Model Minority? No Thanks!

Asian Americans broadly and South Asians have long confronted mainstream labeling as model minorities. Here at SAALT, we have a few problems with that. The latest example is a commentary posted on Forbes.com by Jason Richwine. Check out SAALT’s written response below (it’s also been posted on RaceWire):

Model Minority? No, Thanks!

A Response to February 24th  Forbes.com Commentary on Indian Americans: The New Model Minority

Deepa Iyer

In his February 24th commentary, Jason Richwine presents the “revelation” that Indian American immigrants are the “new model minority” (see “Indian Americans: The New Model Minority”).  Using this flawed frame, he then proposes unworkable and divisive immigration policy changes.  As a national non-profit organization that works to foster the full civic and political participation of the South Asian community, we find these characterizations to be quite troubling.

Richwine points to the educational and income levels of many Indian Americans (as well as their flair for winning spelling bees) as signs that this ethnic group has reached the highest echelons of success.  Such benchmarks belie the truth about the challenges that many Indian Americans face, and create a wedge between Indian Americans and minority communities.

In reality, Indian Americans, much like other immigrants, have diverse experiences and backgrounds. Indian Americans are doctors, engineers and lawyers, as well as small business owners, domestic workers, taxi drivers and convenience store employees. Community members hold a range of immigration statuses and include naturalized citizens and H-1B visaholders, guestworkers and students, undocumented workers and green card holders.  Some have access to higher education while others struggle to learn English in a new country.  As with all communities, Indian Americans do not come in the same shape and form, and cannot be treated as a monolith.

Another danger with the model minority label is that it creates divisions between Indian Americans and other immigrant communities.  Beneath the seemingly positive use of the “model minority” label is a pernicious racist undertone: the purpose, after all, is to compare one set of people with another, and the result is to pit minorities against one another.

Comparing Indian Americans with Mexican Americans, as Richwine does (“In sharp contrast to Indian Americans, most U.S. immigrants, especially Mexican, are much less wealthy and educated than U.S. natives, even after many years in the country) is an example of the sort of constructed division between immigrant communities that creates cultural and ethnic hierarchies.   The use of the model minority label results in placing Indian Americans “above” other communities based on certain factors such as educational aptitude or work ethic – which are clearly shared across ethnic and cultural lines.  It further isolates Indian Americans and makes it challenging to build solidarity that naturally arises among communities that share common experiences as immigrants and people of color in America.

Using the model minority myth to inform immigration policy can lead to unworkable solutions.  Richwine writes that “A new immigration policy that prioritizes skills over family reunification could bring more successful immigrants to the U.S.  By emphasizing education, work experience and IQ in our immigration policy, immigrant groups from other national backgrounds could join the list of model minorities” – one that seems to be headed up by Indian Americans.

But even for this so-called model minority, immigration policy reform must include family reunification (in fact, family members of green card holders from India have to wait up to 11 years to be reunited with family members); legalization (Indians ranked among the top ten undocumented populations in the country in 2008); and programs that enable workers – skilled and unskilled – to carry out their livelihoods with respect and dignity.   Viewing immigrants as commodities to be used purely for their economic value as a basis for immigration policy change denies immigrants the opportunities to establish roots, build meaningful futures, and contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of our country.

We reject attempts to create divisions, whether they be within our own community, or with other communities who share similar experiences, struggles, histories, and values.  We recognize that our success and our futures are tied closely with that of all immigrants and people of color.

Deepa Iyer is the Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national non-profit organization located in the Washington DC area. Ms. Iyer is an immigrant who moved to the United States from India when she was twelve years old.

A Call to Action to Address and End Domestic Violence

Please read this statement released by the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations in response to recent domestic violence incidents including the tragic murder of Aasiya Hassan in New York.

February 26th, 2009– As community-based organizations that provide services to, advocate for, and organize South Asians in the United States, we are deeply saddened by recent tragic incidents of domestic violence that have affected South Asian families and communities over the past six months.

The tragic murder of Aasiya Hassan, a 37-year-old mother, who was brutally beheaded in Buffalo, New York, is the latest in a series of recent violent incidents that has received community-wide and public attention.  Ms. Hassan had obtained an order of protection against her husband and filed for divorce before the murder, which occurred on February 12, 2009.

This incident comes on the heels of another tragedy that occurred in Clifton, New Jersey last November, when 24-year old Reshma James was murdered by her estranged husband at the church she attended.  And, it follows two murders of family members, including children: one occurring in Novi, Michigan, where the bodies of 37-year-old Jayalakshmi Rao and her two children were found, and the other occurring in Sorrente Pointe, California, where the entire Rajaram family (mother-in-law, wife,  three children, and the suicide of the husband) was found dead last October.

Beyond speaking out and condemning these tragedies, we as community members and organizations must strive to do even more.  As members of the South Asian community, each of us has a role to play in ending violence.

Most importantly, we must move beyond the tendency to reduce acts of domestic violence to culture or religion, or any such characteristic. The epidemic of domestic violence affects families from all backgrounds and religious faiths; in fact, the incidents we describe here occurred in Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities.  We must call domestic violence what it is, and work both within our community and externally, to create safe spaces and environments.

And, we must understand and empathize with victims and survivors of domestic violence.  All victims and survivors of domestic violence face significant barriers in seeking and obtaining assistance, justice, and support. For South Asians, these barriers become even more exacerbated.  Many South Asians feel uncomfortable reaching out to those within their own community for fear of being judged, questioned, isolated, blamed and stigmatized.  When abuse occurs in non-marital or same-sex relationships, it can become an even more difficult topic to broach.  Moreover, a lack of cultural and linguistic sensitivity and tangible legal protections can make survivors feel that they have little recourse in existing laws, the justice system, law enforcement and social service agencies.

Finally, we must be ready to address domestic violence publicly.  Around the country, community members, religious leaders and social service agencies must take significant steps each day to ensure that victims and survivors of domestic violence receive the support and assistance they need.  Our entire community must be prepared to speak out against violence and address it in our homes, places of worship, cultural centers, and social service organizations.

In light of the recent tragic incidents of domestic violence, we offer three concrete steps that you can take:  first, create a safe space to talk about domestic violence with your family, friends, and support networks; second, encourage your religious, cultural and civic leaders to address the impact of domestic violence in public statements, remarks, prayers and sermons, and settings; and third, support organizations that strive to end domestic violence in our communities.

We send this call to action with the hope that community members, religious, cultural and civic organizations, policymakers, allies and media will all take on the task of ending domestic violence. For our part, we remain committed to continuing our efforts to advocate against violence in any form, to create safe spaces for all community members, and to press for policies that support and empower victims and survivors of violence.

The National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of community-based organizations in 12 regions around the United States, seeks to amplify a progressive voice on policy issues affecting South Asian communities.  For more information about the NCSO, please contact South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) at 301-270-1855 or via email at saalt@saalt.org

Endorsed by:

AdhikaarNew York, NY
Andolan – New York, NY
Apna Ghar – Chicago, IL
ASHA for Women – Washington DC Area
Chaya Seattle, WA
Chhaya CDC – New York, NY
Council of Peoples Organization – New York, NY

Counselors Helping (South) Asian/Indians – Washington DC Area
Daya – Houston, TX

Hamdard Center – Chicago, IL
Indo-American Center – Chicago, IL
Maitri – San Jose, CA
Manavi – New Brunswick, NJ
Michigan Asian Indian Family Services – Livonia, MI
Narika – Berkeley, CA
Raksha – Atlanta, GA
Saathi of Rochester – Rochester, NY
Sakhi for South Asian Women – New York, NY
Satrang – Los Angeles, CA
Sneha – West Hartford, CT
South Asian Health Initiative – New York, NY
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund – Washington DC
South Asian Americans Leading Together – Washington DC Area

South Asian Youth Action – New York, NY
Trikone NW – Seattle, WA
Turning Point for Women and Families – New York, NY

Poverty in the Asian American Community in New York Featuring SAYA!

NewsAs the recession deepens and more and more people around the country find themselves jobless or stretched thin economically, its important to highlight how different communities are being affected in different ways. This excellent piece from My9 News (New York) reporter Ti Hua Chang. Chang profiles Asian Americans and South Asians living at or near the poverty level in New York. Many work for long hours for low wages and have little cushion as the economy worsens. Moreover, fewer Asian Americans use government services; one of the startling facts Chang mentions is that while Asian Americans make up 12% of the city’s population, they recieve about 1% of the government or private funding. From seniors isolated to their apartments to the Bangladeshi man working two jobs to build a better future for his children, the stories are uniformly heartbreaking and underscore how these communities are suffering. The Executive Director of an NCSO partner SAYA!, Annetta Seecharan, speaks to the importance of investing in these communities and helping them build more secure futures. Check the video out at <http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?et=1102477092076&e=001aIe-v1SY2wJtz3gLloLGdx1EKmzkq4MLylD-QY-vhvtPm4PpNI1fizuFNK7DJ9xNvqE7uIqAHfOuwQFZfhlGgbyZXU4mMQErjoOS5BY3c6v1VRiakPRE5d8nicqHS-RMP1dq69Qg8mw=>

Sudhir Venkatesh speaking at ChangeMakers Reception of the 2009 South Asian Summit

Sudhir Venkatesh's third book, Gang Leader for a Day

The 2009 South Asian Summit is fast approaching (register now!) and its shaping up to be an amazing experience. The latest development is the announcement of the speaker for the ChangeMakers Awards reception, Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia University professor and author of some very interesting books about the underground economy in inner city America (including one I am currently reading: Gang Leader for a Day). We are very excited to bring Venkatesh’s insight and perspective to the Summit. So don’t miss out on any of the exciting events and register for the Summit (Apr 24-26 in Washington, DC) today!

For more information about the Summit, visit <http://www.saalt.org/pages/South-Asian-Summit.html>

Daily Buzz 2.23.2009

1.) Students discuss the lack of… something in Asian-American Families

2.)  South Asian Man Stopped 21 times by NYPD sues

3.)  Indian-Trained American Surgeon Facing Manslaughter Charges

4.) Eye on 2012, Jindal rejects Obama dole

5.) On the road to sexual equality– A Queer South Asian Man Shares His Experience in Boston

Daily Buzz 2.19.2009

1.) Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Responds to Hip Hop Star MIA

2.) Interview with Kavitha Rajagopalan, author of Muslims of Metropolis

3.) Recession Silences more Asian-American Voices

4.) DJ Ravi Drums to Perform on the 2009 Academy Awards

5.) The UK is currently looking to classify all Sharia beliefs as extremist

6.) “Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee”: Personal Reflections on South Asian Immigrant Women’s Cultural Identity

For SAALT-ines in the Washington, DC Area

Home to the fifth largest South Asian population in the country according to the 2000 Census, the Washington, DC area is a hotbed of desi culture. We’ve got gurudwaras, mosques, temples and desi groceries galore. SAALT is collaborating with the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC) to learn more about South Asians who live and work in the District through the South Asian Community Empowerment Project and we are looking for volunteers!

So what do volunteers do, you ask?

It’s simple, volunteers conduct street-side surveys of South Asians in Washington, DC. You’ll be collecting information that simply isn’t out there right now about the community here in DC and learning about your fellow District natives. All volunteers will be trained in surveying and community work. Want to volunteer? email Maha Khan at maha@saalt.org and we hope to see you out there!

Also, we’re going to be writing more about this as it gets closer but the National South Asian Summit is happening, right here in DC, from April 24-26. This is an exciting opportunity for students, professionals, activists (really, everyone!) to make connections and strategize around empowering the South Asian community. More details to come, but we’re looking at a lot of exciting speakers and guests, so register today!

Daily Buzz 2.18.2009

1.) Pakistani-Americans in Chicago talk about Obama

2.) Muslim & S. Asian Women’s Groups Condemn Beheading of Aasiya Hassan

3.) Opinions: Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?

4.) Professor Sudhir Venkatesh asks “What Should We Do?” to the South Asian Philanthropy Project: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

5.) Taliban threats reach Pakistani Americans