Model Minority? No Thanks!

Asian Amer­i­cans broad­ly and South Asians have long con­front­ed main­stream label­ing as mod­el minori­ties. Here at SAALT, we have a few prob­lems with that. The lat­est exam­ple is a com­men­tary post­ed on Forbes.com by Jason Rich­wine. Check out SAALT’s writ­ten response below (it’s also been post­ed on RaceWire):

Model Minority? No, Thanks!

A Response to Feb­ru­ary 24th  Forbes.com Com­men­tary on Indi­an Amer­i­cans: The New Mod­el Minor­i­ty

Deepa Iyer

In his Feb­ru­ary 24th com­men­tary, Jason Rich­wine presents the “rev­e­la­tion” that Indi­an Amer­i­can immi­grants are the “new mod­el minor­i­ty” (see “Indi­an Amer­i­cans: The New Mod­el Minor­i­ty”).  Using this flawed frame, he then pro­pos­es unwork­able and divi­sive immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy changes.  As a nation­al non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that works to fos­ter the full civic and polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion of the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, we find these char­ac­ter­i­za­tions to be quite trou­bling.

Rich­wine points to the edu­ca­tion­al and income lev­els of many Indi­an Amer­i­cans (as well as their flair for win­ning spelling bees) as signs that this eth­nic group has reached the high­est ech­e­lons of suc­cess.  Such bench­marks belie the truth about the chal­lenges that many Indi­an Amer­i­cans face, and cre­ate a wedge between Indi­an Amer­i­cans and minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties.

In real­i­ty, Indi­an Amer­i­cans, much like oth­er immi­grants, have diverse expe­ri­ences and back­grounds. Indi­an Amer­i­cans are doc­tors, engi­neers and lawyers, as well as small busi­ness own­ers, domes­tic work­ers, taxi dri­vers and con­ve­nience store employ­ees. Com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers hold a range of immi­gra­tion sta­tus­es and include nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens and H‑1B visa­hold­ers, guest­work­ers and stu­dents, undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers and green card hold­ers.  Some have access to high­er edu­ca­tion while oth­ers strug­gle to learn Eng­lish in a new coun­try.  As with all com­mu­ni­ties, Indi­an Amer­i­cans do not come in the same shape and form, and can­not be treat­ed as a mono­lith.

Anoth­er dan­ger with the mod­el minor­i­ty label is that it cre­ates divi­sions between Indi­an Amer­i­cans and oth­er immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties.  Beneath the seem­ing­ly pos­i­tive use of the “mod­el minor­i­ty” label is a per­ni­cious racist under­tone: the pur­pose, after all, is to com­pare one set of peo­ple with anoth­er, and the result is to pit minori­ties against one anoth­er.

Com­par­ing Indi­an Amer­i­cans with Mex­i­can Amer­i­cans, as Rich­wine does (“In sharp con­trast to Indi­an Amer­i­cans, most U.S. immi­grants, espe­cial­ly Mex­i­can, are much less wealthy and edu­cat­ed than U.S. natives, even after many years in the coun­try) is an exam­ple of the sort of con­struct­ed divi­sion between immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties that cre­ates cul­tur­al and eth­nic hier­ar­chies.   The use of the mod­el minor­i­ty label results in plac­ing Indi­an Amer­i­cans “above” oth­er com­mu­ni­ties based on cer­tain fac­tors such as edu­ca­tion­al apti­tude or work eth­ic — which are clear­ly shared across eth­nic and cul­tur­al lines.  It fur­ther iso­lates Indi­an Amer­i­cans and makes it chal­leng­ing to build sol­i­dar­i­ty that nat­u­ral­ly aris­es among com­mu­ni­ties that share com­mon expe­ri­ences as immi­grants and peo­ple of col­or in Amer­i­ca.

Using the mod­el minor­i­ty myth to inform immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy can lead to unwork­able solu­tions.  Rich­wine writes that “A new immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy that pri­or­i­tizes skills over fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion could bring more suc­cess­ful immi­grants to the U.S.  By empha­siz­ing edu­ca­tion, work expe­ri­ence and IQ in our immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy, immi­grant groups from oth­er nation­al back­grounds could join the list of mod­el minori­ties” – one that seems to be head­ed up by Indi­an Amer­i­cans.

But even for this so-called mod­el minor­i­ty, immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy reform must include fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion (in fact, fam­i­ly mem­bers of green card hold­ers from India have to wait up to 11 years to be reunit­ed with fam­i­ly mem­bers); legal­iza­tion (Indi­ans ranked among the top ten undoc­u­ment­ed pop­u­la­tions in the coun­try in 2008); and pro­grams that enable work­ers – skilled and unskilled – to car­ry out their liveli­hoods with respect and dig­ni­ty.   View­ing immi­grants as com­modi­ties to be used pure­ly for their eco­nom­ic val­ue as a basis for immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy change denies immi­grants the oppor­tu­ni­ties to estab­lish roots, build mean­ing­ful futures, and con­tribute to the diver­si­ty and vibran­cy of our coun­try.

We reject attempts to cre­ate divi­sions, whether they be with­in our own com­mu­ni­ty, or with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties who share sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences, strug­gles, his­to­ries, and val­ues.  We rec­og­nize that our suc­cess and our futures are tied close­ly with that of all immi­grants and peo­ple of col­or.

Deepa Iyer is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a nation­al non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion locat­ed in the Wash­ing­ton DC area. Ms. Iyer is an immi­grant who moved to the Unit­ed States from India when she was twelve years old.

A Call to Action to Address and End Domestic Violence

Please read this state­ment released by the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions in response to recent domes­tic vio­lence inci­dents includ­ing the trag­ic mur­der of Aasiya Has­san in New York.

February 26th, 2009- As com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide ser­vices to, advo­cate for, and orga­nize South Asians in the Unit­ed States, we are deeply sad­dened by recent trag­ic inci­dents of domes­tic vio­lence that have affect­ed South Asian fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties over the past six months.

The trag­ic mur­der of Aasiya Has­san, a 37-year-old moth­er, who was bru­tal­ly behead­ed in Buf­fa­lo, New York, is the lat­est in a series of recent vio­lent inci­dents that has received com­mu­ni­ty-wide and pub­lic atten­tion.  Ms. Has­san had obtained an order of pro­tec­tion against her hus­band and filed for divorce before the mur­der, which occurred on Feb­ru­ary 12, 2009.

This inci­dent comes on the heels of anoth­er tragedy that occurred in Clifton, New Jer­sey last Novem­ber, when 24-year old Resh­ma James was mur­dered by her estranged hus­band at the church she attend­ed.  And, it fol­lows two mur­ders of fam­i­ly mem­bers, includ­ing chil­dren: one occur­ring in Novi, Michi­gan, where the bod­ies of 37-year-old Jay­alak­sh­mi Rao and her two chil­dren were found, and the oth­er occur­ring in Sor­rente Pointe, Cal­i­for­nia, where the entire Rajaram fam­i­ly (moth­er-in-law, wife,  three chil­dren, and the sui­cide of the hus­band) was found dead last Octo­ber.

Beyond speak­ing out and con­demn­ing these tragedies, we as com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and orga­ni­za­tions must strive to do even more.  As mem­bers of the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, each of us has a role to play in end­ing vio­lence.

Most impor­tant­ly, we must move beyond the ten­den­cy to reduce acts of domes­tic vio­lence to cul­ture or reli­gion, or any such char­ac­ter­is­tic. The epi­dem­ic of domes­tic vio­lence affects fam­i­lies from all back­grounds and reli­gious faiths; in fact, the inci­dents we describe here occurred in Chris­t­ian, Hin­du and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties.  We must call domes­tic vio­lence what it is, and work both with­in our com­mu­ni­ty and exter­nal­ly, to cre­ate safe spaces and envi­ron­ments.

And, we must under­stand and empathize with vic­tims and sur­vivors of domes­tic vio­lence.  All vic­tims and sur­vivors of domes­tic vio­lence face sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers in seek­ing and obtain­ing assis­tance, jus­tice, and sup­port. For South Asians, these bar­ri­ers become even more exac­er­bat­ed.  Many South Asians feel uncom­fort­able reach­ing out to those with­in their own com­mu­ni­ty for fear of being judged, ques­tioned, iso­lat­ed, blamed and stig­ma­tized.  When abuse occurs in non-mar­i­tal or same-sex rela­tion­ships, it can become an even more dif­fi­cult top­ic to broach.  More­over, a lack of cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic sen­si­tiv­i­ty and tan­gi­ble legal pro­tec­tions can make sur­vivors feel that they have lit­tle recourse in exist­ing laws, the jus­tice sys­tem, law enforce­ment and social ser­vice agen­cies.

Final­ly, we must be ready to address domes­tic vio­lence pub­licly.  Around the coun­try, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, reli­gious lead­ers and social ser­vice agen­cies must take sig­nif­i­cant steps each day to ensure that vic­tims and sur­vivors of domes­tic vio­lence receive the sup­port and assis­tance they need.  Our entire com­mu­ni­ty must be pre­pared to speak out against vio­lence and address it in our homes, places of wor­ship, cul­tur­al cen­ters, and social ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions.

In light of the recent trag­ic inci­dents of domes­tic vio­lence, we offer three con­crete steps that you can take:  first, cre­ate a safe space to talk about domes­tic vio­lence with your fam­i­ly, friends, and sup­port net­works; sec­ond, encour­age your reli­gious, cul­tur­al and civic lead­ers to address the impact of domes­tic vio­lence in pub­lic state­ments, remarks, prayers and ser­mons, and set­tings; and third, sup­port orga­ni­za­tions that strive to end domes­tic vio­lence in our com­mu­ni­ties.

We send this call to action with the hope that com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, reli­gious, cul­tur­al and civic orga­ni­za­tions, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, allies and media will all take on the task of end­ing domes­tic vio­lence. For our part, we remain com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing our efforts to advo­cate against vio­lence in any form, to cre­ate safe spaces for all com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and to press for poli­cies that sup­port and empow­er vic­tims and sur­vivors of vio­lence.

The Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions (NCSO), a net­work of com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions in 12 regions around the Unit­ed States, seeks to ampli­fy a pro­gres­sive voice on pol­i­cy issues affect­ing South Asian com­mu­ni­ties.  For more infor­ma­tion about the NCSO, please con­tact South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) at 301–270-1855 or via email at saalt@saalt.org

Endorsed by:

Adhikaar- New York, NY
Andolan — New York, NY
Apna Ghar - Chica­go, IL
ASHA for Women — Wash­ing­ton DC Area
Chaya - Seat­tle, WA
Chhaya CDC — New York, NY
Coun­cil of Peo­ples Orga­ni­za­tion — New York, NY

Coun­selors Help­ing (South) Asian/Indians — Wash­ing­ton DC Area
Daya — Hous­ton, TX

Ham­dard Cen­ter — Chica­go, IL
Indo-Amer­i­can Cen­ter — Chica­go, IL
Maitri — San Jose, CA
Man­avi — New Brunswick, NJ
Michi­gan Asian Indi­an Fam­i­ly Ser­vices — Livo­nia, MI
Nari­ka — Berke­ley, CA
Rak­sha — Atlanta, GA
Saathi of Rochester — Rochester, NY
Sakhi for South Asian Women — New York, NY
Satrang — Los Ange­les, CA
Sne­ha - West Hart­ford, CT
South Asian Health Ini­tia­tive — New York, NY
Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund — Wash­ing­ton DC
South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er - Wash­ing­ton DC Area

South Asian Youth Action — New York, NY
Trikone NW - Seat­tle, WA
Turn­ing Point for Women and Fam­i­lies — New York, NY

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=>

Sudhir Venkatesh speaking at ChangeMakers Reception of the 2009 South Asian Summit

Sudhir Venkatesh's third book, Gang Leader for a Day

The 2009 South Asian Sum­mit is fast approach­ing (reg­is­ter now!) and its shap­ing up to be an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. The lat­est devel­op­ment is the announce­ment of the speak­er for the Change­Mak­ers Awards recep­tion, Sud­hir Venkatesh, Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor and author of some very inter­est­ing books about the under­ground econ­o­my in inner city Amer­i­ca (includ­ing one I am cur­rent­ly read­ing: Gang Leader for a Day). We are very excit­ed to bring Venkatesh’s insight and per­spec­tive to the Sum­mit. So don’t miss out on any of the excit­ing events and reg­is­ter for the Sum­mit (Apr 24–26 in Wash­ing­ton, DC) today!

For more infor­ma­tion about the Sum­mit, vis­it <http://www.saalt.org/pages/South-Asian-Summit.html>

Daily Buzz 2.23.2009

1.) Stu­dents dis­cuss the lack of… some­thing in Asian-Amer­i­can Fam­i­lies

2.)  South Asian Man Stopped 21 times by NYPD sues

3.)  Indi­an-Trained Amer­i­can Sur­geon Fac­ing Manslaugh­ter Charges

4.) Eye on 2012, Jin­dal rejects Oba­ma dole

5.) On the road to sex­u­al equal­i­ty- A Queer South Asian Man Shares His Expe­ri­ence in Boston

Daily Buzz 2.19.2009

1.) Sri Lankan For­eign Sec­re­tary Responds to Hip Hop Star MIA

2.) Inter­view with Kavitha Rajagopalan, author of Mus­lims of Metrop­o­lis

3.) Reces­sion Silences more Asian-Amer­i­can Voic­es

4.) DJ Ravi Drums to Per­form on the 2009 Acad­e­my Awards

5.) The UK is cur­rent­ly look­ing to clas­si­fy all Sharia beliefs as extrem­ist

6.) “Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee”: Per­son­al Reflec­tions on South Asian Immi­grant Wom­en’s Cul­tur­al Iden­ti­ty

For SAALT-ines in the Washington, DC Area

Home to the fifth largest South Asian pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try accord­ing to the 2000 Cen­sus, the Wash­ing­ton, DC area is a hotbed of desi cul­ture. We’ve got gurud­waras, mosques, tem­ples and desi gro­ceries galore. SAALT is col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Legal Resource Cen­ter (APALRC) to learn more about South Asians who live and work in the Dis­trict through the South Asian Com­mu­ni­ty Empow­er­ment Project and we are look­ing for vol­un­teers!

So what do vol­un­teers do, you ask?

It’s sim­ple, vol­un­teers con­duct street-side sur­veys of South Asians in Wash­ing­ton, DC. You’ll be col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion that sim­ply isn’t out there right now about the com­mu­ni­ty here in DC and learn­ing about your fel­low Dis­trict natives. All vol­un­teers will be trained in sur­vey­ing and com­mu­ni­ty work. Want to vol­un­teer? email Maha Khan at maha@saalt.org and we hope to see you out there!

Also, we’re going to be writ­ing more about this as it gets clos­er but the Nation­al South Asian Sum­mit is hap­pen­ing, right here in DC, from April 24–26. This is an excit­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for stu­dents, pro­fes­sion­als, activists (real­ly, every­one!) to make con­nec­tions and strate­gize around empow­er­ing the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. More details to come, but we’re look­ing at a lot of excit­ing speak­ers and guests, so reg­is­ter today!

Daily Buzz 2.18.2009

1.) Pak­istani-Amer­i­cans in Chica­go talk about Oba­ma

2.) Mus­lim & S. Asian Wom­en’s Groups Con­demn Behead­ing of Aasiya Has­san

3.) Opin­ions: Are Hon­or Killings Sim­ply Domes­tic Vio­lence?

4.) Pro­fes­sor Sud­hir Venkatesh asks “What Should We Do?” to the South Asian Phil­an­thropy Project: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

5.) Tal­iban threats reach Pak­istani Amer­i­cans