South Asians in the 2008 elections

How have South Asians been get­ting involved in the 2008 elec­tions? How have the ways that South Asians been involved in the civic and polit­i­cal process changed or evolved? What kind of vot­er turnout can we expect from the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty on Elec­tion Day? What’s at stake for South Asians in this elec­tion?

Hear the answers to these ques­tions and more in “South Asians in the 2008 elec­tions,” SAALT’s pre-elec­tion webi­nar. We were joined by Vijay Prashad (Trin­i­ty Col­lege Pro­fes­sor of Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies and the author of Kar­ma of Brown Folk among oth­er works), Karthick Ramakr­ish­nan (one of the main col­lab­o­ra­tors in the Nation­al Asian Amer­i­can Sur­vey), Seema Agnani (Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Chhaya CDC, a com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment non­prof­it based in Queens, New York), Ali Naj­mi (Co-founder of Desis Vote in New York) and Aparna Shar­ma and Tina Bha­ga Yoko­ta (Mem­bers of South Asian Pro­gres­sive Action Col­lec­tive in Chica­go). The full video of the webi­nar is here<>. Stay tuned for SAALT’s post-elec­tion webi­nar, dur­ing which guests will dis­sect the elec­tion results, report the find­ings of mul­ti­lin­gual exit polling and look for­ward to the tran­si­tion to the new Admin­stra­tion and Con­gress.

History Repeating Itself: Xenophobia in Political Discourse

With mere­ly one week until Elec­tion Day, it seems like can­di­date stump speech­es, pun­dit com­men­tary, and the vol­ley of talk­ing points from all sides are every­where you turn. And if you’re any­thing like me, you’re trans­fixed to cable news and media analy­sis about what’s been hap­pen­ing on the cam­paign trail.

Here at SAALT, we’ve been keep­ing a spe­cial eye on what’s being said in this high­ly-charged polit­i­cal atmos­phere par­tic­u­lar­ly as it relates to the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. In recent years, we’ve unfor­tu­nate­ly wit­nessed a spate of xeno­pho­bic com­ments being made against our com­mu­ni­ty with­in polit­i­cal dis­course. Such rhetoric has emerged in var­i­ous forms, includ­ing chal­leng­ing the loy­al­ty of those who are or per­ceived to be Mus­lim. Sad­ly, this hear­kens back to the sen­ti­ments and actions that led to bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion against South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, and Arab com­mu­ni­ties in the after­math of 9/11 and raise con­cerns about the over­all envi­ron­ment lead­ing up to elec­tion. We encour­age the com­mu­ni­ty to remain vig­i­lant about such rhetoric.

Be sure to check out SAALT’s three-part toolk­it on xeno­pho­bia in polit­i­cal dis­course, which includes com­ments made by polit­i­cal fig­ures against the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, remarks made against South Asian can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office, and tips on how com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers can respond to such rhetoric, which have been fea­tured by UC Davis Law Pro­fes­sor Bill O. Hing over at Immi­gra­tionProf­Blog.

Do you know your rights on Election Day?

Are you required to show your ID to vote?

What do you do if you need help trans­lat­ing the vot­ing mate­ri­als?

Want to know what the answers to these ques­tions are? Then read “
Elec­tions ’08: Know Your Rights on Elec­tion Day”! This new SAALT resource out­lines what vot­ers can expect at the polls like what poll work­ers allowed to ask for and what pro­vi­sions pro­tect your vote. Check it out along with all the oth­er SAALT Elec­tions ’08 resources at

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?”


“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 – 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

October 11th (National Coming Out Day) Street Procession in Artesia, CA

Read this guest blog from Rash­mi Chok­sey, mem­ber of Satrang, a social, cul­tur­al and sup­port orga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides a safe space to empow­er and advo­cate for the rights of the South Asian LGBTIQQ (Les­bian, Gay, Bisex­u­al, Trans, Inter­sex, Queer and Ques­tion­ing) com­mu­ni­ty in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Satrang and the South Asian Net­work, a grass­roots, com­mu­ni­ty based orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to advanc­ing the health, empow­er­ment and sol­i­dar­i­ty of per­sons of South Asian ori­gin in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, worked togeth­er to orga­nize a Street Pro­ces­sion in Arte­sia, CA on Octo­ber 11th to com­mem­o­rate Nation­al Com­ing Out Day.

The after­noon start­ed out with cre­at­ing a fun atmos­phere, mak­ing posters and eat­ing samosas…even danc­ing to old clas­sic Bol­ly­wood movie music…all in South Asian Net­work’s (SAN) office.

Dressed in desi out­fits, more than 20 Satrang mem­bers (com­pared to 7 last year), along with SAN staff and vol­un­teers, and allies/partners, gath­ered in the park­ing lot with our ban­ners and posters with Salman lead­ing the out and loud chants on the bull­horn — “We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Out on Pio­neer!”, “Jeeyo Aur Jeene Do”, “No on Prop 8” (aka No on Prop Hate) and many oth­ers.

After the pro­cession and slo­gan chant­i­ng was done for the evening, we all head­ed to Bom­bay Sweets and Snacks for some deli­cious food…we took all their tables and con­sumed our Bom­bay burg­ers and falooda.

After all that was done peo­ple went off home or to oth­er destinations…carrying the feel­ing of hav­ing accom­plished what we went out there to do…be vis­i­ble and create aware­ness.

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Read Sandip Roy’s article about “The Two Faces of America’s Economic Collapse”

Many peo­ple have read about the sad sto­ry of the Rajaram fam­i­ly in Cal­i­for­nia. New Amer­i­can Medi­a’s Sandip Roy presents an inter­est­ing dis­sec­tion of the press­ing eco­nom­ic issues and how they are affect­ing our com­mu­ni­ty in dif­fer­ent ways. We feel that it is impor­tant that our com­mu­ni­ty is rep­re­sent­ed for all of its diver­si­ty and that no sto­ry goes unheard.

The Two Faces of Amer­i­ca’s Eco­nom­ic Col­lapse

New Amer­i­ca Media, Com­men­tary, Sandip Roy, Post­ed: Oct 08, 2008

Edi­tor’s Note: Karthik Rajaram, the unem­ployed father and hus­band who recent­ly killed his three sons, wife, and moth­er-in-law before turn­ing the gun on him­self, has much in com­mon with anoth­er Indi­an Amer­i­can, Neel Kashkari, who has been select­ed to head the Trea­sury’s new Office of Finan­cial Sta­bil­i­ty. When banks go bust, the Amer­i­can dream implodes — not just in NASDAQ index­es, but also in tidy sub­urbs and qui­et, gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties, writes NAM edi­tor Sandip Roy.

Neel Kashkari, 35, MBA. Job Expe­ri­ence – Gold­man Sachs, TRW, U.S. Trea­sury.

Karthik Rajaram, 45, MBA, Job Expe­ri­ence – Price­Wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers, NanoUni­verse, Azur Part­ners LLC.

In anoth­er life they could have known each oth­er, trad­ed busi­ness cards. Suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sion­als with all the trap­pings of the mod­el minor­i­ty. The kinds that can own a home in a gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty with a Lexus SUV in the dri­ve­way. Indi­an-Amer­i­can medi­an fam­i­ly income rose from $87,484 in 2006 to $92,925 in 2007. Kashkari and Rajaram should have been exam­ples of those sta­tis­tics.

But instead they have become the two faces of Amer­i­ca’s eco­nom­ic col­lapse – the two horse­men of our apoc­a­lypse.

Kashkari is the $700 bil­lion man – the knight on the white horse head­ing the res­cue of col­laps­ing cor­po­ra­tions. Except it was too late for Rajaram.

Rajaram, unem­ployed, his sav­ings wiped out in the mar­ket col­lapse killed his three sons, wife, and moth­er-in-law before turn­ing the gun on him­self in a 2,800 square foot house in an upscale Cal­i­for­nia

Two days ago no one knew either of them. And we still know very lit­tle about either. The South Asian Jour­nal­ists Asso­ci­a­tion post­ed two items about Kashkari. It was­n’t much infor­ma­tion but SAJA had its biggest day of web traf­fic. Soon I imag­ine Kashkari will be on the cov­er of every Indi­an Amer­i­can mag­a­zine. Already the Indi­an media is scour­ing his grand­fa­ther’s run­down neigh­bor­hood ask­ing the befud­dled res­i­dents – “Do you remem­ber the Kashkaris?“

When Rajaram wiped out his fam­i­ly, the media did­n’t even know if he was an Indi­an cit­i­zen or not. His moth­er-in-law, we are told, was an Indi­an nation­al. His chil­dren were named after Indi­an war­riors and gods. But soon we will find out the neigh­bor­hood in India where his roots are. Soon the media will be ask­ing some old man stand­ing on his porch — “Do you remem­ber the Rajarams?“

I hope we will remem­ber the Rajarams. I hope we will remem­ber that the same pride that allows us to cel­e­brate the Kashkaris and anoint them “Indi­an Amer­i­can of the Year” in glit­ter­ing cer­e­monies in New York hotels also keeps the Rajarams of the com­mu­ni­ty from seek­ing help, from talk­ing about their finan­cial melt­down and its men­tal toll.

Did Sub­as­ri Rajaram know her hus­band was spi­ral­ing into a des­per­ate blind alley? Did she reach out to any­one? Friends, coun­sel­ing ser­vices, domes­tic vio­lence orga­ni­za­tions. I don’t know. They seemed okay, said an Indi­an friend who had seen them at a par­ty a few days ago. But then, she added, Indi­ans don’t like to talk about their finan­cial prob­lems.

We would rather save face. And Karthik Rajaram no doubt thought that his fam­i­ly was bet­ter off dead than los­ing face as the sons of a fail­ure. Even in death we read the hon­or roll of his fam­i­ly. One son
was an hon­ors stu­dent. Anoth­er was a Ful­bright schol­ar.

Obvi­ous­ly Karthik Rajaram had his own men­tal prob­lems. A busi­ness asso­ciate has called him emo­tion­al­ly unsta­ble. But if we are to embrace Neel Kashkari as our own, we should think twice before turn­ing our faces away from Karthik Rajaram because he’s a “bad apple.” When SAJA post­ed the news about Rajaram’s death, SAJA founder Sree Sreeni­vasan not­ed, “Every time we write about a crime
in the U.S. involv­ing South Asians, we get crit­i­cism from some on our mail­ing lists.” No one, he added, com­plained about news items about the ascent of Indi­an Amer­i­can CEOs.

I hope as Kashkari tries to bring finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty to the coun­try, he will remem­ber Karthik Rajaram. When banks go bust, the Amer­i­can dream implodes — not just in annu­al reports and NASDAQ index­es, but also in tidy sub­urbs and qui­et, gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties.

The only clue it leaves of how an Amer­i­can dream turned into an Amer­i­can night­mare – an unread news­pa­per lying in the dri­ve­way.

Barack Oba­ma and John McCain stood in a town­hall on Tues­day night and squab­bled over the econ­o­my and the mid­dle class and vied with each oth­er to feel the pain of the eco­nom­ic col­lapse. And they talked about the Amer­i­can dream.

But nei­ther brought up Karthik Rajaram. Or Neel Kashkari. Amer­i­can night­mare and Amer­i­can dream – in a strange twist­ed way they will be for­ev­er linked togeth­er.

You toss a coin into the air and you nev­er know how it will land.

Some­times it lands Neel Kashkari. Some­times it’s Karthik Rajaram.

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 with your feed­back, reac­tions, and com­ments. Feel free to use this doc­u­men­tary in your com­mu­ni­ty, uni­ver­si­ty, or your per­son­al net­work of col­leagues and friends.




Second presidential debate tonight!

With four weeks left till Elec­tion Day, the pres­i­den­tial race is heat­ing up! The sec­ond of three pres­i­den­tial debates is tonight at 9pm EST, so I hope every­one’s popped their pop­corn, read up on their elec­tion cov­er­age and gen­er­al­ly made their debate prepa­ra­tions, because I think its going to be a good one. This debate is in the “town­hall” style where ques­tions are going to be asked either from a pool of unde­cid­ed vot­ers or by mod­er­a­tor, Tom Brokaw, from ques­tions sub­mit­ted via the inter­net. There are some pret­ty spe­cif­ic rules about the town­hall (for instance, peo­ple who asked ques­tions will be filmed ask­ing the ques­tions but not react­ing) and there is also no fol­low-up ques­tions or direct ques­tion­ing between the can­di­dates. Regard­less, it promis­es to be an excit­ing view­ing so I hope every­one tunes in! Check it out on any num­ber of net­works and cable sta­tions at 9pm ESt/8pm CST/6pm PST.

If you want to read more, check out a post from the Chica­go Sun-Times, here <>

What Do I Need to Bring to the Polls? and Document the Vote!

It’s almost here! Elec­tion Day! After a rather long pri­ma­ry sea­son, this elec­tion is com­ing to close in the most excit­ing way pos­si­ble. Vot­er turnout is expect­ed to be quite impres­sive and if ear­ly vot­ing is any indi­ca­tion Amer­i­cans around the coun­try are excit­ed (and com­m­mit­ted, with ear­ly vot­ing loca­tions in some states hav­ing wait times in excess of SIX hours) about hav­ing their say this elec­tion. So for every­one get­ting ready to vote on Elec­tion Day, make sure that the ID require­ments in your state don’t keep you from cast­ing a bal­lot. Lookup your state’s ID require­ment on

Also, while you’re wait­ing online, doc­u­ment the vote, take pic­tures or video of how vot­ing looks in your com­mu­ni­ty. If you have any inter­est­ing sto­ries to share about first time vot­ers or the excite­ment in your fam­i­ly or cir­cle of friends about vot­ing, we want to hear about it. Are you vot­ing, get­ting out the vote, or mon­i­tor­ing at the polls on Elec­tion Day? Bring a cam­era or video­cam­era with you to doc­u­ment pic­tures and sto­ries of South Asian vot­ers. Send pic­tures, video, writ­ten reflec­tions, quotes and more to by Wednes­day, Novem­ber 5th at 5PM!

Here’s an inter­est­ing PSA I found that real­ly under­scores how mean­ing­ful the vote is, it may take a cou­ple of hours (so I sug­gest bring­ing a book… and maybe a fold­ing chair) but going out and vot­ing remains sig­nif­i­cant long after Elec­tion Day.