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

DJ Rekha @ the Black Cat

On Friday night, myself and other SAALT staff members attended DJ Rekha’s show at the Black Cat.  First off, I have to say: What an amazing show!! I have always been a fan of DJ Rekha’s beats, but seeing her live was fantastic.  I also want to thank Rekha and the Black Cat for letting SAALT table at the show.  It was refreshing to see many familiar faces and to know that so many Desis in D.C. already know about SAALT’s work.  I am a fan of Rekha, not only because she is a talented artist, but because she uses her music as a tool for social change.  While it is inspiring to see artists like Rekha getting involved in the South Asian movement, you don’t have to be a DJ to work for change for your community.  Volunteer for Be the Change, organize an event in your local community, or if you haven’t already, become a member of SAALT.  Thanks again to DJ Rekha for her continued support of SAALT and involvement in our work!

Anjali Chaudhry is the Maryland Outreach Coordinator for SAALT.  To learn more about SAALT’s Maryland Community Empowerment Project and ways you can get involved, email anjali@saalt.org.

Aaditi Dubale, SAALT Fellow (left) and myself (right) tabling at the Black Cat.

9/11 Eight Years Later: A Message from South Asian Organizations

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9/11 Eight Years Later:  A Message From South Asian Organizations
This statement is issued by the following members of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations.

Today, members of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO) join the country in marking the  eighth anniversary of the tragedies of September 11th, 2001. We solemnly remember and honor those who lost their lives or loved ones that day.

Like everyone in America, South Asians in the United States were deeply affected by the events on and after September 11th. From the days and months after the tragedy to now, our organizations have addressed a range of issues in our communities related to the post-September 11th environment – from helping individuals who lost family members or their livelihoods to advocating on behalf of those who faced discrimination, hate crimes, profiling, and arbitrary detentions and interrogations.

Although it has been eight years since 9/11, many of the policies implemented in its aftermath continue to affect South Asians, such as special registration, border and airport profiling, and arbitrary detentions and deportations.

Today, we encourage all South Asians to honor the memory of September 11th through reflection, service, and a renewed commitment to preserve justice and equality for all.

For more information about the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations, please visit the NCSO webpage here or contact saalt@saalt.org or 301.270.1855.

Additional Resources and Information:

Dispatch from New Jersey: Town Hall and Legislative Visits!

In an effort to get the local South Asian community engaged around immigration reform, SAALT-NJ, along with community partners, held a  ‘Town Hall for South Asians on Immigration & Civil Rights’ in Jersey City on July 27th at the Five Corners Library.   The event, part of the One Community United campaign, was the second in a series of community forums that will be held nationwide as a part of the campaign.

The town hall brought together not only a diverse group of folks within the community, but also a diverse coalition of local community partners, including: American Friends Service Committee, Andolan, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), Govinda Sanskar Temple, Manavi, New Jersey Immigrant Policy Network, and the Sikh Coalition.

Although the focus of the discussion at large was around immigration reform, the conversation covered a variety of issues, such as the effects of visa limitations and backlogs on low-income workers and women facing violence in the home; and detention centers and the growing number of detained immigrants. The conversation was at once challenging and emotional, as participants shared personal stories illustrating how immigration laws have negatively impacted their lives and the lives of their loved ones.   Nevertheless, the conversation ended on a positive note with ways to stay involved with the campaign, and to get more civically engaged around the immigration reform conversation.

In fact, on August 19th, SAALT members, along with coalition members from NJIPN and New Labor, conducted an in-district meeting with Representative Donald Payne’s office in Newark, New Jersey.  Participants met with a senior staff member at the Representative’s office to discuss issues around immigration and healthcare reform.

The delegation highlighted key concerns to both the South Asian community and the immigrant community at large, such as (1) the increase in detention and deportations post 9-11 and its impact on immigrant families in the US; (2) family- and employment-based visa backlogs and the need for just and humane immigration reform to prevent families from being torn apart in the process; and  (3) more concrete measures in place for immigrant integration to address issues such as linguistic and cultural barriers in accessing services, and, as a result, becoming active and participating members of the community.

The meeting was a great experience – it illustrated to the members present the significance of civic engagement, and how important it is to reach out to our respective representatives about issues concerning us. In a political and economic climate that seems so anti-immigrant, it was certainly refreshing to be able to sit down with the Representative’s office to actively advocate for issues that deeply impact the immigrant community.  I look forward to meeting with other local offices in the coming month and encourage others to try to schedule meetings with your respective Representatives while they are home for August recess.

To learn more about SAALT-NJ’s work, please email qudsia@saalt.org

Looking for ways to get involved? Here are some ideas:

• Call your member of Congress to express your support for immigration reform and strong civil rights policies. Find out who your member of Congress is by visiting www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.

• The Campaign to Reform Immigration for America has launched a text messaging campaign that sends alerts to participants when a call to action, such as calling your Congressman/woman, is urgently needed. To receive text message alerts, simply text ‘justice’ to 69866.

• Stay in touch with local and national organizations that work with the South Asian community.

• Share your immigration or civil rights story with SAALT by filling out this form or sending an email to saalt@saalt.org.

One Community United Kickoff Town Hall in Atlanta

From Niralee, one of our amazing summer interns:

On Tuesday, June 16th, SAALT’s Executive Director Deepa Iyer, along with NCSO partner Raksha, Indus Bar, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, and Khabar, launched the One Community United campaign with an inaugural town hall in Atlanta. The event was the first in a series of community forums to be held throughout the country as part of the campaign.

The town hall took place at the Global Mall in Atlanta on Tuesday evening, and about forty people attended the event. The group was very diverse, including representatives of South Asian organizations, local students and community members, and members of local places of worship.

The heart of the discussion was immigration and human rights. From the very beginning, participants eagerly engaged in the discussion, addressing issues ranging from the rights of immigrant workers, to detention and deportation, to the reunification of families. Participants also discussed how the human rights of immigrants are often violated in this country. The event closed with a call to action, encouraging participants to contact their representatives in Congress, stay in touch with organizations working with the South Asian community, and stay up to date on immigration issues.

Many who attended walked away feeling inspired to take action on immigration reform in their communities. Vandana said, “The town hall was extremely eye-opening and thought provoking… I am going to chalk-out a plan of action… and definitely contact some people that I know will share the same enthusiasm for the [Be the Change] project.” Noshin, a representative of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta, said he would “keep up with bills introduced and contact [his] representatives “ and “share [his] immigration story with SAALT.” Many others expressed a strong desire to go back to their communities and address the issues discussed at the town hall.

SAALT left the event looking forward to future town halls, to be hosted in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, New Jersey, and Washington DC. It was great to see so many Atlanta community members coming together to express their support for immigration reform. Overall, the event was a very exciting kick-off for SAALT’s One Community United campaign.

For more information about the One Community United campaign for Civil and Immigrant Rights, visit here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.

More Reflections from Atlanta Town Hall for Civil and Immigrant Rights

Here are more reflection on the kick-off town hall in Atlanta, GA of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations’ One Community United campaign for civil and immigrant rights. This time we’re hearing from Nureen Gulamali, intern at ACLU-Georgia  (one of the cosponsors of the town hall):

I’m lucky to be interning at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia this summer and was grateful to be a part of the SAALT/ACLU forum.  After attending the Immigration Forum, my perspective has been enlightened and truly widened.  Immigration is a hot topic in today’s world – tell me something I don’t know.  But how it affects the actual immigrants is truly the issue at hand.  I’ve heard accounts of the trials and tribulations that so many people have had to go through in order to get a better start in this world, and my heart goes out to them.  The forum itself not only provided more information to the uninformed, but allowed for a healthy and knowledgeable discussion for both the informed and uninformed.  It’s so important to stand up for what is right and immigration rights are, in essence, human rights.  What knowing individual wouldn’t stand up for human rights?

So, I suppose the more important question is, what can we do about it?  Well, really, everyone who was able to make it to the forum has already taken the first step – stay informed.  It’s as simple as that.  You can make a difference by staying informed, whether that’s catching up on the current issues on Google News, or joining a human rights advocacy group (GA Detention Watch, Human Rights Atlanta, Raksha, SAALT, etc.).  The more allies we have, the bigger the impact we can have – not to mention strategic pull.  So, take ten minutes a day to read what’s going on in the human rights/immigration front and from there, I swear, it will be plenty easy to get involved!

For more information about the One Community United campaign for Civil and Immigrant Rights, visit here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.

Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ–South Asian Style!

Poonam Patel, an intern at SAALT was in attendance for South Asian Advocacy Day in Trenton, NJ on March 16th. She shares her experience below. If you want to read more about the South Asian Advocacy Day, check out this great blog post by Sonny Singh at the Sikh Coalition blog!

On Monday, March 16th, I had the opportunity to attend the first South Asian Advocacy Day in Trenton, New Jersey–an inspiring experience, to say the least. Growing up in a traditional Indian family with the stigma that speaking to elected officials at any level is fruitless, it was reassuring to see legislators not only responsive to the issues discussed but also willing to take action—research new means of solving fundamental problems whether that involved supporting existing legislation or introducing new ideas.

One of the advocates talked about a project their organization had developed—grading public schools in a report card format based on their cultural competency. The legislator that was presented with this idea not only agreed that it was a very effective way of creating awareness, but also asked for specific details so that the program could potentially be implemented in her district. While I was listening to this exchange take place, it became clear that innovative projects developed by experts in their own fields combined with the government resources can truly have an affect on the community at large.

Furthermore, to see so many community members, advocates, and students collectively discuss the issues most relevant to the South Asian community shed light to the fact that they cross boundaries of all sorts–gender, age, and national origin to name a few.  Even though the South Asian community is so diverse in a number of ways, there are several issues we can all relate to such as developing comprehensive immigration reform or creating cultural competent resources for community members. This is what was at the heart of Trenton Advocacy Day. It wasn’t about each individual advocating something unique, but a strong, collective voice that caught the ears of state legislators.

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=>

How the Economic Downturn is Affecting Nonprofits

In times of economic crisis, non-profit organizations often see an increase in the need for services. SAALT’s partners who provide services to South Asian community members are observing an increased need for housing, job training, and benefits due to layoffs, lack of jobs, and the downturn in the economy.  At the same time, non-profits too are facing the burden of the economic crisis and are having to lay off staff, reduce programming, and dip into reserve funds.

As Daniel Gross, a financial editor at Newsweek, pointed out as early as June of 2008, donations from individual donors are down from what they used to be. And with 80 percent of support to non-profits coming from 20 percent of the people in America, any reduction in giving can have a significant impact on non-profit groups.

How can South Asians who are able to give support the non-profits that are so critical in our local communities? Why give at all? Read an excerpt from a post from Sayu Bhojwani (former Executive Director of South Asian Youth Action and former Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs for New York City on the South Asian Philanthropy Project blog about the importance of strategic giving within the South Asian community:

South Asian philanthropy has until recently meant contributing to causes in the home country and to regional and religious associations here in the U.S. As the community matures, accumulates wealth, and increases in number, more South Asian Americans are contributing to institutions in the United States, targeting resources to issues of concern in the community. Strategically utilized, the “brown dollar” can boost the capacity of fledgling organizations that serve the needs of minority communities across the U.S. and can play a critical role in shaping perspectives about South Asians in the broader American community.

In the fifteen years or so that I have been working in the South Asian community and in philanthropy, I have been frustrated by the piecemeal approach that people often take to philanthropy. South Asians who give, whether they are wealthy or not, are like most others who give—responsive to a personalized request from a friend or colleague, drawn by a personal connection to an issue or organization, or motivated by the need to meet a certain end-of-year level of giving

Read more here <http://southasianphilanthropy.org/2009/02/02/sapp-blog-forum-sayu-bhojwani/>