A life-changing experience

As I transition from SAALT, I wanted to take a minute to do one final blog post as a SAALT Staff Member. I started working at SAALT in August 2007 right after I graduated from the University of Maryland and have been here for almost 2 years as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member. AmeriCorps VISTA is the anti-poverty arm of the AmeriCorps program and I feel so lucky to have found this opportunity to put my undergraduate education to use in a way that serves the community.

Over the past few years, I have been privileged to work with so many individuals and organizations in my capacity as the Fundraising and Development Assistan on projects including workshops, trainings, local events, Be the Change, and the 2009 South Asian Summit. In this time, I have not only learned about the South Asian community but about the passionate and inspiring individuals who work each and every day to build this community. Working with SAALT has been an unforgettable experience and one that I will continue to digest as I transition from SAALT.

One of my most memorable experiences (among many) at SAALT was helping to plan the 2009 South Asian Summit – a convening of over 250 individuals from around the country for a weekend of  workshops, networking, and movement-building. After months of planning and poring over every detail of the event, to see it come together was incredible. I feel so fortunate to have been part of this experience and to have played a part in putting together an event that is hopefully a catalyst for moving our community forward. At the Summit, I met so many people who had previously been names on a paper, email addresses, or pictures on a website. To have connected with these amazing people was inspiring beyond belief.

I am committed to staying engaged in this community,the non-profit sector, and the social justice movement.

I would like to thank everyone who I have worked with over the past 2 years at SAALT for helping me to grow both personally and professionally. This has truly been a life-changing experience.

2009 Asian American Health Initiative Conference “A Time for Change”

Last week, I got the chance to attend the Asian American Health Conference, sponsored by Asian American Health Initiative. It was a great experience meeting public health advocates and experts (as well as allies, community members and more) and hearing about the relevant issues in the Asian American community. Asian American Health Initiative does great work in Montgomery County ensuring that Asian Americans enjoy equity and access to quality healthcare and the conference gave me the opportunity to learn more about their work, but also the work of other health-related organizations around the country.

AAHI conducted a needs assessment survey of Asian Americans in Montgomery County and one of the presentations at the conference was devoted to their process and findings. Montgomery County has the highest percentage of Asian Americans in Maryland making up nearly 14% of the population. The AAHI needs assessment utilized focus groups with major ethnic/national origin groups as well as a few of the smaller ethnic/national origin groups. Focus groups were made up of community members from all walks of life from professionals to retirees and seniors. Moreover, they also conducted a young adults focus group made up of mixed ethnic/national origin youths. Participants identified a number of stressors from struggling to fit in (young adults) to isolation and loneliness (seniors). In terms of obstacles to health care acces, the study identified financial, physical, communication and cultural barriers. Persistent gaps that I picked up during this presentation, and really, all the plenaries and breakout groups were the need for linguistic and cultural proficiency, the lack of disaggregated data about Asian American health outcomes and the lack of access to affordable health insurance. To read the whole report, visit AAHI <http://www.aahiinfo.org/english/programs/needsAssesment.php>

Arthur Chen, Chief Medical Officer-Alameda Alliance for Health

Arthur Chen, Chief Medical Officer-Alameda Alliance for Health

Another highlight from the event was the keynote speech from Arthur Chen, Chief Medical Officer of the Alameda Alliance for Health. Chen’s remarks gave a very contextual and complicated view of the factors contributing to the unequal access to quality healthcare for Asian Americans and other minorities. From civic engagement to holding legislators accountable to fiscal and monetary management, access to healthcare is deeply intertwined with the other issues we are experiencing as a nation. Moreover, to address gaps in healthcare adequately we must be ready to tackle other persistent inequalities in our country and around the world.

The theme of the whole conference was “A Time for Change: Transforming Opportunities into Action” and I think everyone was excited to see what we as a community can do to make a real, positive change for healthcare acess for all.

SAALT Policy Connection (May 2009)

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SAALT Policy Connection  (May 2009)

In This Issue

Immigration Policies

Hate Crimes Legislation Passes House!

Health Care Reform and the South Asian Community

At the Table: Meetings with Policymakers

Community Resource: Race and Recession

Support SAALT!

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the full and equal civic and political participation of South Asians in the United States. SAALT is the coordinating entity of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of 36 organizations that serve, organize, and advocate on behalf of the South Asian community across the country.

The SAALT Policy Connection is a monthly e-newsletter that focuses on current policy issues. To learn more about SAALT’s policy work, contact us at saalt@saalt.org.

Immigration: Policies from the Administration and Congress

Federal policymakers are continuing to consider immigration policies that will affect South Asian community members. With over 75% of the community born outside of the U.S., South Asians possess a range of immigration statuses, including temporary workers, green card holders, asylum-seekers, dependent visaholders, and undocumented immigrants. Any changes in immigration policies will affect the South Asian community. In order to promote the full integration of South Asians into this country’s economy and society, just and humane immigration reform is necessary.

The Administration:

In recent weeks, the Obama Administration made various statements and instituted several policies relating to immigration:

  • In April, Administration officials stated its commitment to immigration reform, including legalization of nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants during 2009.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano has stated that DHS will prioritize enforcement raids and prosecutions on abusive employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. However, worksite raids may still continue which impact the lives of many immigrants working in various sectors of the economy.
  • During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, DHS Secretary Napolitano stated her commitment to review profiling and searches of electronic devices at the border that have affected many Muslims and South Asians returning from trips abroad, as documented in recent reports by the Asian Law Caucus and Muslim Advocates.
  • DHS has continued and expanded implementation of a troubling enforcement program, “Secure Communities” that would allow immigration status checks be conducted for individuals who are apprehended by local police at the time of arrest. It will also allow immigration authorities to place “detainers” (notification to immigration authorities prior to release from jail that can lead to detention). Such programs raise cause for concern given that checks may done, regardless of guilt or innocence, and further open the door for profiling. For more information about Secure Communities and the negative impact on immigrant communities, check out this factsheet by the National Immigration Law Center.

On June 8, President Obama will be meeting with various members of Congress to discuss immigration and immigrant rights advocates as well as community members will be looking to see what next steps may be decided following the meeting


Congress has also recently re-focused its attention on finding solutions to address the broken immigration system:

  • Various Senators, including Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York, and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, have introduced the Reuniting Families Act. This bill strives to reduce family visa backlogs that keep many South Asians separated from loved ones abroad, by reclassifying spouses and children of green card holders as “immediate relatives”, raising per-country visa allocations, and allowing unused visas from previous years to be applied to the backlog. Community members are urged to contact their Senators to encourage them to support this bill.
  • In April and May, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, held hearings on immigration issues focused on border security policies and comprehensive immigration reform.
  • On June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever hearing on the Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1024), which would allow U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor their same-sex partners for family-based immigration. This bill would be a vital step towards countering discrimination that exists in the current immigration system against LGTBIQ South Asians in binational couples.
  • The DREAM Act, which would allow certain undocumented students to legalize their status if they attend college or join the military, has been introduced in the House and Senate.

Civil Rights: Hate Crimes Legislation Victory

South Asian community members often confront bias and discrimination in the form of hate crimes as a result of post-9/11 backlash, anti-immigrant sentiment, and xenophobia. In a recent victory in the movement towards preventing hate crimes and protecting its survivors, the House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913) in May. This Act expands current federal hate crimes laws to include violence motivated by gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability. It would also provide greater resources to state and local law enforcement investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration and community members are urged to contact your Senators to encourage them to support this bill (S. 909).

Health Care Reform and the South Asian Community

Health care reform has jumped to the top of the agenda for Congress and the Obama Administration. The need for affordable coverage and linguistically and culturally accessible health care is vital for the South Asian community. In fact, approximately 20 percent of South Asians lack health coverage plans leaving affordable health care out of reach for many community members. In addition, linguistic and cultural barriers prevent many limited English proficient South Asians from being able to communicate effectively with health care professionals and obtain emergency assistance when needed. To get a background on health issues affecting South Asians, check out the health section of the National Action Agenda, a policy platform developed by the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations, and a recent piece in SAMAR by Sapna Pandya and Pratik Saha of the South Asian Health Initiative at New York University.

President Obama has urged Congress to enact health care reform before the end of 2009 and convened a White House Forum on Health Care Reform. To learn more about the White House’s commitment to health care reform, visit www.healthreform.gov. The Senate Finance Committee are expected to start working on a health care reform bill in mid-June.

Community Issues at the Table

As part of SAALT’s policy work, we participate in various meetings and briefings with governmental agencies and legislators at the local, state, and federal level to raise issues about policies that affect the South Asian community. During April and May, SAALT participated in the following meetings to convey the concerns of South Asians regarding various policy initiatives:

  • Roundtables with Various Government Agencies during South Asian Summit: Community members and representatives of South Asian organizations had an opportunity to dialogue with various government agencies at the South Asian Summit in late April. Participating agencies included the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Office on Violence Against Women. During these meetings, participants raised local issues of concern and learned about the agencies’ policy priorities for this year.
  • White House Religious Liaison Meeting: SAALT met with the Religious Liaison at the White House Office of Public Engagement in May to discuss and highlight issues of importance to faith-based communities. SAALT identified issues ranging from discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion to the need for greater funding and support for faith-based institutions at the meeting. For more information, please contact us at saalt@saalt.org.

Community Resource Spotlight: Race and the Recession

A new report from the Applied Research Center, “Race and Recession: How Inequity Rigged the Economy and How to Change the Rules” tells the stories of people of color who are disproportionately affected by the recession. It uncovers root causes of long-term racial inequrities that fed into the economic crisis and proposes structural solutions to change a system that threatens future generations. Read the report online and check out the “Race and Recession” video to learn more and take action.

Make A Donation to
Support SAALT’s Work Today!

We would like to welcome and thank those who donated to SAALT in May!

Are you a SAALT member yet?

If not, we urge you to become a member today. By becoming a SAALT member, you not only receive benefits (such as our annual newsletter and discounts at events and gatherings), but the satisfaction of being part of a national non-profit organization that addresses civil and immigrant rights issues facing South Asians in America.

Do you know someone who would be interested in learning about SAALT? Forward them this email by clicking here:

Forward this email

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT in May: Community Events, New Faces, SAALT Speaks

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SAALT Community Connection – May 2009

In This Issue

SAALT Speaks

New Faces in SAALT

Community Calendar

Be the Change

Summit Wrap-Up

Support SAALT in 2009!

The SAALT Community Connection is a monthly e-newsletter that focuses on community news and events. To learn more about SAALT’s community and policy work, contact us at saalt@saalt.org

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

SAALT Speaks on First 100 Days, Immigration, and Citizenship

  • lavPriya Murthy, Policy Director, appeared as a guest on WPFW Pacifica Radio in April to discuss immigration and civil rights issues affecting South Asians.
  • Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, appeared as a guest on Beneath the Surface radio show on KPFK 90.7FM in Los Angeles, CA with Hamid Khan to discuss citizenship and immigration reform on April 23rd.
  • Deepa Iyer spoke on the Applied Research Center’s “Race in Review: First 100 Days” conference call on April 28th.
  • Lavanya Sithanandam, SAALT Board Member, appeared on “That Fresh Radio Piece” on May 18th on WMUC 88.1FM in College Park, MD to discuss the effects of recent immigration enforcement efforts and raids on the children she sees as a pediatrician in Takoma Park.


  • Deepa Iyer will be speaking at Georgia State University at the Immigration & Human Rights Symposium on June 17th, 2009.
  • Deepa Iyer will be speaking at the “Know Your Community: A Discussion of Issues and Trends Affecting Asian Pacific Americans in Washington DC and Beyond” sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association – Washington DC on June 3rd.

New Faces at SAALT

SAALT welcomes Aaditi Dubale as the new SAALT Fellow! She will be working on Be the Change 2009, our National Day of Service, as well as supporting fundraising and development efforts. Aaditi can be reached at aaditi@saalt.org.

SAALT also welcomes our summer interns:

Ashley Vij from George Washington University
Niralee Shah from Williams College
Zara Haq from American University Washington College of Law

SAALT bids a fond farewell to Aparna Kothary, Fundraising and Development Assistant. Aparna’s work at SAALT advanced the development of an individual member base, helped us to identify new fundraising opportunities, and expanded Be the Change – our National Day of Service.

Community Calendar

BTC09May 30th – New Jersey SAALT Circle Service project
Join the SAALT Circle for a community service project with ‘The Sharing Place’, a food pantry at St. Pauls’ Lutheran Church in Jersey City.  We’ll be preparing, packing, and serving breakfast and lunch to the local community.  Come out and BE THE CHANGE!

The Sharing Place – St. Lutherans Church

440 Hoboken Avenue (five corners) in Jersey City, NJ

Please RSVP by May 26th at
qudsia@saalt.org. Space is limited – sign up now!

August 14th – August 16th: Transgress, Transform, Transcend – A National Conference of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Asian Americans, South Asians and Pacific Islanders (API)

University of Washington in Seattle, WA
Registration information is available online at: http://www.nqapia.org

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund presents The Asian American Vote 2008

During the 2008 Presidential Elections, 16,665 Asian American voters were surveyed as part of AALDEF’s national multilingual exit poll.  The exit poll was the largest nonpartisan survey of its kind in the nation and was conducted in twelve Asian languages and English across 39 cities in 11 states.  At these special presentations across the country, comparative information will be given about the Asian American vote in the Presidential and Congressional elections, concerns about key issues, first-time voters, and profiles of the Asian American vote by ethnicity, party enrollment, nativity, age, and English proficiency.  For more information or to attend any of these presentations, contact jyang@aaldef.org or call 800.966.5946, www.aaldef.org

  • June 8 at 12:30 PM – The Massachusetts Asian American Vote (Boston, MA)
  • June 8 at 5:30 PM (Lowell, MA)
  • June 11 at 6:30 PM – The Maryland Asian American Vote (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Rockville, MD)
  • June 12 at 2:00PM – The Asian American Vote (multistate) (co-sponsored by SAALT)(Washington, DC)
  • June 17 and 18 at 6:30 PM- The Virginia Asian American Vote (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Richmond, VA)
  • June 18 at 11:30 AM (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Annandale, VA)
  • August 8 (time TBA) – The Chinese American Vote (San Francisco, CA)

Check out events on SAALT’s Community Calendar.calendar

SAALT staff are available to speak at your student organization meetings, conferences, and community events on topics including immigrant rights, South Asians in America, civic engagement, and immigration. Please email us at saalt@saalt.org for more information.

Get Ready for Be the Change 2009 – National Day of Service!

BTC09What are you doing on Saturday, October 3rd?

1) Host a Be the Change event on your campus – If your campus traditionally hosts a Be the Change event or if you would like to start one on your campus, please fill out this form by May 30th and we will send you a planning guide and connect you to the national event.

2) Host a Be the Change event in your city– Join or start a planning team in your city. As a member of the planning team, you will be coordinating service events, recruiting volunteers, and connecting with other planning teams around the country. Please fill out this form by May 30th and we will connect you with others in your city who are interested in planning a Be the Change event.  Our core cities this year are: Washington DC, New York City, South Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Boston. We also welcome other cities to hold Be the Change events.

3) Join SAALT as a National Partner for Be the Change– If your organization, professional association, or youth group would like to partner with SAALT, locally or nationally, please email us at btc2009@saalt.org by May 30th.

South Asian Summit Roundup

summitDid you miss the Summit?

  • Listen to podcasts of the sessions here
  • View pictures from the Summit here
  • Hear from participants in Summit Snapshots here
  • Read entries from the SAALT Spot about the Summit here

Make A Donation to
Support SAALT’s Work in 2009 Today!

Are you a SAALT member yet?

If not, we urge you to become a member today. By becoming a SAALT member, you not only receive benefits (such as our annual newsletter and discounts at events and gatherings), but the satisfaction of being part of a national non-profit organization that addresses civil and immigrant rights issues facing South Asians in America.

Do you know someone who would be interested in learning about SAALT? Forward them this email by clicking here:

Forward this email

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Interview With Shamita Das Dasgupta

Hello, SAALT Spot readers! My name is Viraj, and it’s more likely you know me as the “Blog Intern”. I am a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I earned my degree in English with a minor in Asian American Studies. This past semester, I completed a thesis regarding “honor” killings. While I will save that discussion for (hopefully) another time, this research really opened my eyes to domestic violence among women of color.


     In April, I was lucky enough to meet Shamita Das Dasgupta, who spoke at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the annual Balgopal Lecture on Human Rights and Asian Americans . Dr. Dasgupta is the cofounder of Manavi (New Jersey), the first organization in the U.S. to focus on violence against South Asian immigrant women. She is currently teaching as an adjunct professor at NYU Law School.

Dr. Dasgupta told me that, out of 160 South Asian women surveyed in the United States:

-35% claim current male partner physically abused them at least once

-32.5% claim such abuse has happened within the last year
-19% claim their current male partner has sexually abused them at least once during their time together
-15% claim at this abuse happened within the past year 

While I wasn’t able to attend her actual lecture (interviewing for graduate schools demands sacrifices), Dr. Dasgupta was gracious enough to speak with me the following morning. We spoke about a range of topics, from sexual violence among different socioeconomic classes as well as connections with religion and the issues different generations of South Asian American women face:

“In the upper class, when a woman is raped outside of the home, it is assumed that it is because she is exposing herself. Women still feel as if the home is a safe place, and that sexual violence can only occur outside of the home. On the other hand, the poorer classes know that women must travel outside of the home. Also, oftentimes, their “homes” are shantytowns and are very exposed spaces. The poorer classes understand that sexual and domestic violence can occur anywhere. The whole issue is of a woman being isolated- upper classes feel that if a woman is isolated, she cannot be harmed.”  

Returning to her work in the United States, Dr. Dasgupta spoke to me about some of the narratives she has heard from the women she has worked with regarding religion and domestic abuse:

“There is this concept called sarwan saha which many people abide by. The concept is often interpreted as “You’re the one who can change bad men into good men. Your responsibility, as a woman, is to endure”, is how it is read. Women think that religious culture is to endure- “My husband is beating me because I am failing and he is teaching me what I need to know.”  

After hearing these narratives from many women, Dr. Dasgupta said that:  

“I have actually found passages in Muslim and Hindu texts that really celebrate the strength of women. One particular Hindu text says “God is not in the home where the woman is not celebrated”. When I find these empowering texts and show them to women, it is like they are awakening. I ask them- “Why is this passage invisible? Is it not also a part of your faith background? I really ask the women to challenge how and why tradition is created. “

As a second generation Indian American woman, I was curious to see what sort of advice she has for me and other second generation South Asian American women: 

“For a lot of second generation women, I see that their parents are pushing them into marriages they don’t want-often with men from South Asia, and often with men who are South Asian American. If they choose to rebel, divorce, etc., their parents tell them that “you are not our daughter anymore.”. These women are told that they are betraying our community, [and that they are a] traitor to our culture. It often drives women away from identifying as Indian American or engaging with the community”   

I wish they would not reject the culture but rather claim a space within the community. We are incumbent on the second generation to change us, and I would advise them to not let other people define what your generation consists of.”  

And, finally, as a bookworm, I asked her for a book recommendation- specifically, a book that has changed her life:  

It is a Bengali book. Unfortunately, I do not think that they have translated it into English. It is called The First Promise by Ashapurna Devi. It is a wonderful story that discusses many issues women face- I read it when I was a young girl and still hold it very close to my heart. “


Dr. Dasgupta’s words really opened my eyes to the complicated, and often conflicting, challenges South Asian American women face, and her words about “betraying the community” is something I have seen come up in my research about “honor” killings as well. All in all, Dr. Dasgupta’s passion for her community is something I found inspiring and her passion as an educator is something I am very grateful for.

Join the Summer of Service!

On Wednesday, May 20th Michelle Obama will roll out “the vision of service for the Administration for the summer” in Washington DC. SAALT’s Executive Director, Deepa Iyer, will be in the audience to hear about the summer of service and learn how organizations like SAALT and the South Asian community as a whole can get involved. Are you inspired by Michelle’s message of service? How are you getting involved and engaged this summer?

Daily Buzz 5.19.2009

The Daily Buzz is Back After a Brief Hiatus for University Finals!

1.) Lakshmi Menon’s 12 Page Spread in American Vogue Begs The Question: Why Don’t More Indian and South Asian Models Book Top Jobs?

2.) Retreat Offers Hope for Indian American Women Alcoholics

3.) Reading Recommendation from the Blog Intern: Taqwacore Webzine

4.) US University Honours Indian-American Economics Professor

5.) Remember “Signature” From Britain’s Got Talent? They Were on Oprah!

Hear about the 2009 National South Asian Summit from the Attendees Themselves!

During the Summit, SAALT staff and interns used our handy Flip cameras to hear from attendees about their experiences. We’re are currently in the process of posting these clips on our YouTube channel. Hear what Summit participants learned, what they hope to bring back to their communities and more!

Taha Gaya:

Taz Ahmed:

Check out all the Summit Snapshots here: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=DFD50F179385221B