Tag Archives: Ethnic Media Services

Bay Area Affordable Housing Isn’t a Panacea. I Know, I Went Through the System.

“If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing discrimination …housing discrimination is as quiet as it is deadly,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic in 2014. 

Knock. Knock. Knock.

“Hello, Srishti. You have time to help me?” I know who it is. Like clockwork, she came to my office every day. 

Judy, a resident at Tyrella Gardens
Judy, a resident at Tyrella Gardens.

Judy (56) was a Korean American resident in the Mountain View low-income/affordable housing building, Tyrella Gardens, where I was working as a MidPen Family Services Coordinator. 

A divorced, immigrant, single mother, and a Section 8 recipient, Judy had to navigate the bureaucratic Santa Clara County Social Services system alone. She often reached out to me for rental assistance, legal advice, tax education, resume building, or job search help, and to decipher the English legalese on official documents. 

In August of 2019, armed with Coates’ wisdom and a naive passion for justice, I ventured into a career in affordable housing. Little did I know, my clients and I were ill-equipped and set up for failure. I was just another added number to a high rate of attrition of Resource Coordinators at affordable housing facilities, and Judy’s loss of housing was collateral damage.  

When Judy tried to access resources in Santa Clara County, it often resulted in confusion, frustration, and even aggression from county employees. Judy, lost in the labyrinth of an unfamiliar language, would repeat herself and struggle to answer the litany of personal questions asked. The county employees, overwhelmed with the number of calls received, tried to get through each client quickly. 

English language fluency, dedicated time, and deference dictate the probability of a positive result.

Case Study 1: Judy frantically calls various organizations for a government-issued cell phone plan. They tell her she is ineligible. I call a few hours later and she has a phone in her hand within the week.

Case Study 2: Judy reaches out to the local church for rental assistance. They tell her she isn’t the right fit for their donation program. I reach out to the same church on her behalf and a few weeks later, after some paperwork and interviews, Judy receives rent relief. 

Affordable housing corporations build a niche market of jobs for Resource Coordinators, capitalizing on their empathy and desire for equity, to meet the demands of their municipalities. Housing instability positions 40% of Californian renters with the invariable choice of having to allocate half of their income for rent. These renters become financially vulnerable and are increasingly reliant on government-funded resources. Lip service and self-congratulatory behavior about housing policy by notable leaders calls for media attention, instead, left in the wake are the underpaid, understaffed Resource Coordinators with the onus of uplifting the disenfranchised.

“I can’t imagine you not here, Srishti. You help me so much,” Judy said to me one afternoon after searching for jobs.

Those words echoed, heavy but hollow. 

It was a laborious job. I serviced the residents at two different housing locations, independently taught and developed the after-school program for kids (many of whom had learning disabilities), created the high school program for teens, ran the farmer’s market, conducted countless engagement events, and more. To top it all off, a lot of my time was spent tediously cataloging my work on Salesforce for upper management, who seemed more concerned with the data-tracking tool than with their employees on the ground. 

Internally struggling, I went back and forth between these questions: How would my absence make Judy feel? How would my coworkers fare without my help? Was the pay worth the hours I put in? Did I feel valued by MidPen Housing? Did I feel supported by MidPen Housing? Was the job sustainable?

For many months, I was at an impasse. I couldn’t decide if I should leave Tyrella Gardens. I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel supported, I wasn’t paid well, and I was perpetually ill. 

The pandemic was a chaotic trigger in my life and Judy’s. I quit my job at Midpen Housing in February of 2020 and the lockdown began soon after. My immediate worry was — how would Judy fare?

Perhaps, I should have been apprehensive of my own housing situation. I was living with three roommates and three out of the four of us were without consistent sources of income. We concluded that the responsible thing would be to break the lease. 

Our property management company made it an arduous and expensive ordeal — it would cost me more to break the lease than it would be to stay. Either way, I didn’t have the funds. I never thought that I, an educated and resourceful Indian American from the Bay Area, would be caught up in what felt like housing injustice.

Ping! 

I receive a Facebook message from Judy, who continues to reach out to me for help.

April 12, 2020: “Hello. I will stay home April & May. Coronavirus. Do I need time off? Could you call me?”

Judy was concerned about her job as an Amazon shopper at Whole Foods, which I had helped her attain.

Unclear of what to do about my housing, I search “tenant rights for San Jose residents” on my phone as I log on to Judy’s work portal on my computer to figure out how she could take time off and pay her bills. 

Judy, a proactive woman, is a byproduct of circumstance. I know this because I know Judy — why she needs help, her backstory, how to communicate with her to get an informative response. But most importantly, our shared history as Asian immigrants help us have productive, respectful conversations.

“You are so nice, Srishti. You always help,” she said once as she handed me fruits. She was grateful to be shown kindness, but I was only doing my job.

I knew the residents disliked the turnover of people in my position. They told me stories of all the other Coordinators that had come before me. Those in my position felt like bad actors in a mythical story. I didn’t want to be another in a series of transient people in their lives that seemed to care momentarily. I lugged this weight around with me.  

I kept promising them I would stay, but I had noticed a trend. Our group of around fifty Family Service Coordinators would meet once a month and one by one, I saw older coworkers exit the organization and new faces replace them. After 8 months, I was a replaced face too. At least 10 out of 50 employees were gone within the year — a 20% loss and a turnover rate that is high for any organization.

In June of 2021, I contacted the cohort of coworkers I worked with at MidPen: Jennifer Villasano (23), Kristi Seymour (24), Diana Lumbreras (25). We had started our time at MidPen together in August of 2019 and they were still there when I left in February of 2020. 

Were they able to debunk my theory that the Coordinator position in affordable housing is an unsustainable job?

Villasano laughs and thinks back to when she first joined MidPen, “It was my first job out of college…At first I thought, I get to give back to my community” and then she notes it became “hard to give more” partially because of the organization she was working for. 

She continued to work during the pandemic and was appalled by how MidPen did not value her safety. “Residents and co-workers wouldn’t wear masks during the pandemic and I didn’t want to be exposed [to COVID],” she continues, “One of the residents got COVID and because of some Act, management wouldn’t tell us who.” She felt this was a breach of her well-being since she had to continue to “flyer” at the housing facility and interact with all the residents. 

“No one was checking in on the coordinators. It was exhausting.”

Jennifer Villasano quit in July of 2020.

As to why she left, she decisively states, “Instead of speaking up for us, [management] would ask us to do more. They wouldn’t support us….They need to do better.”

Kristi Seymour, a Guyanese-American woman, corroborates that, “Management wasn’t the best. Expectations weren’t met. That could also tie into the high turnover rate. If you don’t feel like your managers care about you … you’re not going to tell them anything and leave at the first chance.” Seymour felt slighted by the inconsistent nature of support provided and emphatically asserts, “I think its pay. I think it’s management. As the people actually delivering the services, you’re not getting paid enough for what you do…They expect a lot out of you — running after-school programs and delivering services to 40-50 units.”

Kristi Seymour quit in June of 2020.

Diana Lumbreras, a Mexican-American woman, shares a similar narrative to mine: “MidPen was my first job where I was working with housing, it was interesting to see how it worked. It was about numbers. We didn’t have time to build relationships because we had to get stuff in.”

Lumbreras forged on during the pandemic. The lockdown exacerbated the pre-existing concerns that she had with MidPen. 

“Something that happened during the pandemic that actually bugged me was that, of course, mostly everyone at my [housing site] lost their jobs. I was going door to door ‘flyering’ with resources for food banks, assistance for rent, anything and everything that I could find to help [the residents]. When it came to documentation…[management] said that there was no way of documenting my work because it wasn’t something [they] had asked for.”

Diana Lumbreras quit in August of 2020.

“What am I doing here?” She asked herself before leaving her job. “I was told that even if I did more, that there was no way of getting credit for that work … essentially saying, don’t even do [the work] if you can’t document it. That was the part that got me so upset because I was doing so much. I was printing out flyers in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and going door to door.”

The stories relayed to me by the Ghosts of Coordinators Past held a valuable nugget. The Family Services Coordinator position entrenched within the affordable housing complex is integral to the health of the community it serves. Lumbreras poignantly reminds me of this when she tells me, “As an essential worker during the pandemic, I felt important because people were coming to me when they actually needed help.” That weight I was lugging around was part of Diana’s story too. In reality, this burden wasn’t ours to bear. The responsibility to the community of clients and employees should be accounted for in the system attempting to address the housing crisis in the Bay Area. 

Family Service Coordinators are servicing low-income to median-income residents and, yet, they are well below the low-income threshold of $58,00 for housing in Santa Clara County themselves. Hourly pay at between $19-$20/hour, the average person working in affordable housing is making a yearly salary of a whopping $38,400 before taxes, and are most likely people of color. How can those tasked to elevate the marginalized put their best foot forward when they are being marginalized themselves? 

California housing prices have been on the rise. In May of 2021, the median home price in California was $818,260 with the SF Bay Area region clocking in at a 38.9% increase in the median home price since 2020 — the highest increase in the state. The nuclear family home, which was more attainable for the Baby Boomer generation, is a far-fetched dream for 44% of California residents. Despite the eviction moratorium being extended for another three months with the offer of all low-income past-due back rent being paid by the state, renters have been in a precarious situation for the last year, their benefits and interests at the whims of their landlords.

California housing policy is trending toward investment in affordable housing communities. Tina Rosales, a Policy Advocate at Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) based in Sacramento is pushing for equitable and fair housing. In a concerted effort with WCLP, Francisco Dueñas, Executive Director of Housing Now, advocates for the divestment of government resources from private construction and into affordable housing and Land Trusts. 

Since 2016, Santa Clara County has been on track to exponentially increase accessible housing when residents voted for Measure A in an effort to alleviate housing injustice. Measure A approved $950 million to build 4,800 affordable housing units in the county. Since then, the county has dedicated more funds to affordable housing while overlooking their commitment to the communities they serve. 

Affordable housing is the future of Bay Area housing. Thus, forthcoming policy must account for evidence-based case studies. Narratives of employee loss and its subsequent adverse effect on residents are an emerging barrier to housing equity. 

Ultimately, the residents suffer. 

I keep reaching out to Judy but hear from her less and less. Embroiled in my own housing fiasco, the upkeep of our relationship recedes to the backburner.

On May 25, 2021, I finally receive a message from Judy: “I stay in Korea. I can call around this time tomorrow.”

When we speak, she informs me that in September of 2020, her Section 8 rent had increased from approximately $120 to approximately $600. Unable to afford rent and scared of resuming work, Judy moved back home with her parents in Korea. She decided to wait out the pandemic in Korea but was hopeful she could come back to the US after the pandemic. With no address on hand and no paperwork filed, Santa Clara Housing Authority (SCCHA) revokes Judy’s Section 8 housing when MidPen marks her an absentee renter. 

Since May of 2021, Judy and I have been trying to access her SCCHA specialist to figure out how to move forward. Judy wants to resume residence in America but cannot do so without Section 8 housing. The SCCHA offices are closed (in a time when their services are most necessary) and the operators manning the phone lines have not given any clear answers — we are stuck in cyclical redirection.

Affordable housing was effective for Judy when someone could guide her through the government regulations. Diana Lumbreras similarly posited, “I would put the resources out there, but the same people that lived in the housing were limited in the knowledge that they had to get the resources.” Judy’s back-rent can be paid by the state, but that decision came too late in this particular case. The system failed Judy.

Though I was edged out of the apartment I was living in at the beginning of the pandemic, I finagle my way into a Below-Market-Rate apartment that was listed as an affordable housing unit in San Jose. I manage to pay off the previous landlord and save money at my new complex. Affordable housing isn’t perfect, however, it did lend itself perfectly to me. 

Judy and I had inequitable outcomes. 

Creating resources and delivering resources seem to be at odds with one another. What they require is synergy.

Here are the asks:

  1. The base pay for Resource Coordinators needs to increase to a number that reflects their invaluable service to the community.
  2. There should be an increase in employee retention rates at affordable housing sites.
  3. There should be more on-site staff for support.
  4. There should be more focus on relationship-building and less on the number of initiatives implemented.
  5. There should be a symbiotic relationship between resource coordinators and the county services staff.
  6. There should be a creation of a Union for workers in social services in the state.

 

“Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute,” proffers Ta-Nehisi Coates

No home. No country to call her own. Judy embodies the silent way in which housing inequity diminishes a person’s agency and identity. 

We need to do better. We have to do better — Not just by creating accessible housing, but by creating sustainable networks of people that can ensure our community’s diverse and equitable growth in the Bay Area. 

*We reached out to MidPen Housing for comment. They did not respond to our request.


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


 

Dr. Erica Pan

State Epidemiologist Highlights Expanded COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility to Protect Kids 12+

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) today released the latest “On the Record” ethnic media column, in which California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan encourages California families to vaccinate their 12 to 15-year-olds against COVID-19 – an age group comprising about 2.1 million Californians. Protecting adolescents with vaccinations will help move the state closer to ending the pandemic and ease its toll on their mental health and social-emotional wellbeing.

“The past year has been hard on all of us, but especially difficult for our teens who have had to put their lives on hold. Now that eligibility has expanded, we can confidently give our kids a shot at being kids again with the comfort of knowing they are protected from COVID-19,” wrote Dr. Pan in her column. “When more Californians become vaccinated, we can feel safer as restrictions are lifted and life begins to return to a sense of normalcy. When 12 to 15-year-olds are vaccinated, families can be safer as they venture out more, go on vacations and get back to doing the things they love.”

California expanded eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds last month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) vaccine safety review panel and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup recommended that the vaccine is safe and effective in protecting this age group against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. In the weeks since the eligibility expansion, approximately 27.5 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds have received at least one dose.

In the column, Dr. Pan addresses potential questions and concerns teens and their parents or guardians may have about the vaccine. Dr. Pan explains that clinical trials have proven the vaccine to be safe and effective for youth in this age group and that the technology used to make the vaccine has been developed over the last 20 years. Vaccinated individuals may experience mild side effects such as a sore arm, fever, or fatigue.

A parent of two eligible adolescents, Dr. Pan discusses the stress and isolation youth have experienced due to the pandemic, and how getting vaccinated is a critical step to getting back to our normal lives, including more opportunities to safely spend time with friends and family.

Dr. Pan also highlights the state’s new $116.5 million Vax for the Win incentive program, in which all Californians who have had at least one COVID-19 dose – including youth – are eligible to receive $50 prepaid or grocery cards and are entered into randomized cash prize drawings. A total of 30 winners will receive $50,000, and on June 15, 10 will win $1.5 million as the state fully reopens. $750,000 has already been awarded in the first round of cash prize drawings last week, and the next 15 winners will be selected this Friday.

Dr. Pan underscores the state’s work to ensure equitable access to the vaccine, including partnerships with local health departments, community-based organizations, and school districts to reach underserved youth in foster care or those experiencing homelessness, as well as efforts to improve access in rural communities through mobile clinics, free transportation and more. Vaccines are free, including for those who don’t have health insurance and regardless of immigration status.

To promote easy access, the Administration established a portal where schools and other community sites can request support to set up mobile and pop-up clinics. Schools – especially larger districts – can also become providers by following the steps outlined here and in a school-specific recorded webinar. For resources to support outreach, schools and other community organizations can access the messaging toolkit.

Parents, legal guardians or emancipated young people can check vaccine availability and book an appointment at MyTurn.ca.gov or by calling California’s COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255. They can also contact their family doctor, local community health clinic or public health office for more information.

More information on the Vax for the Win program can be found here. If you encounter a possible vaccine incentive scam, please email rumors@cdph.ca.gov or call the Vax for the Win incentives hotline at 1-833-993-3873.


 

Asian American Voices Take on Voting Rights in US Elections

Over the years, America has seen a nationally growing community of minority populations. The 2016 elections caused a huge wave of anger and frustration within these communities and led to protests and action against injustices caused by lack of voter turnout and disparity in elections. People protested and voiced out their anger and fear of not having a space to grow on an equal footing as those that were privileged. These events led up to the 2020 election, a time where Kamala Harris, the first Asian-Black woman elected Vice President in the history of this nation. 

South Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S with a 45% growth in the last decade. These numbers show the growing influence of Asian Americans in the electoral processes of the States. Meera Kymal reported for India Currents that though Indian Americans represent just over 1% of the US population, they have donated more than $3 million towards the 2020 presidential campaigns. Minority voices have demanded equality and representation in their communities. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on April 30th, John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), stated that the 2020 election saw an increase of 40% in voter turnout when compared to the 2016 elections. 

The For the People Act and the John L.Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will only give more equality and accessibility to minority communities to break language barriers and make their vote count. Both these bills seek to make the electoral process secure and prevent foreign interventions or money from influencing the electoral process and vote. They also provide better access to voting by mail and overall enhance the voting process and security. 

“Language barriers are one of the biggest impediments to the Asian American vote, with 1/3rd of Asian Americans being what is called limited English proficiency” John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).  

Mr. Yang further states that previous elections have witnessed a lack of translators or sign indicators for those that are not proficient in English, limiting their access to ballots. While this was taken care of in the 1965 voting rights act, a lot more can be done for those that aren’t proficient in English. “In every election poll, monitors have observed missing Asian language signage and interpreters, which limits our access to the ballot. Ensuring effective language assistance is paramount to closing that consistent barrier in national and local elections,” he stated. 

The For The People Act and John L.Lewis  Voting Rights Advancement Act will improve and expense the voting opportunities for Asian communities making it more accessible to them. The previous election also saw an increase in turnout due to voting by mail. Such steps can be enhanced and practiced more efficiently if the two bills were to pass in Congress. 

What better month to discuss this topic than AAPI heritage month! It is important to remember that the influence of Asian American communities strongly impacted the 2020 elections, and the passing of these two bills in Congress will only enhance the opportunity for better representation and understanding of the Asian American community in the States. 


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


 

“Often Our Communities Are Pitted Against Each Other” says Manjusha Kulkarni of A3PCON

A rash of hate incidents against Asian Americans is spreading like a virus since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

On March 16, eight people were shot and killed at three Atlanta area spas amid growing fears nationwide of anti-Asian bias. Six of the victims were Asian women.

Anti‐Asian hate crimes surged by a staggering 149% in 16 of America’s largest cities, even though overall hate crime dropped by 7% in 2020, according to a fact sheet released by the California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

With the stabbing of a 36 year Asian man in Chinatown In February, New York leapt to the top of the leaderboard for the most number (28) of racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent in a major city, followed by Los Angeles (15) and Boston (14), in hate incidents reported to the police.

Data shows that the first spate of hate crimes occurred in March and April ‘amidst a rise in COVID-19 cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic’.

The brutal spike in attacks on Asian and Pacific Island Americans (particularly seniors)  amid an epidemic of anti-Asian violence ,“is a source of grave concern for our community,” said John C Yang, of AAJC. “While battling COVID19, unfortunately Asian Americans have also had to fight a second virus of racism.”

At an ethnic media briefing on February 19, civil rights advocates called for a unified response to counter racial and ethnic divisions, bigotry and incidents of hate.

“What we are experiencing is the America First virus,”  declared Jose Roberto Hernandez, Chief of Staff, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, where hatred is manifesting in a rash of vicious attacks targeting Asian Americans.

STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans across the U.S. between March 19 and December 31, 2020. Sixty nine percent of anti-AAPI attacks occurred in California, followed by New York City (20%), Washington (7%) and Illinois (4%).

According to STOP AAPI Hate, victims reported prejudice incidents that ranged from physical assault (8%), coughing and spitting (6%), to being shunned or avoided (20%). The vast majority (66%) reported verbal assaults.

In another study, hateful comments on social media also reflected racist trends sweeping the Internet. The term Kung Flu spiked in March and July last year in a Google key word search, while an analysis of Poll and Twitter posts from January 2020 saw a similar surge of Sino phobic racial slurs in March.

The most victimized group in the AAPI population – almost 41% – were people of Chinese descent while  Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos also were targeted.

The effect on the Asian American community is significant, said Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, referring to a Harris poll that showed three-quarters (75%) of Asian Americans  increasingly fear discrimination related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Another poll, added Yang, reported that 40% of Asian Americans either experienced discrimination or heard someone blame Asia or China for COVID-19. Many of the people who felt threatened are frontline workers in essential jobs at grocery stores, hospitals and community centers and custodial services.

“The surge in violence is creating an atmosphere of  tremendous fear,” noted Cynthia  Choi, Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-creator of Stop AAPI Hate.

Hate against Asian Americans is not a new phenomenon added Yang, referring to historical fear and prejudice that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of 120 thousand Japanese Americans during World War 2, and the war on terror after 9/11 that impacted Arab Americans.

Asian Americans are often demonized for being ‘foreigners,’ or carriers of disease, but during the pandemic, said Yang, the ‘need to blame’ someone for the virus has exacerbated those fears and morphed into violence against the Asian American community.

Hateful rhetoric from President Trump, who referred to COVID19 as ‘the China virus, the Wuhan flu, and the China plague’ at political rallies, further inflamed racially motivated violence against Asian Americans.

“That has had a lasting impact”, stated Choi.

Her view was echoed by Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of Pacific Policy and Planning Council, who pointed to “.. a very direct connection between the actions and the words of the former presidents and the administration.” She referred to policies initiated by the former administration to ‘alienate, isolate, and prevent our communities from getting the support they needed, and to reports her organization received, containing ‘the words of the president.’

“Words matter,” said Yang, calling on people to come together to dismantle the contagion of racism and hatred.

AAPI advocates drew the strong support of Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League, who condemned the ‘climate of intolerance which has been created in this nation.” He reiterated his support for AAPI, accountability for perpetrators of violent acts, and commitment to cross cultural understanding “which is central to civil rights in the 21st century.

“Hate anywhere, is hate everywhere,” noted Morial. “We stand against efforts to demonize the Asian American community.”

So how is the nation addressing this issue?

“What we need to work on is establishing the checks and balances in society that grant equal power to everybody,” said Hernandez, “at home, at work, and in the community.” Yang called for a stand against hatred, for witnesses to report incidents, and for bystander intervention training, so people know what do when they witness accounts of hate. He urged setting up dialog at local levels.

A number of AAPI organizations, including  OCANational Council of Asian Pacific AmericansChinese for Affirmative Action, and Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, have joined forces to unanimously condemn anti-Asian hate crimes. Several civil rights advocacy groups – Chinese for Affirmative Action, SAALT, and A3PCON, offer in language links on their websites, to report hate incidents.

At the national level, said Yang, Biden’s national memorandum against AAPI hate is a good start in terms of data collection and better understanding of the hate Asian Americans are facing. But the government needs to invest in communities – in victim response centers, financial resources for victims and cross-community, cross-cultural conversations,” – to break down the barriers of prejudice.

“Often our communities are pitted against each other,” said Kulkarni, “that is how white supremacy works.” She remarked that sometimes AAPI communities tend to turn on one other because of ‘close proximity’ geographically or socio-economically, while too many people in AAPI communities accept the model minority myth or anti-blackness “all too easily.”

Communities need to collaborate to combat this culture of hatred and take responsibility to work on solutions, rather than accept the premises of white supremacy, added Kulkarni. She called for healing rather than division.  “We have so much in common …that we should be able to work together for the right, restorative and transformative justice.”

Everyone has a part to play in highlighting this issue. urged Yang. “The virus of racism is very contagious and affects all of our communities. We need to fight that virus together.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Originally published February 24, 2021.

COVID Slams Ethnic Minorities

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

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

The numbers are stark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barriers to Better Health  & Vaccines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missteps in California

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

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

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

A Robust Rescue Package

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

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

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

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

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


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

Can Schools Reopen Safely?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday, February 13th, 2021, issued new guidelines for the reopening of K-12 schools. Many teachers and parents have raised concerns about the early reopening of schools.

Returning to schools before teachers can be fully vaccinated has raised fears in the community.  The guidelines state that although teachers should be vaccinated as quickly as possible, (preferably after health care workers and long-term-care facility residents ) they do not need to be vaccinated before schools can reopen. 

In order to make it easier on the schools to open, the CDC has also given a pass to the schools on physical distancing. Schools are encouraged to put in effect physical distancing to the greatest extent possible requiring it only when community transmission of the virus is high.

The expense and logistics of widespread screening, which would be a heavy burden for school districts, has also been lightened to the extent possible.

Central to the debate over school reopening is whether children are efficient COVID-19 transmitters and likely to increase community spread when programs reopen.

Though evidence suggests that children under 10 are less likely to get the virus, students can carry infection back home to the community,” says Christina Martini, a kindergarten teacher who has a Masters in Education from Purdue University.  

“There is concern if they live with their grandparents who are seventy or eighty years old”, said Akil Vohra, Asian American Lead (AALead) at an Ethnic Media Services‘s briefing titled “When Can We Reopen Schools?  Search For Common Ground on Divisive Issue”.

In addition to Vohra, the panel included experts Louis Freedberg, Executive Director of EdSource, Tyrone Howard, Professor of Education, UCLA, and Director of Black Male Institute, and Bernita Bradley from the National Parents Union. They offered a range of perspectives on the struggle to get children back to the classroom.  

Karla Franco, a Los Angeles parent, talked about how the stakes are highest for students of color in major urban districts, whose studies show they are losing ground the longer they are out of the classroom and who have the least confidence in the safety of their schools and the responsiveness of their school officials. 

Education experts are concerned about the consequences of students being out of school for such a prolonged period. There is growing evidence that some students who are learning remotely are falling significantly behind academically.

Freedberg highlighted the unusually high numbers of children and adolescents who are depressed, anxious or experiencing other mental health issues. “When you look at the research it looks like kids need to be back in school”, he said. “On the social emotional level reports show higher rates of depression, PTSD due to social isolation and not being in contact with other kids, but also kids are in a home where the parents are struggling with new economic stresses due to job losses and there is the uncertainty around school.” 

“The schools are under pressure to reopen and they do have to at some point. The new CDC guidelines guide schools on how to openly safely with effective mitigation measures,” said Martini.


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

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Will Biden’s Immigrant Plan Save Ravi Ragbir?

Ravi Ragbir’s Story  

Ravi Ragbir, co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition,  is a Trinidadian immigrant with a criminal conviction who has been fighting his own deportation since 2006. He says the existing immigration policy with its origins in the Chinese Exclusionary Act is extremely racist, and should be totally repealed.

Ragbir claims that even though the Biden administration wants to stop deportations, an enforcement agency like ICE has the unchecked authority and power to continue doing so.

Under Trump says Ragbir, ICE terrorized immigrant communities and families to force them to ‘self deport’. Many immigrants who lost Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were forced to flee to Canada. Ragbir himself was publicly bound by ICE agents and detained for deportation, to make an example of him. Though he won his challenge, ICE continues to surveil him and target over thousand immigration leaders and advocates in a ‘campaign of terror.’

You can listen their stories via this link – https://www.immigrantrightsvoices.org/

Ragbir shared his story at an ethnic media briefing on January 29, in which immigration experts reviewed President Biden’s Immigration Bill, which was sent to Congress on January 20.

After four years of cruelty and chaos, said Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice, during which the Trump administration weaponized an already dysfunctional immigration system, the country now has a President and slight majority in Congress that is pro-immigrant.

So realistically, what we can expect from this progressive, pro-immigrant movement, said Sharry, is a plan for an immigration system that is fair, humane and functional. It’s goal will be to undo the cruelty inflicted on immigrants and refugees in recent years, and to pass transformative legislation that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship.

The Biden Immigration Proposal

According to Sharry, the Biden administration hit the road running on immigration.

In his first week, Biden signed six executive orders, issued two DHS memos to change immigration policy ,and introduced a sweeping legislative proposal.

The Bill ended the Muslim and African bans, ordered the reinstatement of DACA, stopped border wall construction, and imposed a 100-day moratorium on most deportations (though a judge in Texas  has issued a temporary restraining order to thwart one of Biden’s key immigration priorities).

The proposed agenda winds down the MPP program which left thousands stranded in Mexico after being denied the right to apply for asylum, extended DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) for about 4000 Liberians, and offers guidelines to restrict the number of people at priority for arrest under immigration law.

It also has ended efforts by the Trump administration to remove undocumented immigrants from the Census count, for its use in determining congressional seats.

However, warned Sharry, Biden’s immigration bill faces a difficult path in Senate. It’s unlikely that a sweeping immigration bill will find bi-partisan support, but he pointed out that bills processed under budget reconciliation could pass through Congress by a simple majority of 51 votes.

The Biden administration is pushing the immigration issue said Sharry, because the pro-immigrant movement in the country has shifted the debate over immigration, due to activists who have reimagined how the rules around immigration – on deportation for example – need to be enforced.

“We have to give credit to the people who have been organizing from the ground up for the last 20 years,” he noted, because advocates of the immigrant rights movement have “shifted the center of the debate and made what once seemed a little radical seem common sense. “

“The public is way out in front of the politicians on this one, remarked Sharry, adding that “How this plays out politically, is that the wind is at the backs of the Biden administration.”

Public opinion has shifted in favor of immigrants, even though “Trump demonized immigrants and made it his signature issue,” stated Sharry.

It forced the public to think about immigration when friends and community members were subjected to deportation, families were being separated, and toddlers were ripped away from moms and dads at the border. The wedge issue of immigration began losing its edge.

Instead, Trump’s nativism backfired with the majority of Americans, remarked Sharry.

His view was echoed by John Yang of AAJC,  a DC-based civil rights organization, who added that the American public believes in a more inclusive America. He urged the need to find ways to engage with the small segment that fears the browning of America. Ragbir added that regular citizens living amidst the trauma of job loss and the pandemic, now realize how challenging life is for non-citizens.

The  US Citizenship Act of 2021

“It really is a racial justice bill,” said John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), referring to Biden’s US Citizenship Act.  The new bill is important to Asian Americans, because their story “isn’t quite part of the narrative” on immigration but legislation will affect Asian Americans in a very significant way

According to AAJC, current immigration patterns show that close to 40%of all immigrants come from Asia. It’s predicted that by 2055 the largest group of immigrants will be Asian American. So the pathways to citizenship offered by the US Citizenship Act is an “exciting” drive toward ‘racial equity’ said Yang, likening it to the 1965  Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which was part of a whole civil rights legislation.

The 11 million undocumented includes almost 1.7 million Asians,  about 120 thousand of whom are eligible for DACA and 15 thousand (specifically Nepalese), who qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

It also includes the Reuniting Families Act which focuses on family immigration, explained Yang. Its inclusion is a victory for Asian American advocates who have fought to protect families, a cornerstone issue of Asian American immigration.

Approximately 70% immigrate to the US via this provision while only a small minority come to the US on H-1B, high tech or STEM work visas, Yang clarified. The majority of Asian Americans, like immigrants before them, he added, have come here to make better lives because they believe in American values, and want to contribute to society.

What the US Citizenship Act does for families

The US Citizenship Act adds green cards to clear the long backlog (almost 20 years for certain countries) and reunite families. It also reduces the backlog for employment based visas like the H-1B and H-4 for families stuck on temporary status, and protects children who fall out of status when they turn 21. (Read about the H-4EAD visa here)

Families on temporary status are allowed to remain in the US while they await permanent residency and  family unity waivers are provided so families can sponsor their family members. The bill also promotes diversity, covering LGBTQ equality, orphans, and foreign veterans who fought alongside Americans, among other provisions.

Significantly, the bill includes legislation that will make it harder for a future president to reinstate these bans by a simple executive order.

Immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta explained that the current immigration law is ‘woefully inadequate’ with respect to legal immigration and skilled immigrants.  Not enough green cards are allotted to employment based categories and investor categories based on country of birth, he said. It will take an Indian H1-B visa holder several decades before they can receive green cards, while employers have to wait years  for a skilled worker to get permanent residency.

The bill attempts he said, to recapture visas that haven’t been used, in order to help reduce backlogs.  Employment and business reforms also include a 60-day freeze on artificial wage increases for H-1B visas that impact employers sponsoring highly skilled workers.

The Public Charge Rule  

One of most contentious immigration issues under the Trump administration was the  Public Charge Rule which was implemented in a way to slow the demographic shift in the country. It administered an immigrant wealth test and assessed the use of public benefits such as healthcare, housing or nutrition, to deny people their green card.

It meant that In the middle of a pandemic, people were afraid to get healthcare, tests or vaccines, for fear of falling foul of the system.

According to Mariaelena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, the Biden administration will begin the process of undoing the Public Charge rule, but would need to launch a robust community outreach and education program to regain the trust of immigrant families and encourage them to seek the help they need.

Immigrants need to be fully included in the Biden administration’s agenda, added Hincapié, to ensure that inclusion and equity are at the core in every federal department. Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Covid Task Force, for example, should closely look “at how their policies impact immigrants in this country.”

Given what immigrants and the country have been through, said Hincapie, the last four years have felt nothing less than a war on immigrant families. But from day one, the Biden/Harris administration has shown a strong commitment to unequivocally centering immigrants in the narrative and to undoing the harm of the past.

“Today we are so hopeful,” said Hincapié, that the new administration will collectively build a twenty first century immigration system “that is truly grounded in racial, economic and gender justice.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

The Virus & The Vaccine

Getting the COVID19 vaccine out of the freezer and into people’s arms has been slow. And, even as people battle unsympathetic websites to find slots for a shot, there still are many unanswered questions.

Will people who have been vaccinated still be asymptomatic and carriers who could infect others?

Will non-vaccinated people still need to wear PPE when interacting with them?

Will the vaccine protect against two new contagious strains of the virus?

What will the Biden administration do differently in its COVID19 response?

These questions and more, were answered by experts at an Ethnic Media Services briefing on January 13.

One of the biggest concerns to the country is the slow pace of the vaccine roll out. Though the US has 20 million doses of the Pfizer & Moderna vaccine, we face innumerable challenges at both the federal and state level, in getting the vaccine out to people. Only 5 million vaccines have been distributed as of January  11th.

According to Dr. William Shaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Health Policy, and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, a number of bottle necks choked a smooth vaccine roll out. At the national level, the uncertainty in vaccine shipments put a strain on the local level. States were not sure when vaccines would arrive, sometimes delivery was delayed, or fewer doses were received than anticipated. Occasionally shipments were sent to the wrong state in error.

Dr. William Shaffer

The Pfizer Deep Freeze

A key challenge for local distribution outlets was storing the Pfizer vaccine which requires “a really deep freeze” to keep it stable and intact. So only large medical centers with appropriate freezer storage capacity and personnel trained to handle it, first received the vaccine.  Fortunately, the Moderna vaccine does not need similar storage requirements and was distributed more easily, so vulnerable populations and frontline healthcare workers in long term care facilities, nursing homes and smaller community hospitals were able to access the vaccine.

Not Just Another Flu Campaign

“Quite frankly,” said Dr. Schaffer, many facilities assumed it would be “just another flu campaign,” but they were wrong. Insufficient preparation to administer the COVID19 vaccine rather “gummed up the works.”

                      Dr. Robert Wachter

California did get the science right, added Dr. Robert M. Wachter, Professor and Chair of Medicine at UCSF, “but did not get the logistics right.” Based on the way California managed its PPE and testing protocols, he was not surprised that vaccine distribution fared poorly. It’s a complicated process which ‘would have benefitted from a thoughtful national plan’ to determine for example, how to get a vaccine from a manufacturing plant in Michigan into a Fedex box that arrives in a central Californian distribution center. Glitches occurred because states, left to devise their own distribution process, “handed off responsibility to local institutions” which improvised protocols in “the last mile” of the roll out.

The lack of national guidance allowed too much “wiggle room” for error, stated Dr. Wachter.

Health Equity Gridlock

Another problem was created by rules about which cohorts got the vaccine first in a well-meaning effort to ensure health equity and that certain groups  – frontline healthcare workers, the elderly and essential workers – were prioritized for the vaccine. But how does a “Walgreens decide if you are a pre-school teacher or a grocery store worker or someone with a pre-existing condition,” argued Dr. Wachter. Do you need a note from your doctor or employer? “I haven’t received a convincing answer from anybody.”

‘We’ll Figure It Out’ Won’t Work

The lesson to learn is that “we’ll figure it out is not going to work with COVID19,” declared Dr. Wachter. He called it ‘scandalous’ that only 30% of all vaccines distributed have been injected when “millions of people should have received the vaccine by now.”

Congress only passed a coronavirus relief bill in late December 2020, to provide supplies necessary for distributing and administering the COVID-19 vaccine.

What we have  is a “9/11 or a Pearl Harbor worth of people dying a day” when we should be treating the distribution of the vaccine as an emergency, added Dr. Wachter.

Vaccines Going to Waste

Stories about vaccines going to waste make great news stories, but that’s not the real problem, said Dr. Shaffer. The issue is that doses are sitting in refrigerators and freezers but not making it into the final phase of delivery.

At UCSF, medical, 84% of vaccines have been distributed -15 thousand of about 18 thousand doses have been injected. The worry is how doses will make their way into rural or underserved communities.

Interestingly, Dr Shaffer reported that at Vanderbilt, a survey of healthcare providers found that they were hesitant and skeptical about the vaccine before it arrived. Vanderbilt responded with a major effort to educate its staff and address concerns to reassure reluctant people and change their minds. For example, the program had to counter fears  that the vaccine is not safe for pregnant women.

Both physicians reiterated that the vaccines were safe and effective to use.

Single or Double Dose

Data from all clinical trials find that two doses are required. The first shot offers partial protection after ten days and up to 80% to 90% protected  up to the minute before getting the second dose. “The second dose boosts  you up to the ultimate number of 95% and creates more durable immunity,” confirmed Dr. Wachter.

While models show that giving more people a first shot of the vaccine will save more lives than withholding doses for the follow up shot, there are legitimate concerns about delaying the second dose – will immunity fall off, will it promote mutations by having more people partly vaccinated, or will people forget to come back for their second dose? A single dose only will not work in the long term, but deferring a second dose will get more people vaccinated sooner. So the Biden administration’s plan to get more first doses out is ‘a good strategy’ agreed Dr. Shaffer.

Will You Still Be Contagious?

Preliminary data from a Moderna study indicated that ‘a substantial proportion of people vaccinated would not be able to transmit the virus. However, until final data sounds the all clear, warned Dr. Shaffer, people should continue to observe precautions with masks and social distancing.

Biden Roll Out

The best first step for the new administration must be to lead its Covid19 response based on science and clearly communicate its national policy, emphasizing “public health and scientific principles,”  said Dr. Shaffer. They also need to address the bottlenecks in vaccine distribution and reinforce they will work together with state and local levels to troubleshoot and resolve problems. Instituting a federal policy to ensure consistency in the COVID19 response across the country will be invaluable, he added.

Challenges Ahead

There is a real risk of politically driven resistance to the vaccine especially in rural areas and persuading people that it is safe and necessary will be quite difficult, Dr. Shaffer pointed out. But as demand grows for the vaccine, websites will have to handle thousands of people going online to make appointments, and venues will have to manage large cohorts arriving for their shot. A fair system needs to be established to ensure health equity in who gets the vaccine.


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Image by Wilfried Pohnke from Pixabay

Desis In the House!

Democracy was under siege in the last four years as the Trump administration took a wrecking ball to free and fair elections, human rights and the rule of law.

The divisive politics that polarized our country climaxed in the appalling spectacle of an enraged mob invading the Capitol to reclaim a ‘stolen election’, followed by the deaths of five people in the riot, and a group of lawmakers refusing ratify the electoral college results.

And yet, despite the chaos over the voting process that preceded the election in the middle of a pandemic, the nation flexed its collective democratic muscle in Election 2020, and set a record for the highest turnout in over a century.

Democracy prevailed. People asserted their will, and the results were historic, especially for multi-ethnic, multicultural America. High turnouts by voters of color proved decisive and gave Joe Biden the edge in this election,

More than 159 million Americans cast their vote. Among them, Asian Americans – the fastest growing ethnic group in the country according to a Pew study, who made up at least 5% of these eligible voters, with more than 1.8 registered Indian American voters nationally.

Kamala Harris, a woman of color with African American and Indian American heritage became the first ever woman elected to the office of Vice President of the United States

A record 51 women of color were elected to serve in the next 117th Congress.

People of color now represent 28% of the House, including 16 Asian Americans. Indian Americans had reason to celebrate as their ranks include Ami Bera and Ro Khanna (D) CA, Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) IL, and Pramila Jaypal (D) WA, all of whom were re-elected to the House of Representatives.

And, in a new record for the Indian American community, at least 20 Indian Americans, including 13 women, have been named to senior posts in the incoming Biden-Harris administration.

Click this LINK to see who they are!

https://youtu.be/rF3TVDOzl5Q

Undoubtedly these numbers mirror the growing ethnic diversity within the Asian American electorate. And, even though Indian Americas constitute just over 1% of the US population, their inclusion in the new administration reflects the surge of Indian Americans informing the national dialogue as they participate in civic engagement, US politics, advocacy and community activism.

Indiaspora founder M R Rangaswami  told PTI, “The dedication that the Indian-American community has shown to public service over the years has been recognized in a big way at the very start of this administration! I am particularly pleased that the overwhelming majority are women. Our community has truly arrived in serving the nation.”

In 2020, on Indian Independence Day, Joe Biden had told an Indian American audience,”As President, I’ll also continue to rely on the Indian-American diaspora, that keeps our two nations together, as I have throughout my career.”

And despite the hurdles imposed by voting in an election during the COVID19 lockdowns, this new administration more than reflects that promise.

“We pulled off an election in spite of incredibly powerful forces who wanted to stop brown and black voters from participating,” noted Myrna Perez, Director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program at an Ethnic Media Services briefing on January 8. “We did it in the face of a once in a century pandemic, we did in amidst an economic crisis, and we did it amidst politicians at all levels of government purposely trying to confuse, mislead and lie to voters.”

Civil rights advocates at the briefing cautioned that the insurrection at the Capitol on January 5 signaled a growing ‘whitelash’ against voters of color and that widespread misinformation will continue to undermine the rights of voters, especially from minority communities.

The riots were not an isolated incident warned Judith A. Browne Dianis, a civil rights attorney and co-director of the Advancement Project. The insurrection was about the rise the confederacy and the rise of white supremacy, “These riots were motivated by the same anti-democratic sentiment that inspired lawmakers to challenge November’s election results based on baseless conspiracies and lies and misinformation about voter fraud perpetrated specifically in communities of color, ” she explained.

Dianis also cautioned against restrictions  on the right to vote. “In the wake of the 2020 elections, state lawmakers are already proposing additional restrictions,”  such as the proposal to eliminate ‘no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia, the proposal to stiffen identification requirements in Pennsylvania and tighten standards for signature matches.” But what Dianis is most worried about is disinformation. “We don’t know what the truth is any longer, she said. “How do we make sure that people of color are getting the truth?”

“We need to take precautions to secure right to vote,” said Gabriela D. Lemus, board chair of Mi Familia Vota (MFV).

“As we become more and more successful (as voters), there are more repressive mechanisms.” She emphasized the need to address the lack of infrastructure in many states about educating voters on their rights and accessing ballots in their own language. Lemus pointed out that the media had a big responsibility to ensure that disinformation was held in check in order for ‘democracy to thrive’.

But we also need to invest more resources in the elections, added Perez. She called on the nation to increase preparedness for the next election to ensure that democracy can withstand future threats.

“We cannot be making this up as we go along. There should be protocols!”

Perez reiterated that people cannot take for granted “that we have to fight for the idea that all of our communities deserve a place at the table.”  She urged Congress to pass legislation on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act, to secure the future of the vote.

“We have to make the case every day for a robust, participatory and inclusive democracy.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

That Get Rich Quick Scheme Is A Scam!

While trawling the Internet for part-time jobs in September after being furloughed from her travel company in March, Sumathi Rao, a New York-based travel agent, spotted a job offer in her FB newsfeed she could not pass up. It seemed too good to be true

The Fouray Foundation (account now suspended) had an opening for a Fundraising Assistant. Their pitch was promising.  She could work from home. Her responsibilities would include helping her manager Didiane Marcheterre (possibly an alias), write to donors for contributions. Funds from the charitable foundation would supposedly support non-profit hospitals, medical workers, and healthcare projects. The salary, at $1000 a week, thought Rao, would nicely supplement the $300 lost wages assistance New York state benefit offered to eligible workers looking for jobs.  It would serve as a cushion until the pandemic eased off and her old job, hopefully, was reinstated.

Fouray Foundation letter

So Rao contacted Fouray. A follow-up message invited her to send her resume and ask questions about ‘the excellent option’ posted in the ad.

After a promising interview with Marcheterre, Rao was set to go. All she needed to do next said Fouray, was to buy ‘bitcoins’ from an ATM, so they could ‘deposit money in her account’ via a direct deposit authorization.  The odd request raised an alarm bell. Rao says she trusted her instinct and responded with a firm no. And that was that.

When recounting her experience with former colleagues at her travel agency, Rao discovered that several of them had also been approached by Fouray. A little more digging revealed complaints filed by other victims against the foundation for fraud. Rao promptly reported Fouray to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). An internet search on the Fouray Foundation will now only produce an ‘Account Suspended’ message.

With record unemployment inflicted by the economic downturn and job losses, people like Sumathi Rao are simply looking to make ends meet. Scammers are taking advantage of their desperation with false promises of making money in the financial crisis, warned attorneys from the FTC at an EMS ethnic media briefing on December 15.

So if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it usually is. During the pandemic, scammers are ramping up fraudulent get rich schemes across the nation. “Scammers make big promises when pitching a fake money-making opportunity,” explained Rhonda Perkins, an attorney with the FTC, “but that’s just an income illusion.”

Kati Daffan & Rhonda Perkins, FTC

Impact of Income Scams

The volume of reports to the FTC “reached the highest levels on record in the second quarter of 2020,” added Kati Daffan. In the first 9 months of 2020 alone, people reported losing more than $150 million to harmful scams.

The FTC has joined forces with federal, state, and law enforcement agencies to announce action against deceptive income scams, said Daffan, pointing out that the 15 FTC cases represented in the sweep accounted for an alleged injury of more than a billion dollars.

Who Gets Targeted?

Scams tend to target certain communities, stated Daffan, who went on to describe scams currently under investigation at the FTC. In one case, scammers were pitching fake sou-sous savings clubs and illegal pyramid schemes on social media at communities that have historically engaged with Sou Sous  –  which are rotating savings clubs originating out of West Africa and the Caribbean. They promise big payouts to individuals out of a common savings fund sponsored by trusted family and friends. The majority of people in these fake schemes end up losing considerable amounts of money said Daffan.

Another FTC case featured a scam pitched at Latina women through Spanish language TV ads, which proposed a work-from-home scheme to make money from selling luxury goods to others in their community. An investment scam called Raging Bull promised profits through secret trading techniques to older people, retirees and immigrants – they lost at least $137 million in the last three years.  Other scams targeted students, veterans and college age adults in a variety of bogus opportunities.

According to FTC data, the average loss to scam over $500 affected more people who lived in zip codes that skewed older, but when the loss to scam was less than $500, those affected tended to live in zip codes with a black majority population. But more data is required said Daffan, to fully determine who is getting affected by income illusion schemes.

Operation Income Illusion

In an effort to combat income scams the FTC has launched Operation Income Illusion. The campaign is designed to raise awareness about consumer fraud and counter the proliferation of get rich quick scams – the many pyramid and chain letter schemes – flourishing on social media.

Daffan explained that the campaign wants to alert people to soundbites and false promises used in business coaching and job scams to catch people’s attention about making money. She warned consumers to watch for options that talk about working from home or starting their own business with little time and effort. People need to be on their guard about prospective fake jobs, investment schemes, coaching courses, business offers, pyramid schemes, and reshipping scams, cautioned Daffan.

An FTC video offered additional advice on how to avoid income scams which come in many forms, and offer money-making opportunities online, through real estate, in the stock market, or by selling goods. But the most obvious sign of a scam are ones that promise megabucks if consumers use ‘their methods.’

Scam language examples from the FTC

Spot the Sham

Perkins suggested looking for absurd claims in a typical pitch that includes words and phrases like –
‘amazing wealth’
succeed online’
‘earn hundreds of dollars per hour from home’
‘what if an online millionaire offers you his entire business no strings attached’

These sort of offers only guarantee only one outcome warned Perkins – that buyers will be out of their hard-earned money. Most scams guarantee success in a short time, which is unrealistic. She urged people to do their research before investing in any income schemes, and search online using the company name with keywords like scam, complaint, and review, and to be wary of glowing testimonials that could be fake or misleading. The best course of action said Perkins, would be for consumers to simply walk away.

So Buyer, Beware. If you see one of these offers, remember that the only people getting rich are the scammers selling the system.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

HELPLINES
Report scams to www.ReportFraud.ftc.gov and if people can’t get online, call 1.877.FTC.HELP (1.877.382.4357).
To find out more about
Vaccine Scams at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/12/covid-19-vaccines-are-pipeline-scammers-wont-be-far-behind
MLM Businesses and pyramids at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0065-multi-level-marketing-businesses-and-pyramid-schemes
Sou-sous at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/08/real-or-fake-savings-club
Other resources at www.ftc.gov/languages.

 

 

Voting in Anger In the Election

Though the high turnout of minority voters gave Joe Biden the edge in this election, exit polls showed that the majority of white voters favored Trump, exposing a ‘race gap’ in election 2020.

While three in five white voters (58%) supported Trump in 2020 like they did in 2016, 42% of white women voted for Trump, alongside Asians (34%), Latinos (32%,) and Black (12%). Among voters of color, over a third of Arab Americans polled preferred Trump because “they felt the Democrat’s support for Arabs was nothing but pandering for votes.” An AAPI survey also found that 48% of Vietnamese Americans and 28% of Asian Indians voted for the president.

But what puzzles the pundits is why white people (74 million) and some minorities voted the way they did. Though some voting patterns remain predictable, why did Trump win 3 out of 10 non-white voters? Why did half the country support a candidate whom the other half finds unacceptable?

The threadbare cliche that none of these groups (white, brown, or black) is monolithic, does not sufficiently explain why some of the electorate voted to support a norm-breaking candidate, whose views hew racist, sexist, xenophobic, disconnected and delusional, and who is responsible for a mangled response to a pandemic that has taken more than 300 thousand lives.

What do we really know about who voted for Trump and why?

Experts at a December 11 Ethnic Media briefing shared insights into voter turnout and the race gap in a contentious election.

The panel agreed that exit polls don’t tell the whole story. Polls only reflect those who voted, not those who did not cast a ballot. Despite a record number of votes in 2020, said  Mindy Romero a professor at USC, what’s significant is that 85 million eligible voters did not turn out  at all.

Trump got 31% vs 33% for Biden of eligible voters, among whom whites are a majority. So the voting electorate is not really representative of the voting population, stated Romero, because “disparities are entrenched in our electoral and prevent people from participating.’ If disparities were eliminated, Biden would have had a stronger mandate.

But there’s more at stake than counting voter turnout urged influential Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild. “It’s in our interest to get into the mindset of the 74 million who voted for Trump” because of the president’s partisan efforts to create divisiveness in the electorate.

Hochschild, the author of Strangers in their Own Land, shared her insights into the rise of conservative American voters. Her research, based on intensive interviews of Tea Party enthusiasts in Louisiana, drills down into the fundamental values and concerns of marginalized white voters that shaped turnout in this election.

Their story, she said, reveals the ‘anger and mourning’ on the right that’s fueling a sizable divide between Republicans and Democrats who don’t really seem to understand each other.

The left cannot assume that right-leaning voters with MAGA hats and pumping fists ‘are sitting pretty’ said Hochschild. That image is an illusion, describing very few who live in the Trump heartland around Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia, which is the focus of her current research.

In interviews, Trump supporters admit that life isn’t better for them after four years, but they are still voting for him.  Why? Because, Hochschild explained, Trump has a way of ‘insinuating himself into the dominant paradigm of evangelical Christians, and reaching into his base using the trifecta of a ‘treasonous press,’ the deep state, and his bout with COVID19, to position himself as a victim ‘suffering for them,’ and that he alone can save them. Many Christians see Trump as a savior, said Hochschild.

On the other hand, Democrats, despite their education and curiosity tend to live in urban enclaves and don’t have a presence in disadvantaged, white strongholds. Such political bubbles leave many in these communities feeling invisible explained Hochschild. Support for Trump is rooted in disillusionment and anger at the system.

White Anger and the Trump supporter

What prompts the right-wing hostility of Trump supporters, argues Hochschild, is “an anguishing loss of honor, alienation and engagement in a hidden social class war,” lying hidden beneath their difficult struggle for the American Dream.

Trump supporters get their picture of reality not just from Fox News but also mainstream media such as CNN and MSNBC. But their impressions of non-white newscasters and black football stars with multimillion dollar deals, have heightened their sense of being left out. To them, people of color appear to be getting ahead and receiving special treatment in what is perceived as a ‘put down of white men,’ said Hochschild, adding that they regarded themselves as ‘poor and dumb,’ and actually felt that life was rigged against them; they felt they were ‘sinking as others are rising.’

Ironically, this sense of victimhood has made  ‘a lot of white people…blue collar, high school educated white (Christian) people’ and pockets of poor folk, “feel like a minority group themselves” that is in decline, explained Hochschild.

One of her respondents had grown up in a trailer park where drug abuse and crime was rampant; he pointed out that communities like his were not dissimilar to those in the Bronx and Detroit, yet the media tended to portray poor whites in a more negative light.

So it was not racism, but economic anxiety, that propelled disenfranchised white voters towards Trump, explained Davin Phoenix, Asst. Professor of  Political Science, (USC Irvine), and author of The Anger Gap: How Race Shapes Emotion in Politics,

Trends show thatwhite people feel the ground shifting under their feet.” Trump has harnessed their fear of a shifting society and losing their dominant status, to fan white anger and normalize the Trumpian viewpoint. “Anger is a palpable force,” said Phoenix.

But anger against an unresponsive society does not drive people of color in a similar way, he countered. While white anger manifested in a 2016 Trump victory, there is a racial anger gap prevents black people from mobilizing their anger.

“Race shapes who gets to be publicly angry over politics’ stated Phoenix. It determines how the polity, the media treats groups inequitably based on how they air their grievances.

Contrary to the stereotype of the angry black man, people of color express less anger at the system than their  white counterparts.

White people express anger over politics by canvassing for candidates, going to the voting booth, donating, or contacting election officials. People of color are less likely to do so, though they may protest or boycott, said Phoenix. His research indicates that  when people of color encounter threats, they are more likely to withdraw from politics or pursue alternative forms of action.

“Anger consistently mobilizes White Americans toward a wide range of political actions more effectively than African Americans,” writes Phoenix 

The Media Narrative has to Change

Trump and his media echo chamber have continued to fuel this white anger in the run up to election 2020, and deepen the divide between Democrats and Republicans. Panelists agreed that the media narrative needs to change.

“There are lots of stories that could be written to reach across this divide,” suggested Hochschild, to frame migrant stories of both people of color and whites – Latino and Appalachian for example – so people can form a common, human connection. While we read about migrant camps on the Mexican border, the mainstream press does not cover out-of-work Appalachians in camped outside Cincinnati.  We need stories that remind us that “there is work that Latinos do, that is not competitive with what whites do.”

We also need to address the idea of ‘displacement’ said Hochschild, because many of these people are not entitled – they’re depressed and a little bit frightened. “Labelling people as racist is going to backfire.”

The media plays a key role in educating the electorate about race and power, democratic norms and how the electoral process works, added Romero. She warned that the media sets up the narrative when they blame certain groups for failure in voter turnout. Instead of playing the ‘blame game’ after every election – young people were apathetic, why did black people vote for Trump, why didn’t more Latinos vote  – Romero suggested the narrative must evolve from handwringing, to understanding the nuances in policy preferences among groups and where people are coming from, especially with historically underrepresented populations.  We need to reach out and honestly address racial bias to begin a positive dialogue and encourage people to get past their differences, urged Romero.

Thinking Ahead

The racial divide is underscored by misconceptions Democrats and Republicans have about each other, said Hochschild. In a survey Dems estimated that 50% of Republicans felt racism is still a problem, when that number was actually 80%. Republicans estimated that half of Democrats felt that police were ‘bad people’ when the actual number was lower (15%). Both sides are unable to predict what each think, and when perception of the other is so skewed, they really need to change tactics.

It won’t be easy, but Americans need to ’abandon party tribalism’, lower their guard, and listen to really understand each other, if they want to forge a less polarized, more inclusive country.


Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents

image credit: photopin Only in Oregon

Why Men are Angry and Women Abused

What was startling about the two domestic violence (DV) videos that aired recently on TV and on social media was not just their disturbing subject matter featuring battered women, but the frequency with which such content appears on the news during this pandemic.

On TV recently, a PSA created by a DV support group shows a woman raising her folded fist on a video call with a friend, silently signaling an appeal for help without raising the suspicions of a man behind her in the room.

And in a real life incident in the UK reported by the BBC, an injured woman used a silent code (55) on a 999 emergency call to alert authorities of an attack where she was unable to speak.

Both videos reflect the rise in DV incidents this year in the aftermath of COVID lockdowns, which have forced vulnerable women into dangerous proximity with abusive partners.  As more people stay at home due to the pandemic, the risk of domestic violence (sexual, verbal and physical abuse) is increasing say experts.

In a recent report, The New England Journal of Medicine described domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV) as a ‘pandemic within a pandemic’. According to their research, many IPV victims are trapped with their abusers by stay-at-home orders intended to protect the public from the spread of infection by COVID19.  As a result, across the US, states are reporting a spike in domestic violence cases during the pandemic, creating a national public health crisis.

An NIH study says that “In Portland there was a 22% increase in arrests related to domestic violence, Jefferson County Alabama experiencing a 27% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019, and New York City experiencing a 10% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019.”

The National Domestic Violence Hotline tracked a significant surge in calls from victims between March through May, reporting a 9% increase in total calls received, with 6210 callers citing COVID 19 as the reason for an escalation in abuse. Another study in May reported a 10.2 percent increase in domestic violence calls to the police for service.

But though domestic-violence hotlines expected more demand for services as shelter-in-place mandates were enforced, DV organizations say that in some parts of the country, “the number of calls dropped by more than 50%” as victims fear drawing attention to themselves in their households. Experts believe that the lockdown has prevented victims from safely connecting with services during isolation, not that IPV rates have dropped during the hidden pandemic.

So how do DV victims navigate out of dangerous situations when trapped at home, and send out an SOS without saying a word?

Nowadays, as most interactions with other people occur online, support groups are devising strategies for survivors to ask for help that do not leave a digital trace. In the videos that aired, DV victims employ tactics that demonstrate hand signals and options that are safe to use. Certainly, increased public messaging and media coverage are one way to take IPV out of the shadows and show victims how to reach out and ask for help without being afraid.

But why has COVID19 exacerbated the DV crisis and what does it say about the culture we live in?

At a briefing hoisted by EMS on December 4th, health advocates shed light on various factors that have contributed to the DV crisis during the pandemic, and the DV questions that need to be asked.

Dr. Ravi Chandra

“One in three women and one in ten men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime,” stated Bay Area psychiatrist Dr. Ravi Chandra. He explained that the anger and abuse that drives DV and other forms of violent behavior, derives from a culture of abusive power that’s reflected in our society. We live in a world said Chandra, where the racial trauma of George Floyd’s murder and the BLM movement for example, have an underlying aggravating cause that’s rooted in strains of a ‘narcissistic, self-centered, tribalistic personality and culture.’ These characteristics manifest for example, in political leaders or some members of law enforcement who wield ‘power, suffer from ‘self-centered delusion’, and employ ‘subordination, silencing and scapegoating’ to inflict trauma and retain power.

“Abusive power is given far too much license and is yet hidden in the shadows,” stated Chandra. The individualistic, antagonistic, aggressive, self-centered masculine power that Chandra describes is exemplified for instance, in the police officer who knelt on a dying George Floyd, while the legal recourse that shields police officers, is indicative of the entitled ‘wink and a nod’ directed towards law enforcement, when they use influence and the justice system to protect abusive officers with impunity.

These incidents are “a metaphor for the abusive household,” said Chandra, in which family members ‘look the other way’ rather than deal with the inappropriate behavior and assault that IPV victims endure from a parent, spouse or caregiver. We are all affected by a society which values money and power, especially masculine power, as more important than a relationship, said Chandra, adding that when compassion and common humanity become subordinated and under assault, it becomes difficult for DV victims ‘incarcerated’ in a household’ to fight their way out.

“COVID underscores risk factors for domestic violence,” noted Chandra. The pandemic has exposed the effects of living in an abusive household and the psychological experience of victims subjected to devaluing, bullying, threats, intimidation, coercion, gaslighting, dehumanization, calls for violence and more. Isolation encourages opportunities for psychological aggression and control, added Chandra. Furthermore, financial  stressors – frustrations over job loss, and income insecurity are risk factors that have contributed to the rise in DV cases.

Chandra also warned that DV victims have suffered setbacks during the Trump Presidency. In 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) narrowed the definition of domestic violence to only physical  aggression, ruling out psychological aggression. And, the administration has not reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act which has been partially credited for a 60% drop in violence against IPV victims between 1996-2010.

While women’s rights should be upheld, Chandra urged that men be given space to ‘come to terms’ with their own histories of childhood trauma and abuse. “Racism has disempowered and devalued BIPOC men in America,” Chandra stated, and this is an added psychological stress that needs examination.

Chandra suggested the need to deconstruct racism as well as masculine entitlement to power, to better understand how male vulnerability and ‘a friendship crisis among men’ makes them more isolated than women, and unable to comprehend how mutual relationships work. Domestic violence stems from this disconnection he explained.

For now though, it will take more than hand signals and heart searching for victims to unravel and emerge from the twisted knot of domestic violence. But help is at hand from advocates via the sources listed below.

As Chandra hopes, “As a psychiatrist and humanist, I hope that we can all work to create an equitable society where all have access to the all – important human journeys of identity, belonging and wellness.”


Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to assist victims of intimate partner violence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling or texting (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

https://www.thehotline.org/wp-content/uploads/media/2020/09/The-Hotline-COVID-19-60-Day-Report.pdf

Links to SCC District Attorney’s Office Victim Service Unit brochures in multiple languages: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/publications/DistrictAttorneyBrochures/Pages/default.aspx

Family Justice Center Location in San Jose, SCC: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/VictimServices/FamilyJusticeCenter/Pages/FJC-SJ.aspx

Family Justice Center Location in Morgan Hill, SCC: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/VictimServices/FamilyJusticeCenter/Pages/FJC-MH.aspx

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