SAALT in May: Community Events, New Faces, SAALT Speaks

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SAALT Community Connection – May 2009

In This Issue

SAALT Speaks

New Faces in SAALT

Community Calendar

Be the Change

Summit Wrap-Up

Support SAALT in 2009!

The SAALT Community Connection is a monthly e-newsletter that focuses on community news and events. To learn more about SAALT’s community and policy work, contact us at saalt@saalt.org

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

SAALT Speaks on First 100 Days, Immigration, and Citizenship

  • lavPriya Murthy, Policy Director, appeared as a guest on WPFW Pacifica Radio in April to discuss immigration and civil rights issues affecting South Asians.
  • Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, appeared as a guest on Beneath the Surface radio show on KPFK 90.7FM in Los Angeles, CA with Hamid Khan to discuss citizenship and immigration reform on April 23rd.
  • Deepa Iyer spoke on the Applied Research Center’s “Race in Review: First 100 Days” conference call on April 28th.
  • Lavanya Sithanandam, SAALT Board Member, appeared on “That Fresh Radio Piece” on May 18th on WMUC 88.1FM in College Park, MD to discuss the effects of recent immigration enforcement efforts and raids on the children she sees as a pediatrician in Takoma Park.

Upcoming:

  • Deepa Iyer will be speaking at Georgia State University at the Immigration & Human Rights Symposium on June 17th, 2009.
  • Deepa Iyer will be speaking at the “Know Your Community: A Discussion of Issues and Trends Affecting Asian Pacific Americans in Washington DC and Beyond” sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association – Washington DC on June 3rd.

New Faces at SAALT

SAALT welcomes Aaditi Dubale as the new SAALT Fellow! She will be working on Be the Change 2009, our National Day of Service, as well as supporting fundraising and development efforts. Aaditi can be reached at aaditi@saalt.org.

SAALT also welcomes our summer interns:

Ashley Vij from George Washington University
Niralee Shah from Williams College
Zara Haq from American University Washington College of Law

SAALT bids a fond farewell to Aparna Kothary, Fundraising and Development Assistant. Aparna’s work at SAALT advanced the development of an individual member base, helped us to identify new fundraising opportunities, and expanded Be the Change – our National Day of Service.

Community Calendar

BTC09May 30th – New Jersey SAALT Circle Service project
Join the SAALT Circle for a community service project with ‘The Sharing Place’, a food pantry at St. Pauls’ Lutheran Church in Jersey City.  We’ll be preparing, packing, and serving breakfast and lunch to the local community.  Come out and BE THE CHANGE!


The Sharing Place – St. Lutherans Church

440 Hoboken Avenue (five corners) in Jersey City, NJ


Please RSVP by May 26th at
qudsia@saalt.org. Space is limited – sign up now!

August 14th – August 16th: Transgress, Transform, Transcend – A National Conference of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Asian Americans, South Asians and Pacific Islanders (API)

University of Washington in Seattle, WA
Registration information is available online at: http://www.nqapia.org

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund presents The Asian American Vote 2008

During the 2008 Presidential Elections, 16,665 Asian American voters were surveyed as part of AALDEF’s national multilingual exit poll.  The exit poll was the largest nonpartisan survey of its kind in the nation and was conducted in twelve Asian languages and English across 39 cities in 11 states.  At these special presentations across the country, comparative information will be given about the Asian American vote in the Presidential and Congressional elections, concerns about key issues, first-time voters, and profiles of the Asian American vote by ethnicity, party enrollment, nativity, age, and English proficiency.  For more information or to attend any of these presentations, contact jyang@aaldef.org or call 800.966.5946, www.aaldef.org

  • June 8 at 12:30 PM – The Massachusetts Asian American Vote (Boston, MA)
  • June 8 at 5:30 PM (Lowell, MA)
  • June 11 at 6:30 PM – The Maryland Asian American Vote (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Rockville, MD)
  • June 12 at 2:00PM – The Asian American Vote (multistate) (co-sponsored by SAALT)(Washington, DC)
  • June 17 and 18 at 6:30 PM- The Virginia Asian American Vote (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Richmond, VA)
  • June 18 at 11:30 AM (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Annandale, VA)
  • August 8 (time TBA) – The Chinese American Vote (San Francisco, CA)

Check out events on SAALT’s Community Calendar.calendar

SAALT staff are available to speak at your student organization meetings, conferences, and community events on topics including immigrant rights, South Asians in America, civic engagement, and immigration. Please email us at saalt@saalt.org for more information.

Get Ready for Be the Change 2009 – National Day of Service!

BTC09What are you doing on Saturday, October 3rd?

1) Host a Be the Change event on your campus – If your campus traditionally hosts a Be the Change event or if you would like to start one on your campus, please fill out this form by May 30th and we will send you a planning guide and connect you to the national event.

2) Host a Be the Change event in your city– Join or start a planning team in your city. As a member of the planning team, you will be coordinating service events, recruiting volunteers, and connecting with other planning teams around the country. Please fill out this form by May 30th and we will connect you with others in your city who are interested in planning a Be the Change event.  Our core cities this year are: Washington DC, New York City, South Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Boston. We also welcome other cities to hold Be the Change events.

3) Join SAALT as a National Partner for Be the Change– If your organization, professional association, or youth group would like to partner with SAALT, locally or nationally, please email us at btc2009@saalt.org by May 30th.

South Asian Summit Roundup

summitDid you miss the Summit?

  • Listen to podcasts of the sessions here
  • View pictures from the Summit here
  • Hear from participants in Summit Snapshots here
  • Read entries from the SAALT Spot about the Summit here

Make A Donation to
Support SAALT’s Work in 2009 Today!

Are you a SAALT member yet?


If not, we urge you to become a member today. By becoming a SAALT member, you not only receive benefits (such as our annual newsletter and discounts at events and gatherings), but the satisfaction of being part of a national non-profit organization that addresses civil and immigrant rights issues facing South Asians in America.

Do you know someone who would be interested in learning about SAALT? Forward them this email by clicking here:

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South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Join the Summer of Service!

On Wednesday, May 20th Michelle Obama will roll out “the vision of service for the Administration for the summer” in Washington DC. SAALT’s Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, will be in the audience to hear about the summer of service and learn how organizations like SAALT and the South Asian community as a whole can get involved. Are you inspired by Michelle’s message of service? How are you getting involved and engaged this summer?

Deepa Iyer, Executive Director on Apr 28 Applied Research Conference Call “Race in Review: The First 100 Days”

Check out Deepa Iyer, SAALT’s Executive Director on Tuesday’s ARC call “Race in Review: The First 100 Days”. The call is at 4pm EST/3pm CST/1 pm PST. Learn more (and RSVP!) here <http://www.arc.org/content/view/594/1/>

JACL/OCA Leadership Conference: An Intern’s Eye View

Another post from our intern, Poonam Patel, about the JACL/OCA Leadership Conference that took place in Washington, DC two weeks ago:

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in the Japanese American Citizens League /Organization of Chinese Americans Leadership Conference held in Washington DC. It was a unique opportunity to meet with other Asian Americans who had a vested interest in learning about political and civic issues facing the Asian community as well as developing innovative ideas to address them.

Most of our time during the conference was spent listening to a wide variety of speakers that included WWII veterans, professors, community advocates, Congressional members and staffers, as well as ethnic and mainstream journalists. Although each of the speakers came from different backgrounds and fields of work, their message was harmonious to some extent. Almost each member of every panel spoke about the importance of our community’s members representing our community’s issues.

Deepa Iyer, SAALT’s Executive Director spoke on the panel titled “Biased Based Incidents in the Minority Communities: History to Today” during which she went through a brief history of South Asians in the United States followed by a discussion related to bias incidents within the South Asian population, especially following the 9/11 backlash.

In addition to these panels, we were given the opportunity to discuss with each other development and outreach ideas in an attempt to build closer ties with local OCA and JACL chapters as well as other Asian American organizations. Each evening we spent visiting a local landmark such as the Smithsonian Museum and National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II after which we had dinner at a local restaurant.

The DC Leadership Conference was an ideal forum to continue building coalitions amongst organizations working with the Asian American community by fostering relationships between the leaders within them.

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 Time of Transition: Immigrant Rights in a Changing Landscape

Check out this blog post from Just Democracy that highlights the ways that the election of the first minority President has impacted the immigrant rights landscape, for better or worse-

A Time of Transition: Immigrant Rights in a Changing Landscape

By Deepa Iyer

As an immigrant who moved from the southern part of India to the American South in the mid 1980s, race has been a cornerstone of my identity for decades. In classrooms in Kentucky, my peers didn’t know quite what to make of me: you were either white or black, and no shade of gray existed for folks like me, who grappled with bicultural identities and immigrant experiences. I remember constantly nursing an acute sense of wanting to belong and to be understood- at school among my peers, among families in the neighborhood, and even among relatives and friends back in India as my lifestyle and interests slowly changed.

I seemed to confront the label of the “other” in countless ways, due, perhaps, to my Indian accent, or cultural customs and traditions that seemed out of place, or the struggles of my immigrant parents who experienced an even more difficult transition than I did. My childhood immigrant experience is not very different from thousands of others who also make the journey from elsewhere to here. And yet, those experiences are often not part of the American story as it is told, perceived, and framed; they are outside the scope of what is considered to be “mainstream” and acceptable. That is why I have been watching the election and presidency of Barack Hussein Obama with such great interest.

With his unique name, his diverse family, and his childhood experiences in other parts of the world, President Obama’s story resonates with those of us who have traversed similar paths. Many of us feel a sense of familiarity with a national figure and public leader in a way that we have not felt before. The election of President Obama signals that America is, perhaps, ready to be more inclusive, to expand its narrative, to accept what has for so long been sidelined as the “other.”

Yet, as the impact of President Obama’s historic presidency is being explored, advocates and activists know well that we have much work to do to realize the fundamental ideals of equality and justice in the United States and around the world. This is certainly the case when it comes to the welfare and rights of immigrants in this country, who continue to be marginalized, alienated, and scapegoated, despite the tremendous sacrifices and contributions they make every day.

How will the Obama Administration and the new Congress confront the numerous challenges that have been created by the broken immigration system in this country? Certainly, immigrant rights advocates hope that there will be multiple entry points for discussion and action with policymakers and congressional leaders, given the political changes afoot in Washington. The tenor for these policy discussions will also be set by the varying sentiments that the public has towards immigrants. Will the anti-immigrant backlash that has permeated the country over the past decade shift? Will the general feeling towards immigrants be one of inclusion and openness, given that we have elected the nation’s first president of color?

Recent incidents show that as a country, we still have a long way to go. In the week after Barack Obama’s election, a spate of bias incidents and hate crimes were reported around the country. One such incident involved a cross that was burned on the front lawn of an Indian-American family in New Jersey; around the charred cross was the family’s Obama victory banner. One of the family members was reported saying: “Living in the 21st century, and we have to deal with this – in America.”

In December 2008, a group of men participated in the beating death of a Latino man in New York City who was strolling with his brother. And as the new year began, we heard of a family of Muslim passengers who were removed from an Air Tran flight due to passenger discomfort. As we persuade the new administration and policymakers in Washington to put forth legislation and policies that preserve the rights of immigrants – the recent reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which includes provisions for immigrant children and women is a positive example – we also have to change the way that ordinary Americans perceive immigrants in their own communities.

This moment in time presents a tremendous opportunity for a new direction in the public dialogue about the contributions, needs, and challenges of immigrants. The climate of openness in the country, catalyzed by an election that saw unprecedented voter-engagement rates and a historic presidency that has moved many to heed the call to service and action, can also signify a new era for immigrant rights. Here is an opportunity for us to destroy that us-versus-them dynamic once and for all. And to do so, we must start in our communities and our classrooms, as well as in discussions at our kitchen tables. We must engage the public through our local newspapers and at town hall meetings, so that immigrant children and families in Kentucky, Kansas and around the nation feel connected to the American story that is being reinvented and re-imagined through this election.

Deepa Iyer has been advocating for civil and immigrant rights for nearly a decade through her work. She is currently the Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national non-profit organization dedicated to fostering civic and political engagement by South Asian communities around the United States.

SAALT E.D. Deepa Iyer on “Uprisings” Radio Show about South Asia

Listen to this episode of Pacifica Radio show “Uprisings” centered around South Asia featuring SAALT Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, along with fellow guests, Tayyab Mahmud and Vijay Prashad. They discuss topics from the model minority myth to post-9/11 bias and discrimination to the political identities of South Asians in America.

Listen to the whole episode at: http://www.archive.org/download/DailyDigest020409/2009_02_04_uprising.MP3

SAALT E.D., Deepa Iyer, profiled in Takoma Voice

Check out this profile of SAALT’s own Executive Director (and proud Takoma Park resident) Deepa Iyer published in the Takoma Voice. The article was written by Pareesha Narag, a student at the University of Maryland and a past student of Deepa’s.

Check out the full article here: http://www.silverspringvoice.com/archives/pdfs/2008/1208pdfs/023_mn_dec08.pdf