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).

Election Monitoring at Lakelands Park Middle School in Gaithersburg, MD

On November 4th, I served as the site supervisor at Lakelands Park Middle School in Gaithersburg, MD to conduct an Asian American Voter Survey and monitor and report any voter incidents. Our experience was amazing in that most of the Asian American voters we approached were more than happy to fill out our survey and even more enthusiastic once we told them what it was for. It was on this day that I realized the importance of collecting this data and getting a sense of the needs, challenges, and priorities of our community.There is one incident that sticks out in my mind from that day. There was a woman who I saw vote earlier in the day come back to our polling site in the afternoon with a camera. She asked us to take her picture near the “Vote Here” sign, near our “Asian American Voter Sign”, and even a picture with us! Her emotion and excitement were visible as she told us how she wanted to document this historic day for her children. As the day unfolded, we saw voters turn out in record numbers and in a very real way, it struck me how important this day was. People came out to vote despite the long lines, cold weather, and rain. They brought their kids, their parents, their pets, their cameras, and their excitement. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to witness such an occasion.

Check back on the SAALT website for updated information about the voting trends of the South Asian community!



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”

The Passage of Proposition 8: Denying Fundamental Rights to LGBTIQ South Asians

A week after the elections, many in the South Asian community are looking forward to a new Administration and Congress that will hopefully bring forth positive changes concerning civil rights. The elections, however, are bittersweet for many South Asians who are also grappling with disappointment of Proposition 8’s passage in California. This ballot initiative amends the state’s Constitution to ban marriage between same-sex partners. Its passage is especially significant given that it followed a California Supreme Court ruling in The Marriage Cases that recognized same-sex couples’ right to marry.

The passage of Proposition 8 replays a shameful chapter in our country’s history regarding inequality in marriage. During the first half of the twentieth century, anti-miscegenation laws prohibited many immigrants and individuals of color, including Punjabi farmers in California’s Imperial Valley, from marrying Caucasians. It wasn’t until the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967 that all race-based legal restrictions on marriage were declared unconstitutional. With this history in mind,
over 60 Asian-American organizations joined legal briefs supporting marriage equality in The Marriage Cases in California in 2007.

Marriage equality, along with other issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) individuals, is often silenced and ignored in the South Asian community. Advocates and community members in California worked tirelessly to raise awareness about equality among South Asians. For example,
Trikone-SF developed posters, distributed in collaboration with Satrang, featuring South Asians opposing Proposition 8. South Asian Network (SAN) spoke at a press conference expressing concerns about the initiative. SAN and Satrang also coordinated a march in Artesia’s “Little India.” The struggle for equality continues with rallies against Proposition 8 continuing after Election Day and lawsuits filed against the initiative for violating the Constitution.

If you want to learn more about the range of issues affecting the South Asian LGBTIQ community, check out SAN and Satrang’s groundbreaking needs assessment report,
No More Denial, and the LGBTIQ section of A National Action Agenda: Policy Recommendations to Empower South Asian Communities.

Where were you on Election Day?

I hope that you were voting and making your voice heard. Around the country, volunteers from SAALT and other organizations from the Asian American community were at poll sites, protecting the vote and learning more about the voting choices and barriers faced by Asians. It was my first time being an election monitor and I was assigned to a poll site in Silver Spring, MD (which is in the suburbs of Washington, DC). It was an amazing experience on a number of levels. First and foremost, it was very powerful to see so many people after they had exercised their right to vote. It was the culmination of a long, and sometimes emotional, election cycle and you could feel the excitement in the air.

I saw a lot of people with smiles on their faces. Another notable trend was families coming in to vote together in which the children were voting for the first time. As they filled out surveys, I could see the pride in the parents’ eyes. I moved to the United States when I was twelve years old. My family had previously lived in Saudi Arabia, which was an interesting experience all around, but there was a palpable difference when we came to America. This was a place where people settled, not just a place to pass through. It was not immediate, but America became home. And when I became a citizen in 2006, I was old enough to have really chosen become an “American”. I knew when I said that oath in the courthouse in Chicago that, in a fundamental way, my place in the world had shifted.

Even though I had the opportunity to vote in the 2006 midterm elections, I was beside myself with excitement about voting in my first presidential elections: to be making this huge, meaningful choice along with my fellow Americans (a decision that I knew from personal experience reverberated well beyond the US) was something I had looked forward to for a very long time. In my family there are American citizens, permanent residents, H1-B and student visa-holders and Bangladeshi citizens. I voted absentee in the District of Columbia, so it wasn’t the whole Election Day experience, but when I stood in my little voting booth, I felt my whole family there with me and I did my best to make sure my vote reflected that.

I don’t know if it is the same for other immigrants and children of immigrants, but the very act of voting felt like some small but vital portion of my parents’ dreams and my dreams becoming a reality. Being an election monitor and seeing people of all races and ethnicities, of different ages and socioeconomic statuses seemed a quiet and powerful affirmation of American democracy at work. On a very practical level, being there to help document any problems or issues with voting helped me contribute to a better understanding of Asian Americans as a voting population. This information not only helps us understand our community better, it informs policymakers and politicians about the issues that matter to us. I know that I will remember November 4th, 2008 for the rest of my life and I hope that the work that I and all the other election monitors can make a similar impact on our community’s future.

We’re going to put up some more posts about people’s experiences with election monitoring so keep a look out for them.

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 www.866ourvote.org.

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 saalt@saalt.org 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.

Make sure your vote counts on November 4th!

This is a really great video that outlines how important it is to make sure that your vote counts on Election Day. There may not be enough voting machines, your name might not be in the voter rolls, you may get asked for ID you don’t have to vote. So its very important that you know what your rights are, it can be the difference between having your say on Election Day or not.

Moreover, by knowing what voters have a right to expect, you can make sure that those around you, voting at your polling place, voters from your community and more! Voters can confront a number of problems at the polls, from poll workers who are not knowledgeable about the rules to difficulties with language and English ballots to unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity. Remember:

-Check your state’s voter ID laws to make sure that you have the proper identification to vote
-If you or anyone you know needs help interpreting the ballot, it is your legal right to bring an interpreter into the booth with you
-If your name is missing from the rolls, you have a right to vote using a provisional ballot
     Want to learn more about your rights on Election Day, check out this SAALT resource

If you encounter or witness any barriers to the right to vote, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.