Tag Archives: kanchan naik

India Currents Wins 2020 California Journalism Awards for COVID-19 Reporting

India Currents received multiple awards for its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic from the 2020 California Journalism Awards. 

The California News Publishers Association recognized various India Currents stories, columns, and essays in three categories. India Currents received third place in the category “local coverage of election 2020,” fifth place in the category “coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic health reporting,” and fourth place in the category “coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic fallout.”

India Currents’ writers Sarita Sarvate, Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney, Nirupama Vaidyanathan, Ritu Marwah, Kanchan Naik, Srishti Prabha, and Meera Kymal were recognized for their writing by the CNPA. 

India Currents entered the competition organized by the CNPA for the first time, and was among 699 entries in the digital contest alone. CNPA received 3,306 entries in total from print, digital, and campus publications. 

The recognition is one of many that India Currents has received since its establishment, including awards from the San Francisco Press Club and a grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. 

India Currents Publisher Vandana Kumar said the recognition validates India Currents’ model of community journalism, particularly during a year marked by upheaval and chaos. 

“This was a hard year for everyone – we worked hard to bring fresh perspectives on important issues like health and wellness, census, elections, climate change and above all, found creative ways to engage our readers,” Kumar said. 

India Currents Managing Editor Srishti Prabha said India Currents has been working “tirelessly” to address misinformation and disinformation through the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has been validating to receive recognition for this work. 

“In a year of isolation, we have attempted to share stories that resonate with our readers and quell some of their desire for human connection,” Prabha said. “Being recognized for that work is also affirming – our stories have provided a space of comfort to South Asian immigrants.”


Isha Trivedi is a journalism student at George Washington University. She enjoys reading and listening to podcasts in her (limited) spare time. 


 

Book cover of Zilka Joseph's 'Sparrows and Dust'

Zilka Joseph’s ‘Sparrows and Dust’ is a Heavy Read, But She Makes it Fly

I don’t know the color of a hummingbird’s throat. But when Zilka Joseph brings alive the “green-steel warrior”, I feel as though I’ve recognized the crimson feathers on its dainty neck as an old memory, a remnant of childhood held captive by poetry. That, I suppose, is the secret to Joseph’s pen — the ability to blur the boundaries between her world and those of her readers. This is precisely what she does in Sparrows and Dust, Joseph’s 30-page, Pushcart-nominated homage to her identity as a South Asian-American immigrant and more. As the name of this chapbook suggests, Joseph often draws upon the behaviors and appearances of birds, from beady-eyed sparrows to golden eagles, to explore the depths of her experience. In Sparrows and Dust, Zilka Joseph flits between memory and migration, fight or flight, in this pithy tribute to the birds that have shaped her. 

Joseph is a veteran poet and creative writing instructor, whose work has graced the pages of publications from Asia Literary Review to The Kali Project. Her experience with both writing poems and selecting them shines through in this book, which consists of only 19 poems. Although the brief Table of Contents left me unsure of Joseph’s work at first, later added to my appreciation of her strong sense of word economy and selection.

Every piece of this collection has a purpose, from the emphatic “Listen!” that forces readers to halt in their tracks in “For the Birds” to the “Please stay.” that closes off “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” like a lingering whisper. The poems themselves are generally short and pithy trips into her personal life, with choppy lineation that leaves the poems structurally “wispy”. In fact, that’s what struck me when I read this book for the first time; I felt as though the poems themselves tangibly reminded me of birds’ feathers, slipping out of the tongue and into flight. I suppose herein lies my only critique for this book; many of the structurally similar poems feel clumped together, rather than interwoven with the more visually experimental “Negative Capability” and “So Much”. Thematically, Joseph alternates between nostalgia and quiet introspection, bringing both her childhood home in Kolkata and her current wintry abode in Michigan alive. There’s an aura of desolate solitude to Sparrows and Dust; beyond herself and the birds she chooses to elucidate her emotions with, other characters feel like distant and sad recreations of Joseph’s memory. She channels this emotion beautifully in her leading titular poem, where she mentions how she has “never saved anyone or anything — my parents, the animals, and birds”. 

It’s interesting how Joseph can catch you so off-guard with moments like these. How despite her colorful illustrations of sparrows and their immutable relationship with the natural world, Joseph still creates a world that can be so empty and unforgivably fleeting. It’s not a happy space, but it’s where she thrives as a writer. Some of my favorite moments in this book are where Joseph slips into vulnerable dramatic monologues, whether that means begging with the spirit of her mother in “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” or describing the accidental death of an insect in “Good Intentions”. Strangely enough, she finds a way to convey the importance of both tragedies to her readers, despite our perceived emotional distance from her personal life or the seeming insignificance of an insect’s life. Each time, she leaves the readers clinging to an atmosphere that she has now made barren, by both reflecting on her past mistakes and also on her inability to reverse or rectify them. Personally, I felt especially forlorn after reading “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” and “Scenes from the Deck”; I rarely recognize the mortality in my own parents, and found myself seeking some kind of resolution or closure when the poems were over.  This way, I think it becomes easier to understand Joseph — just as she clings onto her memories, we will have to cling to her poems, despite the way they end. 

Sparrows and Dust is a short and good read, which does not force readers to feel certain emotions but invokes them regardless. Joseph’s third chapbook is illusive, rarely indulgent, and like the birds, she illustrates, never idle. 

With the author’s permission, I have chosen to reproduce her piece, “Scenes from the Deck” in this review to offer a preview into the book:  

Scenes from the Deck

I know how you love that word deck, Dad—

all those years you sailed around

the world. Began at Mazagon Docks,

Mumbai. 25 paise wages. Steamship days.

Diesel days. Deck, bridge, engine room

was home to you, Chief Engineer,

with the booming voice, always in charge,

everyone’s boss. Nothing changed

even when you grew old

and blind. You still wouldn’t listen.

Too late. Too late. Mum sank quickly,

suddenly she was gone. You fought

the storm, your ship still

strong and sea-worthy.

Drowned slowly

in the salt sea that filled

your lungs.

You clutched my hand

for hours. I sang Somewhere

over the Rainbow

by your hospital bed.

You moaned the words

inside the mask muzzling

your mouth. The voice

that bellowed a thousand commands.

Oh my father. Eagle with claws full

of thunderbolts. Now lying shattered

on the deck.

***


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the 2020 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 


 

Kala Bagai Way: The First Street In the US Named After a Historic Indian American Woman

When Kalai Bagai first arrived in San Francisco on September 6th, 1915 with her husband Vaishno and three sons, local newspapers flocked to cover the story of the first Indian-American woman to enter the Bay Area. Fleeing British imperialism in her homeland, Bagai was exposed to the very casual racism and persecution she thought she had escaped. When her family purchased their first home, she remembered her neighbors attempting to stop them from moving in. 

Newspaper article from September 1915 issue of San Francisco Call & Post describing Kala Bagai’s arrival in the United States with her family. (South Asian American Digital Archive)

“All of our luggage and everything was loaded on the trucks,’ she said. “I told Mr. Bagai I don’t want to live in this neighborhood. I don’t want to live in this house, because they might hurt my children, and I don’t want it. We paid for the house and they locked the doors? No!'”

Although one in the hundreds of immigrants searching for new lives in the United States, Kala Bagai was singled out for her Indian heritage by the masses — ridiculed for her nose ring and skin color. Bagai, like so many other activists of color, was stenciled into America’s history for her “otherness”, and for her struggle to take ownership of her cultural identity. 

The story of Kala Bagai is defined by risk — the risk to emigrate to the nascent United States with precarious citizenship laws, the risk to leave India without knowing a word of English, the risk to challenge this sense of “otherness” that permeated the public consciousness.

Though one of the first South Asians to find a home in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kala Bagai was aware that she would not be the last. As new Indian American families emigrated to her area, they were welcomed with a smile and a warm meal prepared by Bagai. She was endearingly named “Mother India” by Indian locals. By blurring the boundaries between California Americanisms and Desi customs, Bagai redefined this sense of “otherness” — she created a community out of the ambiguous and alienating identity that was given to her. 

Then the United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case defined Indians as citizens of color, ineligible for U.S. citizenship. Still, in shock over his sudden denaturalization, Vaishno Bagai took his own life. The Bagais were left without citizenship, livelihood, or home. And it was at their lowest that Kala Bagai began to fight back. Despite the loss of her husband, she advocated fiercely for Indian American rights and found ways to support anti-colonialism movements in India. Kala Bagai put all three of her sons through college, taking great pride in supporting their higher education. Before passing away at 90 years in 1983, Bagai had hosted a number of Indian festivals, community halls, and theatres — events continued in her honor to this day.

Kala Bagai was ostracized for her “otherness”. Today, the Berkeley community is ready to celebrate her for it. With a thriving South Asian American community, Berkeley has spent the past couple of months trying to find a name for a 2-block stretch of Shattuck Avenue East. In the heart of Berkeley downtown, this street has the potential to recognize and uplift America’s rich South Asian American cultural community. Because in an unexpected, yet beautiful turn of events, the Bay Area community is ready to name this street Kala Bagai Way. Anirvan Chatterjee, a San Francisco Bay Area activist who helped organize community support for the name, discusses the implications of this historic naming process in an exclusive interview with India Currents. 

“Berkeley is a roughly 20% Asian American city, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the street names”, Chatterjee said. “I think Kala Bagai was a good fit because she was Asian American, a woman, an immigrant, a member of a minority faith, a survivor of local and federal racism. But she was more than her identity, or what was done to her family. She persisted through heartbreak, emerging as a critical California immigrant community-builder well into her forties. She demonstrated a model of quiet activism that sometimes doesn’t get recognized, but is so critical in our movements and communities.

In terms of her connection to Berkeley, her story shed light on the city’s difficult history around race and housing. It’s easier to honor someone who is a long-term resident, but more challenging—and interesting—to name a street after somebody who wanted to be a neighbor, but was kept out by community racism.” 

Turning a downtown Berkeley street into Kala Bagai Way was certainly an uphill battle. Chatterjee and other local activists worked with descendants of Kala Bagai to tell her story to the media and represent her legacy. They even created a Wikipedia page dedicated to her, so that Berkeley locals could educate themselves on her role in Indian American activism. Chatterjee attended the final meeting of the Berkeley naming advisory committee and noted a discrepancy in Berkeley’s representation and the area itself. Only 2 of the 9 members of the committee were people of color. And while this committee wanted to honor the city’s rich history, they realized that naming the street after Kala Bagai was defined, much like Bagai herself, by risk. 

Kala Bagai (South Asian American Digital Archive)
Kala Bagai (South Asian American Digital Archive)

“She wasn’t the safest possible choice, because her most relevant connection to Berkeley was the way she and her family were kept out,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street after her also means naming an uncomfortable past, and also serves as a reminder to defend all of today’s Kala Bagais, by resisting displacement and welcoming newcomers.”

While Kala Bagai Way is a victory for the Asian American community, it’s hard to celebrate this achievement without recognizing the current backdrop of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Just three weeks ago, a man opened fire at three different massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, killing six Asian American women. This is not an isolated atrocity, but rather one in the many crimes which suggest that America’s terrifying history of prejudice and xenophobia is far from over. Chatterjee thinks that in the wake of these hate crimes, naming this street after a South Asian American activist only grows more necessary. 

“Anti-Asian racism is often rooted in the stereotype of Asian Americans as eternal foreigners, generation after generation,” Chatterjee said. “Naming a street isn’t just about community pride, but also about shifting that culture. Naming a downtown street after an Asian American activist who tried to move to Berkeley over a century ago is making a claim to belonging, and is a tiny part of much larger anti-racist movements.” 

While no one knows what the future holds in store for America’s immigrant communities, we hope that symbolic progress leads to constructive change. Indian Americans have played a major role in shaping today’s America, but they often don’t see themselves represented by the local or national leadership. Chatterjee believes that Kala Bagai Way is a foot in the door, and serves as a homage to the footsteps of Asian American activists before him. 

“Our histories are important, both because they’re ours, and also because they connect to larger stories,” Chatterjee says. “We’re walking a path paved by the activism of other communities, like Black activists taking on the honoring of the Confederacy, or Native American activists taking on racist sports teams. The point isn’t just to change the names, but to address what the names represent.”

This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we honor Kala Bagai for all her contributions to our Indian American communities in California.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the 2020 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 


 

A Podcast Creates A Growth Space for Youth

Current Problem

Gen Z’ers are motivated activists and advocates working on social justice. However, after starting, they lack the network and know-how to accelerate their changes into meaningful community impact. The burden of running an organization dilutes their efforts to spread awareness, while the financial burden of paying for their cause out of pocket can severely hinder their work. 

The Solution: What Cause Inspires You podcast

What Cause Inspires You is a podcast I launched and host, in which students from across the nation share the service they are doing in their communities, be it designing an app and donating blood to sending e-cards to elderly homes or creating an anti-bullying campaign. The podcast is currently booked through March 2021, broadcasting the passionate voices of the next generation’s change-makers. 

After experiencing cyberbullying, I initiated the podcast with the goal of bringing awareness to the issue. I thought, “What better way to educate my peers about a topic close to home than hearing it from a student like themselves?” My episode on cyberbullying was a hit and from there, I had youth from around the nation reach out to me to use my What Cause Inspires You podcast series as a platform to gain traction for their own movements. 

In addition to raising awareness, our scholarship division host challenges to provide monetary awards to students who are making an impact. Students in our most recent scholarship challenge created a one minute video about a cause that inspires them and why. The winner was the youth founder of the organization, Me2U Foundation, who won $1000 to help donate food and hygiene supplies to underdeveloped countries. The winner of our ongoing Flyer Challenge will receive $100 and the opportunity to interview one of our experts on Professional Perspective podcast and gain a lifelong connection. 

The Impact 

Through What Cause Inspires You, I have already helped 35 students from 12 states across the US to build awareness for their causes on a global scale, reaching students, parents, and experts alike on Spotify and Youtube. With a goal to unify our communities, the podcast series helps our audience connect with our speakers to encourage them to be invested in the student organization’s cause, all while educating on important and often under-represented issues. In addition, speakers join an exclusive group of youth leaders where they are given the opportunity to connect and collaborate with one another. 

To further enhance their networks, I have also initiated Professional Perspectives, a sub-series that features interviews with CEOs and experts regarding their insight on social justice, social entrepreneurship, and how to accelerate change. These episodes allow students to connect with inspirational professionals and in return, we have seen real change – student-organizations partnering with CEOs and presenting innovative solutions to long-standing problems. 

My impact with Humanity Rising extends far past the WCIY podcast. I am also the marketing and social media head for the organization, combining my expertise in business strategy and social justice. I lead a team of 20 student volunteers in marketing, analytics, interview operations, and outreach. My interns receive exposure to the hundreds of causes that need our society’s help and gain experience in the social entrepreneurship sector. They incite change in their communities and have already reached 100,000 students globally. 

What the Future Holds

Using What Cause Inspires You podcast, I hope to leverage my personal experience and leadership to empower student organizations with awareness, connections, and financial resources. In the future, the team and I are looking forward to bridging CEO involvement and What Cause Inspires You by providing corporate sponsorships for impactful organizations. To get involved, sign up for our email newsletter, and join the movement towards unity and progress.


Alisha Gupta is the founder and host of the What Cause Inspires You podcast series as well as the Head of Marketing Communications and Outreach for Humanity Rising Ambassador. Contact Alisha at [email protected] and @whatcauseinspiresyou.

Our World is Online: Cyberbullying Rises

Digital culture has become all the more important in our social lives as we navigate a global pandemic. The face of a screen is no longer a source of personal entertainment, but our only real connection with the outside world. Most of my birthday was spent blowing out candles in front of a Skype monitor and finishing up a math test on Zoom. Everything from our next meal to our first meeting is defined by the version of ourselves we create for the Internet. And while I’m grateful that social media platforms can provide a surrogate for human interaction, I’m equally concerned by its implications.

Dr. Dhara Thakar Meghani MD

To discuss the troubling rise in cyberbullying amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Hindu American Foundation hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Abhay Dandekar MD and Dr. Dhara Thakar Meghani MD. A non-profit organization established in 2003, HAF is dedicated to educating the public about Hindus and their diverse culture. In their own words, they believe in, “promoting dignity, mutual respect, and pluralism in order to ensure the well-being of Hindus and for all people and the planet to thrive. Our positions are based on a relentless pursuit of facts; deep consideration of Hindu principles and American values, such as freedom, equality, and justice; and the input of subject matter experts.”

The webinar first outlined the nature of cyberbullying itself, which is unwanted and aggressive behavior transmitted through devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets. While traditional cyberbullying refers to subjecting an individual to harsh criticism and public ridicule, other variants of this abuse have become more common in recent years. Doxxing, for instance, is an illegal practice by which a cyberbully releases the personal information of a victim, such as his or her home address, phone number, photograph, full name, etc. Because laws surrounding online harassment are still nebulous, Dr. Dandekar mentions, it crosses into illegal territory without detection or proper attention. And when left unattended, this digital abuse can lead to various health complications in the future, such as mental illnesses, appetite loss, and even heart disease. Just because

What makes cyberbullying such an apt topic for this webinar is how our lives have changed amid self-isolation. For one,  children’s internet activity is less likely to be monitored by their parents since they have to navigate their job and household responsibilities at the same time. The lack of structure and surveillance can often lead to destructive behavior. But children are not the only ones impacted by digital media. The virus has also led to a troubling spike in xenophobia and hate crimes, which seep through the cracks of Internet culture. A month ago, social media star Malu Trevejo was under fire for spreading anti-Asian sentiments during a session on her Instagram live. And the isolation policy makes individuals like Trevejo feel less accountable for their actions and the hateful messages they spread.

Before closing off the webinar, HAF provided some helpful advice regarding how to avoid toxicity on the Internet and forge substantial connections despite the pandemic. Dr. Dandekar recommended using platforms that allow at least some kind of physical interaction, such as video chat apps or phone calls. “If we’re going to use a device, let’s try to talk on the phone. Let’s try and have real-time visual content..these are easy things we can participate in as parents and teens and kids.” And I can understand Dr. Dandekar’s point. Personally, I find conversations with my extended family so much more meaningful when I can hear the sound of their voice or see them smiling.

It’s a gentle reminder that beyond our digital personalities are humans, all of us trying to understand the unnavigable.

To watch the rest of HAF’s webinar and find resources, click here!

——–

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

To Ma, From Your Daughter

ma

To the woman who loved

what had not yet become, making promises 

with unfolding fabric: 

We shared skin, but from you I grew into

my own — an inherited thing

inhabited, but never out

grown.

You hollowed a home 

within yourself, doorways 

forged from flesh, walls

 shifting soundlessly

with each passing breath. 

There is a forever in the spaces 

between you and I — it stares back

at the two of us, a daughter’s love

opening its luminous eyes 

for the first time.

—- 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

“All Around Me Are Words…” at the Matwaala Poetry Wall

The South Asian narrative is always more than the sum of its parts. And the Smithsonian’s Beyond Bollywood project, a tribute to artistic metamorphosis and diaspora culture, serves as a beautiful reminder. The project was spearheaded by ThinkIndia and Matwaala, a poetry initiative designed to give South-Asian voices a platform. Matwaala has organized a number of initiatives, from cultural festivals to university readings to poetry anthologies. In their own words, they seek to represent “voices that dare to say the unsaid and hear the unheard…voices that break down barriers…voices that dare to be South Asian, American, and simply human.” Their name, which in Hindi refers to a sense of drunkenness or delirium, represents the self-liberating nature of Matwaala’s cause. In some of their previous readings, Matwaala poets have explored the nature of religion, healing, displacement, and the current socio-political atmosphere. This collective is home to prolific artists whose origins can be traced back to so many countries across the Asian continent. 

Since their formation, Matwaala has made waves in the literary scene. In 2017, the group launched their first annual Matwaala Big Read in collaboration with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, which welcomed poets of all ages and experience. The event emphasized community solidarity in the midst of an increasingly polarized political climate. Hallmarks of the Matwaala festivals are perhaps what makes them so comfortably unique. At the Big Read, for instance, a poet-of-honor is awarded a Matwaala mug for their dedication towards poetry and encouraging the craft among others. It’s an interesting touch, a simple and yet thoughtful nod to poets who have spent their entire lives keeping the flame of verse alive. 

Directors of Matwaala , Usha Akella (left) and Pramila Venkateswaran (right).

The poetry wall at the Irving Museum and Archives offers twenty-four poems by twenty-four South Asian Diaspora poets, including Pramila Venkateswaran, Usha Akella, Amut Majmudar, and Ravi Shankar. The exhibit’s grand opening in February was followed by live poetry readings from Venkateswarana and Akella — the co-directors of Matwaala — as well as a conversation with ThinkIndia’s Ravi Srinivasan. 

When asked about their work with the poetry wall, the directors of Matwaala said, “For us, the poetry wall is a testimonial to the range of talent in diaspora poetry. Gustatory delights, environment, nature, music, art, travel, and poetry itself become instances for self-reflection, identity, and self-affirmation. This spread of twenty-four poems on a wall spanning the map of the US is a landmark exhibit in museum history. And that it is within the larger thematic herald of ‘Beyond Bollywood’ the Smithsonian project, is perfect. Diaspora poets are forging, tuning, and channeling words in poetic idiom true to their intercultural experiences. The poetry wall will always be one of our most relevant projects in addition to our festivals promoting visibility for South Asian talent that is inclusive not just of India but its neighboring countries. In a world becoming more divisive, there are some walls that need to be erected such as these bringing in its wake not boundaries but their collapse.”

This collaborative effort does not merely highlight South-Asian art, but rather the Desi experience as a whole. Smithsonian’s display proved to be as interactive as it was illustrative, complete with yoga workshops, dance performances, and musical demonstrations. What is beautiful about the exhibit is how the work forged a careful balance between the personal and collective aspects of the immigrant experience. While the poems themselves offer raw insight into the artists’ self-perception, the wall itself is designed such that each of the works is tied to a map of the United States. It’s an honest reflection of diaspora, a deliberate rejection of the marginalization that threatens to swallow our country whole. 

As an Indian-American poet, I find myself constantly navigating dichotomous cultures and finding myself between the cracks. The poetry wall resonates deeply with me because it’s a poignant commentary on art amid social and personal change. It’s perhaps the first wall of its kind, but I hope it won’t be the last. Matwaala’s latest project memorializes the development of South-Asian poetry and makes way for the voices to come.

To learn more about Matwaala and their work, please refer to some of their latest interviews!

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

A Legacy That Belongs to All of Us

For years, Asian-Americans donned a cultural Invisibility cloak before Western audiences. And although undiscovered, their stories have unfolded silently and beautifully from generation to generation. That’s why the five-part documentary series, Asian Americans, created by an all-Asian American team of filmmakers, plays such a critical role in chronicling the immigrant experience. 

Narrated by Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita, Asian Americans strings together the stories of the many struggles for freedom – from the Japanese incarcerations during World War II to anti-Asian immigration laws. The storytelling, accompanied by the power of the documentary’s visual component, delivers a poignant narrative about what it means to belong to a country unconditionally, in the face of both adversity and animosity. Asian Americans features interviews with some of our community’s most celebrated individuals, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, Chinese-American journalist Helen Zia, academic expert Erika Lee,  and Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu. Their stories highlight the difficulty in navigating identity between two dichotomous cultures. 

The trailer for Asian Americans ends with the words, “and their legacy belongs to all of us!” As I reflect on my own experience as Indian-American, I realize how much I identify with these words. So many trailblazers have carved out a voice for our community — and PBS’s Asian Americans gives them the credit they rightfully deserve. 

While the documentary is impactful on its own, its content becomes more topical against the backdrop of a global pandemic. The current coronavirus outbreak marks an alarming rise in anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobic paranoia. According to a poll conducted in New York, residents have reported roughly 248 cases of racial prejudice since January. 1600 hundred attacks have been reported nationwide — a number which can only be an undercount, due to the shame and fear that contributes to such attacks. Divisive language surrounding this situation, such as calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan virus” turn Asian-Americans into a convenient scapegoat for unprecedented circumstances. Social media platforms document shocking tales of bigoted attacks against law-abiding Asian Americans, such as a video of two girls at Garden Grove’s Bolsda Grande High “screaming ‘coronavirus’ at Asian American students”. COVID-19’s impact on race relations is not making national headlines because of its novelty. Rather, it’s only chillingly familiar for the Asian American community.

Virtual Town Hall hosted by the Center for Asian American Media.

In a virtual Town Hall hosted by the Center for Asian American Media, producers and members of this documentary discussed what it means to be of Asian descent during an international crisis. Some of the panelists included Viet Thanh Nguyen, Amna Nawaz, Hari Kondabolu, and more. And in a critical segment of this Town Hall, the panelists pointed out how coronavirus fears play into America’s history of race-based discrimination. It was only one generation ago, for instance, that Chinese-American draftsman Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men in Wayne County, Detroit. While Chin’s assailants were originally charged with second-degree murder, their only punishment was $3,000 dollars and no jail time. “It reminded Asian-Americans that progress hadn’t really been made.” 

Today, every voice in the United States has the opportunity to change our country’s cycle of systematic abuse. Rather than using a national tragedy to fuel dangerous and divisive rhetoric, we have the chance to truly move forward. And Asian Americans represent that effort towards a liberated future for the next generation of immigrants. “As much as tragedy is a part of our heritage here, so is possibility.”

The documentary premieres Money and Tuesday, May 11 & 12, 2020 at 8pm on PBS. To watch the trailer, click here! 

To find out more about the Digital Town Hall, watch a recording of the panel here.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Youth Editor for India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Celebrating 100 Years of Ravi Shankar

“Life is much larger than birth & death, failure & success. You are the unblemished, pure, eternal self. Knowing this, you will walk like a King.”

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Fifty-eight years ago, renowned Indian composer Pt. Ravi Shankar founded the Kinnara School of Music, spreading this noble philosophy and a fiery passion for the sitar with the rest of the world. A music creator for All India Radio, it was Pt. Ravi Shankar who popularized classical Indian music among the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and the Beatles. His distinct performing style set him apart from the other classical performers of his time, as his intricate rhythmic patterns were considered both melodic and unconventional. He brought an incredible dedication to his work, even composing the entire soundtrack for the 1995 film, “Pather Panchali” in one day. Although he sadly passed away at 92 years in 2012, Pt. Ravi Shankar left behind an enduring, heartfelt legacy.

To commemorate that legacy, music duo Sangam has teamed up with the Arohi ensemble to release an Indo-American interpretation of Pt. Ravi Shankar’s work. Featuring Paul Livingstone as the sitarist, this cross-cultural blend includes cello duets, sarod harmonies, and percussion riffs. Even more heartwarming is the effort from so many of Ravi’s direct disciples, such as Partho Sarothy, Pedro Eustache, and Barry Phillips.

Pt. Ravi Shankar is not celebrated today for simply mastering his craft. Although he was a skilled sitarist, he also symbolized the union of two worlds, two schools of musical thought. And the global harmony he created is certainly present today, as evidenced by the interpretations of Pather Panchali from the United States, India, and México. The Arohi/Sangam collaboration serves as a sincere reminder that music lives far beyond life itself.

To view Arohi’s tribute to the “Godfather of World Music”, click here! Meanwhile, click here to download the Arohi ensemble’s ‘Tilak Shyam’ recording!

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Student Intern for India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

7th Grader Fights Anti-Asian Sentiment

The coronavirus is our generation’s distorted empathy quotient. As this life-threatening disease ravages low-income and minority communities, it becomes the world’s responsibility to protect our society’s most vulnerable. And from the mass-anxiety of COVID-19, the best and worst of society has bled into our daily lives. On one hand, GoFundMe is flooded with pages raising money for coronavirus victims. Young teenagers are distributing groceries in working-class neighborhoods while retweeting instructional videos for public safety. But the less endearing side to this narrative is also the most difficult to confront; Coronavirus concerns are being transformed into socio-political dog whistles for xenophobia and hate crimes.

Since the outbreak in January, New York City alone has reported 248 cases of race-based discrimination. On March 14th, a young man stabbed a family of three because they were of Asian-American descent and thus ‘spreading the virus’. A Chinese-American couple in Minnesota reported finding a derogatory and racist note left on their door. Without necessary precautions, our country may succumb to paranoia and racism before it caves into COVID-19. 

OCA letter signed by Teens For Vaccines.

To discuss the implication of such violence, I had a chat with 7th grader, Arin Parsa, a Davidson Young Scholar and founder of Teens for Vaccines. A strong proponent for public health and safety, Arin reached out to OCA, a national organization dedicated to preserving the rights of Asian-American Pacific Islanders. On March 31, Arin’s Teens for Vaccines co-signed OCA’S letter to President Trump, the FBI, and the DOJ demanding the urgent creation of a Task Force via Executive Order. This Task Force, Arin hopes, will allow the FBI to increase data collection and the DOJ to prioritize prosecutions against COVID-19 hate crimes. But his efforts extend well beyond preventing prejudice. Deeply concerned about PPE shortages (Personal Protective Equipment) for health care staff and senior citizens, Arin is raising awareness for sophomore Aditya Indla’s GoFundMe campaign to 3D Print Face Masks for healthcare professionals. When we spoke with Arin about his efforts, he discussed both his inspiration and ambitions for the near future. 

KN: First of all, your contributions to public health and safety amid the COVID-19 outbreak are absolutely amazing. What drew you to establishing Teens For Vaccines?

Arin Parsa: Thank you for the kind words! I founded Teens for Vaccines in August 2019 when herd immunity in California was falling dangerously below 95%, a risk for yet another measles outbreak. The bill, SB 276, had to be pushed through to stop fraudulent medical exemptions to vaccines. 

I was inspired by Ethan Lindenberger, an Ohio teen, who fearlessly testified in Congress about his decision to vaccinate himself despite his anti-vax mother’s beliefs. I spent my summer in NY at a research camp to truly understand what makes people anti-science. I found that, although skepticism was legitimate during the smallpox era, it had no standing in the modern world. Many are swayed by misinformation on social media about vaccine safety and vaccine ingredients (e.g. derivatives of pork, fetal strain from the 1960s), spread by a highly vocal anti-vax minority funded by alternative medicine practitioners and anti-government interests. Millions are being made by peddling dietary supplements as a replacement for vaccines. Sure, science isn’t perfect, and there are rare cases when vaccines are not suitable, but deliberately misleading vulnerable parents and religious communities, putting entire neighborhoods at risk, is deplorable. Over 140,000 have died from measles globally when we have a vaccine for it. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for all of us.

KN: For those who are unaware of your cause, would you like to explain the purpose of Teens For Vaccines? As the response to the coronavirus develops, what is the group’s primary goal for the future?

Arin Parsa: Teens for Vaccines is about educating teens on vaccine safety and minor consent laws from trusted sources, and connecting teen advocates worldwide. I recently connected with an HPV Vaccine advocate from Ireland! 

Education empowers us from falling prey to misinformation and rhetoric of medical freedom and anti-government messages. Amplifying the voices of immunization coalitions, doctors, and epidemiologists is a huge endeavor, whether in our local communities or through social media. In fact, as we speak, anti-vaxxers are denying the COVID pandemic, questioning social distancing, and peddling false cures.

Teens for Vaccines is also anti-hate since a lot of teens like Ethan face dire threats when they go against the anti-vax lobby. A huge realization I had a few weeks ago was the extreme racism suffered by Asians. Teens feeling isolated, alienated, spit on, hit, yelled at, and attacked is not good for their mental health. Suicide rates among the teen demographic are at dangerous levels. Teens for Vaccines is first and foremost about teen health, and I sought out OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, a national organization to co-sign their letter and demand action from President Trump, FBI, and DOJ. 

KN: What do you hope to accomplish with the creation of an Anti-Asian Hate Task Force via an Executive Order? Why a Task Force, specifically? 

Arin Parsa: A Task Force will put a light on the escalating violence against Asians, sending a very strong signal throughout America that we will not tolerate the insidious hate that is riding on the coattails of this pandemic. Being a history student, I know racism is a deep-rooted belief. As much as we want to change people through messages of empathy and solidarity, sometimes only fear of consequences will stop such people in their tracks. A federal task force, working together with local law enforcement, can bring in swift action in collaboration with the FBI’s deep data collection programs, and DOJ prioritizing prosecuting hate crimes.

KN: Do you think government authorities are not taking swift action in ensuring the security of minority communities — including Asian-Americans — during this outbreak? How do you think their action — or lack of it — impacts the current socio-political climate?

Arin Parsa: No one realized how quickly deep-rooted racism would come to the surface. It is not that the government isn’t doing anything about it: the FBI has warned of a surge. President Trump, after having said “Chinese Virus” tweeted that he didn’t intend to use it derogatorily. But, it is clear that more needs to be done than just condemning the acts. 

The Asian demographic is a huge contributor to America’s scientific and technological advancements. Lack of immediate action can lead to an extremely fractured America and potential intellectual drain out of America. 

KN: Despite the mass-anxiety of a global pandemic, how do teens cross boundaries and establish solidarity with other ethnicities and groups? 

Arin Parsa: The power of the internet can truly be harnessed in these times. Joining diverse groups through social media of their choice,  whether it is Discord, Slack, Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, we can reach out and understand others. Teens can join the r/StopAntiAsianRacism, follow @BurntRiceBunch to show support to Asian teens who are suffering.  Empathy is about listening and can be really powerful, so responding with thoughtful comments can go a long way.  I also welcome everyone to TeenOpinions.org to write and show solidarity. Music is a universal language, so joining online concerts such as One World: Together at home on April 18 can build a feeling of togetherness. Locally, in our communities, we can make a difference too. Even a hand wave and a smile to the ones in your neighborhood can be extremely uplifting. 

KN: It’s wonderful that you’re so involved and politically self-aware. Any advice for other teenagers who want to support society’s most vulnerable during this difficult time? 

Arin Parsa: Thank you. First and foremost, respecting the shelter-in-place orders itself is a show of support to those who are most vulnerable. Protecting ourselves is protecting others. Checking out state and county websites are great places to know how we can help: sewing masks (with mom’s help if needed) or using a 3D printer if you have one, creating care packages, writing thank you emails to hospitals,  making yard signs of hope, doing grocery runs for our elderly neighbors, or simply calling a senior center and enquiring are ways we can help. Having a sense of purpose and togetherness can help us get through these difficult times.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Student Intern for India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

QuaranTeen – The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

“It’s like you’re practically living through history, Kanchan,” was the first thing my mother told me as I logged into my third period on Zoom.

I rubbed my eyes, which had become perpetually blurry after my exponential increase in daily screen time. Every day became Pajama Day, where I drowsily took calculus notes from the comfort of my bed. Every night was dedicated to hilariously cynical posts on Facebook’s Zoom Memes for Self-Quaranteens and Instagram’s Self-Isolation Bingo. I was not living through history. I was practically sleeping through it, coping with fear and mass-anxiety with a tired sense of denial. And it was only after my mother made that comment that I was reminded of the immense responsibilities that young people have during this global pandemic.

For us, the coronavirus is not a test of what we’ll endure; rather, it’s a test of whether we’ll let others survive — a test that’s meeting with some mixed responses from our generation. 

The Good

E-shopping, social media, digital marketing — the infamous hallmarks of the iGeneration now play a critical role in the sustainability of social distancing. And young people are spearheading this effort, with the trending #stayhome and the #stayhomesavelives tags on social media platforms. Digital culture has changed dramatically since the onset of the coronavirus. My feed is flooded with screenshots group Skype calls, featuring laughing friends and family. People post daily photos of their dogs lying on living room rugs, of the closets they’re about to finally clean and the new recipes they’re about to try with all the spare time. I didn’t realize it at first, but this shift is comforting in a domestic way; I think posts that document self-isolation provide a necessary reminder that all of us are learning to adjust to this New Normal, with its glitches and imperfections. 

Even more helpful is the volume of educational content that is available online, a bulk of which is circulated by young people. Everyone benefits from knowing the facts — from knowing the concentration of alcohol required for a bottle of hand sanitizer to understanding the difference between ‘antibacterial and ‘antiviral’. Students with parents or relatives in the healthcare industry often provide updates about the impending situation. One of my friends even posted a tutorial showing the spots we tend to miss when we wash our hands on her Youtube channel. Although we’re physically separated from one another, our digital communities provide a platform for compassion and group learning. It was through Instagram that I signed an online petition encouraging major corporations like Whole Foods to pay laborers for their time off. Informational content is so simple to spread. It’s a matter of a click, a forward, a re-tweet — but it’s my generation’s effort to protect some of society’s most vulnerable. 

The Bad

But for every helpful post that I find on social media, there are two more derisive comments about how only ‘old people are affected by corona’, and how ‘this is a free country’.

Freedom, the cultural hallmark of this democracy, has been warped to accommodate selfish delusions of young people who feel invincible in the face of a global pandemic. A distinct disappointment fills me when I come across videos of lockdown parties, where college students secretly celebrate their ‘extended vacation’ by deliberately ignoring the rules of social distancing. As they cheer on a keg stand, I frown in disapproval. A painfully oblivious beachgoer responds into the camera, “If I get corona, I get corona.” Because it honestly does not matter if he goes ahead and “gets corona” while spring breaking in a jam-packed Florida beach. What does matter is the countless elderly or uninsured people he will put at risk. I wonder if he can see beyond the idyllic Florida sunlight — if his ignorance permits him to notice his city’s crowded hospitals and exhausted healthcare workers paying the consequences of these very parties.

The response from my generation reeks of the same ignorance that permeates conversations about gun control or climate change. From the right to bear arms to the right to congregate, our individual freedoms don’t mean we are not  accountable for the choices we make — and the lives we may take in the process. 

The Ugly

The moment you think it can’t get worse, it somehow does. The line between the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ emerges when ignorance turns to apathy. Some of us refuse to self-isolate because we don’t understand the consequences of our actions. Others simply don’t care — and that’s a far more horrifying mindset to face.

When I first heard about ecofascism, I was convinced it was a joke. But through the ever-present Internet, I was guided into this twisted celebration of the coronavirus, where the horrifying death toll is another step towards an ecological utopia. “Coronavirus is saving the planet”, a netizen proudly claims. Yes, our air-quality will naturally improve with fewer flights and vehicles dominating the highways. But in no way is COVID-19 a step towards a hidden “Greater Good”. Glorifying a pandemic disrespects the thousands who have lost their lives to this virus. It disregards the janitors and sanitary workers who have no choice but to risk their own for a Greater Good that is far more terrifying beyond the face of a screen. As much as I appreciate memes for pulling me through my second week of self-isolation, I can’t help but reel in disgust when I see jokes about ‘BoomerRemover’, which somehow insinuates that the vulnerable elderly deserve to face this harrowing reality alone. 

All of us are living through history. Like every other high school junior, I fantasize about the essay questions found on AP US History exams ten years later. When I finally have that opportunity to reflect on the coronavirus outbreak rather than cope with it on a daily basis, I wonder what I’ll tell my children. I wonder what they’ll tell their own. Regardless of what that day will look like, I don’t want to tell them that my generation watched thousands of immunocompromised individuals buckle beneath the weight of a threatening disease. I don’t want to tell them we shut our eyes and waited for these moments of crisis to pass. Without the right to drive or vote, young people still hold immense power to fight back. And the way we use that power ultimately defines the stories we’ll tell. 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the assistant culture editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Starving

Starving 

the Indian in me spares no expense with words

every sentence decked in red and gold

every phrase clanging like the silver bells

tied around the necks of cows tethered to stakes

the Indian in me is the master of flamboyance

every stanza bursting with metaphors like 

samosas crammed with potatoes and green peas

yet the Indian in me is hollow, and when i search

for meaning beneath rows of red masala packets 

and bundles of empty splendor, i find Nothing. 

the American in me uses not but seizes words 

every phrase in gleaming shackles as though

they were stolen from another

the American in me clenches the metaphor

until it shatters, and grasps the allegory

so hard it loses shape 

the ravenous American in me imprisons all words

and in the end, finds Nothing. 

and so in my entirety, i present the Great Nothing

the product of crumpled wads of paper

of broken poems and meaningless verses

so painfully painless, so perfectly empty 

both the Indian and the American in me 

have been gorging on Nothing for years 

and yet the human in me 

still starves

——

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the assistant culture editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.