Tag Archives: youth

Thaathwik Arsha Abhilash with this book 'Dragon Summer: A Magical Journey of a Boy and his Dragon Friend'

A Magical Pandemic Journey of a 10-Year-Old Indian American Author

A child’s creativity has no bounds and holidays are the perfect time to explore their inquisitiveness. Once their imagination attains wings, it’s a magical world that transcends limits and expectations. For Indian American Thaathwik Arsha Abhilash from Brookfield, Wisconsin, Summer 2020 was that moment. When his third-grade teacher Mrs. Heitman came to school at the end of the academic year with summer treats, she fostered the idea of writing a story during the vacation.

Little did she know that the seeds of a budding author were sowed. And a year later, the book Dragon Summer: A Magical Journey of a Boy and his Dragon Friend got published and a ten-year-old author was born.

“I always loved writing and when my teacher suggested that I write a fiction story about what I would like to do during summer, I was really excited. As I love magic and flying creatures, my immediate choice for protagonists were dragons,” said Thaathwik Arsha Abhilash, a fourth-grader from Burleigh Elementary School.

Thaathwik Arsha Abhilash with family.
Thaathwik Arsha Abhilash with his family.

Started off as a short story with two chapters, his parents, Arsha and Abhilash, encouraged him to explore further and continue writing. “When he approached us with the first two chapters, we really liked the beginning and were curious to know how he would take it along. With pandemic and online sessions, we were in search of options to reduce the screen time and thought of giving this as a challenge and promised to publish the transcript once the story is completed. Just a single printed copy from a nearby shop was our plan and we never thought this would pan out to this extent,” beamed the mother, Arsha Abhilash with pride. 

The 30 chapter book boasts of fantasy entwined with magic and creativity. Travel through portals, dragon kingdoms, magic potions, unique names, and fancy passwords; it has everything that a kid desires. Not just wishful thinking, one can also witness the keen interest of the author towards science and nature through his writing. Annotations on different elements of nature, scientific explanations on birds and correlating them with flying dragons, it’s a story that goes beyond illusion and even educates the young readers. 

“Once the book was finished we as parents were indeed surprised but wanted to confirm its reach and potential before moving forward. We approached published authors and dear friends, Richard and K V Manikandan for a review and their feedback was endearing. They entrusted the thought that this book truly addresses the fervor and curiosity of a kid, written by a kid himself, which is actually a rarity to find. Hence, we landed upon the decision to publish it, considering it would also be an inspiration for more kids to come forward with their creations,” added Arsha, who herself is a blog writer and has a few published pieces in the Malayalam language to her credit. 

Teachers from his school district, Elmbrook School District backed the first-time author in the process with his favorite second-grade teacher, Mrs. Indestad, and current fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Erica Phillips writing the foreword and blurb for the book, respectively. The book is now available to order through Amazon for US readers and is published by Pithal Books in India. 

Not just in the writing process, Thaathwik also played an integral role in the illustration of the book. Being an artist himself, he had a fair perception of how the book should appear. Initially, he drew corresponding pictures for the first ten chapters but later, apprehending the time it consumed, he concentrated on finishing the book at the earliest. Eventually, a family friend and animator from India, Animesh Xavier came to their rescue and conceptualized the beautiful pictures for the book.

The book has so far received rave reviews from kids across the world with many of them posting online reviews and having lively discussions on the storyline with the author himself. However, for Thaathwik, who aspires to be an ornithologist cum writer, this is just a start and has already laid out plans for his upcoming book. “I have started writing for my second book named Apocalypse – an adventure of four friends with monsters. Am aiming for a series without limiting the story to a single book,” concluded the aspiring writer, who believes that one should always let their thoughts flow and never hold them back for any reason. 


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.


 

Medha Sarkar with and without Snapchat filter.

An Unfiltered Response to Colorism in Instagram Filters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

13-Year-Old Abhimanyu Sukhdial’s Novel Sparks Climate Change Dialogues

“Stillwater is a great place to raise a family,” is the common refrain I heard from several Indian aunties at the small Holi dinner party I attended the year I moved to Oklahoma. I had gotten married just a few months earlier at a memorable wedding in Delhi, and with great anticipation, I left the familiar surroundings of the San Francisco Bay Area I had called home for almost 30 years to start a new life in a new state, in a small university town nestled in the middle of wide-open fields and country farms.   

Within a year, my husband, a marketing professor at Oklahoma State University, and I welcomed our first son, Abhimanyu (Abhi).  My parents flew out from the Bay Area for the blessed occasion. As I watched my parents cradle and cuddle their new grandchild, I thought of how they took care of me as a child in Tamil Nadu, how they instilled in me the values of hard work and a good education, and most importantly, how they effortlessly bridged two cultures to educate and raise two daughters in this country.  “What kind of mother will I be?” I wondered.

I once read, “We all can dance when we find music we love.”  

And for Abhi, that love was for words.  You know those magnetic A-Z letters kids put on the fridge? During our annual summer vacations in Meerut (a bustling city outside of Delhi where my in-laws live), Abhi spent hours moving, rotating, and repositioning those letters on the special dhurrie Dadi ma had laid out for him, making a lot of nonsense words and a few real ones. Soon, he started reading, and then, writing his first stories. School programs like the National PTA Reflections Arts-in-Education competition fueled his creative ambitions; starting in 2nd grade, he wrote and submitted a short story every year, advancing through local and state rounds of competition.  They were mostly fantastical adventure stories, not unlike the Enid Blyton stories I had read growing up.  

When Abhi learned that a fellow student had made a short film for the competition and that it had won at the national level, Abhi was adamant he could do the same. During that summer in India, he taught himself iMovie and figured out how to program a cute robot called Sphero so he could shoot his first five-minute film featuring a “robot detective” called Monsieur Sphero (a mischievous take on Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth, Monsieur Poirot). He was thrilled when his movie was selected for a national award.  

When Abhi was 11, we discovered Stone Soup Magazine, a literary magazine for kids 14 years and under, that offers both a monthly print edition as well as an online blog section.  Over the next two years, he became a regular blogger, writing book and movie reviews. The countless hours he spent debating his younger brother about the pros and cons of Star Wars helped shape the analytical skills and power of persuasion he needed to structure and write the reviews.  

Book, Three Days Till EOC.

In 2019, Stone Soup announced their first annual book competition, and Abhi decided to go for it. He wanted to write a sci-fi story and started coming up with ideas, determined to write the book during our summer vacation in Meerut. In India, he saw a segment on cable news about the severe drought in Chennai and it piqued his interest. Why not combine science fiction and climate change in a unique way? 

That was the spark for his 70-page novella set in the year 2100 called Three Days Till EOC.  It is a story of climate scientist Graham Alison, who literally has three days to save civilization before a catastrophic cyclone threatens to destroy the planet.  It is also a story about how small choices can lead to big changes – how a positive action we take today to stop climate change can result in a better world for our children, our children’s children, and generations after. We liked the idea, encouraged him to write the first draft, and then gave him feedback so he could continue to revise and improve his story over the next two months. Finally, he submitted it and was surprised and ecstatic when he learned that his book had won 1st place and would be published in September 2020. Since the book’s publication, Abhi has participated in various TV/newspaper interviews and made presentations to youth in the local Indian American community.

Abhi will turn 13 this month, and in a blink of an eye, he will soon be leaving for college.  Like all parents, we wonder if we are doing enough to prepare our kids for this increasingly complex, fast-changing world.  We hope that by giving them the freedom to play with and pursue their creative passions from a young age, that they will grow up to be hard-working, resilient, confident individuals who will contribute their talents in some way to make this world a better place.   As a parent, there’s no greater legacy I can think of leaving behind.

Three Days Till EOC is the Young Adult Fiction Honoree for the 2021 Green Earth Book Award.


Anu Sukhdial is Abhimanyu Sukhdial’s mother. She is a Bay Area transplant living in Oklahoma.


 

BLM Organizer At My School Was Targeted By A Gun Dealer: A Next-Gen Desi Reflection

(Featured Image: Denel McMahan speaking with ABC News)

Weeks before a youth-led Black Lives Matter protest that took place outside the Dublin Civic Center, owner of local gun business Mike Grant posted a picture of the 17-year old organizer, Denel McMahan, on his Facebook page. The caption read, “Please bring your vests and helmets in case these BLM people start trouble. Remember this group is known as a left-wing anti-government group. Take Dublin back!”

Within days, the veiled threat garnered a swift and strong backlash from the Dublin community and beyond. From city residents to Congressman Eric Swalwell, people came together to defend “these BLM people” and the cause they champion. 

When I first learned about the situation, I was curious to know who “these BLM people” were, and how Grant’s social media targeting has affected them in this increasingly polarized climate. I had a chat with high school senior, Denel McMahan, president of Dublin High’s Black Student Union, member of the Tri-Valley Black Lives Matter movement, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award at the City of Pleasanton’s annual Community of Character Collaborative. Denel was inspired by the string of protests that captured the heart of America this past summer and wanted to bring peaceful advocacy to his city.  

Denel McMahan’s Thoughts

1) You’re a staunch supporter of racial equality and a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a Gen Z activist, how do you think social media and the Internet Age have affected both racism and social advocacy? 

I think that social media has been a great resource throughout this period of COVID-19 and quarantine. The thing that I love about it is that social media has no boundary when it comes to education. People are free to post about whatever in its true form. This includes history. In school, history is heavily censored and manipulated in order to make students comfortable. However, to make real change we need to stop desiring comfortability. We learn about history to avoid repeating it, but we are right now due to sheltering students from traumatic concepts. The same goes for the internet too. I’ve learned more Black history myself through Google than I have in my 11 and a half years of schooling. My parents are also a great resource, but not everyone has parents who understand Black history in its entirety or are Black in general. So, if you want to learn more about truthful history, I recommend looking through Social Media and researching through Google. 

2) At school, you’re the president of the Black Student Union. How has this experience shaped your journey of raising awareness and initiating change in your community as a whole?

My presidency has allowed me to earn a platform that is being taken seriously by our administration. For 3 years, I sat and watched the past presidents and how they ran the BSU. Through that, I began to shape my leading style and figured out what I wanted to do with my position. With it, I wanted to do the best I could. I not only wanted to improve our BSU and increase its presence on campus, but I wanted to make sure that we were involved in the Black Lives Matter movement efforts in Dublin. A protest was held in Dublin and there was so much support. Eventually, the other BSU officers and I drafted plans for school change, and our admin engaged heavily with us and is even making more opportunities for us to help the community out more.  

3) Post the election, we find ourselves at the precipice of extraordinary political change. What legislative changes do you hope our new administration will bring to address racism, criminal justice, and police brutality?

I just hope that there’s some sense of accountability that comes with a new president. Of course, the President doesn’t have all the power in the federal government, but I feel that at least when incidents of brutality happen, we will have his support. The other big thing that I would want to see is national reparations. Those have been promised to Black Americans since the end of Slavery, but they haven’t been done. They are currently planning a reparations task force in California, so that would be interesting to see what they try to implement. However, they need to be done at the national level since slavery was pretty much a national thing before it ended. 

4) If you’re comfortable speaking about this, what was the experience of seeing Mr. Grant’s Facebook post like? Was this kind of backlash something you’ve experienced in the past?

It was very worrying for me. When I saw the post, I was in Las Vegas for my sister’s 21st birthday. When I got word of the post, I was physically shaking. My face had been posted in a public, alt-right Facebook group for many conservatives to see. I saw that it had 29 shares, so that was 30 people who saw me as some thug trying to destroy Dublin, which in no case I was. The event was passed unanimously and was city-sponsored. A huge part of my nervousness was also because this was the first time I received public backlash. I knew I would eventually get some, but never that quick and never by a grown man. 

5) In a conversation with ABC News, you mentioned that you’re willing to have a conversation with Mr. Grant. Do you feel like conversations like this are possible at a larger scale, where protestors and counter-protestors can reach a middle ground in constructive, innocuous ways?

Honestly, I believe that the political climate has destroyed any possibility of large-scale, constructive conversations. I think the best way to have them is in private so that all you need to do is to listen. A simple one-on-one conversation to get to a middle ground is the most effective way to do so. However, I hope that one day, groups of people from different beliefs can come together and conversate without it becoming ineffective or violent. 

6) What advice do you have for other young people who want to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement?

My advice is to be vocal. In this time, silence also means compliance. Take the time to understand it and bring it close to you. Even in this time of COVID, there are social media platforms. Making and sharing posts are still great ways to advocate for the movement. If you find yourself wanting to protest, don’t be scared. The supporters will always outweigh the opposition. 

The Sign Garden For Justice Project was organized by Tri-Valley Black Lives Matter (Photo: Denel McMahan)

My Thoughts

These are wise words, especially coming from an individual who helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest on November 15th. The demonstration was both peaceful and successful, with Denel and his peers giving speeches about racism, their participation in the Black Student Union, and the harsh realities of police brutality in America. In a creative display of solidarity, this protest featured a ‘Sign Garden’, where signs and posters supporting the Black Lives Matter were placed everywhere from City Hall to the Civic Plaza. These signs were both positive and united, some of them including messages like, “Fear and hate have no place here” and “Color is not a crime”. 

Personally, I’m both relieved and overjoyed that this demonstration, despite the initial conflict, remained peaceful and constructive. It was interesting to see this single cause bring together different generations, ethnicities, and cities to reflect on racial justice. But I can’t help but harken back to Denel’s comment about initiating a conversation with Grant. What does the exchange between these two political antipodes suggest about the future of race relations in America? 

In a flash of optimism, I’d like to believe that recorded displays of police brutality, such as the tragic murder of George Floyd, will bring different ends of the socio-political spectrum together. As said by Will Smith, “Racism is not getting worse; it’s getting recorded.” Before videos of racism had the opportunity to go viral on social media and mainstream news outlets, it was far easier for American citizens to exist within an ideological bubble, where systemic oppression did not exist. That’s much harder to do when they’re being confronted by a live video of police brutality and racial profiling at its worst. 

Furthermore, I do think that the coronavirus outbreak may offer a moment for the public to self-reflect, and consider how racial and socio-economic privilege has ravaged the very ideals we consider the ‘soul’ of America. After the strong online response to his incendiary post, Grant discussed how he became ‘educated’ about what it means to be a person of color in the United States in a phone interview with ABC

“I never thought a 17-year old-boy could teach a 65-year-old man something, but he did,” said Grant. “For the last four-and-a-half days I’ve lived it. Just with phone calls, and texts, and hate mail and stuff. Now I think I understand why this young man is doing this, to try to educate people.” 

The First Amendment of the American Constitution offers each one of us a voice, but these voices are muffled or confined in echo chambers due to political polarization. And personally, I can attest to subscribing to certain echo chambers myself. My social media feed is primarily consumed by individuals who shared the same political views that I do. My choices in mainstream media are a reflection of my opinions as well.

As an Indian-American, I think my identity as an immigrant has definitely been splintered along the lines of these echo chambers as well. During the 2020 election, for example, I found myself isolating myself from certain subsets of the Indian-American population who identified as Trump supporters. Amid the growing strength of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve seen so many Indian-Americans distance themselves from conversations about racial equality because they don’t learn (and perhaps don’t want to learn) about racial hierarchies and the myth that is America’s “Model Minority”. As immigrants, the echo chambers of this nation have only made our ignorance of the issues that plague our communities more convenient. 

And while these tendencies may be very normal on both ends of the spectrum in our heated political climate, they also contribute to ideological myopia. Men like Mike Grant have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man, constantly targeted and unjustly policed. They read and watch media which feeds them highly distorted narratives on race in this country, and it shows.

Prior to this incident, I can’t help but wonder if Grant has ever had a constructive, honest conversation with a supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Could this gap be bridged? Perhaps the path to an educated America — an America willing to recognize its racism for what it is — requires a space where these conversations can take place.


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

Key South Asian Players in the New Administration

South Asians in the house! — my cousin cheers between mouthfuls of samosa and peanut chutney as Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States on screen. It’s a day as celebratory as it is surreal — especially for the ‘South Asians in the house’, who are scattered across the country watching one of the most unprecedented inaugurations in history. I knew I was going to see a female president or vice-president hold that Bible on camera during my lifetime. The world has seen female presidents and Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Angela Merkel; the world is growing up, and growing out of the trappings of a patriarchal society. Although we’re late, I knew I would have the honor of watching America catch up. 

But watching a South Asian-American woman help shatter America’s legislative glass ceiling was a wholly different honor altogether. 

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the United States’ registered voter base. It’s a fact that’s difficult to forget, considering how under-studied and under-appreciated South Asian Americans are as a voter demographic. Civic engagement organizations have a history of not visiting South Asian American neighborhoods out of fear of ‘mispronouncing their names’. In the past, South Asian-American politicians at the local level have been questioned for their religious or ethnic identities, rather than their qualifications or political stances. Although the 2020 elections have marked a tremendous increase in political participation among our community, historically South Asian Americans have often been under-represented and overlooked at the polls. 

The new administration is a game-changer for our community — and not simply because of Kamala Harris. Here are some members of the wave of South Asian Americans introduced by the Biden-Harris administration. 

Garima Verma 

Formerly a content strategist for the Biden-Harris campaign, Garima Verma was named by First Lady Jill Biden as the Digital Director for the Office of the First Lady at the White House. Born in India, Garima grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. Her journey in marketing and brand strategy shows her passion for both civic engagement and digital storytelling, as Garima has worked for major corporations like Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and nonprofits like the St. Joseph Center alike. Hopefully, Garima will bring her unique talent of telling compelling stories through the digital medium to the First Lady’s team. 

“While in the entertainment space at both Paramount Pictures and ABC, my passion has always been working on diverse and boundary-pushing content that allows more people to feel seen and heard, and to authentically engage and empower those communities through marketing campaigns,” Garima says. “My ultimate goal is to combine my love of marketing and storytelling with my passion for social impact and advocacy in a meaningful and impactful way.” 

Neera Tanden 

Massachusetts-native Neera Tanden has contributed to America’s political landscape for years, from advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign to drafting the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. For her work in founding the Center of American Progress (CAP), Tanden was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Women In Washington” by the National Journal in 2012. She has used her platforms to advocate for universal, multi-payer healthcare, and cites her childhood experiences living on welfare as a reason behind her passion for healthcare reform and economic empowerment. As Biden’s pick for budget chief, Tanden hopes to bring her years of political experience to the US Office of Management and Budget.

After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden said in a 2020 tweet. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Her nomination, however, did not come without controversy. Tanden has been often criticized by her Republican counterparts for her outspoken nature on Twitter, where she fired back at Lindsey Graham for calling her a ‘nut job’ and referred to Mitch McConnell as ‘Moscow Mitch’. Many Republicans criticize Tanden for her ‘partisan’ approach to politics — an ironic appraisal, considering how nearly every politician has contributed to the radioactive battlefield that is Twitter in recent years. 

Shanthi Kalathil 

Formerly a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, Shanthi Kalathil has been named as the White House’s Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council. Kalathil’s years of dedication towards advocating for human rights and worldwide democracy demonstrate her preparedness for this role. She is known for her commitment towards addressing techno-authoritarians, or the role that modern technology plays in reinforcing the rigidity of authoritarianism. In fact, she addresses this phenomenon in her 2003 book, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Within an increasingly digitized society, Kalathil’s careful attention towards the Internet in relation to human rights is certainly a step forward for the White House. She also carefully avoids implicit biases while addressing human rights abuses in other countries, discussing the importance of separating “the Chinese people from the Chinese party-state” in a podcast published by the National Democratic Institute. 

“You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party-state and the Chinese people. Whether it’s the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care”, Kalathil said. “I think in all policy discussions, it’s important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn’t conflate broad-based backlash.” 

The United States government has a history of intervening in the human rights abuses committed by the other regimes of the world as an effort to maintain peace and justice. Kalathil’s balanced, nuanced approach towards democracy and human rights will certainly enrich her platform. 


Uzra Zeya 

American diplomat Uzra Zeya has been nominated by the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Like Tanden, Zeya has years of political experience under her belt, as she was the acting assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration. Before that, she worked in Paris’s Embassy of the United States. Her work in diplomacy has taken her all over the world, from New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Similar to Tanden’s experience, Zeya is also a contentious choice for this position. In 2018, Zeya quit her job in the state department, owing her resignation to the racism and gender bias promoted by the Trump administration. Calling the administration a ‘pale male’ club, Zeya advocated for the diversification of her department. 

“In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their place,” Zeya wrote in an article for Politico. “In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.” 

If chosen as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Zeya hopes to use her prior political experience to address key global issues such as peace in the Middle East, Russia’s increasing aggression in Europe, and climate change. 

In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals,” Zeya said in a 2021 tweet. “I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Vidur Sharma

A former health policy advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, Vidur Sharma has been named by Biden as a testing advisor for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. Sharma played a key role in shaping health policy during the Obama administration, where he advocated for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A Harvard graduate, he also has years of experience working in the medical industry, as he has worked for Avalere Health, CareMore Health, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the past. As a testing advisor at the White House, Sharma will promote equity in the healthcare space, as he was a Deputy Research Director for Protect Our Care, an organization dedicated to “increasing coverage, lowering health care costs, and addressing racial inequities in our..system.” 

Amid a global pandemic, equity will play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As the coronavirus is reportedly 2.8 times more likely to kill people of color, implicit biases in our healthcare system can have potentially fatal consequences. The Biden-Harris administration, in fact, recently established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to aid “medically and socially vulnerable communities.” Sharma’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity certainly fits the values of the administration and will help ensure that the vaccine and coronavirus treatment plans reach all Americans.

Closing Thoughts 

There are so many threads of commonality among the South Asian Americans introduced to the White House — all passionate about government reform, all aware of our nation’s existing inequalities, all incredibly qualified for their positions. As a South Asian American hoping to enter America’s legislative process later in life, our community’s representation at the national level is both empowering and inspiring — a fond reminder that America, after years of underrepresentation for minority groups — is finally catching up.

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

The Mask: Art Therapy Can Ease Anxiety About COVID

In a perspective published in the journal Science, a group of scientists reiterates that masks are not only helpful but necessary to combat the spread of the virus from people without symptoms.

The top reasons why Masks will continue to play a critical role are:

  1. No vaccine is 100% effective.
  2. Vaccines do not provide immediate protection.
  3. Covid vaccines may not prevent one from spreading the virus.
  4. Kids are last in the line to get a vaccine as the clinical trials are still in process.

Because a vaccine is out, that does not mean that people should stop social distancing or wearing a mask. It is still very important to wear a mask and social distance. While doing this, you not only protect yourself but also the people around you, including those with compromised immune systems, senior citizens, friends, family.

Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala.

“Art therapy is being prescribed a lot more to support the mental health of young kids, especially those with social and emotional deficiencies,” Phaire

It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. In these difficult times, this is a small initiative to help people around the world cope with COVID-19. 

  • Creating an hour of activity.
  • Spreading and educating the importance of Masks to younger kids.
  • Teaching the basics of Masks.

I have authored the coloring book  “The mask” to educate young children about the importance of a mask, especially during this time. It gives children something to do other than watch tv. During this time, there are not a lot of things that people can do and it is much harder for the younger children. My hope with this is to give them an activity or something fun to do while educating them. You can download the book here. It is also available on amazon 

With the intention to educate the younger generation, I  have reached out to a dozen non-profit organizations, and with their help, I am in the process of distributing 500 “The Mask” coloring books to kids in shelters in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. The primary intention being:

  •  To raise awareness about masks and the importance of wearing it
  •  More importantly to support the mental health of young kids using art. 

Thanks to the No Birthday Left Behind and Lavanya Reddy, Washington Helping Hands for helping in this great cause.

As per NY times, for a teenager living in California, the stats for getting the vaccine are:

  • Based on your risk profile, we believe the teenager is in line behind 185.6 million people across the United States.
  • When it comes to California, teenagers are behind 20.7 million others who are at higher risk in your state.

Masks are our saviors, so the quest to educate kids on masks and their importance is critical, as they are last in line to get the vaccine once one become available. Please continue to wear the masks and educate about the importance of Masks. 

Stay Safe! 


Pranav Medida is a freshman at BISV in San Jose. His love of reading, which started at a young age, soon grew into a love of writing. He loves educating kids by authoring books and distributing them to the needy. ‘The Mask’ is his third book to raise awareness. 

Pink and Pollution at 4 O’Clock

I’ve begun applying hot coconut oil on my hair again every Saturday. I search for the little footprints I left back in the streets of India playing football. I seek that warm sun and humidity in Hyderabad on Saturday evenings. I’ve begun reminiscing about the pink and pollution of 4 pm. The kiraane ki dukaan that quenched my thirst with sprite and a 10 rs. Lays packet. I reminisce about the rainy days of playing four corners instead of basketball. I remember the smell of rain hitting concrete. I remember the feeling of melted dairy milk silk on my fingers, the cold glass of mango juice that numbs my fingers on a hot day, the smell of yellow daal tadka, and aloo after coming home from school on Saturday. 

Artwork by Swati Ramaswamy

This nostalgia made me realize: the smell of rain on concrete is not so different in San Francisco. Sprite tastes the same here, just a little (lot) sweeter. The sun at 4 pm yesterday was bright and golden and made me feel like I was in Mumbai. As a kid, I never understood the feeling of belonging to a place, everywhere can be your home if you want it to. But this past year I felt so distant from every place that I had called home. I felt in between things and just slightly offbeat. But these small things, like the smell of concrete and the sun, connected me back to all my homes. It connected me to Sunday morning skies in Japan, which were perfectly blue and sunny. It connected me to the most beautiful view from my balcony in India. It made me realize that pieces of my home, that felt most like it, always carry themselves with me. They repeat, they renew. No matter how much I change or grow, they give me comfort when I need it. The new year felt like that. Like the smell of freshly baked cake in the kitchen. Like finally making the perfectly round and “crisp on the outside soft on the inside” dosa. It feels just happy enough to be happy for no reason and happy enough to be happy when I’m sad. The feeling of jumping into a cold pool on the hottest day. It was like landing. I think home, wherever it is, invokes comfort in its meaning rather than its physicality. This phase of nostalgia made me realize that if I ever feel lost, I’m still always home.

Renewal. It’s a very tedious word. We renew passports, leases, and licenses. It’s a process that we have already achieved, but need to repeat. Renewals are odd and vacant. But the years that repeat are also renewals. The seasons renew too, so the second time it rains you have an umbrella. Situations repeat, and we change how we react to those repetitions, and we grow. This new year won’t be much different, but I hope it ends up being one of familiarity and comfort, even if it is about seeking new things. I hope there is always belonging, there is always that memory of a home that makes you feel permanent, like a cold glass of mango juice on a hot day.


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

What was 2020 About?

I struggled with 2020. What was it all about? All over the world this year people weren’t just fighting COVID-19 and lack of freedom, but were also standing up against violence and discrimination.

The year 2020 has been the first of many things:

  • The first time we experienced lockdowns and felt an urgency to grab every wet wipe in sight.
  • The first time people spent their holidays without family.
  • The first time people worked and studied from home, where the first twenty minutes of every Zoom interaction were spent discussing poor connections, muted microphones, and turned off cameras.
  • Someone’s first graduation or first year in school.
  • Someone’s first day at work and someone’s last.

All these firsts occurred so naturally that we became increasingly comfortable in them and they became our seconds, thirds, and constants. Most importantly, however, this year has been a space of growth for people, not just individually but as a community – something that perhaps a fast-paced, capitalistic society might’ve prevented in the past.

We experienced large movements all around the world, people came out to fight for each other and stand by each other. Black Lives Matter, Dalit Lives Matter, and Muslim Lives Matter were three such movements that were instigated by atrocities committed against these minorities in America and India. 

These movements highlighted that people are born human. It’s ironic that the biggest divides are made by people. We divide the day with time, divide people with everything we possibly could, and yet, believe that the solution to atrocities that occur from such divide is to further divide a community that is already disintegrating.

For once, in perhaps a long time, Black people were not alone in fighting their own battles against institutionalized oppression and racism. Teenagers and senior citizens walked on the streets to empower and protect a future that should be built on equality, regardless of skin color. But the BLM movement isn’t a trend, it didn’t ask people to post a picture once or twice on Instagram with captions like “Black Out Tuesday” and call it a day.

Instead, it created a space that supported black-owned businesses. It gave a platform for students and employees who were discriminated against in the workplace because of the color of their skin. It united people, as the privileged stood with black people and worked as allies. While all these events are a change in the positive direction, this movement isn’t close to ending. It has just begun. 

India also dealt with violence and inequality against minorities this year. In Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, a 19-year-old woman was raped by four men and her corpse was burned by the police while her mother cried in protest. The woman was of the Dalit caste (which is the “lowest”) while the rapists were from the Thakur caste (the “highest”). 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

To add to this, India’s nationalist government wanted Hindutva to prevail as the dominant (and only) religion. The government was and is vehemently against people who identify as Muslim. From crass WhatsApp jokes that highlight the ingrained discrimination against Muslims in India, to the police and government using violence against Muslim people on the streets, the divide and inequality reached a high this year. 

These violent crimes against Muslim and Dalit people caused rage all over the country (as it should). Caste-ism, sexism, and religious discrimination reared their ugly heads and Indians came out in hoards to globally speak out against it. Calls for equality were heard as thousands of protests were held to fight against the violence these minorities face. 

It irked me to say Muslim People, Hindu People, Dalit people, Black people. It irked me because it has come to a world where people are defined more by a part of their whole identity and less as just people. Rather than giving equal weight to ‘Dalit’ and ‘people’, we have begun to stress on the former and neglect the latter. It irks me because we take humanity away from humans. This year, however, it irked the whole world. These movements, these calls for equality forced people to stand up for each other. There is unrest still, there is discomfort, but what I learned this year is that we are tirelessly hopeful beings, even when we ourselves don’t see it. 

So while 2020 had some of the worst to give, the best part of it has been the people living in it. 


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

Cupertino: Field of Dreams For Young Cricketers

Cricket is a sport that hundreds and millions of people around the world play every single day. Several individuals and organizations have shaped cricket to bring it to where it is today. These organizations not only improve the cricketing conditions for current players, but they also play a paramount role in inspiring the youth.

The California Cricket Academy (CCA) has emerged as a unique organization in the Bay Area that promotes the dreams of young cricketers. CCA is also the first cricket academy and youth league for children from 6 to 17 years in the United States.

Recently the California Cricket Academy developed the first turf cricket field in the Bay Area. This is a huge milestone not only for CCA but also for cricket in America. The cricketing youth in America will now have a world-class facility to play the sport they love. 

As Leslie Mains of the Cupertino School District put it, This is a sport that is loved by many members of our community and such facilities allow youth (and others) an opportunity to learn about the game, receive coaching on fields designated for this purpose, and provide resources to the growing number of players in our community.” 

Every CCA player is over the moon and really optimistic to play on this newly developed cricket pitch. A right-handed fast bowler and right-handed batsman named Aarav Bhat said, “This new field is the road to accomplish my dreams.” 

New cricket field in Cupertino.

The new facility also delighted the coaches, who put all their time into helping youth improve their skills and teaching them the fundamentals behind the sport. Coach Tushar Arothe of CCA proclaimed, Our turf pitch has come up very good, never expected this sort of bounce on the pitch. If you ask me from a cricketer point of view – it’s true pitch, which means it’s good for batting and bowling.”

Additionally, a parent, Nosheen Taskeen had to say, “This pitch will carve the way for first-class cricketers in the future.” 

One specific person has worked extremely hard for the production of the new cricket field and that person is the President of CCA, Kinjal Buch. She said, We are extremely excited as we now have a proper cricket facility to host international youth teams from all over the world. We always had world-class coaches and now this facility fills the quality infrastructure gap.”

The Luther cricket field will remain a sign of strength for cricket in the United States and will motivate other cities to spread the positivity that is present in this beautiful game.

To contact CCA, email them at calcricket_academy@yahoo.com and visit facebook.com/calcricket for watching more action videos on the new field.


Waleed Siddiqui is a CCA Player and Lynbrook High Student.

Leather Notebook

My Rough Leather Notebook, An Escape From This World

My hands run over my notebook bound in rough leather, slightly wrinkly like my skin after a long hot shower. Its cover is dark black with speckles of shimmering silver flashing under the dappled sun. It looks like staring up at the starry sky on a clear winter night. It invites me inside, pulls me in like a portal to another world where I can write. Outside where the world is dominated by a plague, we stare at the virus trackers, of big red blotches filling the continents, growing bigger and darker. We see the numbers of cases and deaths increase. Only they are not just numbers. They are people who once had families and enjoyed life, maybe they had a notebook just like mine. Outside my door, the world is toxic, tainted and polluted but inside the notebook, my words are pure. Untouched by the chaos, unchanged by circumstance.

My hand slowly lifts the cover as I bring the journal up to my face. My nose fills with the smell of home, comforting and familiar. Old paper pages delicately rustle like leaves dancing when the wind makes them sway. Lines in a subtle sky blue streak across the page, straight and long, asking me to fill them. Asking me to forget, to leave behind all of reality and enter the realm of the imaginary. As I flip through, words adorn the pages of all different shapes and sizes. Some are crisp and clear like a high-definition TV. Others are smudged, smeared from wear and the sweat that drips off my hand. They look nothing more than dirt smeared on a creamy-white page. The pages look like the color of soy-milk, an off-white color with hints of yellow and brown spreading across the edges like food coloring staining water or red blotches on a COVID tracker. Flipping through the pages makes a rustling noise, not unlike opening a bag of potato chips quietly. The pages feel familiar in my hand, feeling like an extra layer of soft, supple skin embracing my hand, gluing my palm to the page like the journal is begging me to write. The smell brings me back to the good old days, as I reminisce of books filing a shelf, old and new the smell draws me in like the smell of fresh coffee in the morning or hot coca in December.

Then, the most extraordinary thing begins to happen as the world starts to fade. The lines between reality blur as my pencil touches the page. When I’m tired of the world, of sad news and coronavirus cases, I fall into my journal’s embraces. Away from this world I leave, the pages acting like my wings as I spread them and fly. Not looking back to say goodbye, I rise as I write.

The journal is my escape from this world when I need to mend. When the days are too short and the nights too long, when I fall back, the pages seem to catch me and lift me up. Telling me that if I write, everything will be alright. That it’s okay if I don’t wear a mask because I’m not leaving my house, they call me, say that I don’t need a plane to travel because this journal is the plane and I can go anywhere I want. It doesn’t even have to be real.

In the harsh world of the coronavirus, unemployment, and giant recessions, my notebook is my life, my world is my words. When counterintuitive reigns, when a positive test brings only negatives, I find my way. Not just a journal but a mentor, a friend, I can hang out with my journal without Zoom or a six-foot ruler.

The first word is written, from my brain, it travels to my left arm, towards my fingers. As I etch it into the page, once again the inexplicable feeling fills me. This is the point where the world of the real and the imagined separate, unable to tell what is fantasy and reality, everything becomes hazy.

As I stare at the vast openness of the space ahead of me, knowing I can fill it with anything fills me with joy. I wonder what will happen during this roller coaster ride because in these lines, anything can happen. As the point of the pencil touches the page, the story starts, venturing out into the unknown. I am full of excitement and joy to see what I can create.

Words just flow like water or liquid gold, the pencil dances across the page, as graceful as ballet. The page sings opportunity, the words spill secrets, the pencil whispers freedom and I, I remember to forget. 

My words build worlds; my pages build palaces. Once the story starts, it’s like a thundering waterfall, pouring, unable to stop. The words are like water, life-sustaining, delicate, yet mighty enough to gorge canyons and carve rivers. The power of the page lies on my shoulders, the power of creating a new world, any new world, now rests in me. A superpower anyone can achieve if only they thought to befriend a pencil and become part of a notebook.

This is the feeling of writing, of opportunities and freedom, of inspiration and wonder, of home and the unknown. And it is beautiful. No amount of words can express; no number of notebooks can explain this feeling of writing and filling a page.

In the world of COVID, of social distancing and being stuck indoors, writing is my way to explore. The notebook and I, are united as one. For me, it symbolizes light and life, shining like a beacon or a star in the night. Never extinguished, like the north star, it leads me back home, which lies somewhere inside.

This simple notebook, made nothing more of leather and paper, is the most amazing thing because everything once started with a word contained in a book just like the one under my hand.

Always with me, the notebook remains. It is there when I laughed and smiled so hard it hurt and it stayed there to dry my tears when I had my messy cries. When we walk together, the weight of the world doesn’t seem as heavy anymore, when I write my fears and worries, sharing it with my best friend, something happens that seems to make me mend.

Slowly, the notebook became my world, now more than ever. Because there are times when the world is tough, life gets bumpy, the road is rough. But the notebook is stable, it’s always there, whenever I need to get some rest or express myself, to help me get rid of stress, it’s always there when I need to decompress. Reminding me to let go, telling me to remember that it’s okay to forget the world.


Diya Kanduri is a sophomore from New Jersey. She has been writing poetry since fourth grade. She loves to read, travel, and spend time with her family. To read more of her work, you can visit her blog or her Instagram @diya_kanduri.

At 52 Hz, My Throat is Parched

The 2020 US elections were not just about differing political views. People’s lives were impacted on the basis of their skin color, their gender, their sexuality, or their religion.

It bred uncertainty and fear in people who had been targeted for years.

Human beings should be respected for just that, being human. There is no other clause or addition to that. 

Here is a poem dedicated to those that felt weak. Rather than offer a solution of light in the darkness, I offer a hand to hold in it. 

Oil painting by Swati Ramaswamy (crashed waves/clouds dissolving) 
Oil painting by Author, Swati Ramaswamy (crashed waves/clouds dissolving)

6th November 10:11 pm

I felt it in waves, that dissolve in the sand

Blue and red neon signs holding each hand

“Am I human enough?” 

My skin dipped chocolate and my heart of rainbows

I can’t seem to hide, in the hours that count down— 

I can’t seem to stop.

Maybe if my eyes could close, maybe if my mind switched off—

Maybe if red and blue-dyed into a plethora of purple, 

losing in color and gaining the “other”.

 

“In a world with its eyes closed, a person with their’s open

Isn’t it strange how now they are made blind?” 

Is that victory? 

Effortless rounds that never escape a cycle,

Drugged on more and living less.

If it never starts, it never ends.

People become collateral, waves become loose sand.

A gripping fist, shows an empty hand. 

My throat is parched, lungs need a break—

But I haven’t slept yet:

 

Waking up in this state. 

7th November 5:50 am


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

Kids show off their art on Zoom as Team Anti-Coronavirus.

Kids Make Art to Fund PPE for an Indian Hospital

Ten children from the ages of 3 to 13 based in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey took to Zoom to organize and create Team Anti-Coronavirus. Their goal? To raise funds for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline medical professionals treating COVID-19 patients at the Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMC) in Vellore, South India. 

“I had a lot of fun making cards and artwork with my baby brother,” says Anoushka. “My dad is a doctor. I want to help other doctors like him and all healthcare workers who are taking care of COVID-19 patients.” 

Anoushka is collaborating with her teammates Advaith, Ilakkiya, Neil, Nikhil, Oviya, Pragnya, Prisha, Shreya, and Veera. The youngsters have raised $550 so far by making cards, wearable art, and shrinkable charms for family and friends in exchange for a donation to a Go Fund Me campaign launched by journalist Sujata Srinivasan, whose son is part of the group. Srinivasan was motivated to contribute following her personal experience at CMC when she lost her mother to a road accident in 2018. The initiative is a collaboration with the Vellore CMC Foundation in New York, which will route all donations, which are fully tax-deductible, to CMC Vellore.   

The award-winning, Indian nonprofit institution was in the U.S. news recently as a case study in the Harvard Business Review, and for work by one of its medical college alumni Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery in the Department of Surgery at Northwestern. Bharat and his team performed the first double-lung transplant on a COVID-19 patient in the U.S., after her lungs were damaged by the virus. 

As of Nov. 1, the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker showed 8.1 million positive cases in India. The number of COVID-19 deaths that were reported totaled 122,111. CMC alone has a positivity rate of 16 percent, down from as high as 30 percent, according to Dr. Kishore Pichamuthu, professor and head, Medical ICU, Division of Critical Care at CMC. “We have 75 COVID ICU beds in six units. Around 1,000 critically ill patients with COVID have been treated in these beds since April 2020,” he says. 

From the data provided by CMC, of the total 9,072 COVID-19 patients admitted at the hospital, 91.6 percent were discharged (as of 28 Oct). A total of 3,135 patients received a subsidy for COVID treatment to date – the total charity amount was approximately $1.5 million.

Resources are strained as more patients continue to seek treatment.

Patients are still coming in swarms to CMC, mostly because of the large number of COVID beds offered by the hospital,” says Dr. Pritish Korula, associate professor, Surgical ICU, Division of Critical Care. “Treatment for COVID is expensive. While our hospital does its best to help numerous socioeconomically-deprived patients, it has been a struggle to meet patient needs as the volumes are so large and the pandemic has been going on for so long.” 

To donate to CMC COVID-19 relief, please visit: Go Fund Me for PPE


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