To brand, or not to brand? — Addressing the MTA’s “turban-branding” policy

Four years ago, Sikh transit workers in New York City decided that enough was enough. In response to a “turban-branding” policy that required workers, both Sikh and Muslim, to brand their turbans with the Metroplitan Transit Authority (MTA) logo, Sikh transit workers called on the MTA to end this policy, deeming it an act of religious discrimination.

Furthermore, in 2005, the Department of Justice found that, over the course of three days, there had been two hundred cases of MTA employees wearing some form of headdress without the logo, including Yankees hats, yaarmulkes, and a number of winter hats in fact issued by the MTA. The Department of Justice consequently filed a discrimination suit against the MTA. Yet for years, this issue has been placed on the back burner by city officials.

On Tuesday of last week, a majority of the New York City Council finally spoke out against the “turban-branding” policy. Council Member Tony Avella said, “It’s time for the City Council to take action on this matter, and it’s long overdue that the MTA end religious discrimination.  Enough is enough.”

While this issue is being addressed for a small number of Sikhs in New York, it still speaks to a greater issue that many South Asian and Arab individuals in the US face on a day-to-day basis. Even today, the concept of religious wear is quite foreign to American culture. Many do not realize that a turban, hijab, or any type of religious wear is representative of an individual’s spiritual life, and is therefore a very personal and private entity. Like any article of faith, it is not something that can just be set aside for appearance’s sake, never mind branded with a corporate logo.

The lawsuit against the MTA has yet to be resolved, and we are hoping for an end to this discriminatory policy. In the meantime, it is important to keep this in a wider context and recognize that if this lawsuit goes through, it is a small step in a long journey to addressing discrimination against Sikhs and Muslims in the United States.

Facts and quotes from: New York City Council Majority Demands End to MTA’s “Turban-branding” Policy from the The Sikh Coalition (June 18, 2009)

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=>

What you need to know before you buy a home …

Have you thought about buying a home? Do you know what home equity is? Are you wondering what your credit score is? I have to confess that I know very little about the process of buying a home and have been intimidated by it because all that I heard from family members and friends was about how stressful it was!

Fortunately, when I was in Queens, NY last week, I was lucky enough to participate in workshop presented by Chhaya CDC called “The Road to Homeownership: Your Rights, Risks, and Rewards.” This very empowering and accessible workshop demystified what it means to buy a home and how you go about doing it. Right then and there, my questions were answered and the process was broken down for me. This workshop is a part of a series that covers various related topics such as whether homeownership is right for you, financial and credit basics, analyzing whether you can afford a mortgage, and how to avoid predatory lenders. These workshops are particularly timely, given the recent foreclosure crisis that has affected many Americans and has brought up questions about how exactly the homebuying process works in the U.S. If you’re in the New York City area and interested in attending one of these workshops, visit Chhaya CDC’s website or email them at info@chhayacdc.org.

Chhaya CDC is an organization based in Queens that addresses and advocates for the housing and community development needs of South Asian Americans in New York City. They provide individualized homeownership and financial counseling, work on tenants’ rights issues, and engage in community outreach on housing and community development issues. They also develop “know your rights” brochures for the community, including factsheet on how to avoid foreclosure rescue scams (available in English and Bangla).

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!

Over 2,000 people volunteer for Be the Change on October 4th!

On Saturday, October 4, 2008- over 2,000 volunteers from around the country participated in SAALT’s annual day of service, Be the Change. As the National Be the Change Coordinator, it was exciting to see many individuals from cities and campuses around the country involved in this great cause- volunteers from over 40 cities and campuses participated nationwide! Atlanta, Boston, Bay Area, Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, University of Central Florida, Texas A&M University- College Station and more joined in on this effort!

For the past 5 months, individuals around the country volunteered their time to plan and implement this event in their city or campus. These individuals are a testament to the change occurring in the country and their role in Be the Change truly exemplified Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of ‘be the change you wish to see in the world”. Of course, we can’t forget the wonderful volunteers who came out on a Saturday morning because of their belief in the importance of making a difference and changing their community.

This year, Be the Change volunteers participated in activities such as revitalizing local parks in East Brunswick, New Jersey; packaging books for prisoners in Washington, DC; restoring the bay in San Francisco; and working with mentally and physically disabled children in New York and much more.

I would like to challenge everyone to let Be the Change be the first step. I challenge you to let this not be a day of service but a life of service– whether it be at your campus or university, in your workplace, with your friends or family, by volunteering or by creating your own organization- I challenge all of you to carry on this principle of being the change wherever you go and in whatever you do. I hope to see you ‘being the change’ for many years to come!

-Ramya Punnoose, National Coordinator of Be the Change ’08

Are you ready to “Be the Change” on Saturday, October 4th?

SAALT is gearing up for Be the Change 2008 and we wanted to thank all of our planning teams and local volunteers who have worked so hard over the past few months to plan for this national day of service! Be the Change, formerly known as the National Gandhi Day of Service, is coordinated by SAALT along with volunteers around the country. This year, we are excited that the event will be held in over 60 cities and campuses! You can find a full list of the cities and campuses here.This year’s theme for Be the Change is “Solidarity in Service” and we want to encourage all of our volunteers to keep this theme in mind when they are volunteering this year. This theme reflects the way community service can build coalitions, strengthen relationships, and bring about solidarity among people of different backgrounds.

Examples of service sites this year include:

Books to Prisons: Volunteers will be reading letters from prisoners, selecting books that match their request, and packaging the books to send the prisoners (Washington DC)

Hands on Atlanta Volunteers will be building wheelchair ramps, mentoring individuals in computer skills, and more. (Atlanta)

Ronald McDonald House: Volunteers will prepare a meal for, and serve families whose children are seriously ill and receiving treatment at nearby hospitals. (San Francisco)

Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN): Volunteers will be conducting recreational activities for kids in the program who have are mentally or physically challenged. (New York City)

Boston Healthcare for the Homeless: Volunteers will be

 

working with patients by leading activities like games, crafts, entertainment, etc.These are just a mere few service sites that Be the Change volunteers will be participating in this year. Stay tuned for an update about how Be the Change went and how you can continue your community involvement.