Tag Archives: inclusion

Indian Americans: A Wedge in the Racial Pie?

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

“Indian Americans, Asian Americans more broadly, have been strategically used as a wedge against other communities of color.” This is Sundeep “Sonny” Singh, in a clip from Mosaic America’s series From Diversity to Belonging. The Mosaic series was created to enable people to understand the history of and potential solutions to the social issues in the US, especially those to do with identity and culture. 

Sonny spoke in an episode that aired conversations with some of the participants in Christina Antonakos-Wallace’s film, FROM HERE. Set in Berlin and New York, FROM HERE is a hopeful story of four young artists and activists from immigrant families redefining Belonging in an era of rising nationalism.

When posed with a question about his activism, Sonny spoke on the massive change in immigration law in 1965 – recruitment of skilled labor was suddenly made easy, the US had a need for a labor pool in hard sciences. Sonny noted, “[That was the time the country was in the] midst of the Black freedom movement, massive social upheaval demanding racial and economic justice.” Basically, the powers told “Black folks, Chicano folks, what are you saying, there is no racism! Look how well they [brown people, ie Asian Americans] are doing! … Too many of us in our community, unfortunately, have bought into this. Anti-Black racism is deeply embedded in our community.”

FROM HERE captures his experiences as a resident, artist, educator over a period of ten years. Also included are 3 other artists, Tania from New York, and Akim and Miman in Berlin. The film accompanies them as they move from their 20’s into their 30’s, facing major turning points: fighting for citizenship, creating a family, surviving violence, and finding creative expression. 

Sonny remembers growing up wanting his name to be John and wanting to cut off his hair-wanting to blend in; heckling about his turban was always just a matter of time. He works with the Sikh Coalition to educate Sikh children about bias-based bullying. Sonny hopes that people will start to think critically about the root causes of social problems, “I dream of a world where humanity comes before profit.”

Christina elaborates, “The design of our systems are the reason for many of our problems. The system is working exactly as it’s meant to be. Who has access to citizenship has always been racialized. Laws have been crafted around preserving the rights of certain groups of people and extracting labor and resources from others. Immigration is not a national issue- it is global. We can’t solve this by protecting our national borders. Let’s see our identity as fluid…Understanding that we are way more complex … we need to stop policing people along identity lines.”

Tania, who finally came out as undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic, says “America loves our food, our language, but they don’t want us.” She talks about the first hate mail she got, addressed to her personally, saying, “Go the f*^& back to where you came from.”

What does solidarity mean in these circumstances, where some of us stand in a Place that somehow, we are told, isn’t Home? How long will it take to reach our Place, when and how can we act to stem this tide of exclusion?

Mosaic America’s series “From Diversity to Belonging” attempts to find some answers. For Indian Americans, demonstrating solidarity is a way to give back to the generations that paved our access to the American Dream. Many of us, as Usha Srinivasan, co-founder of Mosaic America says, “buy into the “model minority”…we believe that we are exceptional, [is why] we are treated differently from other people of color.” We need to question these long-held beliefs. 

We need to work harder to come together as part of a larger community. To stand together as one, to see a world that belongs to each of us, is to be in solidarity. In as much as the word means agreement, it means resistance too. Standing for who I am, for who each of us is; standing up against norms that divide; standing with people who need a voice. In essence, it is a journey that starts with identity and continues through Belonging; fueled by each purpose; marked by each person it scars. We need to live our lives in solidarity, find pathways to build a common, inclusive future. 

As Sonny says, “It is our political duty to remain steadfast and fight another day,” reverberating Antonio Machado’s poetic lines, “se hace camino al andar” – The way is formed by walking. 


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


 

Medha Sarkar with and without Snapchat filter.

An Unfiltered Response to Colorism in Instagram Filters

I have a small addiction to Instagram filters.  I can and have spent too much time finding the craziest filters possible.  There are filters that make you look like cartoons, princesses, and even pirates.  My favorite one is a filter that tints the screen a deep pink and makes it look like glitter is dripping down your face.  But as I explore the vast jungle of filters, it is inevitable that there are some marshes… 

Those marshes come in the form of filters that vastly change your appearance.  I encountered one of those filters on a Wednesday afternoon when I was supposed to be doing homework.  

I was extraordinarily tired from a long day of school and I decided to take a break from the seemingly endless pile of homework by scrolling through some filters.  There were the normal ones, the ones that put strawberries on your cheeks or the ones that make it look like you have rainbow hair.  Then I stumbled upon a filter that made me freeze.  

I had this image in my mind of the creator of this filter sitting down with their phone, sipping a cup of coffee, and then thinking aloud, “How colorist can we be today?” 

This image had pale white skin with red-tinted lips that would make Snow White jealous.  My nose was slimmed down and my jaw was reduced.  As I stared in shock at the image on my screen, a thousand words just rushed into my head.  I subconsciously reached for my computer, angrily typed “blogspot.com” into the search bar, and began to write this.  

Medha Sarkar with an Instagram filter that lightens her skin and changes her nose.
Medha Sarkar with an Instagram filter that lightens her skin and changes her nose.

Now some readers might be asking why an Instagram filter would make my blood boil.  Why didn’t I just scroll to the next filter and forget that it didn’t exist?  

Because that image was clearly meant to make me beautiful.  It was meant to make me achieve that beauty standard – that beauty standard is being white.  The pale skin?  White.  The red lips?  White.  The slim nose?  White.  This filter is telling me that in order to be portrayed as beautiful or pretty, I have to aspire to be a white person.  This isn’t entirely Instagram’s fault though.  Society has decided that looking like white people is the goal.  And it isn’t limited to filters or even appearance.  

I remember when I first moved to a majority-white town, I began to realize that to be a part of the community, you had to throw away all semblance of uniqueness – culture was one of those things.  To gain the acceptance of the community you had to reject your culture. 

One time in my third-grade class, I decided to show some friends the pirouettes I had learned from my Indian Kathak dance lessons.  As I turned around, one of them turned and looked at their friend and began to snicker.  When I asked them why they did that, they said my turns look weird.  When I would bring in food from home, the word “exotic” would be mentioned at least once.  When I would insist that they pronounce my name right, they would give up after two tries and continue to use the white version of my name.  I saw it happen with the other Indian kids at my school. They would introduce themselves with the white version of their name, bring Lunchables to school instead of idlis or sambar, and pursued ballet or “white” activities instead of Hindustani singing or Bharatnatyam.  All of our culture swept under the rug for the sake of the community.  

This is an issue far bigger than filters.  You have to plant a small seed in order to produce a tree.  That can be taking an extra few minutes to try and pronounce someone’s name or treating all food like food, no matter the look or smell.  You can appreciate the culture somebody comes from because it is what makes them radiate.  And you can make that filter you are creating more inclusive by removing the white skin, nose trimmer, and lip tint on it.  It would make all of our lives a little better.


Medha Sarkar is a student starting at Los Gatos High School in the Fall.  She enjoys writing, music, and having a good laugh.


 

Mosaic Silicon Valley’s ‘Femina’: Find the Divine in India, Cambodia, & China

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

Nine different (sub) cultural histories and traditions from around the world were co-presented by Mosaic Silicon Valley and Guru Shradha, in a program called Femina. It was a call for the world to step out of their cultural silos and experience the vibrancy of the Bay Area, the dynamism of the feminine, and the unifying power of the Arts to build a gender-balanced world.

As the program director, it was fascinating for me to delve into the compositions and choreographies and see the astounding common threads emerge, golden and self-evident. We’ll explore these findings through the first act of the program called Divine | Awaken featuring Indian, Cambodian, and Chinese art forms. Femina’s Divine | Awaken was an ode to the celestial and mythological – It was a call for all of us to find our divine and enlightened selves.

Guru Shradha’s Niharika Mohanty urged us to make room for, submit, and surrender to the divine feminine energies of Durga. Along with her Odissi students, Mohanty beautifully re-incarnated the superb sculptures from Indian temples, the forms manifesting god-like in the blue-light of the stage. One journeyed back in time – and saw the sculptors drawing upon their spiritual energies to carve the goddesses in stone. Art is a journey, one realizes, to an inner destination – familiar or invented, real, unreal, or fantastical. One cannot connect to the outside world without having connected within and art accelerates these connections.

Cambodian Classical Dancer, Charya Burt, emulates Cambodian Gods.

The Goddess was visited again by master choreographer and dancer, Charya Burt in the Cambodian Robam Chun Por or The Wishing Dance. It is typically in an opening ceremony, Devada Srey, that is used to convey blessings to the audience through flower petals. I was fascinated by the obvious Indian influences – Deva in Sanskrit is God, for starters. The Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu; indeed, there exists a version of Ramayana in Cambodia. Contrastingly though, while Indian classical dance uses movement, percussion, and melody to impress the divine upon us on Earth, Cambodian dance is designed to transport us to the heavens; the movements are soft and un-creature-like – Burt seemed to glide, buffeted by centuries of mysticism.

A dancer of the Hai Yan Jackson Compnay recreates art from the Dunhuang Caves.

The Chinese arts reclaimed history, thus solidifying the connection between the Divine and the Human. The Hai Yan Jackson Company presented “Flying Apsaras from Dunhuang.” This dance and its costumes were inspired by the discoveries at Dunhuang Caves which were believed to have been walled up in the 11th century and contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Dunhuang was established as a frontier garrison outpost by the Han Dynasty and became an important gateway to the West, a center of commerce along the Silk Road, as well as a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism. My “Indian” radar picked up on the Silk Route and Buddhism. I could feel the palimpsest of time and geography reveal itself in layers. The age-old apsaras appeared before us and the choreography was faithful to the celestial aura.

In Femina, the Mosaic team was able to create a feminine continuum between realms, time, spaces, cultures, and generations, through beautiful art. Happy Women’s History Month to all of you, dear readers! 

The wonderful thing about programming for Mosaic is that it blurs the lines. The narrative may begin as Art imitating Life but then one quickly discovers that it is Life imitating Art. Stories of life – its past, current, and future – are presented on the canvas of culture of, by, for the people in a specific place. Join us and learn more about the Mosaic movement as we catalyze Inclusion and cultivate Belonging in America! 


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

Global Art Contest Highlights Specifically Abled People

The initiative launched by the US-based NGO, “VOSAP Art From Heart Contest”, aims at coloring the world with the Inclusion of Specially-Abled People through the creative expression of artwork.

Launched in June 2020, the International Art Contest “VOSAP Art From Heart” is an effort to stir up action, social transformation to build a global, inclusive society. The objective is to engage and create a mass movement of people for a better understanding of Specially Abled People.

This global art contest is the first of its kind in many ways – a virtual, global contest on the unique theme of DISABILITY. It inspired 2,200+ artists from 45 countries to come up with creative artwork on the thought-provoking theme, portraying the emotions, abilities, aspirations of Specially Abled individuals. The efforts of the volunteers were largely amplified with social media that helped reach out to 2+ million people.

VOSAP Founder, Pranav Desai says, “Inclusion of Specially Abled People is a 21st-century opportunity in front of all of us and such initiatives are aimed to touch the hearts of millions of people so that there is “True Access” in the society, beyond physical accessibility”.

The contest is set to conclude on 5th December 2020 with a Global online Award Ceremony, where 50 winners from 24 countries will be recognized and “VOSAP Virtual Art Gallery” will be launched for people to view selected artwork and get inspired for the inclusion of Specially Abled People with VOSAP.

VOSAP Annual Gala and Award Ceremony will be a live event on Voice of SAP’s handles on Facebook, Youtube, and www.voiceofsap.org website at 8:30 am PST, 10 pm IST on Dec 5, Saturday. 

This live event will be hosted by motivational speaker, multi-talented youth Sparsh Shah, and Jessica Cox, the first licensed pilot with no arms and has inspired millions, will be a guest speaker.

In a letter to founder Pranav Desai, Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi congratulated 50 winners and has given a very inspiring message to VOSAP for this commendable initiative.


About VOSAP: Voice of Specially Abled People is a US-based non-profit organization in Special Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC, working to achieve UN SDGs.

America Runs on Diversity: GUAA Winner

Being the child of immigrants colors your experience in the Land of the Free. From navigating between different cultures to confronting whitewashing and racism, teenagers used the ‘Growing Up Asian in America‘ contest to pay tribute to their cultural roots. Read fourth grader Ella Dattamajumdar’s essay, America Runs On Diversity, where she discusses the inextricable relationship between America and its immigrant communities. This essay has been paired with, artwork contest winner, America Is Not Complete Without Us, created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

America runs on Dunkin’ is the punchline of one of my favorite foods, but I say that America runs on Diversity. It takes all sorts to make this world, whether it’s doughnuts, dal, dumplings or daikon! Cuisines of the world bring us together. Not just cuisines but diverse perspectives too. I believe that everybody should have a voice because one word can change the world. Everyone has their own opinion or unique perspective, if famous people didn’t speak up they would have never achieved great things and become who they are today.

For example, if Asian American, Jerry Yang did not put his ideas to action we would never have Yahoo. For my essay I am using Google and Microsoft Word which are headed by Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella. I admire Senator Kamala Harris who was raised by an Indian American mother. They are so many successful Asian Americans who have made America proud. I find Nina Davuluri who is the first Asian American woman to win Miss America very inspiring. At the Miss America contest talent round she performed a Bollywood dance. A lot of people were upset and said hurtful comments when she won Miss America as she looked different compared to the past winners.

I feel that being American is a state of mind, it is based on a common set of values and beliefs and not based on how we look, the color of our skin, what we eat, how we speak or where our grandparents come from. Just look around the Silicon Valley — every time I drive around with my family we are always debating what to eat — Biryani, Pho Soup, Sushi, Pad Thai, Tacos, or Steak. We need all kinds of nutrients to nourish our brains whether it is food or diverse perspectives. I dream of being an Asian American leader who is proud of her heritage and can make America proud because America truly runs on diversity.


Image: The artwork, entitled, America Is Not Complete Without Us, was created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

Essay: American Runs on Diversity was written by fourth-grader Ella Dattamajumdar

Entrepreneurial Mother Unlocks Kulture

Who else can know a child’s needs better than a mom. And it takes a strong woman to go beyond and fulfill the gaps, irrespective of the circumstances.

Putting aside the pandemic we are facing, it is still International Women’s Month! India Currents would like to tell the story of one such strong Indian American mother, Akruti Babaria, who recognized the importance of conveying Indian traditions and culture to her child and she knew she had to be the one to start a venture to accomplish the feat.

Kulture Khazana is an online portal that unlocks Indian cultural treasures for children using different interactive mediums. From online content, workshops, newsletters, seminars to children’s books – the portal is a one stop destination for every Indian mother who seeks to impart her culture to her kids.

Established in February 2018, the journey was not a cakewalk for the mom-entrepreneur, who had to travel halfway across the globe to find the right sources for her endeavour.

“It was when I started to speak to my 3 year old son about Indian culture, did I realize the lack of resources around us in the US. I wanted him to learn about our values and traditions and could not find any authentic source here. I had to travel all the way to India to purchase nearly 400 books, back then for the purpose. The journey and the realization paved the way to curate something that can be beneficial not just for my son but for every kid in the US,” said Akruti Babaria, who left her full-time job to pursue this venture.

Right after its establishment, the portal was well received by all Indian American parents who were eagerly in search for a repository that offers them the right resources, especially books that do not highlight any violence but convey the needed context in an appropriate way based on the aptitude of a kid. Surprisingly, even the local libraries welcomed the cultural materials and were more than happy to display the collection. 

Akruti storytelling at her local library

Though the initial acceptance helped Akruti to establish her endeavor across the community, finding feasible partners for the business was a challenging task.

“It required lots of research, meetings and effort to find genuine partners to do business with. We needed people who share the same passion for children’s literature. Though at first I used to work with distributors, now over the years I have been able to establish direct contacts with publishers and authors, which has helped the process to be more smooth and effective.” 

Not just limiting the scope to online content, Akruti understood the need to be innovative and went on to explore new avenues to spread awareness on Indian culture. A unique approach of mixing storytelling with activities and movements, she was able to find new ways to engage the kids in learning about their culture.

“I wanted to do something which is not monotonous and kids should find it interesting rather than preachy. The interactive workshops and seminars gives an all-rounded experience for kids with lots of activities and fun learning exercises. It’s been well received and many schools and organizations like children’s museums, libraries, literary communities, temples, and grocery chain stores have come forward to organize such events. Surprisingly, even the non-Indian communities have shown interest and attend these workshops in large numbers to learn more about Indian culture and global diversity,” 

Akruti using different mediums to teach culture

Currently, she has also been approached by the school district of Texas to create a cultural kit as part of the curriculum for 2020 with special focus on spreading awareness about culture and diversity for students and on how teachers should plan to include the framework within the curriculum.

Akruti also conducts professional development seminars for educators on how to interpret culture in a classroom. She feels that if the kids are knowledgeable about diversity and inclusion at such a young age, then they grow up to become open-minded individuals. Most of the organizations have workshops on inclusion as part of team building exercises and Akruti asserts that if these cultural values are taught to them right from childhood then there is no need to retrain them in future. 

The dancer cum MBA graduate is all set to enter a new phase as she plans to author a book for kids about spices. Writing poems and collating learning exercises for the weekly newsletters of her portal, she is already on the move creating new experiences for children through a mother’s lens. 

Akruti call outs to the wonderful women out there for International Women’s month, “Come what may, always follow your passion. Regain your confidence and find your girl gang, who is always there to give an hi-five, to support, advise and even criticize. You just have to step out and you will realize that there is a whole community of women out there who are always ready to support each other.”

Suchithra Pillai comes with over a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and the United States. In her spare time, you would either find her scribbling down some thoughts in the paper trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things or expressing her love for dance on stage.

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.