs Entrepreneurs (TiE) for their failure to embrace social and political causes. It is ironic, she notes, that the very people who became entrepreneurs and millionaires as a result of the discrimination they faced in the form of glass ceiling in the Silicon Valley refuse to act against it. Her comments are so much on the mark that one wonders why she is not equally incisive about internal conflicts within her own Chinese American community.

The closing chapters of the book are devoted to a chronicle of the Asian American struggle for legalization of same-sex marriages. Unfortunately, as Zia reveals her own sexual orientation as a lesbian, the reader’s interest waivers and the book peters out, even as the author makes a convincing case that the banning of same-sex marriages is akin to the refusal of equal rights for Asians in prior decades.

For a weighty non-fiction book engaging in a serious discussion of law and politics, readers will find Asian American Dreams a moving, at times disturbing, but on the whole an inspiring book. Every Indian American must read this book and realize that the opportunities we have in this country might seem limitless but they are of relatively recent origin and cannot be taken for granted. operates on three levels; the microcosm of Zia’s own life, the challenges that the communities involved in the specific cases face, and the broader issues of race, gender, and ethnicity that put them in context. Zia proves herself a skillful narrator as she stages these tales against the bigger backdrop of national and international politics. begins with a well-documented history of the first immigrants to arrive in America from China, Japan, and India, only to be treated as slaves. Unable to own property, to vote, or to bring wives into this country, they persevered, to eventually participate in the civic life of America.

Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED

The Sandwich Generation

The elderly Indian man wanders through the neighborhood, talking to himself and pausing uncertainly every now and then. His clothes are soiled and his eyes are vacant. A neighbor, observing him from behind the blinds of her living room, sighs. This is the third time in 10 days that she has seen him outside, unaccompanied and obviously disoriented. The old man lives next door. His son and daughter-in-law are away at work, their children in school. The neighbor knows that no one will be around till 5:30 p.m. She reaches for the phone to call the police.

Ill and aging parents. A heartbreaking reality that most of us will have to cope with sooner or later. The inevitable reversal of roles, as the hands that once deftly buttoned our shirts and led us confidently across a crowded street, now reach out to us for help in perform­ing the basic tasks of daily living.

It is estimated by the U.S. Administration on Aging that a full 25% of all households in the country are involved in caring for a family member, usually a parent. While the number may not be quite that high in the South Asian community, it is nevertheless increasing rap­idly, as more and more families are choosing to bring aging parents and relatives from their native countries to live with them permanently.

Four generations of an Indian-American Family
Four generations of an Indian-American Family

Typically, the caregivers are adult children with kids of their own, often known in the media as the “sandwich generation”—caught between childcare and elder care. Research has shown that almost 65% of women in this country will have to deal with extensive or partial elder care issues.

 Chandra Deshmukh, a Marin County resi­dent thinks that “sandwich” is an apt descrip­tion of a person in her circumstances. “I have two little kids and a father who is often in hospital with complications from diabetes,” she says. Her father lives in Houston, Texas with her older sister, and Deshmukh has already flown to Houston three times this year to help with his care “dropping into my husband’s lap the kids, their homework, din­ner and piano lessons.” She says she has learned to live with a constant sense of guilt, feeling inadequate at work and incompetent at home. “There is this nonstop worry in my head that I am not doing enough for anyone—my kids, my husband, my employer, or my father, whom I am very close to,” she adds.

According to Rita Ghatak, a Palo Alto­ based psychologist and specialist in elder care, guilt is a very common feeling among adult caregivers. “The feeling of helplessness and guilt can be overwhelming at times and in trying to take care of everything themselves, these women, (and most of the caregiving is done by women aged 35 to 50), fail to look after their own needs,” she says. Ghatak knows, because she has been there herself. For 14 years, she was a long distance caregiver to her parents who lived in India. In that time she flew to Delhi 16 times to take care of, first, her father who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and then her mother who suffered a stroke in 1995. “I was completely stressed out,” she remembers ‘There were times when I was so tired and worried that I could not think straight. I wanted to be in both places at the same time.”

Ghatak is also CEO of Older Adult Care Management (OACM), a private organization founded over 15 years ago, and considered a pioneer in the field of elder care. The organiza­tion provides a comprehensive care program for adults through quality home care services like trained health aides, family counseling, case management services, and elder care education. OACM has virtually no South Asian clients, because, Ghatak says, they are largely unaware of the variety of elder care resources available in the community. “It is not that they want to be ignorant, it is just that they do not know where to go for the informa­tion. Sometimes a parent’s illness catches us unawares and we are unprepared to handle it,” she says. Lack of information led to less-­than-desirable situations like the one de­scribed at the beginning of this story. In this case, the elderly man was referred by the police to the county-run Adult Protective Ser­vices. In turn, OACM was contacted and Ghatak ended up sending an information packet in the mail to the caregivers. She never heard from them but she hopes that the family was finally able to get some help and take care of their father.

When it comes to taking care of one's parents, most adult children are lost in a maze of emotional and logistical issues
When it comes to taking care of one’s parents, most adult children are lost in a maze of emotional and logistical issues

When it comes to taking care of one’s parents, most adult children are lost in a maze of emotional and logistical issues. Some dis­eases like dementia (a common form of which is Alzheimer’s disease) or Parkinson’s disease, both of which are on the rise worldwide, according to the World Health organization, make home-based caregiving especially diffi­cult. Still, how can one send a parent to an outside facility? Will that not amount to aban­donment? How would the parent take it? What about the cost: emotional and financial? Decisions like these are hard to make and even harder to justify to relatives and siblings who are watching from the outside.

Using trained help, strangely enough, is one of the last options considered by many South Asian caregivers. “It is expensive but more importantly it could be seen as pawning off your responsibilities,” remarks Deshmukh, whose has just succeeded in persuading her reluctant sister to hire a door-to-door service to take their father to the doctor for regular appointments. However, using trained help could ward off potentially dangerous situa­tions. “If I had to do it again, I would definitely use trained help,” confirms Inderpal Grewal, a full time professor and mother of two little girls living in El Cerrito. Grewal had just given birth to her second child when her mother, who suffered from acute rheumatoid arthritis came to live with them. To Grewal, it was spotting the little things that could prevent the bigger things from happening that drove her crazy. “I was always worrying about things. Are the bars in the bathroom safe? Is the house too cold? Is the bed okay?” she says. “In spite of all this my mother caught pneumonia, be­cause we had not kept the house warm enough. Old people are more fragile than they appear.” Subsequently, her mother went to live with another sibling in Connecticut where a home health aide came to look after her needs several times a week.

Taking care of a parent can create stress and awkwardness between siblings.

Rashmi Rustagi is a stay-at-home mother of four in Palo Alto. Her children range in age from 5 to 15 and take up much of her energies and time. Rustagi’s parents live with her. Last year, her mother suffered a stroke and became almost bedridden, needing con­stant care. The subject of who would be the main caregiver came up often at family dis­cussions with the other siblings. Though each of them make financial contributions towards their mother’s health care, Rustagi feels that she was chosen because “most often it is the sister who stays at home or is the wealthiest who gets to take care of the parents. The others plead work pressure, or lack of space or money.” Rustagi feels a little taken for granted because she ends up putting in so much more effort and time than her sisters and brothers do. Lately, she says, she has taken to keeping a log of the time she spends looking after her mother’s needs like taking her to doctor’s appointments, or the physical therapist. “Not the expenses, mind you, just the time,” she hastens to add. “And one of these days I am going to show it to my siblings just to let them see for themselves how much effort it takes to just keep things going.”

To many South Asians, taking care of a family member might mean flying half way around the world several times a year. As Ghatak testifies from her experience “it takes a heavy toll on your family life.” Even so, bringing the family member over to the U.S. may not be a logical solution because of the high cost of health care and the emotional cost of uprooting the person from her native cul­ture. In addition to this, says Grewal, the person often finds herself confronting a racist health care system in America, “one that believes that most immigrants are out to rip off the system.”

Pradeep Joshi, a co-founder of the Indo­American Community and Service Center (IACSC), and a commissioner serving on the Senior Care Commission of Santa Clara, agrees that seniors who come over from India have to deal with isolation and a loss of empowerment. “And without MediCal, healthcare is prohibitively expensive,” he stresses. “A recently passed immigration law states that those seniors who immigrated to the U.S. after October of 1996 are not eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or MediCal. This will definitely have a negative bearing on family decisions to bring a parent over.”

All too often, the “sandwiched” adult, torn between making time for the kids and the parent, feels like the rope in a tug-of-war game. Ghatak suggests a few simple guide­lines to make the task easier. Planning ahead is the essential key to elder care management. Confront the situation and talk about it and if the parent is capable, involve him or her in the decision. Scope out the services available in the community, clubs, recreational centers, senior centers, and groups that the parent might be interested in joining. If the parent is handicapped or suffering from a debilitating disease, look into the possibility of hiring home care aides. And above all, make time for yourself, to exercise, socialize, rest and main­tain recreational outlets. Lack of proper care of oneself might lead to stress-related illnesses like chronic headaches, ulcers and depres­sion.

With over 200,000 South Asians in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is inevitable that senior support networks are springing up within the community. Apart from sporadic activities organized by the local temples, mosques and gurudwaras, the Icse in Santa Clara runs an excellent senior program that stresses independent living. The Center hosts lecture programs, yoga classes, computer and writing courses and a variety of social activi­ties for South Asian seniors from day outings to cultural programs.

Looking after a relative or parent can be an enriching experience and the ultimate expression of love and compassion from one human being to another. Deshmukh’s children are learning this valuable truth as their mother packs her bags for yet another trip to see their grandfather. In the Rustagi household, life is just a little richer, as grandparents and chil­dren learn to share their living space and their experiences with each other. “It finally boils down to this-there really is no right or wrong way to do things. Accept your limitations and just do the best you can,” states Ghatak.