Celebrating 5 Years! Take Two!

Continuing our series commemorating the fifth anniversary of the opening of SAALT’s first staffed office, let’s hear from two SAALT Board members, Lavanya Sithanandam and Anouska Cheddie (respectively).

“Five years ago SAALT opened its first office and hired staff in New York City.  In that short time, SAALT has grown tremendously.  My involvement with SAALT began during those same five years, and what this organization has given me is invaluable.   SAALT has provided me with the inspiration and the tools to speak up as a physician activist, advocating on behalf of immigrants both inside and outside of my medical practice.   I continue to be inspired and motivated by the hard work of the staff, the dedication of the NCSO members, and the vision of the organization.  I feel confident that SAALT will continue its wonderful work over the next five years and will become an even stronger voice both within and outside our South Asian community.”

“SAALT is community. It’s about collaboration.  SAALT is trust. It’s about participation.  SAALT is empowerment. It’s about representation. SAALT is inclusive. It’s about including the diaspora.

With SAALT, I know that local grassroots groups have a national organization that they can work with to ensure our community has a strong progressive voice that is heard in DC and around the country.

This is just the beginning.”

Celebrating 5 Years! Take Three!

We have more to come from our series commemorating five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office, but I wanted to put in my two cents:

To me, SAALT is where we come together as a community and fight for the change we want, both for ourselves but also in solidarity with other communities-of-struggle. SAALT is an open and inclusive hub that invites the South Asian community, allies and partners to envision a world that is truly free and equitable. Moreover, SAALT is vehicle to help individuals make these lofty aspirations a reality. In five years, I see us doing this with ever more empowered, engaged people. This is only the beginning!

Intro to ISNA

This past July 4th weekend, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) hosted its 46th Annual Convention in DC, fittingly named “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It was my first ISNA experience, and I was in awe of the huge crowd. Thousands of people were in attendance as various speakers and panelists discussed topics relevant to the modern American Muslim. Many of those informative sessions were geared towards young people, as part of the MSA National and MYNA portions of the convention. While there was definitely a strong interest in the ISNA Matrimonials event, many attendees were drawn to the DC Convention Center by the dynamic speakers and the variety of goods and art available at the Bazaar.

It was exciting to see the number of Muslims who came to DC for the event, and I was particularly impressed by the number of South Asians I observed attending the convention. Throngs of desis could be found in Chinatown restaurants, out on DC streets, and strolling the National Mall. My own cousins came to DC for the first time from California and Oklahoma specifically for ISNA weekend, and they were surprised by the number of South Asians in DC. So was I! While there are many South Asians living and working in and near the District, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place before. ISNA had a strong pull for our community, with sessions geared specifically towards South Asian Muslims, featuring South Asian speakers or moderated by South Asians, as well as many, many bazaar stalls that were put up by South Asian small business owners and artists.

I liked that there were networking events, such as the Muslim Lawyers networking social that I attended Friday night, and info sessions, such as the one about getting jobs at federal agencies, that involved Muslims helping other Muslims. Not surprisingly, many of the faces at both those events were South Asian. It’s great to see people in the community taking interest in mentoring others!

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.

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=>