Tag Archives: “EthnicMediaServices

De-Colonizing the System: The Core Divisiveness Between Minorities

I grew up in an environment where my grasp of English determined my intelligence and the colour of my skin determined my beauty. Undermining those with ‘heavy Indian accents’ or a dark brown skin tone were a part of the Indian mindset that what must be eventually achieved is “whiteness”. I attempted to be as white as possible with my brown skin. 

When I came to America as a kid, I did not know much about systemic racism. It was a distant concept that I had not tackled in India. In my first week living in America, I was called so many names and racial slurs. I realized I knew of a very different world. Whiteness did not mean intelligence or perfection like I had previously believed. The white man has conned us. 

At an Ethnic Media services briefing on March 26th, a few distinguished speakers gathered to discuss and explain the process of redistricting in the US. 

Redistricting is the redrawing of political district boundaries – the boundaries of a district are redrawn to account for a relatively equal population and to have better representation in that community or district. 

EMS panelist, Thomas A. Saenz stated, “Redistricting is the redrawing of district lines not just for Congress, but also for state legislatures, also for local bodies like city councils, county boards, boards of education, community college boards. Where those systems elect their representatives by district, rather than at large.” He further went on to state the reason for redistricting: “In the 1960s, the U.S Supreme Court concluded that each state and each locality must redraw their lines after the census to make the districts relatively equal in population.” 

Once every ten years, after the census— the official count of the population— the district lines are redrawn to create a relatively equal population in each district and also have a better representation of people of colour in these districts and offices. This means that people of colour can engage and actively participate in communities and vote from city councils to legislative areas, it also helps create a better environment for minorities in their day-to-day lives. 

Despite all these beautiful laws that should be protecting minorities, in the 2020 Census, the Trump administration was trying to change the way data was collected for the census from total population to citizenship population. This would mean that people under the age of 18, illegal immigrants, and any non-citizens in the U.S would not be counted in the census and lead to drastic misrepresentation.

The people that minorities may seek validation from are not even willing to count them as part of the population or have them represent a community in American society. 

San Jose Districting (Courtesy of University of Maryland’s T-Races project)

Leah C. Aden, who currently serves as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), stated that the next round of redistricting will be a struggle because in 2013, the Supreme Court “immobilized section 5 of the voting rights act.” This was a provision that stated some states require federal approval prior to redistricting, just to make sure that there was proper representation of people of colour as those states had elected officials who would finish the voice of POC to come up in power. But now, due to the immobilization, places like Georgia, or Texas, or Louisiana, will not need federal approval, potentially making it worse off for communities of colour.

The speakers at the EMS briefing gave concrete examples of how people of colour can be affected negatively in every community. The constant need to push out people of colour from finding equality and comfort in communities is just perturbing. 

It’s been a series of events, the way white supremacy has constantly pitted people of colour against each other while simultaneously driving them out of political places that influence their daily lives. 

I’ve seen Black people and Native American people scream on top of their lungs and seen Asian and Latino communities having to protest all day, just to be considered human. I’ve seen the privileged find comfort in their privilege and only raise their voice if the privilege isn’t extended to them. This year has perhaps been one of the biggest eye-openers…

As people of colour a lot of us feel tired. But I urge you to accept and love and define your own self. I urge you to unlearn the ideologies that have been instilled in you and learn that you are enough because you exist. You deserve respect because you are human. I urge you to decolonize your mind. To engage in communities and be the representation in society you want to see. 


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


 

A Tale of Two Sumi(s) – When COVID19 Flatlined the Desi Beauty Business

Sumi Patel opened Sumi Beauty in 2007 and ran a thriving cosmetology business

Sumi Beauty Salon in Mountain View

on El Camino in Mountain View for more than 13 years. A single mom with two children, Sumi built a steady stream of customers seeking beauty treatments designed with desi clientele in mind. On offer were services like threading, waxing, skincare, and facials, as well as special heritage henna treatments and make-up for brides to be.  Her salon was popular.

“I’ve been going here for over a year and have always been so pleased with the results! The women who work here….both do great jobs at the Indian beauty salon,” says a testimonial on her website.

As Sumi’s clients became regulars, she hired an aesthetician to help with the increased workload.

And then the pandemic hit. On March 15, 2020, Sumi Beauty shut down as Governor Gavin Newsom’s pandemic regulations were enforced, flatlining Sumi Patel’s source of livelihood.

In Southern California, Sumita Batra, the CEO of a successful, family-run chain of beauty studios called Ziba Beauty, made a tough decision even before Newsom issued his statewide lockdown orders. She shuttered all 14 branches of her stores and laid off her entire team of 144 employees so they could file for unemployment benefits. Batra used her personal savings to fund their final paychecks and to keep her business afloat.

Threading service at Ziba Beauty

As the pandemic placed communities of color under siege, minority-owned small businesses like the ones run by Sumi Patel and Sumita Batra were among the hardest hit.

While workers of color were impacted by job losses, women’s job losses were significantly higher than men’s, reported Chad Stone, Chief Economist at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), at an ethnic media press briefing on March 12. Stone co-authored a study which found that “Workers born abroad, especially women, were more likely to work in the industries hit hardest by the pandemic and have suffered disproportionate job losses.”

For both Sumi(s), the impact of losing a lifetime of work was devastating.

Ziba Beauty had been in business for 33 years since it first opened shop in Artesia, CA.  It had served more than forty-five thousand customers out of its 14 studios. Batra describes the experience of closing her stores as going “into a complete meltdown.” Losing her business felt “like losing a family member.”

Sumita Batra, CEO, Ziba Beauty

Batra applied for PPP funds “using every contact in her book and everything in her power,” but it still took several weeks to arrive.

In Mountain View, Patel negotiated a deal with her landlord to pay a lower rental rate to tide her over the pandemic and applied for a loan from the Paycheck Protection program for Small Businesses.

“But my business is very small, so I did not get that much,” said Patel, who had to let her aesthetician go.

One year after the pandemic hit, the business has dwindled at Sumi Beauty. Before the pandemic, Patel would see at up to 20 to 25 customers a day. “Today, I saw one person,” she notes, after which she waited for 3 hours for a walk-in customer. Customers aren’t calling to make appointments Patel added. She does not understand why.  On weekends, business picks up a little. “Maybe I’ll have 4 or 5 customers.”

Her salon can only accommodate one person at a time, as pandemic restrictions are still in place.

She briefly reopened last year when restrictions were lifted before shutting down again as infections rose. “My business is reduced to only 10% of what it was before the pandemic. We’re not back to 100 %. This whole year has been very hard.”

Ziba Beauty remained closed, announcing that its priority was the safety of customers and employees.

In March 2021 Biden signed off on the ‘American Rescue Plan Act’ -a  $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill which the CBPP predicts will help millions and bolster the economy.

Chad Stone reports that the coronavirus relief package and its new round of stimulus payments are aimed at “getting the virus under control,” so that life can get back to normal, reducing the levels of hardship many Americans have endured over the past year, and which has been particularly acute among people of color and immigrants.” It will provide a stimulus for an economic recovery that had stalled “only halfway back to full employment,” he added.

But the Congressional Budget Office projects that the economy won’t return to its full potential until 2025. Today’s labor market, says the CBPP analysis, is much weaker than the headline numbers suggest.

According to the CBPP, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell recently testified that “The economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain. . . . There is a long way to go.”

Sumi Batra agrees.

“Touch services coming back too soon will be one of the things that end up spreading COVID.”

At the risk of losing her 33-year-old brand after shutting down last year, Batra was adamant that she would not reopen until it was safe to do so. “I’m not going to feel comfortable opening up my stores and risking my team as well as my customers.”

Touch services like threading operate in ‘intimate spaces’ says Batra, where aesthetician and client sit in close contact. So a ‘phased opening is the right approach’ because a threading artist works differently from a hairdresser.

Unlike e-commerce companies, touch service industries need a phased reopening to facilitate a safe recovery post pandemic. Batra is calling for a separate stimulus for the beauty and nail industries, and suggests they need to come together to create a recovery plan that will ensure the safety of practitioners and clients.

Sumi Patel says though her salon now is fully open her customers are ‘scared to come back,’ even though she has implemented health and safety changes. When threading eyebrows on a customer, for example, she wears a mask and anchors the thread around her neck instead of holding it in her mouth, which is the traditional technique. She attributes the drop in clients to the fact that many of her customers from the IT industry, may not need beauty services now that many work from home, do not socialize, or travel.

At Ziba Beauty which has gradually reopened about 6 stores, Batra is using  PPE and stringent safety measures. At the start of each day, each studio is thoroughly sterilized by a UVC robot, and bookings, payments, check-in and check out are contactless.

For Sumi Patel who has two kids to support, the loss of income has been a challenge

“Right now it’s a tough time. My only hope is that my business will come back – I hope.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Anjana Nagarajan Butaney contributed to this report.


 

Stanford’s Dr. Nirav Shah on Vaccines VS. Variants

Breaking news that virulent variants from Brazil, South Africa, and the UK are multiplying across borders even as homegrown strains are mutating on US soil, has raised a number of questions.

Are variants more contagious?
Will they cause worse infections?
Are current vaccines effective against mutating variants?
And should we take different precautions to keep safe?

Dr. Nirav Shah, MD, MPH, of Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center, fielded questions and concerns from ethnic media reporters at a press briefing on March 19. Along with other COVID 19 experts from the Bay Area, Dr. Shah shared information about new strains of the virus and safety net information for communities of color who want to sign up to get their vaccine shot.

“We cannot start to celebrate just yet,” said Shah, even though America reached an important milestone when the 100 millionth vaccine was administered on March 19.

The Story of Virus Variants

The emergence of variants has raised the specter that the current generation of vaccines might be rendered obsolete before they have even been fully rolled out. Are variants gaining ground and will they be immune to distinct vaccines before we reach herd immunity?

“It’s a race between how fast we get people fully vaccinated versus the level of disease in a community and how much transmission is going on,” explained Shah, about how a variant becomes dominant.

In heavily infected communities, the more virus particles there are, the greater the chance of one being different. All you need is a spike protein change, said Shah, which will give the variant a better chance of attaching to cells, so it spreads better and faster, becoming the dominant strain.

Simultaneously, as more people get vaccinated to combat COVID19, “the selective advantage of some particles relative to other particles, allow them to spread much faster.”

Now the race is on to get everyone vaccinated before the B.1.1.7. variant – the most dominant variant takes over.

“The story of virus variants is the story of evolution and natural selection,” added Shah.

Investigations of Variants

Currently, the CDC and WHO are studying the spread of three designated variants. Variants of interest -like the P2 which have ‘caused a cluster of infections’  in some countries, seem to be driving a surge in cases, though less is known about their transmissibility and lethality, or even if vaccine recipients are ‘fully neutralized against them or not’.

Their genetic sequence has some changes which suggest they may be more contagious, said Shah, and likely to be resistant to immunity bestowed by vaccines, treatments, or tests.

People are at greater risk from variants of concern that could reinfect survivors of certain Covid19 strains. Therapies and vaccines may be less effective against these strains which have “proven to be more contagious and cause more severe disease,” explained Shah.

Recent studies report that COVID-19 survivors and fully vaccinated people seem able to fight off infection from the virulent B.1.1.7 variant but may have less protection against the B.1.3.5.1 variant. Shah referred to research that shows the B.1.1.7 variant spreads about 50% faster and is more lethal, relative to prior strains of the virus.

The good news is that the existing range of vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford/Astra Zeneca, and Novavax) have proven effective against this variant.  But less is known about the transmissibility and lethality of the P1, B.1.4.2.7, and  B.1.4.2.9 strains.

So far, however, assured Shah, no variants have met the definition for variants of high consequence which refer to strains that cause “more severe disease, more hospitalizations, and have been shown to defeat medical countermeasures” – like vaccines, anti-viral drugs, or monoclonal antibodies.

In the contest between vaccines and variants, “We will win the race by …vaccinating people as quickly…and broadly as possible” noted Shah.

An Annual Shot

Infectious disease experts liken variants to flu viruses which require new flu vaccines every year; scientists are even considering the possibility of multivalent vaccines designed to immunize against two or more strains of the virus.

“It’s a race of the mutant viruses against the vaccines…and to date, none of the mutants have escaped fully the major vaccines. The hope is that with minor modifications, we can get the continued evolution of the vaccines to match the evolution of the viruses.” It wouldn’t be surprising if the COVID vaccine was administered like a flu shot every year, added Shah.

Getting to Herd Immunity

The likelihood of reaching herd immunity will be a reality if at least  70% or more of the population are resistant to existing strains of the virus. However, as states relax public health restrictions as well as mask and social distancing mandates, herd immunity may be challenging to achieve.  “More people getting infected simply means more chance of variants,” cautioned Shah.

I asked Dr. Shah if we would need a new generation of vaccines before the current vaccine roll is complete and if boosters would be introduced. “I am an optimist”, said Shah. “I imagine we would have booster shots by the fall but what’s important is that we all get that first shot, and make sure the vulnerable and elderly get theirs. That will make us collectively win”.

Dr. Shah reiterated that the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use, are still the most powerful tools to fight all the strains of COVID-19.

“This is a race for the world,” said Dr. Nirav Shah. “We know the virus doesn’t respect any borders, and so we should be as broad as possible in our thinking about getting the vaccine to everyone across the world.”

Helpful links:


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

New White House Could Remove Public Charge Rule

The incoming Biden-Harris administration has an opportunity to immediately revoke implementation of the public charge rule, easing anxiety for millions of immigrants who have denied themselves federal benefits over the past three years for fear of losing their ability to upgrade their immigration status.

“Public charge will be a front-burner issue for the new administration because it is so entwined with our current public health crisis and connected to the pandemic,” said Daniel Sharp, chief of the Office of Immigrant Affairs in Los Angeles County’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. “We do expect the new administration to prioritize the issue,” he said in an interview with EMS, noting that President-elect Joe Biden had committed to ending the rule while campaigning for office.

If Democrats take back the Senate with the Jan. 5 Georgia run-off election, the incoming Congress has an opportunity to permanently remove public charge from the immigration code, said Sharp. He noted that if it is not permanently removed, a future administration could once again implement the rule, which has had an enormously chilling impact on immigrants even before it was formally rolled out by the outgoing Trump administration.

“It is going to take a multi-year effort to undo the harm that this rule change has set in,” he said.

The public charge rule, which was introduced with the Immigration Act of 1882, is a means test used to determine ineligibility for immigration or residency status. The seldom-used rule can be used by consulates abroad to determine whether an applicant could ever become completely dependent on public benefits; and by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to deny a green card to those unable to essentially pass a wealth test. Factors such as age, the ability to speak English, and future earning capabilities are used as determinants of whether or not to grant a visa or green card.

USCIS can deny a green card to immigrants who have ever used Supplemental Security Income; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; general assistance cash benefits (welfare); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps); Section 8 Housing or Rental Assistance; or federally funded Medicaid.

Public charge is not invoked during the naturalization process.

Critics of the rule have called it a “cruel wealth test,” used to keep poor immigrants out of the U.S. In the early 1900s, the rule was frequently invoked to bar immigrants from the developing world for permanent residency in the U.S. In more recent years, the rule has been less frequently invoked: prior to 2019, less than one percent of all immigration cases were denied based on the public charge rule.

Currently, more than 10.3 million immigrants use some form of federal benefits.

Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, noted that when President Donald Trump hinted in 2017 that he was going to implement the little-used rule, “the news spread like wildfire in the immigrant community.”

Even before the rule was finalized in August 2019, immigrants began denying themselves federal benefits, including school lunch programs, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which are not considered in public charge determinations; immigrants nonetheless dis-enrolled their children from the benefits, fearing possible impact to their immigration status.

Kulkarni referred to data from Health Affairs which reported that 260,000 immigrant children had been dis-enrolled by their families from receiving Medicaid since 2018 and 70,000 children were no longer enrolled in SNAP.

A paper published by the Journal of Pediatrics in December noted the severe impact of the public charge rule on children. “By tying the use of vital public health programs to immigration and residency status, the Administration is forcing a choice between seeking critical services or securing status in the United Status,” said the authors of the study: Nina Patel, Swapna Reddy, and Natalia Wilson of Arizona State University. They described the rule as impacting the most vulnerable children in the nation.

“Current anti-immigrant sentiment, rhetoric, and policy changes, such as the public charge rule, have resulted in a culture of fear, misinformation, distrust, and isolation, all of which have health implications,” noted Patel, Reddy, and Wilson.

Despite the current uncertain future of the rule, Kulkarni encouraged immigrants to avail of federal benefits, especially during the pandemic. “It is so important for all of us to stay as safe and as healthy as possible at this time, when we are living under the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime.”

“People should not go without meals, COVID-testing and care, and housing benefits,” she said, noting that the Biden Administration is likely to take a “180-degree turn” to remove the rule.

Sharp noted that immigrants in California also began dis-enrolling from Medical, a state-funded program, for fear of losing their immigration status. “People were confused,” he said, adding also that students dropped their applications for federal scholarship programs, which are not considered in public charge determinations. Benefits were also dropped by U.S. citizen children living in mixed-status families with undocumented parents or siblings.

At the start of the pandemic, Sharp’s office began receiving a record number of calls from immigrants who were concerned about accessing benefits. “The people most impacted by the pandemic were not applying for public benefits,” he said.

Sharp characterized it as a “double whammy.” Undocumented people, despite being gainfully employed with deductions taken out of their paychecks, did not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, and they were not accessing benefits for which they were qualified to receive, he said.

The public charge rule is written so as not to be invoked during a national crisis, but immigrants have little understanding about the nuances of the rule, said Sharp. National election results, which brought Biden to office, held out a glimmer of hope for immigrants “that better times are ahead in the near future,” he said, but added: “We have been down this road before. There have been so many moments of on again, off again in this tennis match of implementation.”

After the final rule was rolled out in August 2019, it was immediately blocked by several lower courts.

On Jan. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the administration’s Public Charge: New Ethical Considerations for Adjustment Cases and allowed public charge to be implemented nationwide beginning Feb. 24, just as the COVID pandemic began to take force in the U.S.

On Nov. 2, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked public charge in the Cook County v. Wolf case. Amy Coney Barrett, now a Supreme Court Justice, wrote the dissenting opinion, siding with the Trump Administration’s theory that immigrants must be able to prove self-sufficiency. That case will now be heard by a full panel in the 7th Circuit. Meanwhile, immigrants in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin must continue to file the I-944 form, a declaration of self-sufficiency, with their adjustment of status applications.

On Dec. 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the City and County of San Francisco v. USCIS case, blocked the rule from being implemented in 15 states, including California.

Kulkarni said it is highly unlikely that the incoming administration will appeal the Ninth Circuit ruling. Consulates abroad have been blocked from implementing the public charge rule since July.


SUNITA SOHRABJI is the EMS Contributing Editor.

The original article can be found here.

US and India Benefit From the Same Democratic Process

Although many feel the democratic urgency of voting this election cycle in the US, it is not uncommon to hear, “My vote won’t count anyway.”

Associate Professor of Political Science at SFSU and Researcher, Jason McDaniel addresses the importance of local elections as a “foundation for democracy” and a “pathway to racial-ethnic equity.” Whether it be, city, county, or state jurisdiction, local law supersedes federal law and can more accurately represent the sentiment of its community. 

However, at the local elections in Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Leandro, your vote actually has more bang for its buck. 

Why? Because of their implementation of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).

Entrenched in the SF Voting Data, McDaniel cautions that RCV can be a contributor to the confounding nature of ballot response but its results are that of a lower democratic deficit. He finds that complexities within the SF local election and lack of information lowers voter turnout for communities of color.

The US follows the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system, in which you vote for one candidate and the candidate who receives the most votes wins the election. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on October 6th, McDaniel reviewed Rank Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting. 

When RCV is used, candidates are ranked from 1-10 (depending on the number of candidates). If a candidate immediately has an outright majority (50 percent plus one), then that candidate is declared the winner of the election. However, if none of the candidates have an outright majority, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed based on their voters’ second choice rankings. The process continues until one candidate’s adjusted vote number hits an outright majority.

Dr. Jason McDaniel’s example of RCV from the Mayoral Election in SF (red indicates eliminated candidate)

Ranking candidates requires more knowledge of all platforms and of RCV. McDaniels comments, “Reformers who want to change democracy often overestimate what voters care about…The vast majority of voters don’t have strong preferences for more than one or two candidates.” The idea of voters having multiple informed preferences in nonpartisan, local elections is quite novel, unheard of, and is likely a barrier to participation. Research shows that it is possible to recover the loss of voter participation.

Benefits can outweigh the implications of using RCV in a few ways:

  1. This particular method of voting can mitigate “spoiler” candidates, where a candidate that may be a third choice wins an election to a split vote.
  2. The candidate that wins better represents the majority.   
  3. Voters can cast “sincere” votes, unbridled by the burden of a “wasted vote”. Independent third-party candidates can be represented by a genuine vote, but if they are dropped during the process of RCV, then another candidate with a similar platform can receive that vote.
  4. It can reduce negative campaigning because it may lie in the interest of multiple parties with resembling platforms to advocate for one another.
  5. It can reduce polarization by rewarding moderate candidates. There is no research to support this yet.

Why stop at local elections?

India, which generally employs FPTP voting, explored a version of Rank Choice Voting in electing their 14th and current President, Ram Nath Kovind. President Kovind is only the second Dalit president elected in Indian history. RCV secured a notable win for someone like Kovind, who overcame countless adversity in his path to a presidential win, while accounting for the public vote in a substantial way. After his win, Kovind addressed the Indian populace, “My win should prove that even honest people can get ahead in life.”

An ongoing dialogue around voting processes can be beneficial for our communities and for reform. If not to change the process, then to better educate everyone around us. 

Anni Chung, SF resident and CEO of Self Help for the Elderly, “Rank Choice Voting has always been a mystery to me, even now, after all these years.” 

Voting can only be effective if understood. Keep the conversation going and go out and vote this November 3rd!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant 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.

Connecting to Nature is Good for Public Health

The Bay Area is a great place to live in. It is blessed with progressive land planning that has set aside vast open space areas for recreation. Measures, like Measure Q and now T, to be voted in by the people, ensure that open spaces in Santa Clara Valley stay protected and accessible.

During the lock-down, families truly appreciate the value of access to public parks and open spaces. 

Atulya Sarin, Professor of Santa Clara University lost his beloved 12 year old dog Bufar Bryant Sarin last year. During the pandemic Sarin yearned to be outdoors . “I truly understand how my dog Bufar felt,” says Atulya Sarin with a smile, “I can’t wait for 5pm when I can go for my walk.” 

What helped families like Professor Sarin’s to escape to the outdoors was Measure Q, a $24 parcel-tax that was approved in 2014 by voters. It generated approximately $7.9 million per year, thereby enabling the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to nearly double protected space in the county to more than 26,000 acres.

 It also preserved about 1,000 acres in North Coyote Valley, so Santa Clara Valley’s residents had open spaces and lands to escape to during lockdown.

Measure T, on the November 2020 ballot, renews Measure Q – keeping the parcel tax at $24 – but with the clause that it will renew automatically each year unless ended by voters. 

All funds are spent in the cities of San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, Campbell, Morgan Hill, and in the unincorporated portions of Santa Clara County.

“We are in a great place and the reason we are in a great place is because measure Q gave us resources to buy up land,” said state Assemblymember Ash Kalra at a virtual meeting organized by Ethnic Media Services on October 1. At the end of the day, said Kalra, the land cannot be protected unless it is bought. Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority purchased land to protect it permanently. 

“We can zone land any which way, but a different council can change that. It is critical therefore that in addition to legislation to create a conservation program we must have the Open Space Authority have resources to purchase and protect the land permanently,” he said. 

Coyote Valley

A case in point is Coyote Valley – 7,400 acres of land between the Santa Cruz mountains and the Diablo range. The land is key for flood protection and safeguarding the valley’s ecological livelihood. 

In the 1980s, Apple eyed Coyote Valley as a place to build its world headquarters. In the 1990s, Cisco Systems tried to build a massive campus there. Environmental groups, who said the area — currently used by farmers and wildlife — should be left in its natural state, fought both proposals.

“We all know a little bit of development causes a domino effect and next thing you know it really becomes a totally different type of landscape. 

Measured Response

The pandemic and wildfires have choked California this year.   

“Scientists are telling us that we need to protect 30 percent of the land to keep global warming at bay,” said Kalra. “The more land we can protect the more we can combat global warming. We are seeing how human behavior is connected to all these tragedies,” he said.

South Bay leaders at the press briefing urged a vote for Measure T, which would preserve a tax used for parks and open areas.

“We need to protect this open space for the preservation of a sustainable future for California,” said state Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a long-time environmental advocate. 

Expanding public access to nature improves public health  “Spending as little as two hours a week in nature, 15-20 minutes a day, can improve self-reported health and well-being,” says Sadiya Muqueeth, director community health at the Trust for Public Land.

“We can fix it! We created it and we can fix it,” said Kalra 


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

 

Imperial County: Infecting the Hand That Feeds You

Shrouded by divisive thought and taunts, no issue remains non-partisan. Blame is placed on political parties, denying accountability on either end. 

“This entire country was not prepared to deal with a pandemic. The political divisions, the lack of political will to address and invest in the inequities that have been long characterized, for many years, by academics..and experts have gone ignored”

Community activist, Luis Olmedo of Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc., comes into the July 10th Ethnic Media Services briefing full throttle. His frustrations are apparent as he speaks about the disenfranchised Latinx population in Imperial County. 

Imperial County is currently the hot spot of COVID-19 in California. Imperial is 88% Latinx, many undocumented, with a heavy hand in California’s agricultural production. Imperial County is the 10th largest food producer in the state, with their yield being domestically exported to Hawaii and California and internationally exported to Japan, Mexico, South Korea, China and Canada

The county has 2,835 cases per 100,000 people versus 491 cases per 100,000 statewide and only two hospitals bearing the brunt of this massacre.

Yes, a massacre. Of the same people who are working to provide us food and other essential services. Latinx families are being confronted with the nightmare of the pandemic. The worst America has to offer – which is nothing at all. 

Letters and calls to action were sent to growers, contractors, and packing facilities when the pandemic began. “All those letters and calls went unheeded,” says Armando Elenes of the United Farm Workers, “they continued their operations as normal.” 

Stock Photo (not representative of Imperial County)

Employers are not communicating with their predominantly Spanish speaking populations and choosing to forego the use of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. H2A workers or temporary agricultural workers, are having to carpool together, work together, and live together and are unable to take sick leave when they develop symptoms. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in infection and mortality. 

Employers have absolved themselves of any responsibility, taking advantage of the desperate situation their low-wage workers are in and in poor taste, victim-blaming those that have contracted COVID. 

CDC has provided data that suggests cases of COVID increased in Latinx communities while all other demographics showed a decrease. Using this data, Edward Flores and Ana Padilla of the UC Merced’s Community and Labor Center have found positive links between low wage work and COVID positivity.

They further defined and found a positive link between a term called worker distress and COVID positivity. Worker distress is characterized by wage (above or below the state average) and the size of the household. In Imperial County, 38.5% of workers have high worker distress. Correlations between worker distress and industry were made. High worker distress was seen in food service, transportation, farm work, warehouse work, and retail. 

A matter far removed from political factions, we turn to inward reflection. It is our habits, practices, and behaviors that have led to the exploitation of an entire population.

Reduced food cost, low wage outsourced labor work, privatized healthcare, inaccessible housing, exported food for profit…

Luis Olmedo said it best at the beginning, we have ignored all the signs for our own convenience. But the turn around for a profit has come back to infect us all. As the infection spreads in Imperial County, the risk of infection domestically and globally increases. 

An advocate from IV Equity & Justice Coalition, Luis Flores, states that “county backing for accountability is needed.” As a resident of Imperial Valley, Flores is able to address the needs of the residents and convey them at the county-state level. He and his coalition are hoping for economic stability, public health structures, clear mechanisms for accountability, mitigating housing precarity (city-level eviction moratorium), accessibility to equity, and data to support the narrative they see. 

A huge thank you to all the activists that are on the ground advocating for minority rights and educating community journalists! Consider donating to United Farm Workers or Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc. and aid their efforts to gain traction for the marginalized Latinx communities in California.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant 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.

When You Can’t Send Money Home

Parents of migrants live alone denied the presence of their children in times of need.

Their children, immigrants in another country, send money home to ensure their parents are not wanting for food and help. Often migrants leave their own children behind with grandparents or family members as they seek a living in a foreign land, promising to return with treasures for both parents and children.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one out of five workers are unemployed and many have their wages reduced, threatening to cut that lifeline of support between child and parent.

The inability to remit money home because of job loss or a decline in wages endangers the reliability of that support. A drop in remittance means that a migrant’s family back in their home country won’t be able to afford food, healthcare, and basic needs. As the money dries up, the pandemic will unleash unrelenting poverty and an unexpected pandemic of hunger for some families.

The number of people dying every day due to starvation will overtake the number of dead as a result of COVID-19 and the “hunger pandemic” will bring “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, warned UN World Food Programme (WFP).130 million people could be on the brink of starvation by the end of 2020 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and its economic ramifications.

At a webinar on May 8th organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, to examine Covid-19’s Impact on the Developing World, experts reviewed trends as the pandemic spreads. Demetrios Papademetriou, of the non-partisan, Washington-based think tank The Migration Policy Institute, stated that the true effects of this pandemic would be visible in the next 3 months. Unparalleled economic devastation, the kind we have never ever experienced, not even during World War II, will reveal its true form.

Dulce Gamboa, a Policy Specialist at Bread for the World, discussed the impact of Covid-19 on malnutrition and famine in the developing world and the need for a global response to a new pandemic of hunger. COVID-19 could cause extreme hunger to double, she said. Malnutrition weakens peoples’ immune systems and children who are malnourished face long-term health and cognitive consequences. Bread for the World is urging Congress to expand health and humanitarian programs, strengthen the global food supply chain and social protection programs, and allow U.S. funded school feeding programs around the world to serve children while schools are closed.

The United Nations food agency reports that at least 300,000 people will die every day over a three-month period as a result of the outbreak and its economic ramifications as the catastrophic coronavirus chokes off cash lifelines for hard-pressed households in poorer countries.

Globally in 2017, an estimated $625 billion (USD) was sent by migrants to individuals in their home countries, according to economists at the World Bank. These remittances are important economic resources in developing countries. According to a 2016 World Bank report, remittance flows into these nations are more than three times that of official development aid. For instance, Nepal received an estimated $6.6 billion in remittances, equivalent to 31.3% of its GDP, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of World Bank data for 2016. In Sri Lanka, where seven percent of the households have a migrant abroad, remittances form 8% of the GDP.

Remittances, once considered more stable than other kinds of external capital flows, are now in danger of drying up as all countries have been hit at the same time with the same pandemic.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 will be catastrophic for families and nations. COVID-19 has shown us how globalization spreads contagion of all kinds.

We have little visibility into how bad, bad is going to be, but for now, the song that once played at the Sri Lankan airport is silent.

“After much hardship, such difficult times
How lucky I am to work in a foreign land.
I promise to return home with treasures for everyone”

Ritu Marwah wrote this article as a fellow of Ethnic Media Services.

 

They Found A Way To Say I Do

The owner of Silver Spoon, Vidya Gurikar, listened in horror as Governor Gavin Newsom effectively shut California down. Her son’s wedding, set for April 18th, was exactly a month away. The threat of cancellation now hung in the air. Her son, Shreyas, whose wedding it was, worked in the business with her, a small business that – wait for it – catered weddings.

As a high-end gourmet catering company, Silver Spoon faced cancellation of all client celebratory events. The company must pivot if they have to survive.

Vidya stepped up her takeout business. Their small business had a mortgage on the commercial kitchen to pay, and staff to keep employed. Spring harvest celebrations like Ugadi and Gudi Padwa have prescribed sweets and dishes. Client orders poured in. Vidya took to scouring grocery stores very early in the morning to gather ingredients, sometimes going to five different grocery stores to cook one takeout menu. Shreyas’ wedding had still not been canceled. March threatened to roll into April and the end of the shutdown was not in sight.

Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27 promising small businesses like Silver Spoon some reprieve. Potentially forgivable loans were available at low rates of interest. However very few saw the money before the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was exhausted. Crowdsourced database COVID Loan Tracker showed that only about 5 (or five percent) of those who applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan say they’ve received one. Less than 9 percent of the Protection Payment Plan monies went to the small businesses in food services.

Distribution of Protection Payment Plan

Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal government’s big initiative to aid small businesses and their employees during the coronavirus lockdown, ran out of cash within two weeks of funds opening on April 3.

On Friday, April 17, at a Zoom briefing update on the Pandemic Impact on Ethnic Populations organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation—Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th District in the heart of the Silicon Valley high-tech hub where Silver Spoon’s customers live, spoke of the need to increase help to small businesses and workers in essential businesses. “In an age of automation, we are reminded of the dignity and importance of work that is not remote,” said Representative Khanna.

“This crisis needs to open our eyes to the value of workers who are often invisible, and we need to give them the pay and benefits they deserve.” Along with United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Khanna has made a proposal for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to protect frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. They have requested that the next coronavirus relief package to pass Congress must include the policies in the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.

Congressman Khanna and Representative Tim Ryan from Ohio, also have introduced the Emergency Money for the People Act to provide additional cash payments for hard-working Americans who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The one-time payment under the CARES Act does not provide nearly enough support for American families like Vidya Gurikar’s.

There are a number of undocumented workers working in the food industry. Panelists at the EMS briefing feared that undocumented workers, who have long been understood to be a backbone of the California restaurant industry, will receive no relief if they have no social security number.

Regardless of their immigration status, workers should be helped said Assemblymember David Chiu. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will provide $125 million in stimulus checks to undocumented workers. The PUA benefits are payable if you don’t qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits in California or another state, and also do not qualify for State Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave benefits.

California will give 150,000 undocumented adults a one-time cash benefit of $500 each with a cap of $1,000 per household. Undocumented workers, who are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or unemployment insurance due to their immigration status, form nearly 10 percent of California’s workforce, said Governor Newsom. They are “overrepresented” in sectors that have been deemed essential such as healthcare, agriculture and food services, manufacturing and logistics.

Since the pandemic hit California, other grassroots financial assistance programs have been created for undocumented workers affected by COVID-19-related job losses in San Francisco and Sonoma County. A relief fund for local migrant youth was launched in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and Alameda counties, and recently reopened its application process.

The question that remains unanswered though is how does an undocumented worker get the monies. This is not yet clear. The state’s funds will be dispersed through regional nonprofits who have experience serving undocumented communities, and personal information from undocumented workers will not be required.

Vidya and her son Shreyas have decided to go ahead with the planned wedding. It will be a quiet ceremony in the backyard.

Orange flowers, traditional color for a Hindu wedding, festoon the metal pagoda set up beneath the tall pine tree. Fragrance of the peach-tree blossoms drops down onto the blades of lemongrass. Mint shoots sparkle green. Wooden figures playing traditional musical instruments line up under the tree, guests at the family-only garden wedding.

The bride, resplendent in a red saree, looks worriedly at the images of her parents’ Zoomed in from India. The groom, handsome in a long golden sherwani coat adjusts the turban on his forehead as he sits on an orange and black chair beneath a curtain of marigold-orange flowers. Flowers, red, yellow and orange, sway in the breeze. It is a celestial wedding remarked a guest in India later that day, when she saw the photographs.

Outside the house, colorful sweets peep out of the windows of the red sweet boxes nestled under the cherry tree. Yellow mango burfi fudge, white milk balls with black crispy crusts soaking in sugar syrup, a caviar of fragrant, sweet chickpea boondi droplets, a cloud of white, milky sweetness, encased in a pillow of white rasgulla cheese sponge, – the sweets are for the friends of Silver Spoon.

Armed with bells and Bluetooth speakers that blast out celebratory music, masked friends of Silver Spoon and its owners drive by waving to the newly married couple who appear at the door, flanked by the groom’s parents. Standing six feet apart, some friends break into a spontaneous dance.

Resilience is the hallmark of the immigrant. In the face of all odds, pirouetting small businesses will spin to the post-corona economy’s dance-tune. Governor Gavin Newsome, Congressman Ro Khanna – you are invited to join the dance.

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