Daily Buzz 2.16.2009

1.) Pakistani American Charged with Beheading His Wife

2.) India’s Unlikely New Immigrants: Indian Americans Immigrating to India

3.) Hate Crime Charges filed in attack on cab driver

4.) New UC eligibility standards will open college doors, but may change demographics

5.) Rachel Maddow joins the “Consortium of Pub-going, loose, and forward women.”

6.)  Ennis from Sepia Mutiny: Speak Hindi? Join the Army and become a citizen in six months.

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 and Community Partners Issue Statement Regarding Recent Bias Crimes Targeting South Asians in New Jersey

You may be surprised to learn that nearly 200,000 South Asians reside in the state of New Jersey.  SAALT’s New Jersey Community Empowerment Project developed from a series of meetings in 2004 with South Asian organizations in New Jersey, allies, and concerned South Asian individuals.  Through these dialogues, it became clear that South Asian communities in New Jersey are underserved and largely voiceless in policy debates. To learn more about the New Jersey Community Empowerment Project, or to read our report highlighting key issues affecting the South Asian community in New Jersey, “A Community of Contrasts: South Asians in New Jersey,” please check out SAALT’s local initiatives page.

In response to recent bias-crimes targeted towards the South Asian community in New Jersey, SAALT, along with several South Asian community partners – Manavi; South Asian Mental Health Awareness in Jersey (SAMHAJ); the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ); UNITED SIKHS; and the Sikh Coalition issued a joint statement condemning all bias crimes.  Read the statement below:

“We come together, as organizations serving South Asian communities here in New Jersey, to denounce the recent hate crimes and bias incidents that have taken place in our state.  The South Asian community in New Jersey, with a growing population of 200,000, has long confronted bias and discrimination, beginning in the 1980’s with the attacks perpetrated by the ‘Dotbusters’ and the post-9/11 backlash.  In addition, our organizations – Manavi; the Sikh Coalition; the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ); South Asian Mental Health Awareness in Jersey (SAMHAJ); and UNITED SIKHS – have observed a rise in New Jersey, which we believe has fostered an environment where bias incidents and hate crimes can occur.

Today, we stand in solidarity not only with the Grewal family – victims of a cross-burning outside their home; Mr. Ajit Singh Chima – an elderly Sikh man who, on October 30th, in Wayne, New Jersey, was violently punched and kicked in the face several times by an unidentified man, and as a result suffered several fractures around his eyes and jaw; Gangadeep Singh – a fifth grade student who, on October 8th, was attacked in Carteret, New Jersey while walking home from school by an unidentified masked assailant that threw him on the ground and cut off his hair – but with all survivors of bias and hate crimes.

We stand together now because we must say no to any act of bias and intolerance when it happens.  We stand together to ask our elected officials and law enforcement agencies to protect survivors of hate crimes and to join us in condemning them.  As a vibrant segment of New Jersey’s neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and non-profit sectors, South Asians raise our voices to call for justice and equality for all.”

Please join us for a march and rally in support of the Grewal family on Saturday, November 15th at 3PM in Hardwick, New Jersey.  The ‘Unity for the Community’ March will start at the Municipal Building and end at the Grewal residence with a rally. 

Saturday, November 5th, 3PM
Hardwick Municipal Building
40 Spring Valley Road
Hardwick, NJ 07825
If you’d like to attend but do not have a ride, please contact Qudsia:
(qudsia@saalt.org) or call (201) 850-3333.

Additionally, if you’d like to learn more about bias and hate crimes, check out a new resource by SAALT:  “Know Your Rights Resource Addressing Hate Crimes”

Have you seen “Raising Our Voices”?

In January 2001, SAALT began work on a 26-minute documentary entitled “Raising Our Voices: South Asian Americans Address Hate.” Produced by Omusha Communications and guided by SAALT Board members and volunteers, the documentary set out to raise awareness about the increasing hate crimes and bias incidents affecting South Asian communities, especially in the late 1990s. In fact, in 1997 and 1998, South Asians were reporting the highest incidences of bias-motivated crimes in the broader Asian American community.

The documentary features South Asian survivors of hate crimes and their families in Queens, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, as well as organizers, lawyers and community advocates who mobilized the South Asian community and demanded justice.  When the film was completed two weeks before September 11th, 2001, little did we know how the landscape of the South Asian community in the United States would change.  With the alarming increase of hate crimes, bias incidents, and profiling that South Asians, especially those who are Sikh and Muslim, endured in the days and months after 9/11, SAALT re-envisioned the documentary and shot additional footage.

The documentary has been out since 2002, but you may not have seen it in its entirety yet. It has been used in classrooms and townhalls around the country and we encourage you to engage with it, comment on it, and if possible, to share it with friends, family, coworkers and community members.

You can view it here:

Part 1

Part 2 Please email us at saalt@saalt.org with your feedback, reactions, and comments. Feel free to use this documentary in your community, university, or your personal network of colleagues and friends.