SAALT Statement on the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021

Yes­ter­day marked the intro­duc­tion of the U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship Act of 2021, by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sanchez (D‑CA-38) and Sen­a­tor Menen­dez (D‑NJ). The bill is a his­toric piece of leg­is­la­tion that pro­pos­es a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for 11 mil­lion immi­grants, includ­ing more than 650,000 undoc­u­ment­ed South Asians. 

Among oth­er things, this bill address­es issues that are fun­da­men­tal to the well­be­ing of South Asian com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing lan­guage that:

  • Creates an earned roadmap to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, pro­vid­ing  Dream­ers, TPS hold­ers, and some farm­work­ers with an expe­dit­ed three-year path to cit­i­zen­ship, and giv­ing all oth­er undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants an eight-year path.
  • Reforms the family-based immigration system to keep families together by recap­tur­ing visas from pre­vi­ous years to clear back­logs, includ­ing spous­es and chil­dren of green card hold­ers as imme­di­ate fam­i­ly mem­bers, and increas­ing per-coun­try caps for fam­i­ly-based immi­gra­tion. It also elim­i­nates dis­crim­i­na­tion against LGBTQ+ fam­i­lies, pro­vide pro­tec­tions for orphans, wid­ows and chil­dren, and allows immi­grants with approved fam­i­ly-spon­sor­ship peti­tions to join fam­i­ly in the U.S. on a tem­po­rary basis while they wait for green cards.
  • Updates the employment-based immigration system, elim­i­nat­ing per-coun­try caps, improv­ing access to green cards for work­ers in low­er-wage indus­tries, giv­ing depen­dents of H‑1B hold­ers work autho­riza­tion, and pre­vent­ing chil­dren of H‑1B hold­ers from aging out of the sys­tem. The bill also cre­ates a pilot pro­gram to stim­u­late region­al eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, and incen­tivizes high­er wages for non-immi­grant, high-skilled visas to pre­vent unfair com­pe­ti­tion with Amer­i­can work­ers. 
  • Supports asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations by elim­i­nat­ing the one-year dead­line for fil­ing asy­lum claims, reduc­ing asy­lum appli­ca­tion back­logs, increas­ing pro­tec­tions for U visa, T visa, and VAWA appli­cants, includ­ing by rais­ing the cap on U visas from 10,000 to 30,000.

We look for­ward to the pos­si­bil­i­ties this leg­is­la­tion presents. How­ev­er, we also urge Con­gress to address some of its harm­ful pro­vi­sions that exclude immi­grants who have been harmed by the racist crim­i­nal legal sys­tem, and hin­der immi­grants from access­ing health care and oth­er vital ser­vices on their path to cit­i­zen­ship. 

Pres­i­dent Biden and his admin­is­tra­tion must not only fol­low through with the above com­mit­ments but also trans­form the immi­gra­tion sys­tem to explic­it­ly account for cli­mate change, reli­gious per­se­cu­tion, and grow­ing right-wing fas­cism in South Asia. 

Amid mass depor­ta­tions of Black immi­grants, the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, and ongo­ing inte­ri­or enforce­ment threats, SAALT will con­tin­ue to advo­cate to strength­en the bill and ensure that all immi­grants and their fam­i­lies have access to a humane immi­gra­tion sys­tem. A thought­ful immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy lifts us all. 

#ByeBan: SAALT Statement on the Rescission of the Muslim & African Bans

Since Jan­u­ary 27th, 2017, count­less fam­i­lies have been sep­a­rat­ed, detained, and refused fair treat­ment under the Mus­lim Ban – but as of yes­ter­day, hope and jus­tice feel near­er, as Pres­i­dent Biden has signed an exec­u­tive order to end the Ban, repeal­ing an explic­it­ly racist immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy and stand­ing with Arab, Black, and Mus­lim Amer­i­cans.

SAALT spent the last four years as a part of the No Mus­lim Ban Ever cam­paign, mobi­liz­ing com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and elect­ed offi­cials to stand against the Ban, and stand up for our com­mu­ni­ty. Yesterday’s vic­to­ry is the fruit of our col­lec­tive resis­tance to white suprema­cy, and our con­tin­ued defense of (im)migrant rights.

With the rescis­sion of the anti-Black, xeno­pho­bic, and Islam­o­pho­bic pol­i­cy, SAALT and our allies now have a clear­er path to fight for the pro­tec­tion of all migrants and immi­grants, regard­less of their back­ground. Still, of course, the Mus­lim Ban is just one cog in a high­ly flawed immi­gra­tion sys­tem, which must be trans­formed in its entire­ty; the enact­ment of the Mus­lim Ban only high­light­ed the entrench­ment of Islam­o­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia in Amer­i­can cul­ture. Therefore, it is critical that the 118th Congress pass and enact the No Ban Act to limit executive authority from issuing future discriminatory bans based on religion and national origin.

It’s equal­ly cru­cial for our com­mu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize that Pres­i­dent Biden’s rescis­sion of the Ban only marks the begin­ning of an ardu­ous heal­ing process – a chal­lenge which we must come togeth­er to address. This is why SAALT is pri­or­i­tiz­ing and prac­tic­ing restora­tive jus­tice strate­gies in our con­tin­ued fight against insti­tu­tion­al­ized Islam­o­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia. Our col­lec­tive abil­i­ty to hold space for heal­ing will deter­mine the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of our move­ment, and we ask our com­mu­ni­ty to rec­og­nize the harms that these dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies have on the men­tal and phys­i­cal well-being of impact­ed com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers for gen­er­a­tions to come.

As hope and jus­tice draw near­er, we call on Pres­i­dent Biden and his admin­is­tra­tion to con­tin­ue show­ing sup­port for Black, Indige­nous and all oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and con­tin­ue to con­demn and act against white suprema­cy and hatred.

SAALT staff and allies at a #NoMus­lim­Ban­Ev­er ral­ly out­side the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States in April 2018.

Please reach out to sruti@saalt.org with any ques­tions or requests.

SAALT Statement on January 6th Events

Yes­ter­day, white suprema­cy was on full dis­play at the US Capi­tol and at gov­ern­ment build­ings across the nation. These attacks rep­re­sent a bla­tant and ille­gal attempt to deter democ­ra­cy and pro­mote white suprema­cist beliefs ​— which harm every­one. All of us have a duty to respond, not only with con­dem­na­tion, but with sus­tained action against the insti­ga­tors and their sup­port­ers.

Though Con­gress has cer­ti­fied the results of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, they must do more. They must call for the removal of Pres­i­dent Trump and begin impeach­ment pro­ceed­ings ​imme­di­ate­ly. Repub­li­can lead­er­ship must ensure there is a peace­ful tran­si­tion of pow­er on and past Inau­gu­ra­tion Day​, and all mem­bers of Con­gress who incit­ed, encour­aged, or par­tic­i­pat­ed in this attack must be expelled for break­ing their Oaths of Office. Those respon­si­ble for yesterday’s attacks must be held ​equal­ly account­able under the law.  

We must also be care­ful about how to char­ac­ter­ize yesterday’s events. SAALT’s work on nation­al secu­ri­ty and immi­gra­tion issues since 9/11 has made it clear that label­ing acts of extrem­ist vio­lence as ter­ror­ism is dan­ger­ous and paves the way for the tar­get­ing of Black and Brown communities​, as seen through the War on Ter­ror frame­work. We can ​and must stand vig­i­lant against yesterday’s attacks with­out resort­ing to such char­ac­ter­i­za­tions by demand­ing that what hap­pened yes­ter­day is ​char­ac­ter­ized as white suprema­cist vio­lence. SAALT stands with our Black allies, who are right­ful­ly point­ing out the dou­ble stan­dards in how the white suprema­cists behind yesterday’s events are being treat­ed, as com­pared to the peace­ful pro­test­ers dur­ing last summer’s upris­ings.

“For our own com­mu­ni­ties, who were retrau­ma­tized by yesterday’s events, we are with you. The past four years have been a relent­less surge of poli­cies and attacks against the bod­ies and rights of so many com­mu­ni­ties, ours includ­ed. SAALT will con­tin­ue to press for the rever­sal of these xeno­pho­bic and racist poli­cies from the Trump era and push for bold solu­tions that will improve the lives of every­one.”

Sim­ran Noor, SAALT Board Chair

As South Asians, we also have work to do with­in our com­mu­ni­ties. There are reports of Indi­an Amer­i­cans being present at ​and encour­ag­ing yesterday’s attempt­ed  coup. Giv­en what we wit­nessed from the ​2020 Howdy Modi event in Texas fea­tur­ing Trump and Modi, this is no sur­prise. We have work to do with­in our own com­mu­ni­ties to raise aware­ness about the links between Hin­du nation­al­ism and white suprema­cy, and the dan­gers of ally­ing with the ele­ments who orches­trat­ed yesterday’s events. Sim­ply put: We can­not con­demn one fas­cist and excuse anoth­er. SAALT calls on its entire com­mu­ni­ty to hold these truths and stand unit­ed against nation­al­ism, fas­cism, and impe­ri­al­ism on all its fronts.

SAALT will con­tin­ue to share news and cov­er­age of the vio­lence, as well as help con­nect those affect­ed by the chaos with local resources. Please reach out to sruti@saalt.org with any ques­tions or requests.


SAALT Releases Report Mapping Impact of COVID-19 on South Asian American Communities

Featured

Washington, DC., September 29, 2020: South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) released the report Unequal Con­se­quences: The Dis­parate Impact of COVID-19 Across South Asian Amer­i­cans today, high­light­ing the urgent need for fun­ders and pol­i­cy mak­ers to gath­er accu­rate dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data on South Asian com­mu­ni­ties in the U.S. to be able to under­stand and respond to the needs that have emerged since the onset of the pan­dem­ic.

The report exam­ines areas of the U.S. with among the largest South Asians pop­u­la­tions includ­ing New York, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, and the Bay Area and Central Valley in California and draws pri­mar­i­ly on inter­views with com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers who are mem­bers of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions (NCSO), a nation­al com­mu­ni­ty sur­vey, and media reports. SAALT also launched an inter­ac­tive map and video tes­ti­mo­ni­als to fur­ther high­light the impact of the pan­dem­ic on South Asians.

Key find­ings of the report include:

  • South Asian Americans who were already vulnerable have been most directly impacted by the pandemic - whether due to their immi­gra­tion sta­tus, their expe­ri­ences with domes­tic vio­lence, liv­ing with under­ly­ing health con­di­tions, or unsafe work­ing envi­ron­ments. Every inter­vie­wee shared that, as a result, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are expe­ri­enc­ing men­tal health chal­lenges.
  • Data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are currently incomplete as sta­tis­tics are under count­ed in South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, often labeled as “oth­er Asian” or “unknown” race cat­e­gories. 
  • South Asians are at high risk if they contract COVID-19; they are four times more like­ly than the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion of hav­ing heart dis­ease or dia­betes, putting them at greater risk of coro­n­avirus-caused death. Oth­er com­pound­ing risk fac­tors include mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional hous­ing, lack of lan­guage acces­si­ble pub­lic health mate­ri­als and gov­ern­ment resources, and insuf­fi­cient pro­tec­tions based on employ­ment or immi­gra­tion sta­tus. 
  • Every survivor-support organization SAALT interviewed explicitly named a drastic increase in gender-based domestic violence.
  •  Government agencies have neglected to provide Limited English Proficient (LEP) community members with culturally appropriate services and language accessible information, imped­ing access to gov­ern­ment ser­vices and relief funds.
  • 85% of respondents to SAALT’s community survey are worried about immigration - specif­i­cal­ly being able to trav­el out­side of the U.S., as well as anx­i­ety over recent exec­u­tive orders tar­get­ing green cards, H‑1B work visas, and stu­dent visas.
  • South Asian American community organizations are filling in the gaps in access to health, food, hous­ing, and employ­ment as a rem­e­dy to fail­ing gov­ern­ment social infra­struc­ture. 

Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran, SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, said “One of the most impor­tant lessons from water­shed moments of cri­sis, like 9/11, the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and now the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, is that South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties have deeply divid­ed expe­ri­ences. The South Asian pop­u­la­tions in the U.S. who were pri­mar­i­ly tar­get­ed after 9/11, most impact­ed by this Admin­is­tra­tion’s racist poli­cies, and most vul­ner­a­ble to COVID-19 are also the pop­u­la­tions most mar­gin­al­ized with­in our own com­mu­ni­ties because of immi­gra­tion sta­tus, class, caste, reli­gion, and LGBT + iden­ti­ty. While devel­op­ing a shared nar­ra­tive across these dif­fer­ences is valu­able for build­ing col­lec­tive pow­er, only by cen­ter­ing the expe­ri­ences of these pop­u­la­tions do we tru­ly under­stand the mag­ni­tude and range of impact of these crises.”

September 11, 2020

19 years ago today, 3,000 peo­ple were killed on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001. Our gov­ern­men­t’s response known as the “War on Ter­ror,” has cost more than 500,000 lives world­wide. This num­ber does not even include the lives lost to inter­per­son­al hate vio­lence ignit­ed by this state vio­lence.

Four days after 9/11, Bal­bir Singh Sod­hi, a Sikh busi­ness own­er, was plant­i­ng flow­ers out­side of his gas sta­tion in Mesa, Ari­zona when he was shot and killed. We lat­er learned that his shoot­er had report­ed­ly told a wait­ress at Apple­beesI’m going to go out and shoot some tow­el heads,” and “We should kill their chil­dren, too, because they’ll grow up to be like their par­ents.”

This was the first of 645 inci­dents of vio­lent back­lash aimed at South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, Hin­du, Mid­dle East­ern, and Arab Amer­i­cans in the first week after 9/11.

Inci­dents of hate vio­lence tar­get­ing our com­mu­ni­ties have con­tin­ued unabat­ed since since 9/11. SAALT has tracked 679 inci­dents since 2015 alone. Today we renew our com­mit­ment to fight­ing the deeply entrenched fed­er­al poli­cies that emerged from the “War on Ter­ror,” includ­ing the cur­rent Mus­lim Ban.

In those ear­ly days fol­low­ing 9/11, we didn’t stand by and watch as our com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers were harassed, tar­get­ed, and sur­veilled by the gov­ern­ment. We came togeth­er, raised our voic­es, and demon­strat­ed our pow­er. Out of that moment came the cre­ation of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions, the Nation­al South Asian Sum­mit, and the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute and long stand­ing coali­tion part­ner­ships work­ing toward sig­nif­i­cant pol­i­cy wins like the end of the 2002 Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Entry-Exit Reg­is­tra­tion Sys­tem (NSEERS) pro­gram all the way to the recent House pas­sage of the NO BAN Act

In the midst of this cur­rent pub­lic health tragedy that has dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties and has led to the death of near­ly 200,000 peo­ple in the U.S., we’ve simul­ta­ne­ous­ly seen a dra­mat­ic rise in COVID-relat­ed hate vio­lence attacks tar­get­ing Asian Amer­i­cans. In SAALT’s forth­com­ing COVID-19 report, we mark the dif­fer­ent forms of hate vio­lence, once again ignit­ed by our gov­ern­ment since the pan­dem­ic, which you can pre­view here.

This cur­rent cri­sis, like all crises, has rein­forced that we don’t all expe­ri­ence moments of cri­sis equal­ly. Depend­ing on class, immi­gra­tion sta­tus, caste, reli­gious or eth­nic back­ground, South Asians are tar­get­ed at dif­fer­ent scales and mag­ni­tudes. At SAALT we’re ded­i­cat­ed to acknowl­edg­ing these dis­parate expe­ri­ences, but also what unites us across com­mu­ni­ties. Ear­li­er this month in Irv­ing, Texas, a South Asian fam­i­ly received hate mail say­ing if Indi­an and Chi­nese immi­grants don’t stop tak­ing Amer­i­can jobs, “we will have no choice but to shoot mer­ci­less­ly immi­grants of Chi­nese and Indi­an descent…” White suprema­cists don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly dis­tin­guish with­in our com­mu­ni­ties with the same effi­cien­cy as our gov­ern­ment, which is why build­ing col­lec­tive pow­er is so crit­i­cal.

On this anniver­sary, we hon­or all the lives destroyed by hate vio­lence and state vio­lence, and ask you to join us in fight­ing racism and white suprema­cy in all its man­i­fes­ta­tions.

Learn about the impact of 9/11 on South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties by…
- Fol­low­ing the ways in which post‑9/11 poli­cies have changed over the decades, and SAALT’s chang­ing advo­ca­cy in response.
- Watch­ing “Rais­ing our Voic­es”, a doc­u­men­tary about post‑9/11 xeno­pho­bic back­lash.
- Read­ing our month­ly hate reports.

Take a stand against hate vio­lence by…
- Par­tic­i­pat­ing in bystander train­ing.
- Learn­ing about abo­li­tion and strate­gies to com­bat vio­lence that do not involve police.

17 Years After 9/11: Detentions, Deportations, Diminished Civil Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sep­tem­ber 11, 2018

Today marks the 17-year anniver­sary of the trag­ic attacks of Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001. This anniver­sary falls at a time of ram­pant immi­gra­tion enforce­ment and racial pro­fil­ing poli­cies direct­ed at South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, Hin­du, Mid­dle East­ern, and Arab Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, this esca­la­tion of bru­tal and dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies is accom­pa­nied by a ris­ing tide of hate vio­lence impact­ing our com­mu­ni­ties. Near­ly two decades after the events of Sep­tem­ber 11th, hate vio­lence tar­get­ing South Asian, Mus­lim, Sikh, Hin­du, Mid­dle East­ern, and Arab Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties has now sur­passed lev­els only seen imme­di­ate­ly after that tragedy.

SAALT has already doc­u­ment­ed over 400 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric tar­get­ing our com­mu­ni­ties since the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Trag­i­cal­ly, we can now draw a direct link between divi­sive polit­i­cal rhetoric and its role in spurring hate vio­lence: one in five of the hate incidents documented in our 2018 report, Communities on Fire, involved perpetrators who verbally referenced President Trump, one of his administration’s policies, or one of his campaign slogans while committing an act of violence.

Since the events of Sep­tem­ber 11th, suc­ces­sive admin­is­tra­tions have lever­aged a ‘nation­al secu­ri­ty’ lens to advance anti-immi­grant and xeno­pho­bic poli­cies that tar­get our com­mu­ni­ties and our place in this nation. This list of poli­cies that seek to lim­it and exclude our rights includes but is not lim­it­ed to the Patri­ot Act, the Coun­ter­ing Vio­lent Extrem­ism pro­gram, and the Mus­lim Ban. Sev­er­al dev­as­tat­ing poli­cies aimed at immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties have been unveiled in the last year alone. Exam­ples include the deci­sion to ter­mi­nate Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) for indi­vid­u­als from sev­er­al coun­tries includ­ing Nepal, Hon­duras, El Sal­vador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan; a wave of depor­ta­tions of doc­u­ment­ed and undoc­u­ment­ed res­i­dents; sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies and detain­ing chil­dren in cages; and denat­u­ral­iz­ing Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. In short, we are in the midst of a cam­paign to cre­ate an Amer­i­ca that is sep­a­rate and unequal for the for­eign-born and their fam­i­lies. The onslaught is slat­ed to con­tin­ue esca­lat­ing through the administration’s plans to fur­ther crim­i­nal­ize immi­grants for uti­liz­ing pub­lic ben­e­fits by issu­ing a ‘pub­lic charge’ rule and uncon­sti­tu­tion­al­ly includ­ing a ques­tion on cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus in the 2020 Cen­sus.

It appears this dan­ger­ous con­ver­gence of poli­cies, rhetoric, and vio­lence will not end soon. In April 2018, a Hous­ton Mus­lim woman wear­ing a hijab was stabbed by an attack­er yelling “Oh my God, it’s a r**head” “sand n******” and oth­er racial­ly deroga­to­ry terms. In July and August 2018, two Cal­i­for­nia Sikh men wear­ing tur­bans were vio­lent­ly attacked in sep­a­rate inci­dents. In one inci­dent, the per­pe­tra­tor yelled “Go back to your coun­try!” SAALT con­tin­ues to col­lect data on inci­dents of hate vio­lence in our public, online database, and pro­vides month­ly updates on trends.

Lat­er this week, SAALT will host a Con­gres­sion­al Brief­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Con­gres­sion­al Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cau­cus (CAPAC) to high­light the inter­sec­tion between cur­rent inci­dents of hate vio­lence, the Mus­lim Ban, and immi­gra­tion enforce­ment. SAALT is com­mit­ted to address­ing the under­ly­ing fac­tors that spur hate vio­lence against our com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing dis­crim­i­na­to­ry poli­cies and the growth in orga­nized white suprema­cy. We are ded­i­cat­ed to ensur­ing the next decade sees a decline in hate vio­lence and an effort to regain this nation’s core ideals of equal­i­ty and jus­tice.

Young Leaders Institute 2018–2019

Meet the 2018–2019 YLI cohort!
“Build­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Defense”

The 2018–2019 Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI) theme was Com­mu­ni­ty Defense, and projects will take on anti-immi­grant poli­cies and hate vio­lence. Shared below are project descrip­tions from this year’s cohort.

Apoorva Handigol: My project will stem from my senior the­sis research on how antiblack­ness and Black-Brown sol­i­dar­i­ty have man­i­fest­ed over gen­er­a­tions of South Asian Amer­i­cans in Chica­go. I will start with orga­niz­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive event at my school focus­ing on nar­ra­tives of pain and love among South Asian and Black Amer­i­cans. After this, I will take the project to my com­mu­ni­ty in the Bay Area and reframe this com­mu­ni­ty need as one of sup­port for a group of peo­ple who has gone through much the same as we have, plus oth­er injus­tices we have the priv­i­lege to for­get. I will trans­late what I learned from the event on cam­pus and my research into address­ing my South Asian community’s antiblack­ness, lack of aware­ness of our 150+ years of Black sol­i­dar­i­ty, and need to strength­en our com­mu­ni­ty defense.

 

Farishtay Yamin: My pro­pos­al cen­ters around cre­at­ing a rapid response sys­tem to ICE activ­i­ty and hate crimes using an app. I would like to use the exist­ing mem­ber base and net­work present in Athens, GA to dupli­cate the mod­el in Nashville, TN.

 

 

Hiba Ahmad: My project is to cre­ate a finan­cial lit­er­a­cy pro­gram for prison inmates in aims to reduce recidi­vism rates around the Unit­ed States, which is main­ly caused by lack of attain­able finan­cial edu­ca­tion and resources. US pris­ons
dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get peo­ple of col­or, so the suc­cess­ful
imple­men­ta­tion of this pro­gram will hope­ful­ly pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties of col­or against fur­ther unjust detain­ment, and arm them with the edu­ca­tion nec­es­sary to com­bat the dif­fi­cul­ty of reen­ter­ing the work­force.

Mahi Senthikumar: I will explore the inter­sec­tions of rights and reli­gion through a series of pub­lic talks and YouTube videos. By cre­at­ing inter­faith forums to dis­cuss
reli­gion along­side activism, I hope to break down social bar­ri­ers with­in our com­mu­ni­ty and uncov­er shared val­ues which com­pel us to stand togeth­er for jus­tice.

 

 

Meghal Sheth: For my project I will be work­ing to co-pro­gram with oth­er cul­tur­al and iden­ti­ty- based groups on Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Louis’ cam­pus to cre­ate a “Jus­tice Through Free­dom” Week. The week will include a vig­il, call-in, pan­el dis­cus­sion on com­mu­ni­ty defense, and a gala with oth­er var­i­ous stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions.

 

Myra Khushbakht: For my project, I plan to cre­ate an open dis­cus­sion town hall event at Howard in the com­ing aca­d­e­m­ic year. I hope to ini­ti­ate a con­ver­sa­tion about col­orism with­in minori­ties on my cam­pus.

 

 

Naisa Rahman: My com­mu­ni­ty defense project will focus on improv­ing my university’s report­ing and response sys­tem for bias, dis­crim­i­na­tion, and harass­ment. My goal is for our insti­tu­tion to respond time­ly to stu­dents and to bet­ter sup­port them dur­ing any crises.

 

 

Sarah Rozario: Sarah hopes to cre­ate a video com­posed of her cam­pus com­mu­ni­ty’s immi­grant and undoc­u­ment­ed voic­es address­ing anti-immi­gra­tion poli­cies. The project will pro­vide a space for stu­dents to voice their con­cerns as well as act as a dis­play of sup­port.

 

 

Vrinda Trivedi: Com­ing from Ohio, I think sub­ur­ban and rur­al loca­tions are sore­ly over­looked in regards to being seen as spaces con­ducive to com­mu­ni­ty build­ing. There­fore, I would like to find a way to con­nect LGBTQIA+ South Asians, through host­ing a retreat sim­i­lar to YLI, but on a small­er scale, and geared towards address­ing the unique themes faced by LGBTQIA+ South Asians in sub­ur­ban and rur­al spaces.

 

Yasmine Jafery: My project is cre­at­ing an on cam­pus club that pro­vides a safe space for peers to talk to one anoth­er about dif­fi­cult things they are going through. This club would pro­vide strug­gling stu­dents a place to meet and learn from their peers that are fight­ing sim­i­lar obsta­cles.

 

 

Neha Valmiki: Neha will have a ses­sion on her cam­pus called Break­ing Bar­ri­ers, where will bring in speak­ers to talk about men­tal health in the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty and the
neces­si­ty for civic engage­ment. The goal is to break the stig­ma of men­tal health and to break the idea that your vote does­n’t count. Her goal is it make sure each stu­dents knows that they have a voice and they are valid.

 

Rupkatha Banarjee: Sum­mits and con­fer­ences often attract large audi­ences and trans­mit mes­sages of sup­port and aware­ness through­out the com­mu­ni­ty. In lieu of stu­dent involve­ment and increased par­tic­i­pa­tion, I aim to orga­nize a TEDx type con­fer­ence with mul­ti­ple speak­ers to expli­cate sto­ries of immi­grants who’ve expe­ri­enced tar­get­ed racial vio­lence.

 

Jaspreet Kaur: Brown Girl Joy [an IG plat­form] explores the inter­sec­tions of beau­ty one brown girl [includ­ing gen­der non con­form­ing + non­bi­na­ry per­son] at a time. We hope to recon­struct par­a­digms of beau­ty to be more inclu­sive and accept­ing for peo­ple of col­or.

 

 

Sana Hamed: I pro­pose to start SEMS (Shar­ing Every Mus­lims’ Sto­ry), an ini­tia­tive that would serve to unite Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tions on cam­pus through the com­mon thread of sto­ry­telling. The project would include var­i­ous ways to put a pos­i­tive spot­light on who Mus­lims are in Amer­i­ca and would include cre­at­ing short nar­ra­tive videos to be shared through social media, writ­ten fea­tures for an anthol­o­gy, and even a show­case fea­tur­ing Mus­lim cre­atives through which we could fur­ther engage the com­mu­ni­ty.

 

 

For more infor­ma­tion around Young Lead­ers Insti­tute, fol­low SAALT on Twit­ter at @SAALTweets, or con­tact Almas Haider at almas@saalt.org

YLI Reflections: Shifting South Asian Spaces with Sahana

At this moment in the his­to­ry of South Asians in the Unit­ed States, we can­not afford to be com­plic­it. We must mobi­lize in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. The recent detain­ment of immi­grant rights activist leader Ravi Rag­bir demon­strates that those who stand up against injus­tice in our com­mu­ni­ties are the first to be tar­get­ed by this vio­lent, xeno­pho­bic, racist admin­is­tra­tion. We can be remind­ed by Ravi’s release of the pow­er of our com­mu­ni­ties, and the ways in which we can use our bod­ies, minds, and priv­i­lege to resist oppres­sive regimes like the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion.

At the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI), I learned about the resilience of South Asian and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties. For over a cen­tu­ry, Mus­lim and Sikh com­mu­ni­ties in the Unit­ed States, as well as in South Asia, have been sur­veilled and tar­get­ed by Islam­o­pho­bic and anti-Sikh insti­tu­tions. South Asian fem­i­nist facil­i­ta­tors like Dr. Maha Hilal, Darak­shan Raja, and Noor Mir remind­ed me of the impor­tance of inter­sec­tion­al work that cen­ters the community’s most mar­gin­al­ized groups and inter­ro­gates all sys­tems of pow­er.

Despite what mis­lead­ing data on Asian & Pacif­ic Islanders in the Unit­ed States sug­gest, South Asians are an incred­i­bly diverse group of peo­ple with a mul­ti­tude of posi­tion­al­i­ties. South Asians need not be homoge­nous to stand, work, and fight in sol­i­dar­i­ty with one anoth­er. Rather, we must do the labor of lis­ten­ing and under­stand­ing each oth­ers’ unique expe­ri­ences and his­to­ries in order to be a true com­mu­ni­ty.

For my YLI project, I focused my ener­gies on build­ing South Asian spaces on my col­lege cam­pus, the Clare­mont Col­leges, ded­i­cat­ed inter­sec­tion­al South Asian activism. Four years ago, there was no space on cam­pus for South Asians to explore ques­tions of iden­ti­ty and posi­tion­al­i­ty in mean­ing­ful ways. Because of the tire­less efforts of a sin­gle South Asian stu­dent, Jin­cy Varugh­ese, a one-per­son com­mit­tee called Desi Table was cre­at­ed just three years ago. Since then, SAMP, a men­tor­ship pro­gram for South Asian first-years and trans­fers has launched, and the Com­mit­tee for South Asian Voic­es (for­mer­ly Desi Table) has put on sev­er­al events, now with 10 devot­ed mem­bers. Genealo­gies like this one inspired me to con­tin­ue push­ing this work for­ward for my YLI project.

This year, the Com­mit­tee for South Asian Voic­es has put on events to explore queer South Asian sto­ries, the caste sys­tem and the Indi­an state, NGOiza­tion and gen­der in India, the Rohingya refugee cri­sis, Indo-Caribbean his­to­ries, pro­cess­ing South Asians in media, dias­poric his­to­ries, and inter­per­son­al vio­lence in South Asian com­mu­ni­ties. Along­side the depart­ment for Fem­i­nist Gen­der Sex­u­al­i­ty Stud­ies at Scripps Col­lege, Equal­i­ty Labs, and sev­er­al oth­er cam­pus groups and depart­ments, Pro­fes­sor Piya Chat­ter­jee and I were able to bring Dalit rights activist Cyn­thia Stephen to cam­pus. Cynthia’s vis­it was an incred­i­ble inter­ven­tion to push all of us to think more deeply about Brah­man­i­cal patri­archy, Dalit-Black sol­i­dar­i­ties, and the con­stant resis­tance of Dalit peo­ple. Cynthia’s vis­it was part of her Dalit His­to­ry Month tour, coor­di­nat­ed in part­ner­ship with Then­mozhi Soundarara­jan of Equal­i­ty Labs. For our final two work­shops of the year, we part­nered with South Asian Net­work (SAN), an orga­ni­za­tion com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing cru­cial ser­vices for South Asians in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and to cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ty spaces.

Inspired by the work of Jaha­jee Sis­ters, the Alliance of South Asians Tak­ing Action, Desis Ris­ing Up & Mov­ing, and so many oth­ers, we are fol­low­ing in deep tra­di­tions of South Asian activism in the Unit­ed States. When­ev­er I feel lost or won­der why I do this work, his­to­ries of South Asian resis­tance remind me that I am right where I belong, with­in and along­side com­mu­ni­ty.

To learn more about Equal­i­ty Labs, click here.
To learn more about South Asian Net­work, click here.
To learn more about ASATA, click here.
To learn more about DRUM, click here.

***
The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect the offi­cial pol­i­cy or posi­tion of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT). South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) is a nation­al, non­par­ti­san, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that fights for racial jus­tice and advo­cates for the civ­il rights of all South Asians in the Unit­ed States. Our ulti­mate vision is dig­ni­ty and full inclu­sion for all.

YLI 2018–2019 FAQ

Fre­quent­ly Asked Ques­tions | Young Lead­ers Insti­tute 2018- 2019

What is SAALT?

South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) is a nation­al, non­par­ti­san, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that fights for racial jus­tice and advo­cates for the civ­il rights of all South Asians in the Unit­ed States. Our ulti­mate vision is dig­ni­ty and full inclu­sion for all.

SAALT is the only nation­al, staffed South Asian orga­ni­za­tion that advo­cates around issues affect­ing South Asian com­mu­ni­ties through a social jus­tice frame­work. SAALT’s strate­gies include advo­cat­ing for just and equi­table pub­lic poli­cies at the nation­al and local lev­el; strength­en­ing grass­roots South Asian orga­ni­za­tions as cat­a­lysts for com­mu­ni­ty change; and inform­ing and influ­enc­ing the nation­al dia­logue on trends impact­ing our com­mu­ni­ties. To learn more about SAALT, please vis­it www.saalt.org.

What is the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute?

SAALT’s Young Lead­ers Insti­tute is a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty for 15–20 young lead­ers in the US to explore issues that affect South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties; engage in peer exchange; hone lead­er­ship skills; and learn strate­gies and approach­es to social change. The 2017–2018 Insti­tute will be the sixth time this annu­al lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­gram will be host­ed by SAALT.

Who can apply for the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute?

U.S. under­grad­u­ate stu­dents and oth­er young adults 17–22 years of age inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing change among South Asian Amer­i­cans on their cam­pus­es or in their com­mu­ni­ties. SAALT wel­comes appli­ca­tions from young lead­ers who are not enrolled in aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions. We also accept appli­cants from all types of aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions includ­ing uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges, com­mu­ni­ty col­leges, voca­tion­al train­ings, etc. Appli­ca­tions of young adults who are old­er and/or in grad­u­ate school will also be accept­ed and con­sid­ered.

Why is the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute impor­tant?

SAALT is com­mit­ted to the lead­er­ship devel­op­ment and sup­port of young adults as agents of pro­gres­sive change among South Asians in the US. The Insti­tute encour­ages par­tic­i­pants to explore their cur­rent lead­er­ship qual­i­ties, chal­lenge them­selves to evolve their lead­er­ship skills, learn from fel­low young lead­ers, and com­mit to advanc­ing social jus­tice in real ways on their cam­pus and in their com­mu­ni­ty.

What is the 2018–2019 theme?

The 2018–2019 Young Lead­ers Insti­tute theme is “Com­mu­ni­ty Defense.” Since our last elec­tion cycle, com­mu­ni­ties of col­or across the U.S. have expe­ri­enced an increase in anti-immi­grant and racial vio­lence. Poli­cies have been enact­ed that remove Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) for over 300,000 indi­vid­u­als, includ­ing Nepal; end the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pro­gram plac­ing 800,000 young immi­grants, includ­ing at least 23,000 Indi­an and Pak­istani youth, in uncer­tain sta­tus; increased “silent raids” against immi­grants; and ban immi­gra­tion from sev­er­al Mus­lim major­i­ty coun­tries. The poli­cies are fueled by as well as encour­age vio­lence against those most vul­ner­a­ble to their impact, par­tic­u­lar­ly South Asians.

As we enter the midterm elec­tion cycle, our com­mu­ni­ties are expect­ed to expe­ri­ence a surge in anti-immi­grant poli­cies and hate vio­lence. Those most vul­ner­a­ble with­in the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty include work­ing class, undoc­u­ment­ed, Mus­lim, Sikh, and caste oppressed groups. It is imper­a­tive to learn from our expe­ri­ences of not just the past elec­tion cycle but the long stand­ing his­to­ry of racism and xeno­pho­bia in the U.S. We must cre­ate com­mu­ni­ty defense sys­tems through civic engage­ment that at the heart pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ty from harm and depor­ta­tion from this coun­try. It must antic­i­pate needs as well as incor­po­rate long term and short term offen­sive strate­gies.

The 2018–2019 cohort will iden­ti­fy strate­gies and craft projects to sup­port those high­ly impact­ed at their aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions and/or local South Asian com­mu­ni­ties. We encour­age projects that cen­ter and uplift undoc­u­ment­ed, work­ing class and poor, Mus­lim, Sikh, and caste oppressed groups. All projects should also incor­po­rate a civic engage­ment and social media cam­paign com­po­nent.

What is civic engage­ment?

The Insti­tute theme folds in a crit­i­cal civic engage­ment com­po­nent. Civic engage­ment is defined for the cur­rent pur­pos­es by an inter­est and will­ing­ness by indi­vid­u­als, res­i­dents, and con­stituents to engage with deci­sion-mak­ers, stake­hold­ers, and peers (appoint­ed and elect­ed, cam­pus-based and exter­nal) as well as deci­sion-mak­ing process­es to make their voic­es, opin­ions, and pri­or­i­ties heard. Civic engage­ment is not lim­it­ed to or pred­i­cat­ed upon activ­i­ties or efforts that involve vot­ing or the vot­ing process, or U.S. cit­i­zens (who are gen­er­al­ly, apart from some excep­tions, the only indi­vid­u­als who can vote in the U.S.). At its essence, civic engage­ment is defined as indi­vid­u­als who choose to orga­nize them­selves and oth­ers toward col­lec­tive action to weigh in, engage, and voice their opin­ions on how to address press­ing issues that need to be improved, repli­cat­ed, or addressed in their com­mu­ni­ty.

For the pur­pos­es of cam­pus-based projects around address­ing and build­ing com­mu­ni­ty defense sys­tems in South Asian and cam­pus com­mu­ni­ties, civic engage­ment can involve a vari­ety of actions. Please note, the fol­low­ing are exam­ples only. Appli­cants are encour­aged to sub­mit their own inno­v­a­tive and cre­ative project ideas, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to projects that pro­mote civic engage­ment through art!

  • Orga­niz­ing stu­dents to part­ner with local com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions on prob­lem­at­ic local, state, or nation­al poli­cies crim­i­nal­iz­ing immi­grants and peo­ple who are undoc­u­ment­ed.
  • Build­ing coali­tion with stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions of col­or to estab­lish an Equi­ty Advi­sor posi­tion in stu­dent gov­ern­ment that works with the admin­is­tra­tion to cre­ate and imple­ment equi­table poli­cies and prac­tices on cam­pus.
  • Rais­ing con­cerns with the cam­pus admin­is­tra­tion and shift­ing insti­tu­tion­al prac­tices and cam­pus police com­pli­ance with poli­cies that dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get immi­grants and peo­ple who are undoc­u­ment­ed.
  • Train stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions to sup­port immi­grant and undoc­u­ment­ed peers in cri­sis and build cam­pus coali­tions to sup­port insti­tu­tion­al cul­ture change.
  • Orga­niz­ing a speak-out for stu­dents to voice how they see anti-immi­grant and xeno­pho­bic prac­tices & sen­ti­ment man­i­fest on their cam­pus­es and in the actions of admin­is­tra­tors.
  • Orga­niz­ing let­ter-writ­ing or post­card cam­paigns in sup­port of incar­cer­at­ed immi­grants, par­tic­u­lar­ly those detained by Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE).
  • Host­ing forums/ town halls for cam­pus com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to share their expe­ri­ences of aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tion poli­cies that are anti-immi­grant and dis­cuss how to advo­cate for change.
  • Advo­cate for and estab­lish a sup­port cen­ter for immi­grant and undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents.
  • Sup­port­ing local orga­niz­ing efforts to insti­tute leg­is­la­tion that advances immi­grant jus­tice such as hate-free zones, anti-racist train­ing for law enforce­ment, and pro­hi­bi­tions on racial pro­fil­ing. A strong exam­ple from with­in our NCSO is DRUM (Desis Ris­ing Up and Mov­ing) sup­port­ing the cre­ation of Hate Free Zones, build­ing rela­tion­ships between indi­vid­u­als, orga­ni­za­tions, and busi­ness­es to “defend com­mu­ni­ties from work­place raids, depor­ta­tions, mass crim­i­nal­iza­tion, vio­lence, and sys­temic vio­la­tion of [their] rights and dig­ni­ty.”
  • Cre­ate a cam­pus wide artis­tic dis­play that address­es an anti-immi­grant pol­i­cy spe­cif­ic to your insti­tu­tion.

Note: Com­pet­i­tive appli­ca­tions will reflect detailed project pro­pos­als that include iden­ti­fy­ing cam­pus or com­mu­ni­ty groups that work with South Asian and/or oth­er mar­gin­al­ized immi­grant pop­u­la­tions and devel­op a strat­e­gy for a civic engage­ment project in col­lab­o­ra­tion with that group.

How does the Insti­tute work?

The Young Lead­ers Insti­tute requires full par­tic­i­pa­tion in the fol­low­ing com­mit­ments:

  • On-site 3‑day inten­sive train­ing in the Wash­ing­ton, DC metro area on July 25–27, 2018
  • Cre­ation of a project address­ing com­mu­ni­ty defense through civic engage­ment on your cam­pus or in your com­mu­ni­ty that meet spe­cif­ic education/awareness and social change objec­tives
  • Com­ple­tion of cam­pus or com­mu­ni­ty projects by April 30, 2019
  • Month­ly group report-back, peer exchange, and sup­port calls (August–November; February–April)
  • Com­ple­tion of writ­ten report-back, pro­gram eval­u­a­tion, and addi­tion­al request­ed mate­ri­als

What is your grad­u­a­tion pol­i­cy?

Par­tic­i­pants must be able to com­mit to and ful­fill all above require­ments in order to grad­u­ate from the Insti­tute. Par­tic­i­pants who com­plete all require­ments will be con­sid­ered 2018–2019 Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­lows and have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to fur­ther engage with SAALT’s work.

SAALT rec­og­nizes that many young lead­ers have work, fam­i­ly, and oth­er impor­tant oblig­a­tions that may be con­nect­ed to income, health, and so forth. SAALT is com­mit­ted to work­ing with each young leader accept­ed into the pro­gram to sup­port their ful­fill­ment of com­mit­ments or to work togeth­er on alter­na­tives in the event of exten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances.

Why do I want to be a 2018–2019 Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low?

Par­tic­i­pants will devel­op lead­er­ship skills; under­stand key issues affect­ing South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties in a social change con­text; and con­nect their cam­pus and com­mu­ni­ty with South Asian orga­ni­za­tions and lead­ers. A few exam­ples of the work of fel­lows after grad­u­at­ing from the Insti­tute:

  • Served as an Ameri­Corps Pub­lic Allies pro­gram at the Flori­da Immi­grant Coali­tion
  • Served as a sum­mer intern at SAALT and var­i­ous South Asian orga­ni­za­tions
  • Orga­nized cam­pus work­ers to fight for liv­ing wages
  • Orga­nized a mul­ti-lin­gual health resource fair for  immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers
  • Host­ed an arts show­case uplift­ing immi­grant nar­ra­tives
  • Com­plet­ed an anthol­o­gy high­light­ing the expe­ri­ences of queer Desis in the US

How does the Insti­tute sup­port diver­si­ty?

The 2018 Insti­tute encour­ages appli­cants diverse in eth­nic­i­ty, coun­try of ori­gin, immi­gra­tion sta­tus, socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus, caste, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­ti­ty, abil­i­ty, and reli­gion.

How much does this cost? What does SAALT pro­vide?

SAALT will pro­vide the fol­low­ing to accept­ed can­di­dates:

  • Round trip air, train, or bus fare to the July 25–27 on-site train­ing. Mode of trans­porta­tion will depend on your depar­ture point and will be cho­sen by SAALT (round-trip fare is restrict­ed to trav­el­ing from a city to DC and return­ing to the same city).
  • Hotel accom­mo­da­tion (shared room) for the nights of July 25, 26, and 27
  • On-site train­ing from July 25–27
  • Break­fast, lunch, and din­ner on July 25 and 26; break­fast and lunch on July 27
  • Month­ly group calls for report backs, peer exchange, and sup­port
  • All oth­er expens­es, such as pub­lic trans­porta­tion and taxi fares, addi­tion­al meals or activ­i­ties, and extend­ed hotel stay are the participant’s respon­si­bil­i­ty

How do I apply? What is the appli­ca­tion dead­line?

Inter­est­ed appli­cants should review infor­ma­tion about SAALT, the Insti­tute, and com­plete an appli­ca­tion.

All appli­ca­tions should:

  • Record respons­es direct­ly into the Word doc­u­ment appli­ca­tion
  • Be sub­mit­ted as one PDF doc­u­ment
  • Saved as “Name of Applicant_2018YLIApplication”

Sub­mit com­plet­ed appli­ca­tions to Almas Haider at almas@saalt.org by May 29th, 2018.

Only final can­di­dates will be con­tact­ed direct­ly. If you have any ques­tions regard­ing YLI or your appli­ca­tion before May 25th, 2018, con­tact almas@saalt.org or 301.270.1855.

What does a com­pet­i­tive appli­ca­tion look like?

A com­pet­i­tive appli­ca­tion will demon­strate:

  • An inter­est in effect­ing pro­gres­sive change on a col­lege cam­pus or com­mu­ni­ty.
  • Reflect a com­mit­ment to build­ing com­mu­ni­ty defense sys­tems through civic engage­ment in the South Asian Amer­i­can and ally com­mu­ni­ty.
  • Include ideas about real­is­tic, scaled projects to enact this change and have the ini­tia­tive, com­mit­ment, and resource­ful­ness to imple­ment those ideas.
  • Include a social media cam­paign and/or com­po­nent in their project plan.
  • A will­ing­ness to share expe­ri­ences and learn­ing from train­ers and peers.
  • Seek to con­nect their projects with a mem­ber orga­ni­za­tion of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions (NCSO) wher­ev­er pos­si­ble. SAALT does real­ize that because capac­i­ty and South Asian pop­u­la­tions vary great­ly across the coun­try, an NCSO orga­ni­za­tion may not be in or near an applicant’s city of res­i­dence and will take this into account.

Appli­ca­tion for the 2018–19 Young Lead­ers Insti­tute is now closed. Check back for more updates soon.

YLI Reflections: Combating Islamophobia with Rupa Palanki

My high school his­to­ry teacher, quot­ing Mark Twain, often said, “His­to­ry doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” For cen­turies in the Unit­ed States, minor­i­ty groups, rang­ing from East­ern Euro­pean immi­grants to Japan­ese Amer­i­cans, have faced dis­crim­i­na­tion from more estab­lished pop­u­la­tions due to a sense of “oth­er­ness” that they are invari­ably per­ceived to dis­sem­i­nate. This has result­ed in dark chap­ters of his­to­ry in a nation that prides itself as “the home of the free and the brave.” The recent rise in hatred against Mus­lims is just anoth­er iter­a­tion of the same sto­ry.

With the 9/11 attacks hap­pen­ing only three years after I was born, life, as I know it, has includ­ed a con­stant under­cur­rent of back­lash in the Unit­ed States against Mus­lims. At present, the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to relent­less­ly engage in anti-Mus­lim rhetoric and news head­lines con­tin­ue to blame Islam for select acts of vio­lence per­pet­u­at­ing false, neg­a­tive per­cep­tions of the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty. At school and in my city, I have per­son­al­ly wit­nessed how lack of a nuanced under­stand­ing breeds big­otry and dis­crim­i­na­tion. Many peo­ple in my home­town in Alaba­ma have nev­er left the state or inter­act­ed with Mus­lims before, and their bias towards Mus­lims stems from stereo­types that have been per­pe­trat­ed over gen­er­a­tions. And often at col­lege, I am the first South Asian Amer­i­can that my peers have con­versed with for an extend­ed peri­od of time, lead­ing them to ask ques­tions about my cul­ture, reli­gion, and lan­guage or mis­tak­en­ly iden­ti­fy­ing me as Mus­lim instead of Hin­du.

Because of this per­son­al expo­sure to islam­o­pho­bia, I devel­oped a desire to bet­ter under­stand the phe­nom­e­non and to equip myself to com­bat it with­in my com­mu­ni­ty. This, in part, was what moti­vat­ed me to apply for SAALT’s Young Lead­ers’ Insti­tute last sum­mer. Dur­ing the train­ing in Wash­ing­ton D.C., I devel­oped the orga­ni­za­tion­al and lead­er­ship tools nec­es­sary to car­ry out effec­tive change. Speak­ers like Noor Mir and Deepa Iyer shared fas­ci­nat­ing insights on dif­fer­ent aspects of islam­o­pho­bia that rein­forced the impor­tance of under­stand­ing it in the con­text of insti­tu­tion­al­ized racism like anti-black­ness and colo­nial­ism, as well as pro­vid­ed mean­ing­ful insights on the resilience and sol­i­dar­i­ty nec­es­sary to work in the social jus­tice field. I appre­ci­at­ed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet activists and stu­dent lead­ers from oth­er col­leges and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss the speci­fici­ty of our expe­ri­ences as South Asian Amer­i­cans. I had nev­er real­ly had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore my iden­ti­ty as a South Asian Amer­i­can so exten­sive­ly before.

This pro­pelled me to begin to shape my own project that I car­ried out over the course of the aca­d­e­m­ic year to work against bias­es with­in my col­lege com­mu­ni­ty. This spring, I worked in con­junc­tion with oth­er South Asia Soci­ety mem­bers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia to plan a Sym­po­sium for Aware­ness of South Asian Issues (SASAI), a week-long inter­col­le­giate con­fer­ence to cre­ate aware­ness for social jus­tice issues and to encour­age activism in its many facets. The week’s events includ­ed a keynote address from 2014 Miss Amer­i­ca Nina Davu­luri, a fundrais­er for a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion fight­ing mal­nu­tri­tion in South Asia, and a series of dis­cus­sions cov­er­ing social issues like islam­o­pho­bia. With a mix of both fun cul­tur­al pro­gram­ming and deep polit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tions, SASAI encour­aged par­tic­i­pa­tion not only from a diverse range of South Asians but through­out the minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty at Penn. By the end of the week, we found it inspir­ing to see that our efforts to make our cam­pus a more inclu­sive space for all were reward­ed.

Pho­tos from the aware­ness sym­po­sium Rupa helped orga­nize in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia.

As the incred­i­bly pas­sion­ate, intel­li­gent, and social­ly con­scious indi­vid­u­als that made up my Young Lead­ers’ Insti­tute cohort car­ry out their projects over the course of this year, I hope to see vis­i­ble change with­in the com­mu­ni­ties that they tar­get, just as I hope that my actions have spurred. How­ev­er, our work can­not be done alone. As Pres­i­dent Oba­ma notably wrote in his final mes­sage to the Amer­i­can peo­ple as Com­man­der in Chief, “Amer­i­ca is not the project of any one per­son. The sin­gle most pow­er­ful word in our democ­ra­cy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the Peo­ple.’ ‘We shall over­come.’” Together, we must push forward the fight against islamophobia, for this is not a matter of one culture or religion or language or social class; it is a struggle for achieving equality for all people.

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The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect the offi­cial pol­i­cy or posi­tion of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT). South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) is a nation­al, non­par­ti­san, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that fights for racial jus­tice and advo­cates for the civ­il rights of all South Asians in the Unit­ed States. Our ulti­mate vision is dig­ni­ty and full inclu­sion for all.