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Chasing Memories Inside of Santa Clara County’s Desi Grocery Stores

Masala Heroes is a three-part series on Santa Clara County’s South Asian (Desi) grocery stores and their contribution to their community’s health. This first article provides a resource map of all the Desi grocery stores and Desi restaurants of Santa Clara County in 2021.

I’m exhausted after my Kathak dance class but Ma is determined to finish her errands at Kumud Groceries, the Desi store which is now Trinethra on Pearl Avenue. She needs lauki (calabash), karela (bitter gourd), and dhaniya (cilantro) to cook for the week. I try to haggle. “Leave me at home and then go to Safeway. It’s two minutes from our house,” I whine. I’m tired and I don’t want to be seen wearing my Kathak kurtha. Ma tries to bribe me with Falooda and samosas. “You know that I can’t get everything I need at Safeway,” she says. Finally, she promises that I can pick out the Bollywood DVD rental for our family movie night. We strike a deal.

Perched at the intersection of Pearl Avenue and Branham Lane, Trinethra is the quintessential Desi (ethnic) grocery store that emblemizes the sights, sounds, scents, and feelings of South Asia. The bustle inside is reminiscent of the corner bazaar with densely packed vegetables, packets of Kurkure hanging from walls, Parle-G biscuits to pair with chai, and the constant chitter-chatter in some South Asian dialect that, even if you don’t understand, has an intimate warmth. Bay Area immigrants gravitate to their local Desi grocery store to find items essential to their ethnic diet, but they leave with more than just the items in their shopping cart. 

Asha Panday does almost all her shopping online, except for when she makes the long drive to the India Cash and Carry in Sunnyvale. “I go because I want to feel the vegetables, smell the spices, and look at all the stuff. [It] gives me the feeling of being back in India. I used to live in the Santa Cruz mountains and made the 50-mile trip every month. Now I live in San Francisco and still make the 50-mile trip.”

Touching the methi (fenugreek leaves), smelling fragrant MTR spice blends, spotting the familiar Desi face on the Vatika coconut hair-oil bottles — these are the things that provide Panday, and other Desi immigrants, with a sense of solace and belonging, which is invaluable to Desi mental and cultural health.

When Susheela Narayan visits her local Desi grocery store, she’s taken back to the times spent with her father. The combination of fresh Indian vegetables neatly stacked up and the ubiquitous smell of different spices that pervades the store takes me back 50 years to memories of going to the Indian bazaars of my youth with my father. It’s oddly comforting, especially during the pandemic.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when South Asian immigrants were separated from their families — some fell ill and many had to grieve in isolation — the 24 Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County were lifelines to familial memories and home. These Desi grocery stores have continued to serve a population of 1.7 million people, of which 6.6% (112,200) are Indian (2010 census data doesn’t specify other South Asian demographics). Desi grocery stores, small but mighty, are imperative as mediums for diasporic cultural knowledge and diet, for a heterogeneous and robust Desi culture, and for the proliferation of other Desi businesses. Time and time again, we see cultural dilution as a consequence of assimilation. The variety and the sheer number of Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County are unique, recent, and fragile. These stores are the heroes of the South Bay Desi community, actualizing the very identities that define the people accessing them. South Asians and others alike must sustain these businesses as a means for cultural preservation. 

After the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act was reversed and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed, South Asians on H1B visas moved into the hills of Silicon Valley. As a new immigrant base in California, they were subjected to inequitable access to ethnic food and an undercurrent of American xenophobia. Many assimilated and ethnic foods were replaced by food seen as “western”, thus more acceptable. Restrictive immigration policies only allowed for those with ‘highly specialized knowledge and a ‘college degree’ to enter and work in the U.S. under the H1B visa. Devoid of recognizable language, family, and culture, Desi immigrants sought comfort and belonging. It was this desire to grasp at the cultural ties from which the nascent Desi food culture was born. Food was the vehicle to keep a part of their culture in a  foreign land and the Desi grocery store was a means to that end.     

“It felt like home a little bit. It had the same ingredients…the same things you put in your stomach, the same aromas, and you even hear familiar dialects in the background.” Hardeep Setia fondly remembers his visits to Singh’s Video, a grocery store in San Jose that has long since shut down. Setia’s piquant reflection distinctly calls upon the feeling of community, one of many whispered tales that are shelved within the aisles of the ethnic grocery store. A first-generation Punjabi-Gujarati American, Setia has lived in San Jose since he was seven years old and frequents the Desi grocery stores that are sprinkled throughout the South Bay. 

Srishti Prabha outside of Kamal Spice House in South San Jose.

Inside the Desi Grocery Store

“Food becomes the symbol of a people,” says Dr. Lok Siu, a Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California Berkeley who studies the correlation between culture and food. The tangential use of misinformed terminology like “curry” and the constant reduction of Indian food to “Chicken Tikka Masala” propagates stereotyping of a multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-faceted, centuries-old culture. Dr. Siu poignantly reminds us that, “Food becomes a way of articulating distance, othering, and discrimination.”

As recently as August 19, 2021, Gene Weingarten’s Washington Post opinion article disparagingly referred to Indian food as food that “you can’t make me eat,” inaccurately stating that it was an entire cuisine based on one spice (a statement that was later retracted) — an egregious misstep he wouldn’t have made had he entered a Desi grocery store even once.  

Even before setting foot in Kamal Spice House in San Jose, images of a variety of DEEP’s products, frozen samosas, pickles, and spices, decorate the windows. The DEEP overplayed commercial catchphrase — “Khao to jaano” (only if you eat, you’ll know) — comes to mind. Crates of Alphonso mangoes, a Desi favorite, and local newspapers (India-West) greet shoppers at the door. 

Once inside, to the right, fresh produce is available in abundance at low prices. It’s common to see shoppers feel the rough, green bhindi (okra), placing those deemed suitably supple, in their carts. The keen Desi eye scans for vegetables and fruits that are elusive in non-Desi supermarkets — baingan (Indian eggplant), parwal (pointed gourd), haree mirch (green chili), moringa (drumstick), nariyal (coconut), sem (green beans), dhaniya (coriander/cilantro), tindora (scarlet gourd), and more. Against the wall, an overwhelming selection of 10-pound bags with brown rice, basmati rice, long-grain rice, and jasmine rice are stacked against the wall. 

For those unsure of what to cook, how to cook, or short on time, frozen goods — parathas, naans, pre-made meals — are in the first aisle for a quick stop shop. Fridges line most of the back perimeter with more pre-made meals, halal meats, paneer, dosa and idli batter, sweets, and other dairy products. 

Sujata Ramaswamy drives with her family from Emeryville to get her groceries in the South Bay. Today, she comes to Kamal Spice House with a list. Her shopping cart is brimming with dals and spices, a methi leaf peeking out between the packets. She could be in and out in 15 minutes, instead, she spends 30 minutes inside, casually strolling through the aisles and looking at all the options. It’s very relatable,” she says, “And more comforting because you can use Hindi. It’s also a little nostalgic because we lived in India for a while. In the beginning, when we came, it felt easier to go to the Indian store. We didn’t know anyone, so it’s that familiarity that helped.” 

One side of an aisle is mainly spices – jeera (cumin), haldi (turmeric), kashmiri mirch, lal mirch (red chili), chaat masalas, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry pathas (curry leaf), panch phoran (five spices), and more. Another side of an aisle is for the many dried dals – moong, kabuli chana, masoor, urad – with a combination of Hindi and English packaging.  

The spice aisle at Kamal Spice House in South San Jose.

And jostling for space within the stores are also different types of chai, biscuits, Haldiram bhujia blends/snacks, oils and ghee, pickles, incense, puja items. Shoppers’ eyes dart back and forth trying to decide between all the options. 

An entryway to the left leads to an in-house food stall which emanates with the delicious scents of freshly made pakoras, vadas, and chaat. In classic Desi bazaar fashion, even the space behind the counter is packed with items like oils, shampoos, and other Patanjali products. Desi goods are in every nook and cranny at Kamal Spice House, it’s almost hard to believe you aren’t in India.

San Jose resident Narasimhan Kasthuri puts it best, “​​The kind of food we eat is available only in our [Desi grocery] stores. Though Costco is selling some of them, our needs are still unmet.” Though big conglomerate supermarkets are convenient and carry some overpriced ethnic goods, they don’t have the imagery, the language, the known embedded in their very blueprint. Kamal Spice House and other Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County archive memories, generational dietary knowledge, dialect, and cultural practice. Ethnic grocery stores function as thresholds to organic introductions of a cultural minority to neighborhoods. 

Nikita, who didn’t want us to include her last name, finds that shopping at Kamal Spice House bridges the 8,200 miles that separate California and India: “Some flavors are linked to childhood memories and comfort. Products from the store allow me to relive that.” 

Around the Desi Grocery Store 

Ali’s Driving School, a room for rent, Shashi’s threading and waxing business are just a few of the flyers that adorn the outer facade of Trinethra in South San Jose. Surrounding Desi businesses in SCC find a space on the walls at the Desi grocery stores. This is a common phenomenon, says Dr. Lok Siu, “[Desi grocery stores] help with the expansion of restaurants and other ethnic businesses.” 

Desi grocery stores in five major cities in Santa Clara County – Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and San Jose – spurred the evolution of other Desi businesses such as restaurants, temples, wedding service providers, clothing, catering, and publications. 

“India Currents magazine was always in the corner [of the grocery store] and I remember my dad would pick it up,” Ritika Kumar (25) recalls and smiles — a memory meandering between the spice shelves, a dispersing aroma. “I was 10 and I have this very vivid memory of opening an India Currents magazine and they had interviewed the chef of Amber. I remember that butter chicken recipe!” Kumar’s story is evocative, bringing forth the remnants of a physical print version of India Currents (now fully digital) and the content within it, one which elevated Desi restaurants (Amber – one of the first Indian fine dining restaurants in the Bay Area) and their cuisine. 

Creating pipelines for the distribution of South Asian goods and services, Desi grocery stores are the key to burgeoning Desi entrepreneurship and wealth creation. Jasmine Patel, a third-generation Gujarati-American, is part of a household of Desi entrepreneurs. “My grandfather’s brother came in the late 60’s as a student. He and his other brother got jobs as engineers in the U.S. and brought their families. I think at that time non-work-related visas were easier to get. Once family members became citizens, they were able to open businesses. That’s how my family began opening [Indian] warehouses and [Indian] grocery stores in the Bay Area and across the U.S. My aunt was the previous owner of Kumud (now Trinethra in South San Jose) Groceries.” 

Just across the Santa Clara County line, Santa Cruz County has just one Desi grocery store, showing how unevenly ethnic grocery stores are distributed. As a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, Arindam Sarma attempted to replicate his family’s diet. It proved to be a little harder. He comments that “in Santa Cruz, there is exactly one shop in the entire city. It is this tiny one-room shop that has Indian clothes, Indian music, Indian food. It was the only place in the entire city to get spices at a reasonable price. Although I couldn’t always get all items I needed at this store, it was nice to have somewhere to get Indian ingredients.”

The map below indicates the high density of South Asian grocery stores in Santa Clara County and the restaurants surrounding them. Desi grocery stores facilitate a well-rounded, inclusive understanding of the various diasporic differences within the community, as can be deduced from the origins of the cuisine offered in Santa Clara County – Uttar Pradesh, Chettinad, Chennai, Mysore, Punjab, Gujarat, Pakistan, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh. Within the map find locations of active grocery stores with locations, quotes, and transit lines. 

Future of the Desi Grocery Stores

India Currents conducted a survey on the significance of Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County. We received 106 responses from a cross-section of society, 86 of which were from people in Santa Clara County. Despite people talking about how meaningful Desi grocery stores were to them, 69% of South Asians who regularly access the Desi grocery stores responded to the question, “Why is coming to this grocery store meaningful to you?”, with “no story”, “unsure”, “nearby”, or that it had “fresh vegetables.” 

Ancestral knowledge of nutrition, health, and cooking practices becomes harder to impart in immigrant communities: partly because of the removal of the individual from a consistent cultural environment where one is inundated with knowledge from aunts, uncles, and neighbors; and partly because of the limited access to ingredients. 95% of people accessing the Desi grocery stores are South Asians in search of traditional vegetables, spices, and snacks. New and old immigrants sustain the ethnic groceries stores with their subconscious cravings for the familiar. However, a glaring discrepancy appears when surveying the Desi grocery stores in SCC — the next generation of Desi Americans appears to be absent. Have the cravings shifted from roti and aloo bhujia to burger and fries?

In-depth interviews with 10 Desi-Americans, ages 25-32, living in the Bay Area, reveal that nine of them intellectually understand the existence of Desi grocery stores as cultural hubs. Their memories are graphic and vivid, communicating a universal childhood experience of seeking spicy snacks, DVDs, and music in these spaces. But eight out ten of them say, they don’t frequent these stores, unless they are running errands for their parents. 

Sarma (26), a second-generation Assamese-American, recalls the formative moment in his adult years when he went to Trinethra: “When I was a little older…my mom asked me to go pick up rice. This is the first time I had gone to the store to do a grocery run on my own…So I go to the store and I’m like, rice shouldn’t be too hard to get. In Safeway, there is one area with one type of rice. I go to the [Indian grocery store] and there are walls of rice. Different kinds everywhere. And I think to myself, which rice do I get? There are 50 types. What have I been eating for most of my life?” 

Patel (29) relays a similar experience of “being told to go get something and being very lost – not knowing what it looks like. Something ground in a bag?” 

Fortunately for Sarma and Patel, a quick call to a parent or a chat with the grocery store employee can solve their problem. These stories expose the crucial role of generational knowledge, the bearers of which are either family members, or those working in the store sourcing the ingredients needed for an ethnic diet. Nine out of the 10 respondents relied on their immediate family for ancestral food-related knowledge.

Radhika Swaminarayan (28), a first-generation Gujarati-American, adds more context to her experience after having lived in places like Seaside, Oregon with little to no access to Desi grocery stores: “Growing up, my family moved a lot. Wherever I lived, [my family] was the only Indian family in the area. It wasn’t until I came to San Jose that I embraced being Indian. I had no one to share those experiences with before .” Swaminarayan finds that, in her experience, the higher density of Desi grocery stores promotes tolerance for ethnic diversity. In San Jose, she feels she can be her most authentic self – wearing madailu (symbolic Gujarati jewelry), eating pau bhaji, and drinking Bournvita (Indian milk supplement) every morning. 

All of the first and second-generation Desis said that they would feel a “loss of belonging” if Desi grocery stores were inaccessible. But while the next generation of Desi-Americans intellectualizes the importance of ethnic grocery stores as cultural hubs, they aren’t shopping there. “I do not cook Indian food. I’ll go to the [Desi grocery store] with my mom sometimes but I usually don’t go on my own,” Patel notes. She appreciates how Desi grocery stores are invariably also cultural hubs. 

As children of Desi immigrants and their progeny become further removed from the roots of their heritage, the Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County serve as consistent lifelines to their identities and lineage.

On a recent COVID grocery run to Trinethra, Dimple Ben, the manager, says to me, “Is bar ma ne bheja?” (This time your mom sent you?) She knows that my brother and I have been alternating grocery shifts for our parents. She recognizes me even behind my mask, I feel special. Once inside, I try to make my grocery run quick but that proves to be difficult. I video call my mom to clarify which dal she wants. What used to feel like a chore, now is enjoyable as I pick out items from the Desi grocery store that my stomach desires. Falooda kulfi ice cream goes into my car. My mouth waters at the thought of bhindi bhujia and so in goes the okra. During the pandemic, ma and I have been exploring recipes together, so I try to find the spices for Paneer 65. As I check out, I find comfort in knowing that I always find Dimple Ben and her no-nonsense demeanor at Trinethra. She has seen it all — from my Kathak kurthas and petulant attitude to my first solo grocery store trip and numerous questions. She hands me my groceries and I come to the realization that she is my Masala Hero. 

This article was produced as a project for the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2021 California Fellowship.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.

This article couldn’t have been written without the help of Editor Kavitha Cardoza.


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

Bay Area Affordable Housing Isn’t a Panacea. I Know, I Went Through the System.

“If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing discrimination…Housing discrimination is as quiet as it is deadly,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic in 2014. 

Knock. Knock. Knock.

“Hello, Srishti. You have time to help me?” I know who it is. Like clockwork, she came to my office every day. 

Judy, a resident at Tyrella Gardens
Judy, a resident at Tyrella Gardens.

Judy (56) was a Korean American resident in the Mountain View low-income/affordable housing building, Tyrella Gardens, where I was working as a MidPen Family Services Coordinator. 

A divorced, immigrant, single mother, and a Section 8 recipient, Judy had to navigate the bureaucratic Santa Clara County Social Services system alone. She often reached out to me for rental assistance, legal advice, tax education, resume building, or job search help, and to decipher the English legalese on official documents. 

In August of 2019, armed with Coates’ wisdom and a naive passion for justice, I ventured into a career in affordable housing. Little did I know, my clients and I were ill-equipped and set up for failure. I was just another added number to a high rate of attrition of Resource Coordinators at affordable housing facilities, and Judy’s loss of housing was collateral damage.  

When Judy tried to access resources in Santa Clara County, it often resulted in confusion, frustration, and even aggression from county employees. Judy, lost in the labyrinth of an unfamiliar language, would repeat herself and struggle to answer the litany of personal questions asked. The county employees, overwhelmed with the number of calls received, tried to get through each client quickly. 

English language fluency, dedicated time, and deference dictate the probability of a positive result.

Case Study 1: Judy frantically calls various organizations for a government-issued cell phone plan. They tell her she is ineligible. I call a few hours later and she has a phone in her hand within the week.

Case Study 2: Judy reaches out to the local church for rental assistance. They tell her she isn’t the right fit for their donation program. I reach out to the same church on her behalf and a few weeks later, after some paperwork and interviews, Judy receives rent relief. 

Affordable housing corporations build a niche market of jobs for Resource Coordinators, capitalizing on their empathy and desire for equity, to meet the demands of their municipalities. Housing instability positions 40% of Californian renters with the invariable choice of having to allocate half of their income for rent. These renters become financially vulnerable and are increasingly reliant on government-funded resources. Lip service and self-congratulatory behavior about housing policy by notable leaders calls for media attention. Instead, left in the wake are the underpaid, understaffed Resource Coordinators with the onus of uplifting the disenfranchised.

“I can’t imagine you not here, Srishti. You help me so much,” Judy said to me one afternoon after searching for jobs.

Those words echoed heavy and hollow. 

It was a laborious job. I serviced the residents at two different housing locations, independently taught and developed the after-school program for kids (many of whom had learning disabilities), created the high school program for teens, ran the farmer’s market, conducted countless engagement events, and more. To top it all off, a lot of my time was spent tediously cataloging my work on Salesforce for upper management, who seemed more concerned with the data-tracking tool than with their employees on the ground. 

For many months, I was at an impasse. I couldn’t decide if I should leave Tyrella Gardens. I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel supported, I wasn’t paid well, and I was perpetually ill. 

Internally struggling, I went back and forth between these questions: If I left, how would my absence make Judy feel? How would my coworkers fare without my help? Was the pay worth the hours I put in? Did I feel valued by MidPen Housing? Did I feel supported by MidPen Housing? Was the job sustainable?

The pandemic was a chaotic trigger in my life and Judy’s. I quit my job at Midpen Housing in February of 2020 and the lockdown began soon after. My immediate worry was — how would Judy fare?

Perhaps, I should have been apprehensive of my own housing situation. I was living with three roommates and three out of the four of us were without consistent sources of income. We concluded that the responsible thing would be to break the lease. 

Our property management company made it an arduous and expensive ordeal — it would cost me more to break the lease than it would be to stay. Either way, I didn’t have the funds. I never thought that I, an educated and resourceful Indian American from the Bay Area, would be caught up in what felt like housing injustice.

Ping! 

I received a Facebook message from Judy, who continues to reach out to me for help.

April 12, 2020: “Hello. I will stay home April & May. Coronavirus. Do I need time off? Could you call me?”

Judy was concerned about her job as an Amazon shopper at Whole Foods, which I had helped her attain.

Unclear of what to do about my housing, I searched “tenant rights for San Jose residents” on my phone as I logged on to Judy’s work portal on my computer to figure out how she could take time off and pay her bills. 

Judy, a proactive woman, is a byproduct of circumstance. I know this because I know Judy — why she needs help, her backstory, how to communicate with her to get an informative response. But most importantly, our shared history as Asian immigrants help us have productive, respectful conversations.

“You are so nice, Srishti. You always help,” she said once as she handed me fruits. She was grateful to be shown kindness, but I was only doing my job.

I knew the residents disliked the turnover of people in my position. They told me stories of all the other Coordinators who had come before me. Those in my position felt like bad actors in a mythical story. I didn’t want to be another in a series of transient people in their lives that seemed to care momentarily. I lugged this weight around with me.  

I kept promising them I would stay, but I had noticed a trend. Our group of around fifty Family Service Coordinators would meet once a month and one by one, I saw older coworkers exit the organization and new faces replace them. After 8 months, I was a replaced face too. At least 10 out of 50 employees were gone within the year — a 20% loss and a turnover rate that is high for any organization.

In June of 2021, I contacted the cohort of coworkers I worked with at MidPen: Jennifer Villasano (23), Kristi Seymour (24), Diana Lumbreras (25). We had started our time at MidPen together in August of 2019 and they were still there when I left in February of 2020. 

Were they able to debunk my theory that the Coordinator position in affordable housing is an unsustainable job?

Villasano laughed and thought back to when she first joined MidPen, “It was my first job out of college…At first I thought, I get to give back to my community” and then she noted it became “hard to give more” partially because of the organization she was working for. 

She continued to work during the pandemic and was appalled by how MidPen did not value her safety. “Residents and co-workers wouldn’t wear masks during the pandemic and I didn’t want to be exposed [to COVID],” she continued, “One of the residents got COVID and because of some Act, management wouldn’t tell us who.” She felt this was a breach of her well-being since she had to continue to “flyer” at the housing facility and interact with all the residents. 

“No one was checking in on the coordinators. It was exhausting.”

Jennifer Villasano quit in July of 2020.

As to why she left, she decisively stated, “Instead of speaking up for us, [management] would ask us to do more. They wouldn’t support us…They need to do better.”

Kristi Seymour, a Guyanese-American woman, corroborates that, “Management wasn’t the best. Expectations weren’t met. That could also tie into the high turnover rate. If you don’t feel like your managers care about you … you’re not going to tell them anything and leave at the first chance.” Seymour felt slighted by the inconsistent nature of support provided and emphatically asserts, “I think its pay. I think it’s management. As the people actually delivering the services, you’re not getting paid enough for what you do…They expect a lot out of you — running after-school programs and delivering services to 40-50 units.”

Kristi Seymour quit in June of 2020.

Diana Lumbreras, a Mexican-American woman, shared a similar narrative to mine: “MidPen was my first job where I was working with housing, it was interesting to see how it worked. It was about numbers. We didn’t have time to build relationships because we had to get stuff in.”

Lumbreras forged on during the pandemic. The lockdown exacerbated the pre-existing concerns that she had with MidPen. 

“Something that happened during the pandemic that actually bugged me was that, of course, mostly everyone at my [housing site] lost their jobs. I was going door to door ‘flyering’ with resources for food banks, assistance for rent, anything and everything that I could find to help [the residents]. When it came to documentation…[management] said that there was no way of documenting my work because it wasn’t something [they] had asked for.”

Diana Lumbreras quit in August of 2020.

“What am I doing here?” She asked herself before leaving her job. “I was told that even if I did more, that there was no way of getting credit for that work … essentially saying, don’t even do [the work] if you can’t document it. That was the part that got me so upset because I was doing so much. I was printing out flyers in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and going door to door.”

The stories relayed to me by the Ghosts of Coordinators Past held a valuable nugget. The Family Services Coordinator position entrenched within the affordable housing complex is integral to the health of the community it serves. Lumbreras poignantly reminds me of this when she tells me, “As an essential worker during the pandemic, I felt important because people were coming to me when they actually needed help.” That weight I was lugging around was part of Diana’s story too. In reality, this burden wasn’t ours to bear. The responsibility to the community of clients and employees should be accounted for in the system attempting to address the housing crisis in the Bay Area. 

Family Service Coordinators are servicing low-income to median-income residents and, yet, they are well below the low-income threshold of $58,00 for housing in Santa Clara County themselves. Hourly pay at between $19-$20/hour, the average person working in affordable housing is making a yearly salary of a whopping $38,400 before taxes, and are most likely people of color. How can those tasked to elevate the marginalized put their best foot forward when they are being marginalized themselves? 

California housing prices have been on the rise. In May of 2021, the median home price in California was $818,260 with the SF Bay Area region clocking in at a 38.9% increase in the median home price since 2020 — the highest increase in the state. The nuclear family home, which was more attainable for the Baby Boomer generation, is a far-fetched dream for 44% of California residents. Despite the eviction moratorium being extended for another three months with the offer of all low-income past-due back rent being paid by the state, renters have been in a precarious situation for the last year, their benefits and interests at the whims of their landlords.

California housing policy is trending toward investment in affordable housing communities. Tina Rosales, a Policy Advocate at Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) based in Sacramento is pushing for equitable and fair housing. In a concerted effort with WCLP, Francisco Dueñas, Executive Director of Housing Now, advocates for the divestment of government resources from private construction and into affordable housing and Land Trusts. 

Since 2016, Santa Clara County has been on track to exponentially increase accessible housing when residents voted for Measure A in an effort to alleviate housing injustice. Measure A approved $950 million to build 4,800 affordable housing units in the county. Since then, the county has dedicated more funds to affordable housing while overlooking their commitment to the communities they serve. 

Affordable housing is the future of Bay Area housing. Thus, forthcoming policy must account for evidence-based case studies. Narratives of employee loss and its subsequent adverse effect on residents are an emerging barrier to housing equity. 

Ultimately, the residents suffer. 

I kept reaching out to Judy but hear from her less and less. Embroiled in my own housing fiasco, the upkeep of our relationship recedes to the backburner.

On May 25, 2021, I finally received a message from Judy: “I stay in Korea. I can call around this time tomorrow.”

When we speak, she informs me that in September of 2020, her Section 8 rent had increased from approximately $120 to approximately $600. Unable to afford rent and scared of resuming work, Judy moved back home with her parents in Korea. She decided to wait out the pandemic in Korea but was hopeful she could come back to the US after the pandemic. With no address on hand and no paperwork filed, Santa Clara Housing Authority (SCCHA) revoked Judy’s Section 8 housing when MidPen marked her as an absentee renter. 

Since May of 2021, Judy and I have been trying to access her SCCHA specialist to figure out how to move forward. Judy wants to resume residence in America but cannot do so without Section 8 housing. The SCCHA offices are closed (in a time when their services are most necessary) and the operators manning the phone lines have not given any clear answers — we are stuck in cyclical redirection.

Affordable housing was effective for Judy when someone could guide her through the government regulations. Diana Lumbreras similarly posited, “I would put the resources out there, but the same people that lived in the housing were limited in the knowledge that they had to get the resources.” Judy’s back-rent can be paid by the state, but that decision came too late in this particular case. The system failed Judy.

Though I was edged out of the apartment I was living in at the beginning of the pandemic, I finagled my way into a Below-Market-Rate apartment that was listed as an affordable housing unit in San Jose. I managed to pay off the previous landlord and save money at my new complex. Affordable housing isn’t perfect, however, it did lend itself perfectly to me. 

Judy and I had inequitable outcomes. 

Creating resources and delivering resources seem to be at odds with one another. What they require is synergy.

Here are the asks:

  1. The base pay for Resource Coordinators needs to increase to a number that reflects their invaluable service to the community.
  2. There should be an increase in employee retention rates at affordable housing sites.
  3. There should be more on-site staff for support.
  4. There should be more focus on relationship-building and less on the number of initiatives implemented.
  5. There should be a symbiotic relationship between resource coordinators and the county services staff.
  6. There should be a creation of a Union for workers in social services in the state.

“Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute,” proffers Ta-Nehisi Coates

No home. No country to call her own. Judy embodies the silent way in which housing inequity diminishes a person’s agency and identity. 

We need to do better. We have to do better — Not just by creating accessible housing, but by creating sustainable networks of people that can ensure the diverse and equitable growth of our community in the Bay Area. 

*We reached out to MidPen Housing for comment. They did not respond to our request.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.

*Srishti Prabha wrote this article with support from Ethnic Media Services’ Housing Fellowship program.


 

Top: Photograph of indentured Indian labourers at Spring Garden Buildings. Jamaica, 1880 (Image from the National Archive); Bottom: Contrabands at headquarters of Gen. Lafayette, 1862. Contrabands was an expression coined by Gen. Benjamin F. Butler to describe escaped slaves (Photo by Mathew B. Brady courtesy Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library/Yale University via Wikimedia Commons)

Juneteenth Isn’t Enough: How Indian-Americans Can Use Their Pasts to Help Another Present

Though empires abolished slavery in the Caribbean islands during the 1830s, their move to the model of indentured servitude wasn’t much better. From 1838 to 1917, western European governments transported over 500,000 Indian indentured servants to work on their plantations in the Caribbean. Some were brought unwillingly and others consented to their servitude, however, most servants were not made aware of the horrific conditions and treatment that they would face. Really, the “indentured servitude” model that colonizers granted Indian laborers was a fancy word for slavery.

During the same time period, on January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – enslaved individuals in the Confederate States had been freed. Unfortunately, even a document as official as the Emancipation Proclamation was flawed and freedom for all enslaved people would come only after the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865.

In a Confederate state like Texas, the power balance between the state and federal governments meant that Texas’ leaders could decide if they wanted to put the document into effect. Finally, on June 19, 1865 – hence the term “Juneteenth” – 2,000 Union troops invaded Galveston Bay, Texas, officially declaring freedom for all enslaved Texans.  “Juneteenth” marks the day that Black Texans gained freedom – the last state to adopt the Emancipation Proclamation in America.

Two centuries later, Juneteenth just became recognized as a federal holiday in the United States. July 4th may stand as the country’s day of independence from Great Britain, but Juneteenth stands as the country’s second independence day in recognition of freedom for all citizens. 

Similarly, India may be politically independent, but colonization still manifests itself in subtle ways. In fact, Raja Masood, an associate professor of postcolonial literature and theory, notes that “children are still taught to write an application using words and phrases that endorse a colonial mentality such as “Yours obediently” or “Your obedient servant.” Think of the word “boss” commonly used in the Caribbean and Asian communities. How about the titles Maiam (Madam) and Saab (Sir)? My English professor said, “Don’t call me sir, call me Mike.” Students in India and Pakistan are taught primarily in English and almost every school teaches the language as if it’s their native tongue.

Indian huts on a sugar plantation near Port Louis in Mauritius. (Image by Frederick Fiebig from the British Library)
Indian huts on a sugar plantation near Port Louis in Mauritius. (Image by Frederick Fiebig from the British Library)

Classism and casteism were amplified outcomes of colonization in India. In fact, the stratification and division that colonization brought to India pre-Partition, remains part of Indian ideology and society. Colonization has, also, pushed Indians to disassociate from Black people. The British, having created stratified structures, pit minorities against one another, “us” versus “them,” and unlearning this behavior has been harder than learning it.

June 19th, recognized as the day that slaves gained their freedom, also recognizes that Black people are still fighting for equality and justice. The murders of Black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are clear signs that anti-Blackness is ever prevalent and detrimental in society today. As Indian Americans, how can we use our riddled history to empathize with the plight of minorities in America?

Inter-minority division feels illogical. We often talk about the atrocities that slavery and colonization individually brought, but what we recognize less are the parallels between them. These parallels are proof that hegemonic institutions have inflicted trauma on a range of minorities. The treatment, which both the Indian slaves and African American slaves endured, was horrendous and, unfortunately, very similar. The governing bodies of both India and the United States exploited people for their own benefit.

Bibee Zuhoorun was one of the many laborers who was made to work in the Caribbean. She shares her testimony in an ongoing investigation on the India indenture trade. Zuhoorun says, “the injustice meted out to fellow labourers – a story of overworked men subjected to ill-treatment and corporal punishment. Labourers were often confined within plantations and denied wages if they refused to work. She felt stuck in a foreign land.” Zuhoorun was one of many.

Women were kidnapped off of the streets in India and brought to the Caribbean islands for the Indian male laborers. Kalyani Srinivas, a resident of the Bay Area and a person of Indian-Trinidadian descent, emphatically states, “Isn’t it a travesty that history misrepresents the blatant slave trade of Indians to the Caribbeans. My great-great grandmother was 16 and holding her child in India when she was taken forcibly by the British to Trinidad. She was brought as incentive for indentured male workers.” 

Sexual harassment was a common occurrence and Zuhoorun didn’t receive wages for 2.5 years of her labor. Britain profited largely off of the East India Company and did more harm than good; the British ran the company logistics and financials, and Indians did not get authority nor benefits from the company.  

Contrastingly, I note the words of Fountain Hughes, a slave who was interviewed in 1949 and whose words have been archived by the United States Congress. His story is long, but he emphasizes the idea that the slaves were alone, and the conditions they existed in were not worth living for. He says: “we, no more money, but course they bought more stuff and more property and all like that. We didn’t have no property. We didn’t have no home. We had nowhere or nothing. We didn’t have nothing only just, uh, like your cattle, we were just turned out. And uh, get along the best you could. Nobody to look after us. Well, we been slaves all our lives.” 

Worse of all is the similarity in the devastating number of casualties that both races faced. An estimated 35 million in casualties is said to have come from the irresponsible rule of the British in India and at least 17 million people died as a result of slavery and slave trade. Both times, abuse of power took the lives of millions of innocent citizens. Both times, these casualties were avoidable. 

Our shared narratives have been erased, omitted, and forgotten in written history. Let us remember that Indian-Americans are not far removed from their history of slavery and colonialism.

This year has brought about obstacles for the AAPI community. In fact, AAPI hate is running rampant our society, and in standing up for the AAPI and Black community, we create a united front – one that is stronger than any individual alone. 

Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the freedom of African American slaves, and for Indian-Americans, it is a day to reflect on our ancestry and shared trauma to empower others in our community.


Ayanna Gandhi is an 11th grader at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California. She has a deep interest in writing and reading but also enjoys politics, singing, and sports of all kinds. 

Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.


 

'Choices' Film Poster

Pro-Life or Pro-choice: San Jose Indian Writes a Film on Abortion

A short film about abortion written by a San Jose resident and an Indian American is an exciting prospect. Choices, a film directed by Amir Jaffer, produced by Ajit Mukundan, and written and co-acted by Puneet, is taking on the socially relevant debate surrounding abortion. The short film is about two individuals who are steadfast in their views but are forced to reckon with changed circumstances requiring them to revisit their entrenched positions on being pro-life and pro-choice, respectively. 

Though Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of a woman’s choice to seek an abortion, felt like a positive resolution, the 50-year discourse on pro-life and pro-choice continues to be contentious. This year, 165 bills banning abortion were introduced in state legislatures. Every election cycle, hopeful candidates seek a platform built on the divisive issue in an attempt to pander to their demographic. 

According to Jackie Dallas, the female lead of Choices, “Stances on abortion have become heavily politicized, with opponents citing religion or science without a true understanding of either. However, in actuality, an individual’s decision may not be based on fear of eternal damnation or a conscience against murder at all, but something as selfish as shame or deceit. This is a story that could be told by anyone, but I appreciated how it gave a voice to Asian-American representation, and by doing so, exposes a cultural taboo that is rarely discussed in such communities.”

I could not agree more! I was ready for the Indian American and, possibly, Hindu prerogative on the subject matter. A topic that is rarely discussed in Indian households would benefit from a film written from the lens of an Indian American in the Bay Area.

“As a Muslim, I believe in projecting the benevolence of the almighty towards all,” Altaf Khan (Puneet) preaches in the first scene of Choices during a book signing on his pro-life book. 

Puneet, who does not identify as a Muslim, plays into the trope of Islamic tradition (western religion) and the discourse surrounding abortion. When Puneet was questioned about his decision-making process, he responded, “Altaf Khan could have been a conservative Christian person too…[He] can be modern and orthodox. [He] could have been anyone.”

The unique viewpoint which Puneet has to offer was overlooked for generic appeal. Religion is pivotal to the plot but cultural implications of abortion within the Islamic community are left unanswered. Much like his character, Altaf Khan, Puneet chose to pinpoint religion when it was expedient to do so. 

What I knew began with good intent, seemed derailed by the many themes it ventured to address – religion, politics, career, marriage, infidelity, AND abortion. It took a bite out of the very extensive, nuanced dialogue and presented it to the viewer in 20 minutes.

And, perhaps, that bite was much too big. The film wasn’t able to do justice to any of the motifs and touched on each one in a superficial way. 

Some elements of Choices that I did appreciate were: the interracial couple, the diverse cast in every scene, the directive to approach a heavy topic, and the willingness to underscore the hypocrisy of the male approach to the female body. 

Ultimately, I wish this short film had offered more than what already existed in the media space but I do think it was worth the watch. More narratives on abortion are welcome and, potentially, the film can prove to be thought-provoking for South Asians once they see themselves represented on the screen. 

Choices is now available on Amazon in the United States and in the United Kingdom. It is also available on Disney+ Hotstar (India and other geographies). 

For the trailer, pictures and details go to: https://www.pranapictures.com/movies/choices


Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.


 

A Twitter plea from journalist, Vinay Srivastava.

COVID Overtakes India: Indian Americans Struggle With How to Support Their Loved Ones

This article is being revised and updated with information & resources. Originally published on April 30, 2021.

The second wave of COVID in India has caused over 18 million people to be affected by the virus, most of whom are currently struggling to get beds in hospitals, or oxygen supply, or sustainable food. 

People have lost lives before they were even given a chance. Thursday, April 29th, an India Currents’ writer’s cousin (a doctor) posted an urgent request for a ventilator with a bed in Jabalpur. A day later, the bed was not needed because the man passed away. He was only 52. 

Indian Americans are far from their families, unable to provide physical support or be with their loved ones at their deathbed.

“I wish I could be with my family and help. It’s horrible having to hear of young sons having to organize the funerals of their fathers,” a reader in the Bay Area reports.

Students in India feel frustrated and hurt with the current situation: “I can’t believe I’m doing assignments and working when people around me are struggling to just stay alive!?” While their siblings, or grandparents, or parents, or friends are hospitalized and struggling, students are preparing for exams or finishing assignments.

At an Ethnic Media Services briefing on the COVID crisis in India, the host of KALW Dispatches, Sandip Roy stated that the anxiety India is facing is quite new and never felt to this extent before: “A friend of mine sent a message saying my wife lost her uncle yesterday in Kanpur and he died at the back of a taxi looking for a bed”. 

He called out the actions (or lack thereof) taken to improve the public healthcare infrastructure, adding that the privileged tend to live in a bubble but COVID has broken that bubble between the privileged and the poor. 

“It is wonderful that the world has been stepping up to help India in need…I would like to think that it is not just for the geopolitical need but also because it is the right thing to do.” 

The global measures, however, do not “excuse” the government from not being more ready for the second wave. 

Studies done by multiple universities are projecting a surge in cases over the next two weeks (May 9-22). 

PRIME MINISTER’S ACTION

In the beginning phases, India was at the forefront of a promising vaccinated future. Prime Minister Modi had even generously donated doses to other countries that needed it. But, this act was met with backlash as Indians pointed out his inadequate response to the pandemic by holding rallies that usually involved large gatherings. People took to Twitter to address the poor governance. Hashtags such as ResignModi trended for hours. 

The government changed its policies, finally understanding the weight of the crisis and reducing the cost of the doses, and pushing to vaccinate those who are 18 and older beginning May 1st. However, the pandemic in India needs global aid and support. 

THE GLOBAL RESPONSE 

Multiple countries like the UK, the USA, Russia, Italy, and Germany have sent oxygen concentrators and various medical supplies to aid the raging pandemic in India. However, the primary requirement to save lives is the vaccine, of which India does not have enough doses. The U.S especially has been heavily criticized for stockpiling vaccines and not using them. Just recently, it was found that the United States is sitting on millions of vaccine doses that are not being pushed for us. Due to backlash, President Joe Biden confirmed that the US would be sending vaccines to India. 

California has also shipped out oxygen supplies to India in response. In a statement regarding the response to the crisis in India, Governor Gavin Newsom said, “Everyone deserves quality medical treatment against this terrible disease, and California will answer the call and provide aid to the people of India who so desperately need it.” 

Sunatya COVID Fundraiser (Image from @ucdsunatya)

College students have set up fundraisers for COVID relief in India through clubs and other organizations. The UC Davis Bharatanatyam dance club Sunatya for example posted an explanation of the crisis in India with links for donation.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Even though we see different media outlets update the number of cases every day, it is important to remember that each case is an individual human, not a statistic on a report. 

In the past week, there has been a flurry of messages on WhatsApp with different people that have been offering home-cooked meals for families. 

Activists in India have been constantly checking various websites and dashboards online that update oxygen, medicine, and bed availability; calling the numbers and verifying the reliability of the supplies. 

Due to the high need for these supplies, the suppliers often almost immediately are exhausted of their resources and end up having no more to offer. One Hyderabadi local, Meghana Kudligi has been continuously doing this for a couple of days and now has steady contacts that get in touch with her in case of an update. She is a student in college, and all her Instagram stories have offered donation links, food availability, medical supplies, oxygen, and beds. This can be done by any of us. Sharing a link, finding a verified donation page, donating money…we aren’t helpless! 

RESOURCES

 

Local Organizations

Multiple Organizations such as Anubhuti, TYCIA, Mazdoor Kitchen, and many many more have set up donation links for medicine, oxygen, and food supplies. 

Compiled resources: bit.ly/MutualAidIndia

More locally verified donation organizations by Meghana Kudligihttps://www.instagram.com/p/COQNpjDA9rI/?igshid=1f7x04yh8nioz

Yuva covid relief resources: https://www.instagram.com/weareyuvaa/guide/covid-relief-resources-pan-india/18074855854262944/?igshid=kjcjq6qi9okf

Indian American Projects Funding COVID Crisis in India

A group of photographers from the Indian Diaspora raising money for India’s Covid Crisis  – 100% of Profits Donated: https://shamiana.darkroom.tech/#

Indiaspora’s campaign for aid to India: https://www.chalogive.org/

Community Partners International (CPI) sending oxygen to India for ventilators:

Deshpande Foundation is collaborating with CPI to have a FedEx plane ready for delivery on May 8, 2021.  It will be loaded up with 3,400 oxygen concentrators and a few more million N-95 masks to balance the load and have it land in Mumbai by May 10th.  TATA Memorial Center will use these units in their own hospitals, as well as dispatch them to other hospitals.  The government of India will not be charging any customs duty.  It costs $1,500 to buy a unit.  Please donate funds to buy one or more units to save lives in India.  You can send the funds to

  • Bank Name: Wells Fargo Bank, NA
  • Bank Address: 2144 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley, CA 94704
  • Account Name: Community Partners International
  • Account Number: 6455450715
  • ABA / Routing Number: 121000248
  • Address: 580 California Street, 16th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Tax ID 94-3375666

Rotary Club of Silicon Valley for Global Impact:

This campaign is a plea to raise funds to procure Oxygen Concentrators in larger quantities to meet the huge demand and help millions impacted. With the supply chain in place, the IAHV team can get these machines imported in 4 to 5 days. An Oxygen Concentrator cost is approximately $800 per unit. IAHV may also use these funds for other critical equipment such as Ventilators, Beds, etc., depending on how the situation evolves further.

***

In a time of anger and pain, the hope for better guides us. We can be the change we seek. It is important to remember that while pain and fear are spreading, there are also people on the ground working to deliver resources. Let’s take our emotional energy and invest it in the people doing the work.


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

Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.


 

India Currents' Publisher, Vandana Kumar with her mother in India (Image by Vandana Kumar)

Coming Back From India? Follow These Santa Clara County Guidelines

Indian Americans have been traveling to and from India in this time of crisis to spend time with ailing parents and family members. Our Publisher, Vandana Kumar, left San Jose to visit her aging mother in Jamshedpur 3 weeks ago, whom she had not seen in 2 years. Unknowingly, she ended up experiencing peak COVID chaos in India which culminated in a lockdown. Perhaps a bittersweet reminder of why she made the trip in the first place – to spend quality alone time with her mother.

“Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible,” She comments with poignancy in her article about traveling to India in April 2021.

Luckily, Santa Clara County has information and resources to support community members impacted by the crisis. The County offers the following guidance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect the entire community’s health, and provide support and resources to those who have traveled recently.

Although the US government is restricting travel from India as of May 4, 2021, this guidance applies to those who have recently arrived from India and any travelers who are exempt from the travel restriction.

Recommendations for Travelers Arriving from India:

All unvaccinated travelers should immediately quarantine for 10 days:

The County strongly urges unvaccinated travelers returning from India to immediately quarantine for 10 days after arriving in Santa Clara County, as recommended by the California Department of Public Health. Travelers should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms throughout the quarantine period. Visit www.sccstayhome.org to learn more.

The quarantining traveler(s) should remain separate from people they did not travel with, meaning that the arriving traveler(s) should stay in a separate room within a home or stay in a hotel.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in India should quarantine for 10 days:

The recommendation to quarantine applies despite vaccination, given the extremely high rates of COVID-19 and incomplete information about vaccines currently deployed in India.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in the US do not need to quarantine:

For travelers who have been fully vaccinated with one of the three vaccines with Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA (Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson), the recommendation to quarantine does not apply.

All travelers should get a COVID-19 Test 3-5 Days After Arrival in the US:

All arriving travelers should test on day 3, 4, or 5 after arriving in the US, even if vaccinated.

The County offers many options for free testing, including drive-through testing. Visit www.sccfreetest.org to learn more and find a location. Testing does not require insurance.

If a Traveler test positive, they should isolate:

If an arriving traveler tests positive for COVID-19, they should isolate to protect others from getting infected. This means that the person who tested positive should stay home, separate themselves from others in the home (i.e., in a separate room), not allow visitors, not use public transportation, and not prepare or serve food for others.

The County offers resources, including motel placements and assistance with food, for those who cannot afford to isolate themselves without help. Visit www.sccstayhome.org  or call (408) 808-7770.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.


 

Arnav Mishra with cards for seniors (Image provided by Arnav Mishra)

San Jose Teen, Arnav Mishra’s Efforts Bring Smiles to Senior Citizens

In a time of collective trauma, Arnav Mishra provides a source of healing through his work for senior citizens in the Bay Area. Mishra’s organizing efforts, creating colorful cards and drawings for seniors, is deemed a “work of heart”.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 16-year-old Arnav and his younger sister have been busy writing letters and sending their colorful creations to assisted living facilities and hospice centers across California and the country.

After receiving an overwhelming response from grateful seniors, many of whom have been unable to see their own grandchildren in more than a year, Arnav formed the organization Pumpkin Letters and recruited groups of elementary and middle school students to help in his effort. Since April 2020, they have brightened up the days of more than 3,000 seniors with cute cards, letters, and words of encouragement.

Pumpkin Letters online platform (Image provided by Arnav Mishra)
Pumpkin Letters online platform (Image provided by Arnav Mishra)

“I knew that my grandparents were really missing our visits during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place, so my little sister and I started writing letters and cards and dropping off to them regularly,” said Arnav. “I realized that just like my grandparents, there were so many other grandparents and seniors who couldn’t see their grandkids and were lonely.”

Arnav juggles a full schedule as a guitarist in his school’s rock band, an intern for a Bay Area political campaign, and a student with challenging Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Yet, he remains inspired to continue writing letters to seniors by the responses he receives. He is working to reach even more seniors but needs other students to help in order to expand the effort.

“The demand for these cards and letters from senior homes is overwhelming and he needs more kids involved in this project to help cover even more care homes,” said Arnav’s mother, Ruchika Mishra. “We know there are a lot of kind, compassionate, and creative kids who would love to cheer up lonely seniors.”

Since his project kicked off more than a year ago, 260+ children have been able to send cheer to more than 900 seniors. Many seniors share their cards with others, spreading the love even further.

Students ages 8-17,  teachers registering their classes, and group home caregivers, can sign up to volunteer or request letters by visiting the Pumpkin Letters website. Interested persons will receive information on how their drawings and letters can help seniors fight loneliness and instructions on where to send their completed work.

Pumpkin Letters Volunteers on a Zoom Call (Image provided by Arnav Mishra)

Since many schoolchildren are also struggling with limited social interactions with their friends or aren’t attending in-person school due to the health crisis, Pumpkin Letters hosts monthly Zoom meetups where children and teens gather to work together on their art projects, laugh, share ideas, and become inspired by the work of others. These events are often based on themes that are related to the seasons and upcoming holidays. Learn more or sign up for an upcoming meetup at www.PumpkinLetters.com.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.


 

Letters to India Currents: 10/22/20

To The Editor,

I have seen how the Indian American Voters have gotten slightly disaffected by Harris/Biden/Jaipal Reddy/Ro Khanna/Ilhan Omar’s stances being perceived as though against India, especially on Kashmir and Modi administration.

In swing states, Indian votes will make a difference. I see a large number of politicians and policy wonks giving a perception of this anti-India stance (and mollycoddling of Separatism in Kashmir by Muslim fanatics supported by Pakistan and China).

Therefore I would request politicians that support Indian democracy and want peace and normalcy to return to the Indian subcontinent – especially Kashmir, please make a strong statement that supports India’s Modi’s efforts to call the 70-year-old bluff (explained below) and bring normalcy to the people of Kashmir, including for Muslims, by restoring Law and Order slowly.

To US Political Leaders and Policymakers:

Please give light to the treatment and plight of the Kashmiri Pandits who had to flee Srinagar due to the genocide/ethnic cleansing wrought on them by the Pakistani Army.

Mention the fact that a majority of the J&K population and area – Jammu residents and Ladakhis do support the Modi governments’ actions and gradual restoration of the rule of law.

Mention that after article 370, there are glimmers of hope in Kashmir and now the local population is asking the Indian government about constructing infrastructure instead of breaking away. As an example, read this article on India Currents: https://indiacurrents.com/after-370-glimmers-of-hope/

You could also talk about the torment (and smothering) of ordinary people in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (which Pak cunningly calls Azad Kashmir) and Gilgit Baltistan under the hands of the Pakistani military, which does not easily allow free expression or a free Press. In addition, talk about how a large cross-section in these regions under Pakistan, wants to actually join India!

Additional points:
1) Don’t ignore the plight of the soldiers and their families who have lost their near & dear ones too.
2) There is a history of corruption and demagoguery by the Kashmiri politicians (Abdullahs and Mufti Mohammed Syeds, albeit along with central political parties) in rigging elections in 1989 and thus giving disaffected youth a cause to rebel – however unjustified.
3) Note the treachery of the Hurriyat leaders (local Kashmiri leaders), including Gilanis.
4) Please understand that J&K had acceded to India in 1947 and it is the Pakistani army that tried to wrest it away by force. Upon that, Article 370 and 35A were but temporary and stop-gap measures having no validity any longer and completely un-tenable for a state in a democratic country
5) Understand the abuses of these articles in Kashmir, with the politicians giving passports and citizenships to Uighurs as well as Rohingyas without any sanction from the Central Government.
6) Let people know about the amount of money and sops given by Indians to Kashmir, which was mis-used by the corrupt Kashmiri (local) politicians and administration before the abrogation of article 370.
8) Realize that the original Kashmiri Muslim (mostly a Shias/Sufis) will have much better human rights, security, and equality in a unified Kashmir than under Pakistan (Shias being persecuted in Pak), just as Kashmiris had between 1947 and 1989, before militancy.

I really hope you can educate your colleagues to avoid making a blanket “mother of all” statements supporting the plight of the Kashmiri Muslim alone, without understanding the complex history, nuances, and facts – especially the plight of the plurality of the J&K population (Pandits, Jammu residents and Ladakhis).

I hope your colleagues will be even more strident in castigating and thwarting the Pakistani military’s nefarious designs at damaging the Kashmiri psyche, peace, and economy by fueling Jihadist terrorism.

If you leaders are true to your words and really care for the average Kashmiri, you need to pass resolutions to stop funding and aiding the Pakistani military, impose sanctions on ISI and strengthen the Indian administration’s hand in making J&K a prosperous part of peaceful and democratic India.

Please help in the ongoing restoration of peace by making such statements for India’s efforts and pass this on to your colleagues’ policymakers.

Thank you,

Mayank Jain


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact [email protected] with a submission or note. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Letters to India Currents: 10/14/20

To The Editor,

Thank you for your email and for including me in your community. I will address your general questions.

Yes, I am voting in 2020. I have always voted since I became a US citizen in 1981 and I am a registered voter in CA as an Independent. So, I have the right to choose my candidate not necessarily for a Political Party but across the party line. As an independent, I am restricted from Voting in the CA Primaries.

Sorry, I will not share who I am going to vote for. I will reserve my right to privacy. I consider the ‘Issues’ and the ‘Stands’ for each Presidential candidate and not necessarily for their personalities, although that is somewhat important for a President. Nevertheless, to me, I never bring it down to a personal level for anyone I come to know, not necessarily a political figure. Although most people do. It is the most convenient, shallow depth and an easy way to bring a person down and avoid personal responsibility.

I believe ‘ Actions’  are important because that is what makes the person not the looks or the talks. I judge a person by his or her actions over a period of time.  I also want to see the overall ‘situation’  of the country and decide on my vote.

It is not easy to have a perfect Democracy. Each person must understand its value and the value of the vote. It is not a matter of ONE issue but SEVERAL issues and how those are being dealt with.

Hope I didn’t offend you by my remarks.  I do have my First Amendment Rights and being in the publishing business, you might know about it very well.

Best wishes,

Sumedha Sengupta

Livermore, CA


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact [email protected] with a submission or note. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Letters to India Currents: 10/06/20

Dear India Currents,

In the Red and Blue states and cities where we have our hotels, we are pledging to work with the cities local officials to create polling places for the 2020 general elections promoting community and civic engagements. Our employees will volunteer and help out as needed.

Like the years before, we are giving employees paid time off to vote, urging to uphold virtues of respect and dignity amid contentious election as we continue to push for social, racial justice, and equality.

In the 2016 General Elections, our 2 sons, Krish (10) & Aryan (9) joined us at the polls to vote, where me, my parents, and Neelam made our selections and our sons turned the dials and pressed the buttons communicating it to the government and election officials. It bought a big smile to the whole family when the official ballot was being printed to double confirm as we pressed the accept red-button.

As a first-generation American, voting has always been a big deal for me and I was feeling proud and patriotic. you know, I am an immigrant and built my professional life here in the United States. I owe much to this country, as I started from nothing to my education and the opportunity to build a company here to the safety to raise a beautiful family in an encouraging, inclusive, and diverse society. I feel a moral obligation to take a stand on social issues and spread enthusiasm. Turnout is just going to be critical in this election.

The Voting process instills positive lessons about responsibility, honor, equality, justice, patriotism, and leadership. Practicing good citizenship understanding and appreciating our responsibility for civic involvement being good stewards of the communities. Citizenship has taken roots in their kids in the form of 2 young voters who became engaged in the voting process, owning the responsibilities and privileges of American citizenship making them true patriots. Voting reinforces respect for people and it’s very important that kids inherit a great country and just not a great history. Take the young Voters of tomorrow to the polls today, as they will be empowered for the future. This is their chance to be part of history and emerging as PROUD Citizens who’d done a citizen’s noble work.

Voters are the future of this country and continue to practice kindness, compassion, and respect for others building bridges of love and respect. No matter how divided you might be, Voting is your right and shared experience, a process that everyone should feel proud about as United Americans. You can also choose to go out and volunteer at a local precinct of your preference to call on your friends and families to vote. You may even help them and talk through policies with them. Whatever you do, exercise your right to vote, help someone else do the same, and make a positive difference. more importantly, GO VOTE!

For us, the policy is non-partisan and designed to give employees, some of whom may be voting for the first time, the chance to make lasting changes and be part of the community and the American Dream. No American should have to choose between a paycheck and fulfilling his or her duty as a citizen,

Voting matters even @ 85 in a wheelchair, with my father’s failing eyesight, Dad cast his vote and he made me read the names on the ballot and told us which one to mark for him. That was his purpose of action contributing his abilities and right to Vote, his voice to be heard making a positive impact. Living a value-centered life is highly rewarding and gratifying for our family.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, it feels we all are just searching for pathways to connect and not to feel discouraged, not to feel pessimistic and not so powerless. Right now, the needs of our country, our community and citizens are right in front of our faces and we must not ignore it. Everyone is trying to tear us apart, but we need to heal now.

GOD BLESS AMERICA.

Sunil Tolani

Los Angeles, CA


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact [email protected] with a submission or note. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation. 

Letters to India Currents: 9/29/20

This is with regard to the recent article published by Dr. Majmudar,

Normalcy after the Pandemic

The article is very timely and the attention it brings to mental health, particularly of children is heartening. Children, besides their vulnerability and being at an impressionable age, have paid the highest price. We would like to hear more about what can be done by parents and communities to help them. The article sheds light on many aspects, it is brief but dense.

Have we mastered our learned lessons or will our fickle memory sequester it in oblivion?” is the question put forth by the author Dr. Majmudar.

The tragedy and loss is a  great teacher. The lessons taught by it are of a lifetime– it could be bitter or sweet. It is Our choice, what we make of it. 

One big lesson, I hope that we all learnt during these testing times is – How few are our NEEDS and how much load of WANTS we have been carrying.

In our search for independence and self-reliance we had forgotten the eternal truth – life is possible only by codependence and cooperation.

The author has done well in reminding us of our role and responsibilities. And the gratitude we all owe to those on the front line.

“The course of our actions will let us see who we are and who we are not. ”

So well stated by the author and it forces us to give a hard look at ourselves, our actions/inactions.

Thanks!

Vimal Nikore


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact [email protected] with a submission or note. We are open to all voices, only barring hate speech and misinformation.