Tag Archives: discrimination

What was 2020 About?

I struggled with 2020. What was it all about? All over the world this year people weren’t just fighting COVID-19 and lack of freedom, but were also standing up against violence and discrimination.

The year 2020 has been the first of many things:

  • The first time we experienced lockdowns and felt an urgency to grab every wet wipe in sight.
  • The first time people spent their holidays without family.
  • The first time people worked and studied from home, where the first twenty minutes of every Zoom interaction were spent discussing poor connections, muted microphones, and turned off cameras.
  • Someone’s first graduation or first year in school.
  • Someone’s first day at work and someone’s last.

All these firsts occurred so naturally that we became increasingly comfortable in them and they became our seconds, thirds, and constants. Most importantly, however, this year has been a space of growth for people, not just individually but as a community – something that perhaps a fast-paced, capitalistic society might’ve prevented in the past.

We experienced large movements all around the world, people came out to fight for each other and stand by each other. Black Lives Matter, Dalit Lives Matter, and Muslim Lives Matter were three such movements that were instigated by atrocities committed against these minorities in America and India. 

These movements highlighted that people are born human. It’s ironic that the biggest divides are made by people. We divide the day with time, divide people with everything we possibly could, and yet, believe that the solution to atrocities that occur from such divide is to further divide a community that is already disintegrating.

For once, in perhaps a long time, Black people were not alone in fighting their own battles against institutionalized oppression and racism. Teenagers and senior citizens walked on the streets to empower and protect a future that should be built on equality, regardless of skin color. But the BLM movement isn’t a trend, it didn’t ask people to post a picture once or twice on Instagram with captions like “Black Out Tuesday” and call it a day.

Instead, it created a space that supported black-owned businesses. It gave a platform for students and employees who were discriminated against in the workplace because of the color of their skin. It united people, as the privileged stood with black people and worked as allies. While all these events are a change in the positive direction, this movement isn’t close to ending. It has just begun. 

India also dealt with violence and inequality against minorities this year. In Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, a 19-year-old woman was raped by four men and her corpse was burned by the police while her mother cried in protest. The woman was of the Dalit caste (which is the “lowest”) while the rapists were from the Thakur caste (the “highest”). 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

To add to this, India’s nationalist government wanted Hindutva to prevail as the dominant (and only) religion. The government was and is vehemently against people who identify as Muslim. From crass WhatsApp jokes that highlight the ingrained discrimination against Muslims in India, to the police and government using violence against Muslim people on the streets, the divide and inequality reached a high this year. 

These violent crimes against Muslim and Dalit people caused rage all over the country (as it should). Caste-ism, sexism, and religious discrimination reared their ugly heads and Indians came out in hoards to globally speak out against it. Calls for equality were heard as thousands of protests were held to fight against the violence these minorities face. 

It irked me to say Muslim People, Hindu People, Dalit people, Black people. It irked me because it has come to a world where people are defined more by a part of their whole identity and less as just people. Rather than giving equal weight to ‘Dalit’ and ‘people’, we have begun to stress on the former and neglect the latter. It irks me because we take humanity away from humans. This year, however, it irked the whole world. These movements, these calls for equality forced people to stand up for each other. There is unrest still, there is discomfort, but what I learned this year is that we are tirelessly hopeful beings, even when we ourselves don’t see it. 

So while 2020 had some of the worst to give, the best part of it has been the people living in it. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

At 52 Hz, My Throat is Parched

The 2020 US elections were not just about differing political views. People’s lives were impacted on the basis of their skin color, their gender, their sexuality, or their religion.

It bred uncertainty and fear in people who had been targeted for years.

Human beings should be respected for just that, being human. There is no other clause or addition to that. 

Here is a poem dedicated to those that felt weak. Rather than offer a solution of light in the darkness, I offer a hand to hold in it. 

Oil painting by Swati Ramaswamy (crashed waves/clouds dissolving) 
Oil painting by Author, Swati Ramaswamy (crashed waves/clouds dissolving)

6th November 10:11 pm

I felt it in waves, that dissolve in the sand

Blue and red neon signs holding each hand

“Am I human enough?” 

My skin dipped chocolate and my heart of rainbows

I can’t seem to hide, in the hours that count down— 

I can’t seem to stop.

Maybe if my eyes could close, maybe if my mind switched off—

Maybe if red and blue-dyed into a plethora of purple, 

losing in color and gaining the “other”.

 

“In a world with its eyes closed, a person with their’s open

Isn’t it strange how now they are made blind?” 

Is that victory? 

Effortless rounds that never escape a cycle,

Drugged on more and living less.

If it never starts, it never ends.

People become collateral, waves become loose sand.

A gripping fist, shows an empty hand. 

My throat is parched, lungs need a break—

But I haven’t slept yet:

 

Waking up in this state. 

7th November 5:50 am


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Have Our Votes Ever Reflected Our Population?

Humans are pattern-seeking – something that doesn’t agree with the nature of reality since it is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. Anything can happen. There is a perfect blend of beauty and terror in the ambiguity, but it’s the reality we live with and keep tucked away in the backs of our minds every day. 

This year has been one of pure uncertainty (in case the advertisements haven’t told you that “these are uncertain times” enough). We joke that 2020 can’t get any worse, so go ahead and add another disaster to the pile forming in the corner in the same way national debt does. It’s not normal to be as numb as we are to the concept of uncertainty. Global pandemic? Economic recession? Protestors getting shot down? The election of a decade? At this point, I could’ve added alien invasion to the list and no one would be phased. 

In the year 2020, the only certainty is uncertainty itself. This year has been a breath we’ve been waiting to let out. When will it be okay to breathe? When will it be okay to feel like the crisis is over? When will we be okay? 

Until then, we hold our breaths, twiddle our thumbs, and try not to hope too much in fear that something worse will roll along in response.

And here it is: this year (of all years this could possibly happen) incidentally is the year of the general elections.

Red vs. Blue

Elephant vs. Donkey

Democrat vs. Republican

We make decisions on who makes decisions for us. One of the cornerstones of democracy is free and fair elections. Take your ballot and drop it in the box as all votes are counted accurately

But not this year. No. Like everything else this year, voting is a bit different. Mail-in ballot voting. The concept itself is not all that foreign and has worked on a smaller scale in the past. But this year (to use an overused phrase) there seems to be some controversy surrounding this. Mail-in ballots are voter fraud. We might not know the results until later. The post office sucks. You’ve heard almost everything on this by now if you’ve tuned into even half an hour of news a week.

It’s hilarious. I’m laughing right now as I write this because of the utter hypocrisy of it. I get it, the post system isn’t always perfect, but neither is our political system right now, and it seems the same people criticizing mail-in ballots seem to be glossing over the faults of our government. We keep talking about how fair it is to have mail-in ballots. Can we trust it? What if everyone’s votes don’t count? It’s not an accurate representation. It won’t make everyone’s voice heard.

Has it ever counted? Think about it. No really. Think. Way back in ye olden days, women couldn’t vote, people of color couldn’t vote, the impoverished found it difficult to vote. Was that accurate? The voice of the people was the voice of straight, rich, property-owning, white males. 

Oh, but we’ve evolved from that.

Have we though?

Remember: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. That’s the equivalent of saying that starting to think about giving rights to the LGBTQ community can fix homophobia. That’s not how that works. 

We’re not that much better today than we were centuries ago in terms of free and fair elections. Why? Voter suppression exists. Who are we suppressing?

Who are the people who are suppressed in all aspects of the American government? Minority groups.

Type of voter suppression at a polling station in New Hampshire, 2013. (Image by: Mark Buckawicki)

This administration is known to suppress minority groups. Throwing them in cages, threatening deportation, building a literal border wall, shooting protesters, and just sowing hatred. Not to mention how difficult it is to even be able to vote if you have a criminal record. The Shelby County vs. Holder trial didn’t help either. Democracy lost 5-4. 

There are tactics and chess pieces being moved to silence people that we aren’t even aware of. 

The worst kind of uncertainty is the uncertainty in whether or not your voice is heard. Am I represented? Am I equal? Am I cared for? This type of uncertainty is almost existential in nature and deserves a definitive yes. These shouldn’t be things we have to worry about, but such is the state of reality at this point. 

There is a way to change this. Vote. You’ve probably already heard this one, but I’m serious: if you can, then do it. I’m not saying vote for any particular candidate but just vote. The best way to predict the future and eliminate as much of this malicious uncertainty as possible is to vote.

Vote. You can be certain in your own opinions, actions, and decisions. Once you master that, the rest shouldn’t bother you much. You have to voice your opinions and speak out against injustice. It’s hard to pinpoint definitively what is wrong and right, but the important thing is to try. It’s all anyone can do. I can say with complete certainty that trying has more of a chance of succeeding than not trying at all.


Reema Kalidindi is a junior at Lower Bucks High School and a lead volunteer at Bharatiya Temple’s school for children. 

What I Admire About RBG

Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg succumbed to complications of pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020 but Justice Ginsburg will be alive in the annals of American law. She paved the way for American women, one case at a time.

Ginsberg co-founded the Women’s Right Law Reporter, a pioneering law journal at Rutgers where she taught. She advocated as a volunteer attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Union. In the mid 1970s she argued half a dozen gender discrimination cases before the high court winning all but one. Ginsberg was appointed as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Her appointment as the second woman on the US Supreme court in 1993 (guided by Hilary Clinton) was one of the best undertakings by President Bill Clinton.  

The Supreme Court justice who gave an unbiased ear to every argument had a famous quote: Every now and then it helps to be a little deaf!

From the vast ocean of evidence, she created her life. She is a beacon of hope for every woman and is a true American hero. She changed history through her landmark cases and built precedence by methodically arguing for gender equality based on the Fourteenth Amendment. 

And now, every woman can claim equal access to education, equal pay, equal military allowance, access contraception, take maternity leave, cut a man’s hair, buy a drink, administer an estate, serve on the jury, and get equal social security benefits. The list is formidable and speaks of her equally intimidating stance on these issues! She wiped close to 200 laws that discriminated against women off the books. She believed that “women would have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

The personality traits I admire of hers:

  • A brilliant mind always at work
  • A rational minimalist
  • Her slow deliberate speech 
  • Measured sentences spoken with thought
  • Total dedication to work 
  • Her commitment to get the law right
  • Steel trap of a memory and ability to recall every word
  • Profound personal dignity 
  • An innate sense of justice
  • Her “ cool” connection with the Millenials as the “notorious” RBG”
  • Her crusade on gender equality
  • Her sense of humor “Ginsburned”!
  • Her warmth towards her staff, colleagues, friends
  • Her determination to remain healthy despite  multiple cancers
  • She showed up to work every day and handled her full load
  • She was a crusader for gender equality 
  • Her zeal to work with her trainer

When I look upon the black and white photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a two-year-old, I can tell that she will be one of the most influential women of this century. I think the best costume for girls this Halloween and for years to come will be RGB in her black robes and white beaded collar!

The death of Justice Ginsburg at this tumultuous time is a phenomenal loss to America. There never will be another like her. Her death leaves a great political void. Chief Justice John Roberts no longer holds the controlling vote in cases cleaved right in the middle of liberal-conservative lines. RGB ruminated on this and her last fervent wish was, “not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

It behooves the people of the United States to make their views heard before the election and uphold her wish! There are too many transformative cases like Obamacare that lay precariously in the hands of the new Supreme Court. Our “notorious” RBG was curious, laborious, and glorious in her life. Let’s work hard to honor this courageous Supreme Court Judge.


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

A Union of Sikh, Japanese, and Mexican Americans

Mainstream South Asian American diasporic fiction focuses mostly on the post-1965 generation of immigrants, beneficiaries of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which abolished national origins quota and facilitated the arrival of highly skilled workers from India and other Asian countries to help the U.S.

Yet the history of immigration from India, China, and Japan to the U.S goes back much further to the early years of the twentieth century, at least, when many Indians, particularly Sikhs from the state of Punjab arrived in California to work in the logging and farming industries. Although historians like Karen Leonard and Ronald Takaki among others have documented this early history of Asian immigration, very few fiction writers have tapped into this rich history for their fictional explorations. Rishi Reddi breaks new ground by undertaking this ambitious project in Passage West.

The novel follows a group of Sikh men, particularly two friends Ram and Karak from 1914 to 1974. The novel begins with the death of Karak and Ram’s preparation of a eulogy which provides a narrative flashback into the life of his friend. The early part of the novel sets up the geographical landscape of Imperial Valley, California, where the two friends find themselves after stints in the British army, time in Hong Kong, and a brief experience in the logging industry in Oregon, for Ram.

Readers are gradually introduced to tumultuous events sweeping through the world, the growing farming community in the Imperial Valley consisting of Sikh and Japanese farmers, the restrictions to land ownership and citizenship rights, the inability for Sikh farmworkers to bring their families with them leading to the growth of bachelor communities, the growing racial hostility, and violence against Asians in the U.S, expressing itself in infamous incidents like Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship that carried passengers who were British subjects from India and who were denied landing rights in Vancouver, Canada, which was also a British colony and were forced to return to India.

Sikhs on board the “Komogata Maru” in English Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. 1914

We also notice the growth of revolutionary politics with the rising influence of the Ghadhar Party, which consisted of expatriate Indians who raised funds to support armed anti-colonial resistance against the British, going so far as to support Germany during World War 1. 

The emotional core of the novel resides in the compelling description of two forbidden love stories. Both Karak and Ram develop relationships with Mexican women who they meet in the farming community. In spite of the anti-miscegenation laws, religious and linguistic differences, Karak marries Rosa and starts a new family and life with her. Ram, on the other hand, is attracted to Rosa’s cousin Adela but feels torn by his loyalty to his wife, Padma, and the son born out of their brief union. Ram and Padma at the beginning of the novel are deeply in love with each other, but as vagaries of their lives and the cruel immigration laws unfold, their ties gradually attenuate.

The racist immigration system is rendered most visible in their harrowing separation. At a more public level, we see the passage of Alien Land laws that restrict land ownership by non-white races, forcing many farmers to become internal refugees looking for land in other states or underpaid employees of farming corporations.  Even more poignant is the depiction of Sikh and Japanese soldiers joining the U.S. Army in the First World War, being lured to this task by the promise of citizenship. Yet, in spite of their service, they are denied recognition and dignity for their brave service.  Reddi provides us glimpses of the losses faced in the trench warfare as well as the deadly attack of the Spanish influenza of 1918 which claims the life of Amarjeet’s best friend, the Japanese American Harry Moriyama.

The most brutal rendition of racism is offered in Reddi’s depiction of the sustained attempts by agricultural corporations to exploit the Sikh farmers, not having the right of land ownership, by cheating them of their harvests. This results in the climactic episode in the novel which leads to a murder, the near lynching of a Sikh man, and the long-term effects of this traumatic event in Ram’s ability to return to India.

Reddi’s novel is the product of sustained archival research. She has conducted interviews with descendants of Sikh Mexican families, as well as historical research on the harassment, racism, and violence that these early immigrants were subjected to. She seamlessly weaves historical characters and events in the rich tapestry of her novel. This novel dispels the monolithic model minority myth of South Asian Americans. It celebrates the working-class roots of early immigrants from India, the multiplicity of religions and faith traditions that these immigrants came from and united to fight against common injustices.

In addition, the novel highlights solidarities between various minority groups, not only the marriages between Mexicans and Sikhs, which is very different from the mostly endogamous marriage traditions of South Asian marriages but also the solidarities between Japanese Americans and Indian Americans. This is a novel that deserves serious scholarly attention and should be embraced by more courses in South Asian American literature and history. However, even though this novel is the product of intense scholarship, the research does not burden the writing. The novel flows effortlessly. It is deceptive in its elegance and simplicity and powerful in its empathetic portrayal of early South Asian Americans.

Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Racial and Caste Apartheid: Are They Similar?

“No one is free until we are all free.”

Dr. King’s words continue to be a powerful message for South Asians throughout the U.S. 

Over the past month and a half, our country has been jolted by recent acts of violence against black folks. While systemic injustice and racism have existed in this country for centuries, there is renewed political engagement with the entrenched issues of race in our country. 

For the South Asian community, it is more important than ever to be “accomplices” in the fight against white supremacy and racism. Several South Asian activist groups and nonprofits are paving the way to help our community uncover some of its entrenched prejudices. Through education and civic leadership, these groups are helping the community discover how to participate in today’s movement. 

Why does this matter to the South Asian community? 

The human dignity of black folks is something so fundamental that has been repeatedly ignored by our country. South Asians have often ignored their complicity in this reality by hiding behind the bootstrap myth or perpetrating harmful anti-black ideologies

However, our communities are more interdependent than people might initially believe. 

“Our stories are very much interconnected and to deny that it is the doing of white supremacy and colonization that tries to keep our people divided,” says Sabiha Basrai, a member of ASATA, a grassroots South Asian activist organization in San Francisco. 

South Asians and black folks have a long and shared history. Black leaders have long fought for the liberation of South Asian communities. In the 1960s, the activism on the part of the civil rights movement banned national and racial quotas on immigrants, enabling the vast majority of today’s South Asian immigrants to come to America. 

Solidarity with communities of color is more than merely a thought, it’s been exemplified throughout the course of history. 

ASATA protests

“A specific example of that kind of solidarity is demonstrated through Bayard Rustin who was a civil rights leader. He actually committed an act of civil disobedience in support of the free India movement in the forties. He locked himself to a British embassy in the United States to protest the British occupation of India,” says Basrai. 

But over time, the South Asian community has forgotten about that solidarity. In today’s moment, it’s important to hear the call to action, Basrai advises. 

What’s Caste got to do with it? 

Equality Labs 2018 Research on Casteism in U.S.

“We must examine and reflect on our own complicity with hierarchical systems, like caste, which enables so much police violence within our communities and within home regions,” says Mahn, communications director at Equality Labs. Equality Labs is an organization that fights against oppressive systems in South Asian communities through political education and collective organizing. 

Holding complexity is an important part of this conversation, Mahn says. 

“Caste isn’t just a theory. It’s a real experience of hegemony for a lot of people.” Black and South Asian experiences are both tied to hierarchies of power. 

“Racial apartheid and caste apartheid depend on both racial abolition and caste abolition. They’re corollaries, they intersect in a lot of important ways for the South Asian community, but they’re parallel. They’re not the same thing,” Mahn says. 

Caste continues to be crucial to the conversation about the South Asian diaspora. Last month, technology giant Cisco Systems was sued for discrimination against Dalit employees. The employee experienced verbal harassment and fewer workplace opportunities due to caste. These systems of harm are real and have tangible consequences in diaspora communities. 

Progressive organizations like Equality Labs are encouraging South Asians to reflect on different vectors of privilege. While South Asians may be harmed by white supremacy in some respects, the community also benefits from the model minority myth. Similarly, it’s critical for South Asians to understand how they may propagate systems of harm. 

That’s great, but what do I do now? 

Being an “accomplice” to the movement can be framed in multiple ways, says Sree Sinha, cofounder of the South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA). 

“The incredible thing about activism is that there are so many different ways to be involved and each of them matter, each of them are important in terms of what the work is that needs to be done and the change that we need to see happen,” she says. 

Getting involved can range from a variety of different activities, from attending protests, to donating to black non-profits, to starting conversations in one’s own community – the critical piece is personal education. 

“None of us are born with bias against anyone. It is taught to us. And the beautiful thing about that is it means that it can be unlearned as well.” Sinha says. 

Sinha says action is like a ladder. We have the personal-level, targeting biases in our own minds. We have the community-level, where we help people in our communities fight against these injustices. And finally, we have the policy level. It’s important to hold political systems accountable, “whether that’s through calling into different congressional offices and police departments, and being able to use your voice in whatever ways is comfortable to you.”

It’s important for South Asians to mobilize against anti-blackness. 

“Where I really want people to understand that rather than being a source of fear or holding you back or paralysis that in fact, making even those small changes helps buffer us against racism. So if you’re feeling a little helpless or a little stuck pushing yourself to act on any level is a major part of what makes us heal.” 

Today’s moment is different from anything in our recent history. Sinha thinks that shows promise. 

“People are thinking about these issues for many people in a way that they never have before. And that just speaks to the power of the possibility and power of growth and change for humans.”

South Asian history is now inextricably linked to American history. The radical nature of today’s moment is important and will define the way our society functions for generations. We must choose the side of justice, for our collective liberation. 

Swathi Ramprasad is a senior at Duke University. She enjoys learning more about the world through her South Asian heritage.

Are Workplace Rights Equal For All?

The struggle at the core of every movement for equality is a right. The right to vote. The right to marry. The right to not be killed. At the core of each is a struggle for respect, to be treated like a human being and to exist without prejudice or discrimination.

Legalizing gay marriage is considered a huge step in favor of LGBTQ+ rights in American history. But people often dismiss the post-legalization discrimination that occurs by assuming that gay people are “equal” now. However, the decision of nine supreme court justices cannot change a longstanding culture of internalized homophobia and discrimination.

On June 15, the Supreme Court of the US made a milestone decision: firing people on the basis of being LGBTQ+ is unconstitutional. This  case Bostock v Clayton County, clarified  the stipulations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, becoming the first national bill to do so. Though it advocates for gender and sexuality rights and ensuring people get the rights they deserve, the bill  does not cover all people and situations, which could let discrimination continue.

Bostock v Clayton County began because the Trump administration questioned whether or not Title VII extends the protection of people based on sex to protecting people based on gender identity and sexuality. Title VII, passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”. In other words, people cannot be fired on the basis of things they cannot control.

While the prohibition only mentions “sex”, the interpretation is that it also bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but that was not confirmed until the SCOTUS decision in June.

The Bostock v Clayton County decision is as important as the Obergefell v Hodges decision of 2015 which legalized gay marriage. Before this, the LGBTQ+ community had to rely on a “patchwork of state nondiscrimination laws,” and in 25 of the 50 states, there was no protection at all. 

Another important aspect of the decision is the grouping together of gender identity and sexual identity rights which will allow future decisions applicable to the entire LGBTQ+community. One issue, however, is how Title VII is applied. By definition, LGBTQ+ people in workplaces of less than fifteen can still be discriminated against and can still be fired.

The Religious Freedom Act of 1993 (RFRA)  may call this decision into question. RFRA prohibits the government “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion”, which means that those who are religious could theoretically say that their religion does not allow them to hire LGBTQ+ people. RFRA actually supersedes Title VII, operating as a “super statute” according to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But it is unclear as to how much the RFRA interacts with Title VII because that only applies when governments attack religious freedom, such as banning crosses.

The major conflict between the LGBTQ+ community and the government is how religious freedom interacts with human rights because many religions claim that their religious tenets allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. It will be the focus of Fulton v the city of Philadelphia, a case that will examine whether religious (childrens) organizations can reject those ( LGBTQ+ parents for example), who in their view are not aligned with their doctrine. 

The case is essentially about whether gay couples can adopt children. Religious rights are constitutionally protected  in the Bill of Rights,  so what’s at stake is whether religious institutions can manipulate that right to discriminate against others.

But shouldn’t the basic right  to exist as a human being be upheld above religious rights?

Religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against entire communities, especially those who are so marginalized.  Currently, the Trump administration is trying to roll back medical care for the LGBTQ+ community, which could cost lives, depending on how states respond. Which is why cases like this matter so much. Last year nine Republicans introduced the Fairness for All Act, which prohibits discrimination except when religious groups find it against their doctrine. While it is marketed as a compromise, it could possibly greenlight LGBTQ+ discrimination, making it dangerous.

The government has to explicitly give the community these rights, so people’s livelihoods and lives are not at risk. 

A government that risks its people’s lives is a government that has failed its people. 

Congress will be the next battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. The Equality Act passed in the House last year but has not come closer to becoming law. It bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The bill’s sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Representative David Cicilline is hopeful, as five years ago, such a bill wouldn’t have been heard on the floor, let alone pass the House. Sadly, the bill never made it to the Senate floor. 

While people in the Bay Area and other progressive parts of the country may assume that LGBTQ+ people have “equal for all” rights, that’s not the case on a federal level.  In the ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would unquestionably have equal rights and never would have needed additional legal protection. We cannot pretend otherwise. 

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.


Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

 

Ethnic Hostility Simmers In Axone Cookfest

With the world wide furore created by the Black Lives Matter movement and the soul searching about discrimination and xenophobia in countries around the globe, it’s time that Indians look themselves in the mirror and ask an honest question.

How racist are we as a culture?

The answer, conveyed subtly and with empathy in the movie Axone, is extremely. 

However – and there is a however – we’re also open to change, to understanding with exposure, to the fact that the principle that allowed our civilization to survive waves of invasions over the centuries – live and let live-  is  still alive, even if it sometimes appears to be on life support. 

Axone is a gentle satire – funny at times, and at other times, dark and  thoughtful on culture and cultural clashes, on unabashed bigotry towards people from the ‘Northeast of India’ (are they really Indian?) and on the meaning of neighborhood and the importance of acceptance.

It doesn’t try to make grand statements or indulge in preachy messages – it’s a simple, authentic recreation of the ugly reality of discrimination and stereotypes prevalent in Indian culture, and the personal and psychological cost paid by the minorities subjected to them.

The plot revolves around a single day of misadventures, as a group of friends from the northeast of India (Nepalis, Manipuris and Khasis are lumped together here, so much the better to make the movie’s point) try to cook a special, particularly pungent Naga dish called Axone,(pronounced Akhuni) for their friend’s wedding. Their Punjabi landlady is a terror who screams bloody murder whenever this noxious smelling (at least according to her ‘delicate’ Punjabi nostrils) concoction is prepared, and forbids the use of her kitchen.

The friends resort to all sorts of devices to prepare the dish and move it from location to location, revealing in the process how the young Northeasterners deal with daily slights and ethnic insults which are as commonplace as stray dogs on Delhi’s teeming streets.

There are hilarious moments, but also situations which make one angry that their Northeastern origin lets others automatically assume they can be pushed around. 

Sayani Gupta stands out as Upasana, a Nepali girl who forges on with the project even as Chanbi, her Manipuri friend (played by Lin Laishram) loses heart; all the young actors in this movie inhabit their roles as naturally as a second skin.

Director Nicholas Kharkongor handles the casual way Northeastern women experience daily doses of racism and sexism particularly well.  Having grown up on the streets of Delhi, I identified totally with the rage Chanbi experiences when local men talk dirty around her because she is perceived as Northeastern and therefore ‘loose.’

My heart bled for her friend, who was too cowardly to defend her honor against a bunch of goons (why should he have been put in that position in the first place?)

Dolly Ahluwahlia as the aggressive Punjabi landlady brings the same delightful ferocity to her role that we first saw in Vicky Donor, whether she’s berating her no-good son-in-law (played by Vinay Pathak), or rebuking the girls for trying to use her kitchen or, eventually joining forces with her grandson to help the girls finish the cumbersome process of cooking.  

In the end, the simplicity and  humor with which the movie tackles a disturbing everyday reality makes it an experience that stays with the viewer. 

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

Edited by Contributing Editor Meera Kymal

 

Why Stories are Important

Books are enchanted. They have the ability to transport the mind to an imaginative place where the story gets painted in vivid colors. These stories can also be crucial in teaching lessons, at any age, and allow us to experience a journey through a character’s insight. It is truly magical when a book and its lessons stay with you and become an integral part of your core principles and understandings. When I was in the fifth grade, I read the book Holes by Louis Sachar three times. 20 years later, the story has stuck with me as a telling of the resilience, resourcefulness and the deciphering between right and wrong that children so clearly possess.

The book tells of a young teenage boy named Stanley Yelnats. He was wrongly accused of theft and sent to a juvenile corrections facility in a vast Texan desert called Camp Green Lake. He comes from a poor family who has always believed they were cursed due to his “no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather”. At Camp Green Lake, Stanley and the other inmates are told to dig one hole every day that is 5 feet deep and 5 feet wide to build character. However, Stanley soon suspects they might be digging for something in particular, because the warden promises a day off for anyone who finds anything interesting. Stanley befriends another young boy named Zero, who has been homeless most of his life, and together they find themselves on a journey for survival.

The plot includes history of the area along with the interconnected relationships between other characters and how they each affect Stanley. Themes include illiteracy, homelessness, racism, and the mistreatment of children. I understand it sounds heavy for a ten year old to read, but Sachar’s story telling was inscribed in such a way that I believe now was important for my young mind to piece the themes together. They are topics that ring ever true to our future and have yielded my passion and will to make the upcoming generation better.

As a third grade teacher, my goal is to teach my students the importance of resilience, compassion, and understanding the different families and backgrounds in our community. Holes is an important reminder that children can make a profound impact on the world. One instance in my classroom that made me feel that full-hearted, proud teacher beam happened this past school year. I was teaching my students about the Native Americans. We discussed the treatment of the Native Americans by the Europeans, and how it was not as peaceful as we used to be taught when my generation learned about Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving. We talked about the conflict over land, and one of my students raised her hand. When I called on her, she asked, “Why didn’t they just have a conversation and find a way to share the land fairly?” This is why we teach history. I told my students that their mindset is already greater than those who came before them, and that is the mindset we need in our future for a joyous and successful world.

Ultimately, the themes of resilient problem-solving and fair treatment of others are what I aim to teach my students every day. Just like Sachar’s novel, life is an adventure and through each challenge, a valuable lesson is learned.

Annie Milan is a Bay Area native and is currently a third grade teacher in Los Gatos. Teaching has always been the guiding light of her education and career. She graduated with a BA in English Education with a minor in Spanish from California State University, Chico in 2013. She has always relished literature and writing, and started a book club for her colleagues earlier this year. Annie and her husband live in San Jose. Together they frequent the foothills taking hikes and enjoy weekend trips to the beach. In her downtime, she loves to read, cook, and take on home projects.

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