Tag Archives: race

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. 


 

Where Do South Asians Stand on BLM?

Silence is the language of courage 

that lost its way home to the heart 

It’s the dialect of the unspoken things

that fester between our bones, it’s the dungeons 

of distraught eyes that have seen enough

to stop watching. 

But my tongue holds gardens that cannot fit 

between my teeth, and my words grow in 

places where injustice cannot. 

And the leaves that sprout from this throat

take the shape of a language that knows no chains, 

a language that refuses to disrespect the body 

that houses it.    

-Kanchan Naik      

There is a difference between shouting “Black Lives Matter” into the void and appreciating this statement for what it truly means. The former, which has been reappropriated in the latest wave of corporate desperation, brings its own layer of superficiality. But to accomplish the latter, there is a process of introspection involved. In order to initiate constructive change in the name of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, we have to analyze our own privilege as Asian and Indian Americans — a kind of scrutiny that goes beyond merely posting the infamous “black square” on Instagram or sending a heart emoji to our black friends. Racism against African Americans does not occur within a vacuum. As immigrants, we often paint systemic racism, the prison pipeline, and police brutality as a ‘black and white issue’. While every minority community is shaped by its unique experience with bigotry and oppression, there is an unspoken race hierarchy in our country — a hierarchy that we benefit from by maintaining our silence. 

The stereotypes surrounding Indian and Asian Americans do more than oversimplify our relationships and cultural practices. Rather, they are weaponized against marginalized and disenfranchised communities, and used as an excuse to vitiate their narratives. We are marketed as the so-called ‘model minority’, lauded by white supremacists for our complacence. Our socioeconomic status is cherrypicked to reinforce the flawed, one-sided American Dream. While the man who forced his knee against George Floyd’s neck was white, he is not the only one to blame for an innocent, unarmed black man’s death. Derek Chauvin was flanked by  Hmong-American Tou Thao, who made little to no effort to stop this egregious violation against human rights. Instead, he fielded complaints from an outraged audience with glacial indifference. The man who called the police against George Floyd was an Arab-American. Whether we like it or not, immigrants play an active role in shaping America’s race relations. To dismantle police brutality, we must address the issue from the inside-out. 

Here are some notable South Asian organizations that made the choice to speak up, and speak out against racism.  

SAALT

Exactly one week and two days ago, a white police officer held his knee down on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Three other police officers stood by, doing nothing to stop Floyd’s murder.

Since that day, people have taken to the streets in protest in over 350 cities in the U.S. demanding to live in a world where the police stop killing Black people with impunity. Instead of elected officials committing to this, we have seen them deploy militarized violence on protestors.

We’ve been heartened by the solidarity that so many in our communities have already expressed, like Rahul Dubey who sheltered at least 70 protesters in his home in DC and Ruhel Islam, a Bangladeshi restaurant owner in Minneapolis, who said “Let my building burn…Justice needs to be served.”

As South Asians, we have a duty to address and fight anti-Blackness on both systemic and interpersonal levels. If we don’t, we are complicit in the deaths of Black Americans.

We pulled together the following resources from powerful and vital organizations to help you find ways to stand up for Black lives right now and always. As we mobilize during this flashpoint, we must also commit to the long-term work.

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APIA Vote

In response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Executive Director Christine Chen of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) issues the following statement: 

“We, and the broader Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community, must stand in proactive solidarity with black men, women, and children who continue to be oppressed and die by the forces and policies of systemic racism and discrimination. The recent anti-Asian attacks across the country spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AANHPI community to come together and fight for, and along with our brothers and sisters at this critical moment in history. We can no longer make any more excuses to stay silent against the injustices witnessed by the world in the last week.”

“I urge our community to ally themselves with the Black community and fight injustice. This includes making sure all of us are counted and our voices heard through the U.S. Census count. This means showing up to the polls and demanding change at the local, state, and national levels of government. Voting is a key way to institute reform and it is up to us to show up at not only presidential elections but also elections for your state representatives, district attorneys, judges, local board positions and governors.” 

“APIAVote will continue to educate our communities, fight for fair access to the polls, and get-out-the-vote. In order to continue our mission for inclusion and change, we must demand justice for the Black community and prove with our actions and our vote that black lives matter.”

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) is a national nonpartisan organization that works with partners to mobilize Asian American Pacific Islanders in electoral and civic participation. APIAVote envisions a world that is inclusive, fair, and collaborative, and where Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are self-determined, empowered, and engaged. See our website for more information at http://www.apiavote.org/ 

South Asians for America condemns the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other instances of abuse, societal inequities, and systemic racism across the United States We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the African American community in a united call for justice. 

We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. South Asian-owned businesses and communities have also been affected by protests including the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. As Bangladeshi-born owner Ruhel Islam said to his daughter after his restaurant was destroyed, “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover…let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” According to the New York Times, “As wounds were bandaged and hands were held in the front room, [Ruhel Islam] was in the kitchen, preparing daal, basmati rice and naan” for the protesters. This spirit embodies the kindness and empathy of our community.

South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans. Our communities are intertwined and all deserve the same freedom. We must stand together, we must unite, and we must collectively combat the systemic injustices faced by our African American brothers and sisters.

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South Asians for America

South Asians for America condemns the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other instances of abuse, societal inequities, and systemic racism across the United States We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the African American community in a united call for justice. 

We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. South Asian-owned businesses and communities have also been affected by protests including the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. As Bangladeshi-born owner Ruhel Islam said to his daughter after his restaurant was destroyed, “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover…let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” According to the New York Times, “As wounds were bandaged and hands were held in the front room, [Ruhel Islam] was in the kitchen, preparing daal, basmati rice and naan” for the protesters. This spirit embodies the kindness and empathy of our community.

South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans. Our communities are intertwined and all deserve the same freedom. We must stand together, we must unite, and we must collectively combat the systemic injustices faced by our African American brothers and sisters.

We encourage you to fill out the census, vote in your local elections this summer, and visit our website to learn about our endorsed candidates

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World Hindu Council of America

 World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), the oldest, and one of the most prominent Hindu organization in America has launched a grassroots initiative- Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA). HinduPACT USA aims to bring Hindu ethos and dharmic values of unity in diversity, plurality, compassion and, mutual respect amongst religions to policy and advocacy for human rights, environmental protection, gender equality, and, interfaith dialog. HinduPACT USA will partner with community organizations, government officials, civil rights organizations and other organizations who share our values to achieve our vision. We will work with civil society organizations, mandirs, thought leaders and others to become a premier policy research & advocacy organization. HinduPACT will identify and influence issues of interest to Hindus at all levels, train Hindus for grassroots advocacy and create advocacy internship opportunities for Hindu youth. HinduLounge, VHPA’s weekly Facebook Live program on contemporary Hindu issues in America is the first HinduPACT USA project. Political candidates from across the country, regardless of their political affiliation, are being approached to ascertain if their positions are consistent with dharmic and American values. HinduPACT USA will not take any partisan political stand and will not endorse any candidate for political office. Over the course of next year, HinduPACT USA will formulate Hindu view on contemporary American issues such as school prayer, race relations, gun control, environmental awareness, abortion, gender equality, legalization of marijuana, immigration, sanctuary cities / states, without taking a partisan political stand on the issues. We welcome Hindus across the US to join us in this important initiative.

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VPHA

Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA), an initiative of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), has issued the following statement on the killing of George Floyd. Commenting on the killing on police killing of George Floyd, Ajay Shah, Convener of HinduPACT USA and Executive Vice President of VHPA said:

We condemn the brutal killing of George Floyd. We stand for racial justice, equality, and civil rights. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” embodied in our Declaration of Independence should be our guiding spirit. Hindu ethos, as expressed by a Hindu poet eloquently says, “A true Vaishnava (Hindu) is the one who feels the pain of others.” Currently, as people of faith we feel the pain of injustice and the killing of George Floyd. We call for a national dialog on race relations. We fully endorse the right to peacefully protest injustice. As Rev. Martin Luther King said, “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” However, we are unambiguously against riots and looting, and the attacks on those entrusted to protect us. Utsav Chakrabarti, Executive Director of HinduPACT USA and Director of Advocacy and Awareness for VHPA said:

The murder of George Floyd is a reminder that we must reinvigorate our pursuit for equity in our society. But those groups that are using this tragedy and the cover of the protests for looting businesses and resorting to violence, are doing a great injustice to the cause of civil rights. It is shocking to see Pakistani-American anarchist Urooj Rahman along with Colinford Mattis, pass along fire bombs to some protestors in an attempt to kill law enforcement officers and peaceful protestors in New York City. There is nothing more sinister than trying to use injustice towards Black lives, as a tool to further one’s geopolitical agenda. Today, the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in front of the Embassy of India was vandalized by some of these elements, masquerading as protesters. I urge Hindu Americans who form a big section of the ‘South Asian community’ to be cognizant of such mala fide efforts, and promote peace and healing in the communities they live in. HinduLounge, HinduPACT USA’s weekly Facebook Live program on Hindu American issues extensively covered the killing and the aftermath. The local VHPA chapters are working with the interfaith and community groups to work towards justice and equality. The Cincinnati, OH chapter of VHPA has signed the letter seeking justice by EquaSion and the Interfaith Community on the killing of George Floyd.

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Hindu American Foundation

US police must acknowledge and eliminate systemic racism, excessive use of force in their ranks

Washington, DC (June 1, 2020) — The Hindu American Foundation stands in solidarity with peaceful protestors across the nation condemning the horrific killing of George Floyd and calling out systemic racism and excessive violence against African Americans by our nation’s police.

HAF calls upon police departments across the country to:

  • Meaningfully address the twin problems of systemic racism and excessive, disproportionate use of force by officers in their ranks, working with local communities to end both;
  • Hold accountable officers with misconduct and excessive force complaints;
  • End the practice of militarized policing of peaceful protests;
  • Cease arresting and targeting journalists covering demonstrations.

We offer our sympathy and support to those families and communities struck by police violence.

We strongly condemn the actions of those, regardless of political ideology, using the cover of peaceful protests to cause destruction and further violence.

And we believe ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truth) are the most powerful tools for bringing about much needed change.

HAF is committed to doing its part and using our platform to bring about positive change. We’ve therefore joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) and other leading civil rights organizations to ask Congress for ‘swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country.’

And we will also be joining a taskforce organized by LCCHR Congress to ensure that any congressional action taken is aligned with our federal priorities on policing.

HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla issued the following statement on how we can move forward:

“As Americans, we must wrestle with two dissonant truths: that the founders of the United States created a nation philosophically promising freedom and equality for all people, and that this nation was built on the backs of enslaved Africans and the spilled blood of Native Americans. Throughout our history, other immigrant communities and people of color have also faced racism and xenophobia, but these two communities have born the brunt of a racism that is institutional and systemic.

The collective negative karma of our nation’s past and centuries of subjugation has yet to be resolved.

This is where Hinduism’s fundamental teaching — that we are all embodied souls — if assimilated by more and more people, promises transformation of our implicit biases and the way we treat one another. Recognition of our shared divinity renders color, caste, gender, sexual expression, ability, or creed irrelevant, and compels us to treat one another with dignity and mutual respect.

Systems and institutions need to be fixed. However, in fixing them they will only be as great as our mindset.”

Read this on the HAF website

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Brooklyn Raga Massive

We stand in solidarity with the Black community against a history of violence, oppression and discrimination. We stand together with those who peacefully protest to express their pain and anger over the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others.

The foundations that have been built by African Americans, especially in the fields of music, art, literature, pop culture, education, spirituality and social change have been cornerstrones of American society and the world at large. We recognize these invaluable contributions and the immediate need for fundamental change to our society. 

#TheShowMustBePaused is in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality from the boardroom to the boulevard. Tuesday, June 2nd is meant to intentionally disrupt the work week. It is a day to take beat for a honest, reflective, and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.


Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Director of Media Outreach for Break the Outbreak, the Editor-in-chief of The Roar, and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

Featured Illus­tra­tion by @sapnasscribbles

On Racial Tensions, From an African American Hindu

I grew up in the South during the 1950s and 60s. Those were troublesome times for the African American community. We were identified as Negroes and as an ethnic minority, it was very difficult to understand what our place in the world was. Honestly, there was an element of shame associated with being black.

During the late sixties, I became involved in the “Hippy culture” which exposed me to the concept of “Universal love.” I was not familiar with this Vedic concept of universal love, which is foundational to the true Hindu/Vedic culture. 

My first exposure to this culture was through my association in 1971, with Transcendental Meditation introduced by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I was a performing artist in Atlanta and the surrounding areas and heavily involved with the culture of “Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll.”

Eventually around 1972, I came in contact with disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder Acharya of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. They introduced me to the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most well-known of all Vedic texts. This holy book is very dear and sacred to all Hindus and Westerners who have adopted these teachings and practices.

Central to the Hindu/Vedic philosophy is the concept that we are not these material bodies but that we are eternal spiritual beings, temporarily inhabiting these material bodies. So whether we identify as an African American, Hindu American, Asian American, White American, or an American of color, we are all spiritual beings equal in the eyes of the Supreme Lord. 

During the present time of racial tensions in America, I along with other Hindu/Vedic leaders are considering what we can do to impact and help change this painful and distressful situation.

One thing that I have learned during my several efforts to share Hindu/Vedic principles in the primarily African American community, is that these communities are not looking for a handout. They are desperately in need of help in building up their communities, especially in the areas of affordable housing not just gentrification. Jobs and other meaningful social activities for their youth and young adults are also a major concern along with educational help.

Some years ago, I partnered with a young African American community activist who was working in my hometown of East Point Georgia and during that time some local people who knew about my association with the Hindu community said to me, “Mr. Tillman, could you ask your Hindu friends to teach us how to do business like they are doing.” One reason for this question is that many of the small businesses in their communities are owned by Hindu community members.

I serve as the president of the Vedic Friends Association, an organization focused on preserving and presenting the various aspects of the Hindu/Vedic culture, in a manner suitable for the present environment which is plagued by such issues as racism. This is the first time to my knowledge that they have elected an African American as the president of a major Hindu based organization. I am honored to serve in this capacity and the support and encouragement have been tremendous. 

I am confident that with the vast resources of our Hindu/Vedic community, we can have a positive and powerful impact on developing our communities of color. 

Benny J Tillman (Balabhadra Bhattacarya Dasa) is the President Vedic Friends Association, a Leader in the Hindu Community, and a disciple of Rapanuga Dasa.

“Being Different Is Like Sushi and Fried Chicken”: GUAA

I’m Asian American. My dad was born in the British Territory of Hong Kong and my mom is Chinese-American. My mom was born in the Deep South, in Mississippi, and not many Asians lived there. My Po Po is from Hong Kong and my Gong Gong came from Canton, China, so my mom knows how to speak a little bit of Cantonese. I was born in California. My mom says we are Chinese but we also may be related to Genghis Khan!

When I was in preschool one time I got bullied because of the way I look. I didn’t know why. But now I understand. Diversity is like genes from your mom and dad. Genes control how you look like, your personality and the color of your skin. So of course, nobody looks the same. Even though our ancestors come from different countries, we are still American. At my school, in second grade, there’s this presentation called, “Global Us. The Global Us is a play about your culture and your identity. Students perform traditional dances and songs. Afterwards there is a potluck. Did you know that food can bring people together? Countries all have different types of food, and Americans eat almost everything. My friend Lucia loves sushi more than me even though she is not Asian! I did not grow up in the Deep South but I love southern fried chicken, catfish, and hushpuppies! Yummy. Italian pasta is like Chinese chow mein. Argentinian empanadas are like Dim Sum. French baguettes are like American sourdough bread!

The most important thing about being Asian American is that we are still American citizens even though our ancestors came from different countries. A lot of times people cannot tell where we are from because of the way we look. They may say something racist like “go back to your country.” I get very confused because this is my home. You may have heard that the Coronavirus has been spreading around the world. My best friend, who is white, said to me that some white people are scared of Asian people because the Coronavirus can be contagious. But she knows I don’t have the Coronavirus even if I’m Asian American.

But do you know what? A virus doesn’t discriminate against people who look different from other people. In a way, a virus can be a role model, because they don’t care whether people are Asian or not, they just infect anybody with lungs. Nobody should be bullied for the way they look. We all look different. Differences are not bad. Differences are special. We should be kind and include everyone. We can all get along. Everybody deserves to be treated the same. Finding things in common like soccer, ice cream, and Minecraft can build a bridge to make friends like sushi and fried chicken. Everyone in America should be treated fairly because we’re all humans. We all should really get involved to create a better community around the world.

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Katelyn Ho is a 2nd grader, whose essay “Being Different Is Like Sushi and Fried Chicken” won the Best In Class Award at the ‘Growing Up Asian In America’ contest.

Lina Lee is a 2nd grader, whose artwork “My Beat To Our Rhythm” won the Best In Class Award at the ‘Growing Up Asian In America’ contest.

Journey from Coerced Sterilization to Misinformation

The dialogue around health and healthcare systems has increased at similar rates to that of the pandemic. Fingers are pointed at the lack of ventilators, hospital beds, and testing kits. 

While it is easy to pick at the chipped paint, the flawed structural foundation becomes glaringly obvious when there is less paint to chip. Much like the horror one might feel seeing a panel of their home infested with termites, America’s structural integrity is threatened by its hegemonic narrative – its own version of termites. Exploration of government policies, in the past and present, is a necessary context for the receptiveness of diverse communities to information from government sources. 

A History of Racialized Care Breeds Distrust

Racism was not a singular one-dimensional vector but a pandemic, afflicting…communities at every level, regardless of what rung they occupied.- Ta-Nehisi Coates

History of racialized care has had an adverse effect on communities of color. Racialized care takes into account your race and subsequently, the healthcare you receive. African American, Latinx, Native American, and AAPI populations are disproportionately subjected to worse healthcare due to income, language barriers, lack of research, and implicit bias from healthcare professionals.

But above all, healthcare in the US is informed and shaped by an oppressive history. Disenfranchised communities have been given reason to be wary of a healthcare system that has been used as a conduit for injustice.

Virginia Hedrick, Executive Director of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health and panelist at Ethnic Media Services April 17th briefing on the impact of Coronavirus on diverse communities, noted the distrust of the healthcare system by Native Americans and their unwillingness to believe in the protocols of the pandemic. And why wouldn’t they be skeptical, considering the “sterilization of Native [American] women existed up until 40 years ago”, Hedrick added.

So what were marginalized populations encountering up until 40 years ago? And perhaps even as recently as 10 years ago?

In the 1960s, President Lyndon B Johnson led the Great Society Project in an effort to eliminate poverty by increasing access to welfare and social services. The backlash came from physicians, white men, who took it upon themselves to lower the rates of people on welfare. No short of a God complex, they believed that by sterilizing women of color, they were helping society – limiting birth rates in low-income, minority families. 

Between the 1960s and 1970s, 25% of Native American Women were sterilized by the Indian Health Service; various government programs formed the Indian Health Service. IHS had found that the average Native American woman had 3.79 children to the white woman’s 1.79 children; within 10 years that number declined to 1.99 for the Native American woman. This was attributed to education and higher income but unwanted sterilization was erased from the historical narrative. In actuality, the decrease in births had to do with the use of coerced sterilization as a procedure to help a medical ailment even if it was unrelated or nonconsensual.

A map from a 1929 Swedish royal commission report.

Latin and African women were targeted starting in 1909 when states started adopting eugenics programs. 32 states rallied together to advance eugenics during which 60,000 people were sterilized. In the documentary, “No Mas Bebes”, a Mexican American woman speaks to the trauma of being sterilized while giving birth to her children. This story isn’t dissimilar to the story of sisters, Minnie Relf and Mary Alice, two mentally disabled African American women, whose mother tried to get them birth control shots and, unbeknownst to her, they were surgically sterilized. Relf vs. Weinberger, a landmark case, revealed that 150,000 poor women were coerced into sterilization under the threat of their welfare being taken away from them. 

Mental institutions and prisons became breeding grounds for such programs and even a law was passed allowing anyone committed to state institutions to be sterilized. Until as recently as 2010, there were cases of inhumane treatment in California prisons and it is reported that 150 Latina inmates had been inflicted with forced infertility

Eugenics was just the start of questionable activity by the US government. It progressed beyond sterilization when marginalized populations became lab rats for large-scale experiments. There are 40 documented studies done on incarcerated peoples and we have yet to know the number of undocumented studies; most studies hurt the recipients and yielded no results.

The US Public Health Service worked on a study with Tuskegee University to observe the natural history of untreated Syphilis for 6 months. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, lasting 40 years during which the patients were purposefully misinformed, misdiagnosed, untreated, and eventually, forgotten. 600 impoverished African American men, 399 with Syphilis and 201 without, joined with the promise of free healthcare; healthcare which was inaccessible to the black diaspora due to their race. Without informed consent, those with Syphilis were not told of their condition. Instead, they were led to believe they were being treated for “bad blood”. To make a bad situation worse, the free treatment the patients were receiving was no treatment at all. By 1947, penicillin was discovered as a cure but was not given to these patients for another 25 years. Not a single one of the patients consented to the experiment and many died without ever knowing their actual cause of death or that their death was preventable.

Racialized disparities in health factors in the omission of and lack of care given to minorities. Asian Americans were less likely to be asked about their lifestyle, mental health, and doctors did not understand their background and values. The same study, additionally mentioned that Asian Americans felt their doctors did not listen, spend as much time, or involve them in decisions about their care. Significantly, not much is documented about Asian American health until the 2000s. 

Lack of Access Presently

Genoveva Islas, Founder of Cultiva La Salud and panelist for EMS, is confronting the plight faced by the farmworkers in Fresno. Fresno has 1% of the farmland, provides 25% of the food we’re eating in California, yet the farmworkers don’t have personal protective equipment, health insurance, savings, or retirement funds. A majority of these farmworkers are left out of the CARES Act and their housing and food security are in question. “We need a just and fair immigration system”, Islas advocates, putting the spotlight not on the lack of healthcare, but on our immigration policies that leave immigrants and undocumented people at a disadvantage. She wants to ensure that the pandemic is not a time when those who are already being exploited are driven to the fringes of society without access to basic human rights. 

Distrust is the Seedling and Misinformation is the Byproduct

COVID19 has brought with it an onslaught of news, statistics, and warnings, both fake and real. Minority groups are struggling with effectively parsing and using this information given their inconsistent histories with the US government and healthcare systems. 

Virginia Hedrick reminds us that in Native American populations, the myth is that the Coronavirus “was here in December and that now, there is herd immunity.” Many within Native communities believe that homeopathic remedies have the ability to heal and protect someone from COVID19. 

Another reporter at the EMS video briefing expressed that African American populations are taking social distancing and Coronavirus information lightly. 

One only has to look as far as their WhatsApp groups to find confusing and misleading information and anti-Asian propaganda.

A doctor on the frontline at the University of California, San Francisco, and EMS panelist, Dr. Tung Nguyen, acts a buffer to inaccurate information:

People within your network may be struggling, sifting through information and misinformation (real and fake news) about COVID19. The onus is on our communities to understand that American history is rife with instances of disinformation and misinformation. Discerning what information is relevant requires collective work.

And right now, more than ever, action must be taken against an infodemic that is percolating through the pandemic. 

Srishti Prabha is the current 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.


Featured image is a poster for a 1971 rally against forced sterilization in San Francisco, CA designed by Rachael Romero. (Library of Congress)

Belief in a Myth Can Cost Us a Decade

I keep trying to put ten years into perspective. Ten years ago, my prevailing concern was getting into college. Ten years later, my prevailing concern is the Coronavirus pandemic. It is inevitable that there will be a next ‘thing’ we must focus our energy on but we shouldn’t forget that Census 2020 is currently underway. The census comes once a decade and will measurably affect our lives for the foreseeable future. 

It is imperative, then, that Census 2020 be accurate. 

The census is a series of questions from which….arise more questions? Disclosing race, income, citizenship status conflicts with our sensibility to keep information private. However, if that information is to benefit the community around me, I would like for it to be done in a thorough way. Racially identifying Indian, I generally get frustrated with the box that demarks all Asians as the same. I know I’m not the only one. Then I think about my friends who are mixed race and the complications they face.

But like a true millennial, I am quick to jump to conclusions. So I recruited my mixed race friends, Ajay Srinivas and Nisha Kumar, to help me explore the myths and realities of Census 2020. 

Nisha predicted using a biracial/mixed race option and Ajay said he would identify as South Asian and West Indian. 

A quick FAQ search on census site informed us that: 

Answers to this question should be based on how you identify. Each person can decide how to answer. You can mark more than one race for each person. Once you check a category, you’ll also be asked to write in the person’s origin.

  • White: The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.
  • Black or African American: The category “Black or African American” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Examples of these groups include, but are not limited to, African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somali. The category also includes groups such as Ghanaian, South African, Barbadian, Kenyan, Liberian, and Bahamian.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: The category “American Indian or Alaska Native” includes all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. It includes people who identify as “American Indian” or “Alaska Native” and includes groups such as Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan, Aztec, Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Traditional Government, and Nome Eskimo Community. Census respondents should report the person’s American Indian or Alaska Native tribe or tribes in the space provided.
  • Asian: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Other Asian (including Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong)
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Other Pacific Islander (including Tongan, Fijian, and Marshallese)
  • Some Other Race: The option “Some other race” includes all responses that don’t fit within the categories above.

Nisha would be able to use the multiple check marks to identify her half-Indian and half-White origins, but Ajay was a little more confused. “Will the Census account for my Trini population?…Will my diaspora benefit from the write-in option considering West Indian is marked as Black/African American and I’m of Indian descent?” 

Ajay highlighted that there are many Indian diaspora populations in countries outside the Asian marker. Those populations benefit from their voice being represented and are left at a disadvantage when lumped with South Asians or Blacks/African Americans. 

These were good questions I didn’t have answers to. This will be the first year that we have a write-in option. And perhaps, until we use the write-in option, we may not know of its impact.

What we do know is that there is a possible outcome the census can have. I ask Nisha and Ajay about the potential influence and receive well informed responses. Ajay and Nisha both agree that it will arbitrate “federal funding and resource allocation”. 

I cross-check their information with that provided by the U.S. Census Bureau:

Information on race is required for many Federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use the data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data is used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.

Nisha, Ajay, and I are in consensus on why it is crucial that we fill out the census. However, things aren’t so simple, right? 

PRIVACY. FEAR. DATA USE. Do we have something to be apprehensive about with the census?

Nisha decidedly responds, “I am not worried for myself but I understand the fear of filling out the census if you’re undocumented. How can I ensure the information won’t be used against them? We’ve seen it happen with DACA.”

Ajay corroborates, “There is a fear that census data will be used maliciously by the Trump administration against POC, DACA, minorities, immigrants, etc.”

I resonate with their anxiety for the people around them but sometimes research is a panacea. I find that:

The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. In fact, every employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life.

The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep your information confidential. This law protects your answers to the 2020 Census. Under Title 13, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. The law ensures that your private data is protected and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Violating Title 13 is a federal crime, punishable by prison time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous: the Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home.

Make it a part of your daily tasks – drink chai, eat cereal, take the census, shower, laundry, lunch, etc. 

And if that isn’t enough of an encouragement, taking the census is a legal obligation and you can be fined $5,000 for not completing it and up to $10,000 for falsifying information.

The census information should be mailed to you between March 12- March 20 and you have until April 1st to complete the census by mail, on the phone, or online

It is our social responsibility to urge everyone to take the 2020 Census. You are equipped with the knowledge to ease the worry that others might have. Don’t forget – we are what we report. 

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

Thank You, Elmer!

A decade and a half ago, I made the brave move to America. Although I spoke English and was well-versed with American culture, nonetheless, I found myself in the midst of a transcultural identity crisis. As Jhumpa Lahiri aptly put it, “I felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new.”

After much floundering, I slowly came to realize that I needn’t have an identity crisis at all. Instead, I could choose to mindfully and respectfully tread between “the old” and “the new”, or as Lahiri calls it, “either side of the hyphen” to enjoy a rich transcultural identity. As a result, I decided to sport my Indian identity with flourish and simultaneously learned and embraced all that I could about this vastly different country I had decided to call home. This mindset reduced transition anxiety and became a general outlook for me.

Fifteen years later, life seems to have come full circle. Today, as a mom of two high-energy second-generation Indian American boys, I find myself seeking creative ways to make my children’s transcultural identity as fluid and seamless as possible. Like other first-generation immigrant parents, I too would like my preschooler and second grader to embrace cultures, both of their origin and birth, welcome diversity, be tolerant, and self-accept.

Here’s where my chance discovery of Elmer by David McKee comes in. Every time I read Elmer’s endearing story to my boys, I find it a charming exploration of identity, diversity and acceptance. Topics that are close to my heart. Here’s a summary of the story to offer some context: 

Elmer is a famous elephant. He’s not grey like others, but a patchwork of bright colors. He’s lively, cracks jokes, and is well-loved. But he’s weary of being different and wants to be like the rest in his herd. Early one morning, he sneaks out of the jungle to cover himself with the grey colored juice of a berry bush. Once covered in grey, he isn’t Elmer anymore, but just another elephant. He enjoys the anonymity and joins the herd. Soon a rain cloud bursts, and Elmer’s grey color washes off. His friends laugh and understand his conundrum of wanting to fit in. They decide to celebrate his uniqueness by instituting an annual ‘Elmer’s Day Parade’. On that day, all the elephants transform themselves into colorful patchwork elephants, and Elmer colors himself grey.   

This straightforward and poignant story has made me think about some ways in which I could extend the “Elmer conversation” with my boys and start taking baby steps to help them navigate their transcultural identity. Here are some learnings from Elmer and how I translate Elmer’s narrative into action:   

Colors are meaningful

Elmer’s heartwarming experience made me realize the merit in allowing children to see differences in color and be accepting of their own appearance.

It’s no secret that children notice color. They tend to be curious and ask inadvertently provocative questions like why their friend’s hair or skin color is lighter or darker than theirs. Providing thoughtful answers could help them understand and respect diversity and self-accept. A blanket response on the lines of “we’re all the same” is wrong on so many levels. It’s inaccurate, confusing, could impede curiosity and make kids (and later, as adults), dismissive of diversity and racial differences.  

Understanding roots and shoots

It’s human to want to belong, to want a sense of community, and be part of a social structure. Maybe that’s why Elmer wanted so badly to fit in with the rest in his herd. Our children are no different. For them to comfortably tread on “either side of the hyphen” and have that rich transcultural identity, it’s important for them to understand their roots and where they grow their shoots.

Putting up a map of the world, I found is an effective way to offer children a global cultural perspective and a sense of belonging. For one, it piques their interest about continents, countries, and the cultural plethora thriving across the globe. Perhaps because a map can trigger animated discussions like where they are situated in the world vis-à-vis grandparents and extended family, it’s an easy way to make questions of identity and belonging tangible for children.

Empathy is key

Elmer’s journey offers a gentle, yet firm reminder on the point around empathy and can spark numerous conversations from this perspective. It’s heartening to see the herd’s true expression of empathy toward the patchwork elephant by instituting an annual parade to celebrate Elmer’s uniqueness.  

My personal journey taught me that respect and empathy for intra and inter-group diversity is critical in order to have a rich transcultural identity. I found that interactions with ‘the others’ through an empathetic lens makes the following possible:

  • The temptation to jump at prejudiced, knee-jerk reactions is curbed.
  • Rationality sets in to arrive at thought-through conclusions.
  • Relationships are based on mutual tolerance, acceptance, and respect.

As adults, we can consciously extend the empathy message from Elmer’s experience to our children in everyday scenarios. For instance, I miss no opportunity in reminding my kids to put themselves in another individual or group’s shoes. At the playground, at school, or while reading a book, it’s always interesting to ask questions like “why do you think (s)he’s sad or happy?”, thereby attuning their little minds beyond themselves to the needs of others.  

To conclude

Elmer, the patchwork elephant’s story most delightfully weaves complex themes of identity, diversity and tolerance. Its narrative persuasively demonstrates that it’s okay to be different, and that diversity should be seen, embraced and celebrated.

Admittedly as of now, I’m not fully certain how Elmer can shape my children’s transcultural identity roadmap. But I know it’s a great start. I foresee revisiting the goofy patchwork elephant’s story often and our elementary “Elmer conversations” getting more nuanced as life’s situations evolve with passing time. For that, I sincerely thank Elmer!     

Nidhi Kirpal’s pre-kids life was dedicated to the complex field of Communication Sciences. After choosing to be a fulltime mother, reading and playing with her high energy boys has been a fascinating journey. Children’s literature (both western and Indian) has been an inspiring discovery for her, where she constantly sees the world through little eyes, applying simple learnings to deepen life’s meaning for herself and her family.

Black and White Are Not Colors

The second-generation Bengali woman known as Mother in Devi S. Laskar’s emotionally raw debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues, is forty-three years, six months, twenty-five days old when an unexpected, swift, and tragic chain of events transpires. Upon returning home from dropping her three young daughters at school, agents storm her house, she refuses to remain silent, then she finds herself lying on her driveway in an Atlanta suburb, bleeding from gunshot wounds. On the concrete, Mother zigzags through a montage of memories, leaping between present and past, recalling a lifetime of slights, taunts, comments, and snubs by society, wondering what in her life led her to this point. Now police, neighbors, and news crews work around her as if she weren’t there, solidifying the invisibility Mother has felt all her life. 

A woman of color, a wife, and a mom, Mother also is a former crime reporter, demoted to part-time obituary writer, and a novelist-in-waiting, her dreams never quite holding strong enough against those ubiquitous slights and snubs. Her husband, known as her Hero, the Man of the Hour, or Daddy—an American blonde with blue eyes—loves her but travels internationally for work and is rarely home long enough to notice her extreme isolation. Only Greta, the family’s late dog, offers Mother unconditional love and protects her.

To protect her children, Mother teaches them “the quiet game,” one in which one’s thoughts and feelings are kept to oneself. Mother is the master of the game, and she teaches her daughters to keep their heads down and stay completely still and silent in the face of discrimination, to take the abuse, to not cause trouble. Concurrently, the people in her neighborhood are seen and heard from a distance, her colleagues are mostly passersby, and only Mr. Patel, a shopkeeper, speaks to her without criticizing, asking why she is there, or suggesting she go back to where she came from. Ironically, like the author, Mother was born and raised in North Carolina. 

“Atlas” is a powerful story of the unacceptable, unforgivable treatment persons of color—especially women—are forced to endure even now in the twenty-first century. Vivid and honest in her pain during which she sees the blue sky and as voices laugh and joke about her, she is every woman in her desire to have a good life and one in which she is an equal; however, the equality to which she aspires carries a weightier load because her skin color—one so disparate from the neighborhood’s whiteness—prevents fulfillment of that simple, common wish. 

Despite not unfolding the offending incident linearly or in detail, it is disturbing, nonetheless. Laskar’s poetic precision gives us enough to be shocked, angered, left with much to consider and contemplate. Her writing’s beautiful lyricism juxtaposes the compactness of language with the prevailing ugliness of the world in which Mother and we live. The book, based on an incident that occurred at Laskar’s own home, never discusses racism, but the incidents in Mother’s short life offer abundant fuel for discussions that society must undertake. The Atlas of Reds and Blues is simply a must-read.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in North and South Carolina where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects.


THE ATLAS OF REDS AND BLUES by Devi S. Laskar. Counterpoint Press. 269 Pages.

 

Which Race and Ethnic Card to Play: Census Identities Still Confound

Everyone in the United States plays a race or ethnic card some time, or at least everyone responding to the census. Despite the scientific view that race is an artificial social construct, unmoored from biological reality, is there a box that best describes you? Whether you plan to respond to the census online, in writing or by telephone, one question you’ll have to answer will be how you self-identify.

FAQ:​ What are the race and ethnic categories on the census form?

A:​ Your racial choices are: (1) White; (2) Black or African American; (3) American Indian or Alaskan Native; (4) Asian – with numerous boxes as subsets; and (5) Some other race. The questionnaire also asks, separately, if the respondent is “of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” but instructs that, “for this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”

FAQ:​ What if I’m not white or black? I’m Egyptian and my neighbor is from Iran. What are our options and who determines the categories?

A:​ You and your neighbor fall into what is called the MENA classification: Middle Eastern and North African. There was a proposal to add MENA to the 2020 form, but the Office of Management and Budget, which makes the assigned identity group determinations about the census, decided to keep the same basic categories that were on the 2010 census form.

FAQ:​ So, if I’m MENA, what box best describes me?
A:​ That’s a personal choice. Many MENA residents, and others, end up checking “Some other race,” the

third-largest race category after white and black or African American.

FAQ​: But I thought Hispanics and Latinos were now the second-largest racial group in the United States according to their population. So how do you get “Some other race” as the third-largest group?

A:​ As far as the census is concerned, Hispanics and Latinos are ethnic classifications not racial classifications. Some will check the “White” box and some will check the “Black” box or write in Afro Latino, for example, as an addition. Many will check the “Some other race” box. MENA respondents also frequently check the “Some other race” box as well. They don’t see themselves as black or white, and in most cases, they are not of Hispanic or Latino origin.

FAQ:​ Have census categories changed over time?

A:​ Yes. Mulatto, octoroon or quadroon once were options on the census form to describe African Americans of mixed heritage. One estimate calculates that 500,000 of these individuals checked the “White” box on the 1920 form. In later years, public demand and pressure resulted in the OMB removing “Negro” as an option for American-born residents of African descent. The term still appeared on the 2010 decennial census, but on the 2020 form the choices are “Black” or “African American.”

FAQ:​ What if I was born here, but my parents are from Africa?

A: ​There is a lot of subjectivity involved in making these choices. For some, black has come to mean anyone who is a descendant of the African diaspora, regardless of where they were born or live. One Somali man, a longtime resident and U.S. citizen, married an American woman who identified as black. When asked how he describes his U.S.-born children, he said, “Well, now that I think about it, I guess they are African American.”

FAQ:​ What if I am of mixed heritage? My parents are African American, but I know some of their ancestors were from Europe. They were Irish, for example, Dutch or German. Other ancestors, we think, were Native American.

A:​ The questionnaire is set up so that you can “Mark one or more boxes AND print origins.” We know America has had a ​complicated history​ (​https://tinyurl.com/EMS-FAQ​), as more people are discovering through genomic testing. One adult census respondent recalls discouraging his mother, who identifies as black, from checking every major race category box on the form.

FAQ:​ Why would it have mattered if she had? What difference does the box I check make or any information I may add?

A:​ For one, you have a better chance of “owning” who you are. Therefore, you are less likely to be misrepresented by a census employee who, without that information, would make a determination about your identity. So, in that sense, checking every box would be a more accurate contribution to understanding our country’s history.

Individual census data is sealed for 72 years, but in the future your descendants or distant relatives will be able to look you up by name on the census form you respond to this year. In fact, the census is among the primary tools genealogists and researchers use to trace family histories.

You might also reflect on that first constitutionally mandated census in 1790. To achieve a political compromise, those held in bondage were counted only as three-fifths of a person, and their names were not recorded on the census. Even as late as 1860, the last census before the Civil War, some owners reported the age and sex of their captives, but not their names.

FAQ:​ But how does filling out the census or not affect my immediate financial or economic condition?

A:​ For practical purposes, as a measure of population, census data is used to determine how the federal and state governments allocate funds and resources, in addition to determining the number of seats states get in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Data can be a double-edged sword. Some data are critical to attempts to address structural disparities among America’s peoples, but data also can used as a guide to steer resources away from those deemed political adversaries. How and why data are used is an important conversation, but it’s a different conversation from whether it is in your interest to respond to the census.

However, unless you are clear about who you are by identity, you may be grouped with a different race than your preference. That was why the individual discouraged his mother from checking every box. He wanted to make sure that if there were resources linked to her identity, those resources would be allocated to and benefit the community with which she primarily identified.

Capturing the Face of Multi-Ethnic America

1. Can I identify my race in the census?

Yes.

Census 2020 collects data on race and ethnicity to capture the face of multi-ethnic America. 

The Asian race category which was added to the census in 2000, offers an option to mark national origin  as ‘Asian Indian’

Asian refers to people originating from the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. An ‘other Asian’ option is available for subgroups from the Asian diaspora such as Pakistan and Cambodia.

The term ‘race’ was first introduced in the 1890  census which distinguished between East Asian subgroups  – Chinese, Japanese and Indian (Asian) while the 1930 census actually had a color category  for Hindus.

The race question and heritage is based upon self-identification which means you can choose more than one option to describe your racial identity. 


2. Will I become a target for ethnic discrimination if I disclose my national origin as Asian Indian?

No.

Some Asian Americans fear that marking their race or national origin  on the census will lead to racial profiling and make them targets of ethnic discrimination.

But the census format only reflects how classifications of race and ethnicity have changed in society since the first census in1790.

Data collected on race informs federal policy decisions on civil rights, educational opportunities, promoting equal opportunities ,and assessing environmental risks and racial disparities in health care access, housing, income and poverty.

 

3. Is the census available in any Indian languages?

No. 

Paper census forms will only be available in English and Spanish and people can respond to census questions online or over the phone in 12 other languages.

However the Census Bureau will provide guides, glossaries, and a language identification card for ‘limited English speaking households’ for a total of 59 languages that include Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Nepali, Urdu, Telugu, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam and Marathi.

Since 1890 the Census has collected data on English-speaking ability and languages spoken at home to help determine bilingual election requirements under the Voting Rights Act.

 

4. Does my information remain confidential?

Yes. 

Census information is PRIVATE. The Census Bureau values the trust respondents place in them to be ‘caretakers’ of the data they collect. Information is used only to produce statistics of the US economy and population for federal programs.

Individuals are never identified.

Strict confidentiality laws prohibit the Census from sharing information it collects from respondents. Your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Your data is protected by Title 13 of the US Code.

 

5. Is this information distributed to ICE and other government agencies?

No.

The Census Bureau does not share respondent information with immigration, law enforcement, tax collection agencies or any other organization. Security measures are in place to ensure that any census data released to federal agencies or organizations, are carefully reviewed to avoid disclosing individual information

Surveys are mailed to addresses, rather than to specific individuals, to protect the confidentiality of participating households.

So, it is safe, especially for immigrant families with children – a group that is traditionally undercounted – to participate in the census.


6. Will I have to disclose my citizenship?

No.

The Census is a count of everyone living in the US including citizens, non-citizens, undocumented immigrants, non-citizen legal residents and non-citizen long term visitors. 

The Constitution “does not say citizen, it does not say legal resident, it says the census must count all persons in the 50 states and the primary constitutional purpose is apportionment.” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a Census Expert.

The addition of the citizenship question made people wary about participating in the census for fear it would expose non-citizens to ICE interrogations. But the Supreme Court BLOCKED its inclusion in Census 2020 so immigrants (legal and undocumented), refugees, minorities and their families are not deterred from participating in the census, and the population count is more accurate.  

What’s at stake? An accurate count ensures that each state gets the right number of congressional seats to represent its population and receives its share of $900 billion each year in federal funding to support communities, families and infrastructures.

Remember – you don’t count if you’re not counted!

 

7. I’m on an H1B visa and my spouse is on H4 visa.  Will participation in the census affect our status?

No.

The H1B visa is issued to foreign-born workers and skilled professionals who account for a significant proportion of IT occupations in states like California and Texas.

In 2018, USCIS reported that Indians accounted for 73.9 percent of total H1B visa holders in the USA and that  93% of H4 dependent spouses were from India.

Though the census includes all foreign-born non-immigrants in its population count, it does not collect data on their legal status. The law ensures that personal information is not shared with any agency, including law enforcement. All data at the Census Bureau is kept confidential and protected from disclosure.

 

8. How many questions does the Census have?

Nine. 

Each household will receive a form that asks about basic demographic and housing information that covers:

  • The number of people living or staying in your household as of April 1, 2020.
  • If your home is owned with or without a mortgage, rented or occupied without rent.
  • A phone number of someone living in your home.
  • The name, sex, age, race and date of birth of each person living in your home.
  • Whether anyone is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish descent
  • The relationship of each person to a central person in the home.
  • Data collected on age for example, helps local officials plan program funding for health and assistance to seniors and children.

9. How do I respond to the Census?

You can respond online, by mail or by phone. 

Between March and April 2020, Most households will receive an online invitation to participate in Census 2020. Areas less likely to respond online will receive a paper invitation. Reminders will be sent out and if people do not respond they will receive additional reminders and a paper questionnaire, or an in-person follow up.

For questions about the census call 301-763-INFO (4636) or 800-923-8282 or go to ask.census.gov

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor to India Currents

All Media Assets: U.S. Census Bureau

 

What Will My Next President Look Like?

As I’ve watched the Democratic Party debates over the past couple days, one thing has struck me – we have come a long way America! When JFK ran for election, it was a big deal because he was potentially the first Catholic President. In 2008, the election of Obama as our first black President prompted a national conversation about race. And more recently, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as a woman caused equal controversy. For each of these individuals, the question of identity took front and center. Each faced intense pressure and endless questions.

Are you black enough? Are you too black? Are you likeable?  Are you strong enough? Can you be Commander in Chief?

Now look at the podium. No one seems to be asking those questions. We have 6 women running for President. We have candidates that are black, brown and Asian. Some are young and some not quite. Most are heterosexual and one, not so. The persona we expect to see in our President is no longer one-dimensional and we are all better off because of it.

The real victory isn’t just for the actual candidates but for all of us. The “first” ones always have the hardest time as they have to work hard to prove themselves. But their experience has paved the path for the rest . What is striking is that it is not just their looks, but the backgrounds of the candidates that are diverse; there is not one proven path to run for that office.

We can thank our first Reality Show President for that!

This unprecedented diversity of backgrounds, life experiences, gender and careers is a game changer.  Look at the topics being discussed on a national stage – health care, women’s reproductive rights, equal pay, immigration, climate change, criminal justice etc. Most of these issues, which affect every American, never got airtime before. What is significant about this diverse array of candidates is what it represents about the new democratic base.  The increasing diversity of democratic voters demands better representation. There is a battle of values and ideas within the party and this wide gamut is represented by this vast array of presidential candidates.

The next few months will be intriguing.  Some candidates will falter, others will bow out and eventually only one of them will make it to the final night. But I am excited to see that we have come to a place in our country where we can debate the merits of the ideas and policies that the candidates propose and not what they look like or where they came from.

What will my next President look like? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

All I care about is what their policies are like.

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

The Whitesplaining of History Is Over

When the academy was the exclusive playground of white men, it produced the theories of race, gender, and Western cultural superiority that underwrote imperialism abroad and inequality at home. In recent decades, women and people of color have been critical to producing new knowledge breaking down those long-dominant narratives. Sociological research confirms that greater diversity improves scholarship.

Yet the struggle to diversify the academy remains an uphill battle; institutional biases are deeply ingrained, and change evokes nostalgia for times past. Both of these obstacles were fully in evidence at a recent Applied History conference at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Although history is a discipline with a growing number of nonwhite faculty members, and a healthy percentage of female scholars — indeed, women constitute more than a third of the faculty in Stanford’s own history department, across the bike lane from the Hoover Institution — the Hoover conference was made up of 30 white men (and one woman, who chaired a panel). These white men gathered to discuss the supposed fact that the “majority of academic historians have tended to shy away from questions of contemporary interest, especially to policy makers.””Previous generations were less shy of such questions,” the conference website claimed.

Has the current generation of historians in fact abdicated its responsibility to consider questions of contemporary interest? Most historians would find this claim silly; history is always about questions of contemporary interest, always “applied.” So how has the new, more diverse generation of historians produced work with policy implications?

The Harvard historian Caroline Elkins won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for fully exposing the violence of British decolonization in Kenya, puncturing longstanding myths about peaceful withdrawal. Her work has resulted in successful civil lawsuits against the British government by Kenyan survivors.

Catherine Hall of University College London chairs a group of historians assembling a database of British slave owners. In showing how slave ownership has skewed racial and class relations in Britain for centuries, their work opens up a range of international and domestic policy possibilities for righting historical wrongs.

The problem is not that historians are irrelevant, but that they cast a critical light on the political order.

Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, was a key promoter of eugenicist theories of race. Now, Allyson Hobbs, an African-American historian at Stanford, has written an award-winning history of racial passing showing both the constructed nature of racial identity and the arbitrary nature of racial laws — with implications for policies about social identification and race today.Another Stanford historian, Ana Raquel Minian, who grew up in Mexico, has utterly punctured myths about welfare-scrounging Mexican immigration to the United States in the 20th century — a burning political issue with pressing policy implications right now, which Professor Minian has discussed in various public venues.

Also at Stanford, the eminent historian of science and colonialism Londa Schiebinger has led international governmental efforts to address the fact that medical treatments and other technologies developed without attention to differing effects on men and women have historically posed enormous health risks—and market costs.

These are just a handful of examples from my immediate field and home department. All over the academy, historians are producing work relevant to policy and easily accessible to policy makers. Many work hard to share their work with the public.

The problem is not that historians don’t produce policy-relevant research but that their work tends to cast a critical light on the current political order, and policy makers therefore often willfully ignore it.

Many historians have shown that the Second Amendment was about the right to arms for military, not civilian, purposes, but policy makers like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida ignore that research. Indeed, a group of distinguished historians including Lois Schwoerer and Jack Rakove filed an amicus brief on the Second Amendment during the landmark 2008 D.C. v. Heller case, but Justice Antonin Scalia proved impervious to it. The resulting decision held up a dangerously expansive — and historically inaccurate — understanding of the amendment.

Historians also warned us about the dangers of the Iraq War. In particular, the Middle East scholar Juan Cole, from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, acquired an enormous following through his blog by laying out the case against the war. But such discouraging views were not heeded by an administration so bent on war that it not only ignored history but faked it — cooking up a fable of weapons of mass destruction.

Given the proclivities of policy makers, the historian’s real role is, in fact, to speak to the public, so that people may exert pressure on their elected representatives.This idea is itself born of the imperial past. When a British missionary in India named Edward Thompson joined British forces in an earlier invasion of Iraq — as an army chaplain during World War I ­­— the experience disillusioned him profoundly. He sought to atone by correcting the British public’s understanding of the colonial enterprise. So, this white man wrote a history of the massive Indian Rebellion of 1857, which Britons had long portrayed as a diabolical attack on an entirely benevolent British presence. His account acknowledged the real political protest the rebels expressed and the British violence that provoked their own. It was 1925, and Thompson’s book became part of public debate about the increasingly powerful Indian nationalist movement.

Thompson developed a passionate faith in the historian’s craft as the most effective means of truth-telling against the state. His son, the historian and political activist E.P. Thompson, grew up “expecting governments to be mendacious and imperialist and expecting that one’s stance ought to be hostile to government.” He looked to the historic libertarian tradition of working-class people for ways to check the excesses of the “secret state” in the Cold War era that shaped his life. He realized that modern democracy, simply by virtue of its insistent demand for openness, tends to foster an almost paranoid official secrecy and that the historian is the archetype of the active citizen. Thus emerged our 20th-century understanding of the historian as a critic of government.

Of course, there are many other sources of the idea of the historian-as-critic; I offer this “great white man” version ironically. E.P. himself pushed back against the “Great Man” version of history, encouraging a new trend of writing “history from below.” In 1988, Joan Wallach Scott, professor emerita at the Institute for Advanced Study, pointed out the gendered nature of his work, the way working-class men stood in for both men and women. Another field was born. And so on, inclusivity breeding inclusivity, by degrees, in fits and starts.

To be sure, historians have, in some ways, ceded our claim to policy expertise to other kinds of scholars: economists, political scientists, sociologists. This is partly the result of new dogmas equating expertise and quantitative analysis. It is also part of an intrinsically antihistorical, universalist approach to understanding political change, which imagines that what worked in Country A will work in Country B regardless of history and context — that, for instance, the forces that drove the industrial revolution in 18th-century Britain will do the same in a different place centuries later, or that, since the defeat of Hitler gave rise to a liberal democracy in West Germany, removal of dictators will always and necessarily do so. Recent history is littered with evidence of the folly of such logic.

Historical interpretation is crucial to contemporary issues like gun control, immigration, and the “war on terror.” Historians must continue to assert their expertise on such matters against the monopolistic claims of social scientists — and against those who would prefer a cloistered group of white men to remonopolize that role.

Priya Satia is a professor of history at Stanford University and the author of Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution (Penguin, 2018). This piece was first published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.