Tag Archives: Ritu Marwah

Can Schools Reopen Safely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Why Facebook Doesn’t Stop Eyeballs On Hate !

White supremacy groups are proliferating, targeting people of all races while social media organizations, like Facebook and Twitter, have been accused of shielding racist posts. In times of COVID when the pandemic has redefined our lives and heightened our exposure to digital content, the danger of online hate is real.

Racist posts are couched in clever ways. Chris Gray, who left Facebook in 2018, said to the New Yorker, that racist or violence engendering posts were “constantly getting reported, but the posts that ended up in my queue never quite went over the line to where I could delete them. The wording would always be just vague enough.”

Additionally, social media companies are reluctant to take action unless forced to by a public media backlash. Content with sizable follower counts, or with significant cultural or political clout – content whose removal might interrupt a meaningful flow of revenue, have been left to multiply.  Former employees say that only public media storms have forced social media organizations to take action. Fear of political repercussions or loss of revenue makes their response to racist posts sluggish.

At the core of the problem is the monetization of attention. Algorithms are trained on augmenting posts that generate eyeballs. The content-moderation priorities won’t change until its algorithms stop amplifying whatever content is most enthralling or emotionally manipulative. This might require a new business model, perhaps even a less profitable one, which is why objectors aren’t hopeful that it will happen voluntarily, the New Yorker reported.

At an Ethnic Media Services briefing on, October 9th, Neil Ruiz, associate director of Global Migration and Demography Research at the Pew Research Center, shared the findings from his new report: “Many Black and Asian Americans Say They Have Experienced Discrimination Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak” 

Panellists discussed how hate is contagious, much like a virus, and that President’s social media posts are not helping. His use of terms words like ‘China virus’ feed the fear of a ‘yellow peril’ stereotype, and incites violence against Asian Americans. And yet the social media companies do nothing.

Donald Trump’s Facebook post in December 2015 calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” insinuated that Muslims – all 1.8 billion of them, presumably – “have no sense of reason or respect for human life.” 

According to the Times, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO was personally “appalled” by Trump’s post. Still, his top officials held a series of meetings to decide, given Trump’s prominence, whether an exception ought to be made. In order to avoid incurring the wrath of Trump and his supporters,Trump’s post stayed up.

Going into the elections, violence against races increases, said Mike German, at the briefing.  German, who served as an FBI agent for 16 years and infiltrated violent white nationalist organizations, spoke of the government’s failure to include racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic violence committed by white nationalists within its counterterrorism mandate. The government does not track white supremacist violence, he said. 

“Only 12.6 percent of law enforcement agencies actually acknowledge hate crimes occur within their jurisdiction,” he said. On the other hand victim-reported hate crimes are as high as 230,000 this year.

John Yang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) said the rise in hate against the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, AAPI community, was fueled by the President’s racially-divisive rhetoric. Stop AAPI Hate, has recorded 2,583 incidents of hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Many people of color say they have experienced hate-motivated crime and discrimination amid the COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. 

This year in particular has seen a tectonic shift in the way communities across the world integrate digital and social networks into their daily lives, says ADL’s annual Online Hate and Harassment Report: The American Experience 2020.

“As our world continues to be redefined through digital services and online discourse, the American public has become increasingly aware of and exposed to online hate and harassment. The Asian, Jewish, Muslim, and immigrant communities in particular are experiencing an onslaught of targeted hate, fueled by antisemitic conspiracy theories, anti-Asian bigotry, and Islamophobia surrounding the novel coronavirus. The pandemic has heightened exposure to toxic content and provided new opportunities for exploitation by those seeking to harm others using digital services and tools”, the report said.

We are being invaded by this hatred. It’s everywhere. It’s silent. It’s as deadly as this disease. 

Fear of political backlash or loss of revenue is not a good reason for a sluggish response to racist posts. Social media giants must fight hate speech.

“The white supremacist violence is not going away. The backlash against Arab/ Muslim/Sikh community after 9/11 has lasted over 10 years,” said Manju Kulkarni, executive director of AP3CON.”We are at the 210,000 fatality mark.”


Ritu Marwah is a long term resident of Silicon Valley and has seen the Sun Microsystems campus turn into Facebook HQ.

Images: RituMarwah

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

 

Connecting to Nature is Good for Public Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coyote Valley

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

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

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

Measured Response

The pandemic and wildfires have choked California this year.   

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Punjabi Truckers Find A Warm Welcome At US Highway Dhabas

A billboard promising a taste of India looms across American interstate I-40. The new Route 66, I-40 is the spine of the Sikh trucking world. Every 100-200 miles you will find a Punjabi dhaba serving heart-healthy meals to diabetes-prone Punjabi truckers. 

Tucked into truck stops with names like Jay Bros (in Overton, NE.) and Antelope Truck Stop Pronghorn (in Burns, WY.), the ubiquitous dhaba serves the needs of the increasing numbers of Punjabi truckers driving down I-80.

Raja Sekhon

Raja Sekhon, an ex-Indian Air Force officer who drives his truck through Canada and the US doesn’t stop at them. When he embarks on his 5-day journey, carrying fresh produce across US and Canada, he packs his own food. 

“From home I bring 4 spelt flour rotis (flatbread), daal (lentil soup), saag (spinach curry) and dahi (plain probiotic yogurt). That’s my diet on the road,” says Sekhon, a graduate of National Defense Academy, (NDA) India’s Westpoint. 

After having flown Air Force fighter jets and other professional jobs, he started driving a truck after retirement at the age of 61.

“Every day on the road I eat a banana, apple, date, fig, and prunes along with a cup of black coffee with haldi (turmeric),” says Sekhon who includes ginger and vitamins as part of his daily diet. Maintaining a healthy glycemic index is key.  

Of the 1.5 million truck drivers on US highways, says the Punjab Truck Association, about 150,000 Punjabis work in the trucking industry. Increasingly, Punjabi drivers are filling the depleting ranks of truck drivers many of whom are leaving due to health problems.

 A pilot study on health and safety for truckers published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that commercial truck drivers have a 50% higher risk of developing diabetes compared to the general population and that  87% of truck drivers have hypertension or prehypertension.

As a double whammy, South Asians like Sekhon have a four to fivefold higher risk for Type 2 diabetes compared to other Asian migrant groups. In a study on the dietary patterns and diabetes prevention strategies for South Asians in Western countries, Dr. Sherly Parackal from the University of Otago states that “Dietary patterns have been attributed as an important independent modifiable risk factor.” 

On an average road trip of ten days, food carried from home by a truck driver will last a few days before it spoils. Most long haul drivers will stop on the road at dhabas to refill their boxes for the rest of the trip. They heat the food on the camping stove that accompanies each trucking duo and make a cuppa chai to go with it.

Balvinder Singh Saini operates Punjabi Dhaba food truck with his wife, Mansi Tiwari, and a small staff of relatives in Bakersfield, California. Saini, 44, was once a truck driver himself, but health problems forced him to find another way to support his family.

“I make sure the food served to truckers is heart-healthy. The oil we use is cold press, the vegetables are non-GMO and organic, the flatbreads whole wheat, and the food portable. At times they pick up forty flatbreads at the start of their journey,” says Saini.

Even on the limited COVID menu, Saini makes sure that a good serving of vegetables is available: Shahi Matar Paneer (peas & cheese), Chole Masala (garbanzo beans), Aloo Gajar Matar Sabzi (potato, carrots & peas), Daal Makhani (pulses), with hand-rolled whole wheat bread Tawa Roti.

“Most Punjabi drivers are vegetarian on the road,” says Gurjeet, who drives a truck with her husband. “It is harder to find vegetarian food on the road. We find long lines of truckers at Subway ordering the vegetarian sandwich.”

In her study, Dr. Parackal associated “animal protein”, “fried snacks, sweets, and high-fat dairy” with greater insulin resistance and lower HDL cholesterol. A “mixed” dietary pattern was associated with obesity and hypertension and a “western” dietary pattern was linked to overall risk for Metabolic Syndrome. Another observation showed a “70% increase in the odds of diabetes per standard deviation in grams of protein intake.” 

Parackal recommends diabetes prevention strategies such as “Registered dietitian-directed wellness programs that include education, support, and cooperation of truck-stop restaurants are critical to reduce obesity and risk of disease in this population.”

Heart health coach Anita Sathe at the South Asian Heart Institute which guides South Asians in the management of their heart risk, suggests “A plate that is half full of vegetables, a quarter full with grains and a quarter with protein.”

At the Punjabi Dhaba off I-5 in Bakersfield, California, tables have been set up outside and masked clients are seated at a distance of six feet apart. There is ample parking space for truckers to pull in. Twelve dollars will buy four whole wheat rotis, daal (lentil soup dressed with a tadka of ginger, garlic, caramelized onions, and fire-roasted tomatoes) and, for the meat-eater, a treat of lean goat meat curry. Creamy steaming chai is a possibility. 

Balvinder Singh Saini knows that truckers are required to take a break before they complete 8 hours of driving and must stop driving after clocking 11 hours. The truck’s log system records and reports the time spent on the road. His dhaba is perfect for that thirty minute stop.

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As the pandemic unfolded earlier this year, truckers have soldiered on through closed rest stops and food chains to deliver essential goods. Balvinder Singh and the Punjabi Dhaba have kept the wheels turning come rain, sunshine, or pandemic, plying truckers with heart-healthy fare. 

The dhaba feels like a piece of home. It has Punjabi music and Punjabi movies on the wall-hung TVs. The ladies in the kitchen, like aunts back in Punjab, wear Indian salwar trousers and kameez shirts and share family gossip while they hand-roll rotis. Balvinder Singh Saini himself stops and chats beside the outdoor tables with tales of his own, watching indulgently while his customers devour their meals.

“It is not just the body of the trucker, it is the spirit that gets nourished at these rustic eateries,” says Balvinder Singh Saini.

Dhabas on US Highways

  • Punjabi Dhaba 2546 S Union Ave Bakersfield, CA 93307
  • Punjabi Truck Stop (I-40, exit 26) -11561 N 1900 Rd, Sayre, OK 73662. (580) 928-2500
  • Panjabi Dhaba Restaurant & Vega Truck Stop 3650, I-40, Vega, TX 79092
  • Punjabi Dhaba 48243 Memorial Dr, Newberry Springs, CA 92365
  • Taste of India 2405 NM-469, San Jon, NM 88434
  • Dillon Truck Stop, San Jon, NM (I-40, exit 356) 
  • Punjabi Dhaba 2650 N Roundup Ave, Kingman, AZ 86401
  • Punjabi Dhaba 7311 Hwy 104 N, Cedar Grove, TN 38321
  • Tandoori Indian Restaurant 12501 Valley View Rd, Shawnee, OK 74804
  • Pilot Truck Stop, southside of Indy (I-495, exit 4) 
  • Spiceland Truck Plaza, New Castle, IN (I-70, exit 123)
  • Spicy BiteTA Truck Stop, Milan, NM (I-40, exit 79) 1203-1299 Motel Dr, Milan, NM 87021
  • Demming Truck Plaza, Demming, NM (I-10, exit 81) 
  • Punjabi Dhaba 7800 Batavia Rd, Dixon, CA 95620
  • Speed Way Cafe I-80 exit, 4, Wendover, UT 84083
  • Punjabi Dhaba 500 A Truck Inn Way, Fernley, NV 89408
  • Jay Brothers Truck Stop Taste of India Rd 444, Overton, NE 68863
  • Akal Travel Center 168 Hunt Rd, Laramie, WY 82070
  • Akal Travel Center Exit 360 off I80 Nebraska
  • Antelope Truck Stop Pronghorn Indian & American Restaurant 4850 I-80 Service Rd, Burns, WY 82053-9808. +1 307-547-3355
  • Jay Brothers Truck Stop Taste of India.

Read other articles in this series:

Road Warrior

Doctors Open Doors To Sick Punjabi Truckers


Ritu Marwah wrote this series while participating in the USC Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.

 

Doctors Open Doors To Sick Punjabi Truckers

The doctor leaned over Jitamber Singh Bedi and inserted the needle of the injection into his eyeball. Jitamber had a blockage in his vein that was causing his eyesight to cloud up. Vision problems are a side effect of diabetes. Like eighty-eight percent of truck drivers, Jitamber Singh Bedi too had Type 2 diabetes. 

In order to operate a commercial vehicle on the road, a driver must be able to prove they are maintaining stable blood sugars. Jitamber medical exam report is part of his driving record. It is filed electronically by the Medical Examiner (ME) with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) bi-annually. Any drop in health indices would mean he loses his license or at best, gets recertified every year. 

Over half of all long haul truck drivers suffer from hypertension and/or diabetes. These comorbidities put them at a higher risk for COVID.

“Sedentary lifestyle and erratic sleep gets you, if bad food on the road doesn’t,” says Jitamber Singh Bedi. “Sitting for ten hours a day for ten days at a stretch, the truck driver is a sitting duck for diseases like diabetes. And when they do take a break it is easy to pull out a cigarette.”

“At every rest stop I ended up smoking,” says Jitamber. 

Irregular eating habits and dehydration further strain the system. Jitamber is always worried about taking restroom breaks and therefore restricts the intake of fluids and food which can lead to the taxi cab syndrome. The inability of drivers to relieve themselves regularly throughout the workday leads to voiding dysfunction, infertility, urolithiasis, bladder cancer, and urinary infections as compared with nonprofessional drivers wrote Alon Y Mass, MD, David S Goldfarb, MD, and Ojas Shah, MD. from the Department of Urology, NYU Langone Medical Center. Paid by the mile, every restroom stop costs precious time.

“Sssssslow suicide behind the wheel,” says Jitamber, “with the pandemic that could take a quick turn for the worst.”

Jitamber graduated from Mayo College, where he went to school with the sons of India’s upper classes, princes, and nobles. After immigrating to the US, he worked for ten years as the Assistant Manager, Special Reporter and Editor for India Post, a California publication. Jitamber started driving a truck in the US in 2012.  

Jitamber & his wife Lisa

He still maintains his A1 license to drive a truck and is married to Lisa, a librarian at the county library. Jitamber is on his wife’s medical plan. Kaiser is their health insurer. Kaiser, a California company, has agreements with other providers to provide coverage all over the US thinks Jitamber. He does not really know how his health insurance will play out if he falls sick on the road.

Raman Dhillon of the North American Punjabi Trucking Association (NAPTA) has negotiated a health plan that truckers can buy into. Portability of insurance plans from one state to the other has been a bottleneck to seamless healthcare access. NAPTA wants to ensure that the trucker has access to pharmacy anywhere and medication can be prescribed to and picked up by the driver from the pharmacy closest to him. 

President Trump’s Emergency Order in the face of the COVID pandemic opened up anywhere anytime access to healthcare.

Anywhere Anytime Access 

Of the 1.5 million truck drivers on US highways, says the Punjab Truck Association, about 150,000 Punjabis are working in the trucking industry. The South Asian gene makes the Punjabi drivers more vulnerable to acute myocardial infarction (MI). Studies by UCSF, Stanford and El Camino hospital’s South Asia Heart Center, show that heart disease strikes South Asians at a younger age and more malignantly than the general population. “South Asians represent approximately 17 percent of the world’s population – yet they account for 60 percent of the world’s heart disease patients,” says Anita Sathe of the South Asian Heart Center which runs a program to help South Asians manage their heart risk.

The ability to access and monitor healthcare on the road is crucial to the health of Punjabi truckers.

COVID-19 opened the door for truckers to access technology-based ubiquitous healthcare. Under the 1135 waiver authority and Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, the incorporation of telemedicine into routine medical care on a temporary and emergency basis, has lightened the burden on truckers. The waiver has loosened former requirements that the patient and provider be in the same state or that the patient must be in physician shortage areas to access telemedicine; so a doctor in New York now can be reimbursed for consulting with a patient out of California. 

The rule that a new patient could not use telehealth and must have an established relationship with the doctor has been relaxed as have some of the HIPAA requirements like data transfer and storage. The new criteria allow the use of tablets or smartphones, so a driver can call a nearby doctor from his smartphone. However, all calls must be video calls;  audio-only calls may not be made. 

“From March 6, 2020, a range of providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, offered telehealth to all patients,” says Apexon Healthcare executive Siva Sundar. “Meeting the doctor through zoom or Facetime has become the norm for everyone during the quarantine.” 

Telemedicine and walk-in medical clinics located at truck stops and Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers proliferated with the advent of COVID. For the sake of the truckers, these new rules must outlast the pandemic and become the new normal. 

Checking For Sugar On The Road

Jitamber Singh Bedi would find it useful to wear body sensors that alert him, his family, and his doctor to potentially serious changes in his health status. 

Continuous glucose monitoring devices to monitor the driver’s blood sugar – motivates healthy behaviors says Rajeev Sehgal, Jitamber’s classmate from Mayo College, who has been wearing the Dexcom 6 device for over 6 months. “In the same way that wearing a Fitbit can be motivational for meeting daily fitness goals, real-time monitoring of blood sugar levels might reinforce good behaviors around eating and exercise,” he says. 

The tiny sensor he wears on his stomach sends real-time reading of his blood sugar levels to his phone every 5 minutes.  “It is extremely comfortable to wear. I can swim with it. I change the device every ten days,” says Sehgal who highly advocates its use by drivers. The device allows quick remedial actions for timely diabetes management and the information can be kept private or shared with family members when the driver is on the road.

If the sensor indicates high sugar and blood pressure levels, the trucker can consult with a doctor by teleconference over Facetime. If they’ve embarked on a trip without getting a refill or forgetting to pack their meds Telemedicine can get them their meds at a pharmacy close to where they are. 

“At present, the sensor is prescribed and covered by insurance for people who have uncontrolled type 2 diabetes but it should be authorized for truck drivers who are managing their diabetes,” says Sehgal. 

Monitoring blood sugar levels on the go will allow the trucker to take immediate remedial action. A brisk walk could fix a spike in blood sugar levels following a sugary lunch or in case of a drop in sugar levels, a quick pop of sugar will prevent deterioration in vision like the one Jitamber had to face. A year ago he noticed he couldn’t read street signs. Retinal vein occlusion and macular edema caused big brown blobs to float in front of his eyes. After a series of shots at regular intervals, Dr. An Ngoc Huynh, MD at Kaiser Irwindale California declared his vision to be 20:25.

“The main thing I want to better understand is, how different things I do affect my glucose levels,” says Jitamber. “I will track my blood sugar levels to see how it responds to food, sleep, and exercise. Fasting, exercise, stress, or sleep can be tweaked to get the marker to the right place. Precision in targeting our health issues can prevent shots in eyeballs,” said Jitamber.

Read other articles in this series:

Road Warrior

Punjabi Truckers Find A Warm Welcome At US Highway Dhabas


Ritu Marwah wrote this series while participating in the USC Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.

 

Road Warrior

Gurjeet Kaur Randhwa drove a truck from Central Valley, California, carrying fresh produce to dinner tables across fifty states of the United States of America. A former national level field-hockey player in India, she now deftly navigates the American highways ensuring she stays in good health.In order to maintain her truck-driver’s license, Gurjeet must ensure her blood pressure and diabetes is within the acceptable range. 

Gurjeet’s medical exam report is part of her driving record. It is filed electronically by the Medical Examiner (ME) with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) bi-annually. Any drop in health indices would mean she loses her license or at best, gets recertified every year. 

The looming threat of annual medical exams that can choke off their livelihood, puts pressure on truck drivers to manage the perils of their sedentary lifestyle that result from long hours of driving. Long haul truck drivers in the U.S. have an increased prevalence, over the larger population, of major health risks and conditions across the board—obesity, morbid obesity, self-reported diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors, smoking, and lack of health insurance. 

There are 1.7 million men and women working as long-haul drivers in the US according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey2017). 

Eighteen percent, approximately 30,000 of them, are estimated to be Punjabi says Raman Dhillon, founder The North American Punjabi Trucking Association (NAPTA). The number of Punjabi truck drivers fluctuates based on the availability of jobs. Satnam Singh, a truck driver out of Yuba City says about half of the Punjabi drivers, approximately 20,000 live in California.

This Series will look at (the health challenges Punjabi drivers are facing in order to keep their driving licenses, and how they are navigating this during COVID. The two articles that follow will look at the nutritional value of dhabas (Punjabi truck stops) dotted along the US highways frequented by Punjabi truckers, and how these drivers increasingly use telemedicine to stay relatively healthy on the road and meet their licensing requirements.

Fuel For The Body

Central Valley long-haul trucker Gurjeet Kaur Randhwa

Gurjeet, a gold medalist in Masters in Physical Education, was a Professor at Women’s College, Amritsar before she moved to the United States. Her training in nutrition came in handy as she planned for her life on the road. She is vegetarian when on the road and thinks that most Punjabi truck drivers too are largely vegetarian whilst driving.

“Since it is not considered auspicious to eat meat, I have observed that most truck-drivers do not eat meat when on a long road.”

Sikhism, the religion of a majority of Punjabi truck drivers, stipulates a preference for a vegetarian diet and the Gurdwaras (Sikh temples). serve lacto-vegetarian food to worshippers and visitors. 

“When you are driving a 80,000-ton vehicle, which takes an entire football field length to come to a full stop, you really are riding a rocket. It is a powerful machine and any small mistake can have magnified consequences. Driving long hours, as we do, one definitely wants the blessings of the Guru with us,” says Gurjeet.  Gurjeet has never seen Punjabi Sikh drivers transport cattle to beef factories for that very reason.

Satnam Singh, a truck driver who lives in Yuba City and is an active member of the community,  agrees with her that most are vegetarian while driving. “Not all of them. I would guess 80%” he said. 

Unfortunately, being vegetarian further limits their food-stop choices on the road so drivers pack nutritious meals before leaving home. Gurjeet, when she drives her truck, carries two subzis or vegetable curries per meal. She wraps the chapatis or flatbreads individually in airtight packs to keep them fresh longer. Every truck has a small rest area behind the driver’s seat. It holds a mini-refrigerator, a microwave, and a bed to lay on. On a ten to fifteen-day road journey, there always comes a time when the driver exhausts their stash of food and has to stop and buy a meal. This is where the driver must make informed choices. 

To meet the needs of the truckers, dhabas or food stops serving Punjabi food have sprung up along US highways. In the remotest of places, sometimes hidden inside gas stations are mouth-watering, wholesome delicacies that promise to keep the glycemic index from jumping up.

Rejuvenating Zs

Gurjeet and her husband used to drive together, taking turns. As drivers are paid by the mile, this enabled the couple to make a quick turnaround and complete more trips every month. A truck can make only three trips a month barely breaking even. By sharing the driving amongst them the couple would squeeze on a fourth trip. But life on the road was tough. Sleeping in a moving truck was hardly restful. Driving long hours tired Gurjeet out. Lack of good sleep is definitely a factor impacting the health of the truck driver.

Balvinder Singh, a truck driver who now runs a dhaba, agrees. “I could not get fitful sleep on these journeys. When the load needs to be dropped off and another one picked, the driver is at the mercy of the client. Whenever the load becomes available he must pick it up. In a rush to minimize the number of hours spent in wait mode the driver sometimes snatches just 3-4 hours of sleep before he starts loading,” says Balvinder.

The number of hours on the road is strongly regulated by the Department of Transportation.  After being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours, a  trucker is allowed to drive for up to 11 hours in a period of 14 consecutive hours. The truck‘s Electronic Logging Device or ELD system makes a note of the number of hours the driver has rested and the number of hours he has been on the road. The driver must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and eight hours if transporting passengers.

During the COVID-19  pandemic, a  nationwide emergency hours-of-service exemption was in place for truck drivers hauling loads related to the coronavirus pandemic. The relaxed rules allow some truck drivers to rest for less than 10 hours.

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) states that adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems, including heart attack, asthma, and depression. Some of these health problems raise the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Get The Heart Pumping

Most truck stops have facilities for the truckers to shower, shave, eat and exercise. Some have a lounge to relax in and a gas station to fuel up. Gurjeet and the other Punjabi truck drivers rarely use the gyms. “I have never seen any desi drivers in the gyms,” says Balvinder. 

After being cooped up in the truck for long hours Gurjeet would rather be in the fresh air. She advocates a walk at every stop making sure to cover a few miles. As a lady driver, security is a concern. She does not wander too far from the truck but circles her 53-foot long truck, carving out her own track.

Health of Wealth 

The romance of being a truck driver has been captured by many movies and folk singers. The shiny machine humming down the long road of freedom making stops as it travels through new lands and vistas is a vision that fueled the American dream of this professor of nutrition, field hockey player, and yogini. With the drop in loads due to the trade war with China in 2019 and COVID-19 in 2020, the American Dream seems to be souring as truckers fight for loads. 

The drop in container traffic has led truck drivers who served the ports to move into stable but low paying Central Valley produce transportation businesses. Price gouging by middlemen brokers has made it difficult for truckers to meet their expenses let alone make it profitable for them to drive their trucks. Since the beginning of May 2020, commercial drivers have taken to the streets of Washington DC and Sacramento petitioning Congress to take immediate action to improve broker transparency.  A majority of the Punjabi truckers are independent operators who get their business through brokers. A shipper pays the broker, who in turn pays the truck driver for carrying the load. Brokers are taking advantage of the desperation of the independent truckers in COVID times by creaming off the rates. Motor carriers have the right to know how much a shipper is paying a broker and how much the broker is then paying the motor carrier. Brokers often find ways of circumventing federal regulations (49 CFR §371.3) that require them to keep records of transactions and make them available to carriers upon request.

It is time to remember that behind the wheel of the machine is a person who delivers our essential goods, keeps panic of empty grocery store shelves at bay, and drives at great peril to their health, fighting to stay healthy to keep their jobs.

Truck driver Satnam Singh of Yuba City said in Punjabi, “Every day we ride a bomb. We are caught in a triple whammy of less work, low rates, and poor health.” 

Read other articles in this series:

Doctors Open Doors To Sick Punjabi Truckers

Doctors Open Doors To Sick Punjabi Truckers

Punjabi Truckers Find A Warm Welcome At US Highway Dhabas

 


Ritu Marwah wrote this series while participating in the USC Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.

 

Punjabi Truckers! Tell Us Your Health Concerns

Satsriakal ji,

Life on the road is tough. In order to maintain your job you have to maintain your health. Sitting for long periods of time and eating food available on the road can lead to health concerns.Tell us what health concerns you have as a truck driver or as a family member of a truck driver. Your story can save many lives and save your life. Please call me on Whatsapp. We want to hear your story.

By sharing your story with us, we can help each other. We can learn about new treatments and studies. 

 Main ik Punjabi patarkar haan jehrdi ki India Currents magazine vaaste likhdi haan. MaIn kahaniyan di ik lari(लड़ी) te kamm kar rahi haan. jehri ki Punjabi truck chalkan di sakhat mehnat atte(and) ajj de zamane vitch ohna te aaun walian musibatan te channanan paundi hei.     

Sarak(road) te lamba samaan (time) bitande hoe kehrian cheezan uhna nun sehatmand rakhan de layi aasaan te mushkail hann. main jannan chaundi haan ki sehat sambandhi kehrian chunautiyan da tuhanun saamna karna penda hei atte( and) uhna da tussin ki hall  chahnde ho.

Kirpa kar ke mainu is WhatsApp no (1408 9056090) te message karo.

Main eh vi jannana chaundi haan ki tuhade mutabik truck chalkan nuun sarak te jaande ya na jaande  hoe aapni sehat nun theek rakhan de layi kehri jankari te sadhnan di zarurat hei.

A lot of new medical research has been done on South Asians by hospitals like Stanford and El Camino Hospital in California.This research may help the South Asian community. We can share the latest research and technology with you. Together we can improve our health. 

As a truck driver you drive a long, long, lonely road and may have no time to research what new treatments or opportunities are available to you.

Looking forward to your message!

Ritu Marwah 

Read articles in this series:

Road Warrior

Doctors Open Doors To Sick Punjabi Truckers

Punjabi Truckers Find A Warm Welcome At US Highway Dhabas

 

Ritu Marwah wrote this series while participating in the USC Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.

 

Is Citizenship By Investment The Answer To Our Woes?

Congress created the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program in1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. 

You may have heard  that the EB-5, as a faster option to a Green Card, accelerated US permanent residency. Foreign students, who have forked out thousands of dollars on their US education, enquire about it as their ticket to stay on in the US.  In the post COVID-19 world, immigrant workers, faced with the threat of unemployment, may well have their eye on it. Promoters of the EB-5 program routinely target H-1B workers in their recruitment efforts.

Is the Immigration Investor Visa Program also known as the EB-5 visa an efficient track to citizenship?

EB-5, one of five employment-based (EB) visas, is not banned under President Trump’s proclamation limiting immigration into the United States. The EB-5 program allots green cards to foreign investors in exchange for their investments.

An undertaking to create at least 10 American jobs and invest $1.8 million individually into a business makes you eligible to apply. However, in case you don’t want to manage the business you don’t have to.

Eligible investors must finance $900,000 in an approved commercial real estate project in a targeted employment area (TEA) and demonstrate, through economic analysis, that the resulting economic development will create jobs. An area is declared a targeted employment area (TEA), by the central government based on its rural nature or lower levels of employment. Regional centers (RC) connect foreign investors with commercial real estate developers in need of funding.  These  projects result in jobs through construction work at first and eventually in the service industry, for example in hotels, restaurants, resorts and stadium development.

Once the money has been received by the US business entity you have promised to invest in, you are on your way to applying for a green card. Two years after the receipt of the conditional green card, proof of employment creation has to be produced. Given the present wait times, it will take 7 or more years for the visa to come through if the country of your birth is India.

The number of EB-5 visas allotted to Indians rose as more people got to know of the visa and applications went up. In 2019 more than 705 visas were allotted to people born in India. 

Annually, 10,000 EB-5 visas are issued, with a 7% per country cap (700 per country). For 2020, the Department of State has allocated 11,111 visas to EB-5 in FY2020, of which any one country can get up to 778 visas (7%) under the country caps.

Due to a rush in applications last year, 2020 also has an unusually long list of applicants. In November 2019 the investment amounts were increased from $1 million to $1.8 million and from $500,000 to $900,000. As word spread people rushed to get their applications in before the increase kicked in, as further delaying  wait times.

Barron’s reported that the program generated around $5 billion a year for 10,000 visas. For the EB-5 visa aspirants the more attractive EB-5 offerings have offered less than 1% per annum as a rate of return on capital invested by them, say Shai Zamanian and Dina Golfaridan, of The American Legal Center of Dubai.

Thirty four percent of those who received EB-5 visas in FY19 were already living in the U.S. They maintained their status in the US on another visa category and then petitioned to adjust status. The majority of EB-5 visas (42%) went to children.   

The practitioners of EB-5 visa are a bit disappointed with the present state of the program. Long waits in the application process, high initial investments, and limited TEA areas dull the shine of this road to residency. 

“EB-5 visa has a lot of challenges in addition to the COVID-19 situation. Major problem it faces is the long wait times and high minimum application investment amounts of 900,000 to 1.8 million,” says Suzanne Lazicki, a business plan writer for EB-5 applicants and EB-5 expert.

Additionally, as per her analysis of the EB-5 marketplace, processing of the applications has been slower. From 5000 processed in 2018, the number has dropped to below 1000 in 2019.  

“Limited number of areas qualify for the TEA designation. A smaller percentage of people can therefore use the program,” says Suzanne. 

On the plus side,” she says,” it is exempted from restrictions in the executive order.  To see the steps involved in applying for the visa click here.

Shai Zamanian and Dina Golfaridan of The American Legal Center of Dubai contend that during the Great Recession the EB-5 program provided an alternative source of funding and job creation for the US economy. They make the argument to enhance the EB-5 program as an answer to COVID-19 woes. With 22 million Americans filing for unemployment as of April 2020 and the urgent need for investment, they argue that boosting the program as a stimulus tool could  stave off the effects of COVID-19. Revised EB-5 program, with lower requisite investment amounts, would make it a successful financial tool in alleviating the current financial downturn and its aftermath they say.

 

You Have Been Scammed!

It was the end of February and I was at a pharmacy in Delhi, India. The house-help Julie looked over my shoulder at the medicine I was buying for her and whispered “Sunny Tiger (hand wash)” in my ear. “Sunny Tiger,” she said, “I want Sunny Tiger as well.” The threat of coronavirus hung in the air. TV stations had been exhorting people to buy sanitizer.

At the very same time in Kelowna, Canada, Councilwoman Mohini Singh was sitting down to her morning emails when her daughter Tara leaned over her shoulder and said, “Mum order some sanitizer please.” 

Tara took her mother’s credit card and went online to order three bottles of sanitizer.

When the bottles arrived in the mail they were the size of her index finger. The charge was $80.

Scammers have made off with $34 million in coronavirus-related fraud since the beginning of the year, reported the Federal Trade Commission.

Interestingly the fraudsters have targeted all age groups. Younger Americans ages 30 to 39 reported the greatest number of scams, while Americans ages 50 to 59 reported the highest financial loss. About 44 percent of the fraud complaints came from people who actually lost money – $5.85 million.

 

As part of their Family Emergency Scams advisory, the FTC warned grandparents specifically against family emergency messages that come from unfamiliar numbers and request wire transfers.

Scammers follow the money. They follow the headline, says Monica Vaca, Associate Director for the Division of Consumer Response and Operations in the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The Division hears from consumers across the country about problems they experience in the marketplace, and manages and provides law enforcement access to the Consumer Sentinel Network. They deliver refunds to consumers resulting from FTC law enforcement actions.

Speaking at a webinar organized by Ethnic Media Services, Monica Vaca warned people to be careful of the offers — whether it’s by phone, by email or text. Government agencies and legitimate firms never ask for payment with a prepaid gift card or wire transfer. She told people to beware of logos and verbiage that are trying to masquerade as official, as they are scams to trick people into sharing personal information. 

Exploiting the fears and uncertainty triggered by the pandemic is the scam artist’s game.

The top category on the FTC’s list of complaints was travel and vacation; more than 5,700 complaints were filed with consumers reporting more than $8.7 million in losses.

Travel cancellations triggered by the pandemic proved a ripe breeding ground for scams. People who had to cancel travel plans they made in previous months lost money in airfare, hotels, and other components of planned vacations. Online shopping scams were also responsible for a significant chunk of consumer-reported claims.

The pandemic has enabled fraudsters to have a buffet of options. An offer of help could be very alluring to people grappling with understanding the Economic Impact Payment or stimulus payments promised by the government. Online shopping for the uninitiated can be a maze. Cures for the dreaded Coronavirus, flights home for students, and Facebook endorsements of companies are potential quagmires. 

Be warned, says the FTC.  A quick click of the mouse promises to make it all easy but can trick you into giving away personal information. Report scams to  ftc.gov/coronavirus. Check with the Better Business Bureau for businesses and charities you can trust and for warnings of the latest scams. If you have already paid, ask your credit card company to treat it as an unauthorized transaction. Beware of phishing emails and text messages that tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. 

The Federal Trade Commission announced the launch of two new interactive dashboards reporting on international fraud and scams related to the pandemic. One site, a partnership of 34 consumer protection agencies around the world, gathers and shares complaints about international scams submitted by consumers to econsumer.gov.  Another site has data on international reports submitted to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network.

In a recent case originating from Nigeria, scamsters tricked the German health authorities into transferring EUR 880,000 as an advance for facemasks. The Germans were scrambling to find facemasks and other critical medical equipment as the pandemic grew, said Interpol, when the scamsters struck.

The German government was not the only one overturning every rock to find equipment in Corona times. When President Donald Trump posted on Twitter to urge Ford and General Motors to “START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!” – Yaron Oren-Pines, an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley tweeted back: “We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT.”

Three days later, Buzzfeed reported that New York State paid Oren-Pines $69.1 million. The payment was for 1,450 ventilators — $47,656 per ventilator, at least triple the standard retail price of high-end models. 

No ventilators were delivered.

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

Rishi Kapoor, 67, Dies; A Sparkly Hero Whose Spirit Stayed Young

The Internet exploded as news of the death of veteran actor Rishi Kapoor blistered on iPhones. The news moved swiftly from Amitabh Bachchan’s tweet. It was carried on waves of Whatsapp messages across oceans. Just as Californians were getting ready for bed, horror and disbelief jolted them.

Many had seen Chintu Baba, their Ryan O’Neil, in his launch movie Bobby, a teenage love story. The parents had relived the Nargis-Raj Kapoor romance; the boys had swooned over the virginal heroine in schoolgirl clothing, while the chocolate hero, with scarfs as long as his pedigree, had stolen hearts of girls. Forever, the GTS bike he rode in the movie became as iconic as the hippie Volkswagen was.

The actor struggled to grow up. His impish tweets kept him forever in Chintu mode.

“Worked very hard to get Rishi Kapoor back as my name! Parents must never nickname a child. I never did,” he tweeted.

Then Chef Floyd Cardoz immortalized the Chintu name. Bombay Canteen named a whole menu Chintu. After a culinary career spanning 27 years in New York, celebrated chef Floyd Cardoz had made his restaurant debut in Mumbai, the city of his birth, with The Bombay Canteen. Chintus, or tasting size portions were circulated as the guests waited for their tables. Here guests could order a Chintu portion of crisp, thinly sliced fried lotus stem chips seasoned with salt and amchur, or the Chintu desi devilled eggs.

Rishi was seen sampling the menu at the Canteen and at the Paowala in New York, both restaurants of great renown and belonging to Floyd Cardoz.

The Chef and he had more than one thing in common, they both loved food, and they both flitted between New York, where Rishi was undergoing cancer treatment, and Mumbai.

The Chef was on his way from Mumbai to New York when he felt uncomfortable. He checked himself into a hospital in New York. He was diagnosed with Coronavirus and died there on March 24th, 2020. He was 59.

After the news of the Chef’s death, Rishi Kapoor tweeted. “RIP. Floyd Cardoz. Will cherish the meal you made for us at your restaurant.”

A month later, on April 30th, Chintu baba aka Rishi Kapoor complained of difficulty in breathing. He passed away in Mumbai. He had returned from New York in September.

The Chintus are still being served at Bombay Canteen.

Spirited, vibrant, sweet, and delightful, Chintu you always left a sparkly taste in our mouths.

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

Irrfan, Because He Liked the Sound of the Extra R

Sahabzade Irfan Ali Khan was studying for his MA degree when he won a scholarship to study at the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi in 1984. The young man from Tonk, Rajasthan had a single R in his name. He was Irfan.

In 2012, he changed the spelling of his name and became Irrfan Khan. Khan had recently received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor for his contribution to the field of arts. He had garnered the National Film Award for Best Actor in the 60th National Film Awards 2012.

He said he liked the sound of the extra “r” in his name.

His first offer out of drama school seemed a plump one. He was a final year student at NSD in 1988 when Mira Nair chose him for a role in Salaam Bombay. We never saw him in Salaam Bombay because his role was edited out in the final film.

Slowly Irrfan unfurled across our screens, an unlikely hero. He did not seem to have sex appeal. He spoke casually on screen, as if he was seated beside you and was not a celluloid dream weaver, whispering comments into your ear as a fellow audience member. As he caught one’s attention more and more, the audience hungered to go to the movies with him.

About him, Danny Boyle said, “he has an instinctive way of finding the “moral center” of any character, so that in Slumdog, we believe the policeman might actually conclude that Jamal is innocent. Boyle compares him to an athlete who can execute the same move perfectly over and over. “It’s beautiful to watch.”

His stride into Hollywood did not make a splash like Priyanka Chopra’s. He casually sauntered across the continents and when we saw him in Life of Pi we were not surprised at all.

“Why do Hollywood filmmakers always pick Irrfan Khan for their movies? Why don’t they pick SRK, Salman Khan, or Amir Khan even, being the biggest of Bollywood?” asked Dipesh Doshi an avid moviegoer.

He just remains terribly interesting.

His appeal as a fellow audience member may explain the respect with which the media has honored his request to give him privacy while he sorts out his medical issue. He commands their respect sure but the real deal is that they love him as a brother.

His wife reassured his fellow travelers on the celluloid journey.

“My best friend and my partner is a ‘warrior’ he is fighting every obstacle with tremendous grace and beauty. I apologize for not answering calls msgs, but I want all of you to know I am truly humbled indebted forever for the wishes prayers and concern from all over the world. I am grateful to God and my partner for making me a warrior too. I am at present focused on the strategies of the battlefield which I have to conquer.

 

It wasn’t and isn’t and is not going to be easy but the hope ignited by the magnitude of family, friends, and fans of Irrfan has made me only optimistic and almost sure of the victory.

 

I know curiosity germinates from concern but let’s turn our curiosity from what it is to what it should be. Let’s change the leaf.

 

Let’s not waste our precious energies to only know what it is and just pray to make it what it should be.

 

My humble request to all of you is to concentrate on the song of life, to dance of life to victory.

 

My family will soon join in this dance of life.

 

Thank you all from the bottom of our heart.

 

Sutapa irrfan babil ayaan.”

The return of Irrfan with the two RRs was awaited. You never came back. We waited. The last farewell in Angrezi Medium still hurts. Irfan Khan passed away on April 29, 2020, after being admitted to the ICU for a colon infection.

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


This article was originally published on March 12, 2018.

Asian Americans Unite Against the True Virus

On April 25th, nearly 400 people logged into the Asian American Unification Seminar to strongly and forthrightly speak with one unified voice against racism and xenophobic acts targeting Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and blaming them for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar, hosted on Zoom, was presented by the Asian American Unity Coalition (AAUC), in partnership with Ding Ding TV, and sponsored by Civic Leadership USA (CLUSA),  and APAPA.

Moderator Anthony Le introduced Dr. S.K Lo, President of the Asian American Unity Coalition (AAUC),  who welcomed participants to the gathering and highlighted contributions and donations made by Asian Americans during the pandemic. 

A video showed  Yen Marshall, the Executive Director, Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA), and members of APAPA chapters in NY, Texas, and Seattle, serving their communities by contributing PPE, get well cards, and other equipment to fight the pandemic. 

New York City Comptroller Scott M Stringer, assured Asian Americans on behalf of his city, which has seen a rise in Asian American hate crimes, that they were not alone. “There are public officials, advocates, activists from around the city, and the United States that are going to protect and defend the enormous contributions of the Asian American community.” He expressed admiration for the Asian American front line workers who fearlessly go to work every day.

Keynote speaker, NY Congresswoman Grace Meng, who was traveling with her two sons from Washington DC to New York, dialed into the webinar from her car.  Rep. Meng, a founder, and Co-Chair of the Kids’ Safety Caucus was introduced by Stringer as a defender of liberty who understands diversity. “When any community is under attack, when hate comes to Latinos, Jewish or any community she is the first one to show up,” said Stringer. “She is making a name for herself on the national stage and is being recognized as the next generational leadership in the United States of America.” Like Meng, Stringer is the father of two boys and does not want to leave a legacy of hate for them.  

“Attacks on Asian Americans have skyrocketed to 100 per day during the pandemic,” said Meng, who has introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to denounce the anti-Asian sentiment caused by reaction to the pandemic. The resolution has 124 cosponsors including Kamala Harris.

She pointed out that, “The increased use of anti-Asian rhetoric, particularly from our nation’s leaders such as the President, and their use of terms like ‘Chinese virus,’ ‘Wuhan virus,’ and ‘Kung-flu,’ is not only irresponsible, reckless, and downright disgusting, it threatens the safety of the Asian American community; such language demeans, disparages, and scapegoats Asian Americans.”  Meng urged people to speak up.  “It is because we spoke up that the President has taken note.”

Ding Ding TV Webinar

The rest of the webinar featured presentations and community sharing – audience contributions moderated by host Anthony Le. Speakers reported racist incidents and shared statistics about bias and hate crimes which have surged against the AAPI community, after the coronavirus crisis.  

Some participants reported that small businesses in areas with high Asian American populations have been vandalized.

Stop AAPI Hate, a website created by California-based advocacy organizations to document hate crimes in seven languages, reported more than 1,600 incidents in the three weeks since it launched, escalating to a rate of about 100 per day. Organizers say it’s likely that the rate of reporting severely undercounts the actual number of incidents taking place every day across the country.

Jason Tengco, Senior Advisor, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA),  moderated sessions on hate and bias interventions, and on resources and non-profits that offer support.

AAJC and Hollaback! announced bystander intervention training sessions that teach people how to safely intervene when they see harassment happening

In a final interactive reflection exercise, people who were witnesses to hate crimes, were encouraged to commit to action: report the incident ( Stand Against Hate offers legal aid), partner anti-bullying organizations like Act To Change (a national nonprofit dedicated to ending bullying in the AAPI community, participate in AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hatred on May 18, and, sign up for bystander intervention training provided by Asians Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and Hollaback! 

Online surveys were conducted by the host before, and during the webinar to assess the mood of the audience which was calm and relaxed to begin with and then became nervous, worried, anxious, and unsure resulting from the backlash of the pandemic on APIA. 

It was clear that the virus of hate chokes the life out of us as much as the virus of COVID-19.

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