In Pursuit of the “Dream”: We Reflect and Recommit

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Photo Credit: Bao Lor, SEARAC

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. This past weekend, to commemorate this important occasion, Asian American organizations joined thousands of people who gathered in the nation’s capital to participate in a march and rally titled, “National Action to Realize the Dream March”.. The purpose of this march and rally was not just to remember the legacy of Dr. King and the progress since his speech over 50 years ago, but to show that even today in 2013, inequality persists.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT staff rallying in solidarity

Among the Asian American organizations present at the March were representatives from SAALT, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). And as part of the program on Saturday, Jasjit Singh, Executive Director of SALDEF spoke and shared the stage along with other civil rights leaders.

The work still continues, especially within the South Asian, Muslim and Sikh communities when it comes to decreasing hate crimes, discrimination, harassment and racial profiling following 9/11, and the tremendous disparities within South Asian communities from the standpoint of access to educational equity, jobs, and health care.

SAALT Programs Intern and recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, Victoria Meaney, reflected on the significance of the March, “Attending the 50th Anniversary March on Washington was monumental to me as a South Asian American. My ability to participate, in collaboration with SAALT really exemplifies the progress that has been made, based on the work of individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Their examples show the importance of the individual’s voice, and, by allying with others, the steps to a just society are possible. My hope is that future marches to come will have an even greater representation of South Asians and Asian Pacific Americans, because civil rights belong to all, but we will not be heard if we do not advocate for ourselves.”

We marched and rallied in solidarity for jobs, justice, peace and equality along with Americans of all races, faith and backgrounds.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

In giving her reasons for the importance of this March, Roksana Mun a DRUM Youth Organizer reflected on the theme of the March in 1963, which was “the need for jobs and the ever growing economic and social inequality between people of color communities and white communities”. And today she notes, “…we’re living at a time when the same exact issues of working-class, people of color are struggling to find jobs, decent pay (or in many cases any pay), increased cuts to education, health care and social service systems still persist. The Poor People’s March is still needed”

We showed that even though 50 years has passed since Dr. King’s speech calling for equality and justice we still have yet to pursue that dream.

As Fahd Ahmed, Legal and Policy Director of DRUM states, “It was important for DRUM to have a presence at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington because we have directly benefited from gains made by the Civil Rights movement. Both in terms of actual rights, won, such as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, but also in having learned strategies and tactics. Our current struggles for immigrant rights, racial justice, and worker’s rights, are a continuation of that legacy.”

Let us reflect and recommit as SAALT Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, notes “South Asians are indebted to the civil rights movement and the African American leaders and community members who marched today 50 years ago. The pivotal anti-discrimination and immigration laws that were enacted in 1965 have preserved the rights of millions of people of color and immigrants. Now, 50 years later, South Asians must continue to be a critical and visible constituency in the ongoing struggle for equity.”

So today, on the actual date of the March on Washington, as we commemorate Dr. King, his legacy and the struggles that were endured to defend our civil rights, let us not forget that problems still persists and that we are still in pursuit of the “Dream”.
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AuriaJoy Asaria
Communications and Admin Assistant
South Asian Americans Leading Together, SAALT

Supreme Court Watch: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and the South Asian Community

On June 25, 2013, in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights of 1965 ruling it unconstitutional. SAALT strongly condemns the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which has been pivotal in protecting minority voters’ ability to participate in the American democracy. In January 2013, SAALT joined an amicus brief in the case, along with 27 other Asian American organizations, arguing in favor of the Voting Rights Act, particularly given its importance related to language access and political representation.

With the backdrop of egregious racial discrimination against minority voters, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act articulates a formula to determine which jurisdictions are required to have any changes in their voting laws pre-cleared by the Department of Justice or a federal court (under Section 5 of the legislation) to ensure that minority voters’ ability to vote is not diminished. The trigger formula used to designate such jurisdictions, as outlined in Section 4, is based on various factors, including historical evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices, impact on language minority groups, and low minority voter turnout. While the Court recognized that racial discrimination continues to plague the ability for many to vote, it stated that the coverage formula used in Section 4 was “outdated” in light of recent increased minority voter turnout, disapproved of states being treated differently under the law, and suggested that Congress update the formula in order to pass constitutional muster. This counterintuitive reasoning ignores that Sections 4 and 5 have been pivotal in promoting enfranchisement, considerable evidence proves racial discrimination at the polls continues, and federal legislators have recognized the importance of keeping the Voting Rights Act in effect. In fact, the Voting Rights Act, including Section 4, has increasingly enjoyed significant bipartisan support within Congress over the years and was most recently reauthorized almost unanimously in 2006.

The right to vote has been a long-fought battle for communities of color in the United States. The Voting Rights Act is an historic and crucial piece of legislation that was borne out of our country’s Civil Rights Movement and the pioneering struggles of the African American community in the 1960s. Indeed, the South Asian community’s own path to attain naturalization, conferring the right to vote, has been a rocky one. In 1923, the Supreme Court then ruled that South Asians were not considered white by the common person and thus could not be considered citizens; this remained in effect until legislation was enacted decades later. In more recent years, as documented by election monitoring and exit polling efforts, South Asian and other voters of color continue to encounter barriers at the polls because of race, religion, and language ability and restrictive voter identification proposals continue to threaten the right to vote. South Asians will not be immune from today’s disappointing ruling, particularly given our community’s overall size and growth in jurisdictions previously covered under the Section 4 formula, including Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia.

This ruling is a grave setback for voting rights and equality in the country that ignores both the historical and contemporary evidence of discrimination that minority voters face. Community members are encouraged to join a petition calling for an amendment to protect the rights of all voters. Looking forward, SAALT will continue to work with allies when Congress develops a new coverage formula in light of today’s ruling and ensure that it addresses discrimination against racial, ethnic, and language minorities.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.

Election Monitoring at Lakelands Park Middle School in Gaithersburg, MD


On November 4th, I served as the site supervisor at Lakelands Park Middle School in Gaithersburg, MD to conduct an Asian American Voter Survey and monitor and report any voter incidents. Our experience was amazing in that most of the Asian American voters we approached were more than happy to fill out our survey and even more enthusiastic once we told them what it was for. It was on this day that I realized the importance of collecting this data and getting a sense of the needs, challenges, and priorities of our community.There is one incident that sticks out in my mind from that day. There was a woman who I saw vote earlier in the day come back to our polling site in the afternoon with a camera. She asked us to take her picture near the “Vote Here” sign, near our “Asian American Voter Sign”, and even a picture with us! Her emotion and excitement were visible as she told us how she wanted to document this historic day for her children. As the day unfolded, we saw voters turn out in record numbers and in a very real way, it struck me how important this day was. People came out to vote despite the long lines, cold weather, and rain. They brought their kids, their parents, their pets, their cameras, and their excitement. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to witness such an occasion.

Check back on the SAALT website for updated information about the voting trends of the South Asian community!

 
 
 
 

 

Where were you on Election Day?

I hope that you were voting and making your voice heard. Around the country, volunteers from SAALT and other organizations from the Asian American community were at poll sites, protecting the vote and learning more about the voting choices and barriers faced by Asians. It was my first time being an election monitor and I was assigned to a poll site in Silver Spring, MD (which is in the suburbs of Washington, DC). It was an amazing experience on a number of levels. First and foremost, it was very powerful to see so many people after they had exercised their right to vote. It was the culmination of a long, and sometimes emotional, election cycle and you could feel the excitement in the air.

I saw a lot of people with smiles on their faces. Another notable trend was families coming in to vote together in which the children were voting for the first time. As they filled out surveys, I could see the pride in the parents’ eyes. I moved to the United States when I was twelve years old. My family had previously lived in Saudi Arabia, which was an interesting experience all around, but there was a palpable difference when we came to America. This was a place where people settled, not just a place to pass through. It was not immediate, but America became home. And when I became a citizen in 2006, I was old enough to have really chosen become an “American”. I knew when I said that oath in the courthouse in Chicago that, in a fundamental way, my place in the world had shifted.

Even though I had the opportunity to vote in the 2006 midterm elections, I was beside myself with excitement about voting in my first presidential elections: to be making this huge, meaningful choice along with my fellow Americans (a decision that I knew from personal experience reverberated well beyond the US) was something I had looked forward to for a very long time. In my family there are American citizens, permanent residents, H1-B and student visa-holders and Bangladeshi citizens. I voted absentee in the District of Columbia, so it wasn’t the whole Election Day experience, but when I stood in my little voting booth, I felt my whole family there with me and I did my best to make sure my vote reflected that.

I don’t know if it is the same for other immigrants and children of immigrants, but the very act of voting felt like some small but vital portion of my parents’ dreams and my dreams becoming a reality. Being an election monitor and seeing people of all races and ethnicities, of different ages and socioeconomic statuses seemed a quiet and powerful affirmation of American democracy at work. On a very practical level, being there to help document any problems or issues with voting helped me contribute to a better understanding of Asian Americans as a voting population. This information not only helps us understand our community better, it informs policymakers and politicians about the issues that matter to us. I know that I will remember November 4th, 2008 for the rest of my life and I hope that the work that I and all the other election monitors can make a similar impact on our community’s future.

We’re going to put up some more posts about people’s experiences with election monitoring so keep a look out for them.

What Do I Need to Bring to the Polls? and Document the Vote!

It’s almost here! Election Day! After a rather long primary season, this election is coming to close in the most exciting way possible. Voter turnout is expected to be quite impressive and if early voting is any indication Americans around the country are excited (and commmitted, with early voting locations in some states having wait times in excess of SIX hours) about having their say this election. So for everyone getting ready to vote on Election Day, make sure that the ID requirements in your state don’t keep you from casting a ballot. Lookup your state’s ID requirement on www.866ourvote.org.

Also, while you’re waiting online, document the vote, take pictures or video of how voting looks in your community. If you have any interesting stories to share about first time voters or the excitement in your family or circle of friends about voting, we want to hear about it. Are you voting, getting out the vote, or monitoring at the polls on Election Day? Bring a camera or videocamera with you to document pictures and stories of South Asian voters. Send pictures, video, written reflections, quotes and more to saalt@saalt.org by Wednesday, November 5th at 5PM!

Here’s an interesting PSA I found that really underscores how meaningful the vote is, it may take a couple of hours (so I suggest bringing a book… and maybe a folding chair) but going out and voting remains significant long after Election Day.

Make sure your vote counts on November 4th!

This is a really great video that outlines how important it is to make sure that your vote counts on Election Day. There may not be enough voting machines, your name might not be in the voter rolls, you may get asked for ID you don’t have to vote. So its very important that you know what your rights are, it can be the difference between having your say on Election Day or not.



Moreover, by knowing what voters have a right to expect, you can make sure that those around you, voting at your polling place, voters from your community and more! Voters can confront a number of problems at the polls, from poll workers who are not knowledgeable about the rules to difficulties with language and English ballots to unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity. Remember:

-Check your state’s voter ID laws to make sure that you have the proper identification to vote
-If you or anyone you know needs help interpreting the ballot, it is your legal right to bring an interpreter into the booth with you
-If your name is missing from the rolls, you have a right to vote using a provisional ballot
     Want to learn more about your rights on Election Day, check out this SAALT resource

If you encounter or witness any barriers to the right to vote, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

 

 

South Asians in the 2008 elections

How have South Asians been getting involved in the 2008 elections? How have the ways that South Asians been involved in the civic and political process changed or evolved? What kind of voter turnout can we expect from the South Asian community on Election Day? What’s at stake for South Asians in this election?



Hear the answers to these questions and more in “South Asians in the 2008 elections,” SAALT’s pre-election webinar. We were joined by Vijay Prashad (Trinity College Professor of International Studies and the author of Karma of Brown Folk among other works), Karthick Ramakrishnan (one of the main collaborators in the National Asian American Survey), Seema Agnani (Executive Director of Chhaya CDC, a community development nonprofit based in Queens, New York), Ali Najmi (Co-founder of Desis Vote in New York) and Aparna Sharma and Tina Bhaga Yokota (Members of South Asian Progressive Action Collective in Chicago). The full video of the webinar is here<http://www.saalt.org/categories/South-Asians-in-the-2008-Elections-Online-Webinar-/>. Stay tuned for SAALT’s post-election webinar, during which guests will dissect the election results, report the findings of multilingual exit polling and look forward to the transition to the new Adminstration and Congress.

History Repeating Itself: Xenophobia in Political Discourse

With merely one week until Election Day, it seems like candidate stump speeches, pundit commentary, and the volley of talking points from all sides are everywhere you turn. And if you’re anything like me, you’re transfixed to cable news and media analysis about what’s been happening on the campaign trail.

Here at SAALT, we’ve been keeping a special eye on what’s being said in this highly-charged political atmosphere particularly as it relates to the South Asian community. In recent years, we’ve unfortunately witnessed a spate of xenophobic comments being made against our community within political discourse. Such rhetoric has emerged in various forms, including challenging the loyalty of those who are or perceived to be Muslim. Sadly, this hearkens back to the sentiments and actions that led to bias and discrimination against South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, and Arab communities in the aftermath of 9/11 and raise concerns about the overall environment leading up to election. We encourage the community to remain vigilant about such rhetoric.

Be sure to check out SAALT’s three-part toolkit on xenophobia in political discourse, which includes comments made by political figures against the South Asian community, remarks made against South Asian candidates for political office, and tips on how community members can respond to such rhetoric, which have been featured by UC Davis Law Professor Bill O. Hing over at ImmigrationProfBlog.

Do you know your rights on Election Day?

Are you required to show your ID to vote?

What do you do if you need help translating the voting materials?

Want to know what the answers to these questions are? Then read “
Elections ’08: Know Your Rights on Election Day“! This new SAALT resource outlines what voters can expect at the polls like what poll workers allowed to ask for and what provisions protect your vote. Check it out along with all the other SAALT Elections ’08 resources at www.saalt.org/pages/Elections-2008.html

One “Be the Change” Volunteer’s Experience Registering Voters in NY

Read this post from Parth Savla, Be the Change Volunteer in New York City:

On Oct 4, I had the pleasure of participating in SAALT’s Be The Change event by volunteering with Chhaya CDC, located in Queens, NY on their Voter Registration drive.  It was a great a experience street canvassing – going up to South Asians and asking them to register to vote.  I was really surprised by how many people were compelled to vote for the first time in their lives.  In addition to spreading the word about the importance of voting, we were also educating people on the public advocacy work that Chhaya does – providing everything from legal services to grassroots community development.


Supporting the voter registration, I believe, impacted the community on a variety of levels.  It enabled those who want to make a difference but don’t know where to go, by providing them access to do so.  Deep down, everyone wants to make a difference and support each other, but are often stifled by a lack of knowledge in how to do so.  By being out there, it provided greater accessibility to folks while helping them realize that they have champions standing for them. 


Street canvassing, I recall fighting my reservations about going up to one passerby and saying:

“Uncle, have you registered to vote for this year’s election?”

 

“No, I have never voted.  Why would it matter?  I’m only one person” he replied in his broken accent.

“Do you have children, uncle?  Are they in school or looking for a good paying job or looking to get a loan for a house?”

        “Yes.” 

“Uncle, voting in this year’s election will enable you to vote for the policies that will not only affect their ability to do those things, but also to safeguard your retirement.  I can understand that you haven’t voted before, neither had my parents before this year,” I said empathetically.

“Oh, I didn’t know it made that much of a difference,” he said as he filled out the voter registration form.  Once he was done, he took a few more forms to take back to his family.

        “Thank you young man.”

By seeing you make a difference, they also get inspired to make a difference!  


I wanted to participate in “Be the Change” this year because of seeing the difference that SAALT had made in our collaborative efforts during our YJA (Young Jains of America – www.yja.org) Convention this past July 4th weekend, and being inspired by the public advocacy work they’ve done for the South Asian community.  For SAALT’s “Be the Change” efforts this year, they’ve been able to mobilize thousands of volunteers nationwide to support countless projects for the community.  That’s a pretty incredible feat!I was particularly inspired about their Voter Registration drive, because this the most important presidential election of our lifetime.  There are many things at stake from our economy – being able to get loans for college, to getting a good job when entering into the job market – to education, to retirement benefits for our parents.  Being a South Asian American, it was a great opportunity to speak to elders in our community about the importance of voting in this year’s election and enabling their voices to be heard.

I knew that being part this event would not only enable me to make a difference but also meet cool people who shared a similar goal to make a difference.  While one person can make a impact, many people who share a collective voice and vision can make an exponential impact!