Everything is Bigger in Texas: Sonia Kotecha

SAALT Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Deepa Iyer, trav­eled to Austin, Texas in Jan­u­ary to engage with the local Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. She par­tic­i­pat­ed in events such as a Brown Bag dis­cus­sion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin, a Repub­lic Day event spon­sored by the Indi­an Amer­i­can Coali­tion of Texas, and a com­mu­ni­ty round­table discussion.

Below is a blog post by Sonia Kotecha, SAALT mem­ber and Austin-based com­mu­ni­ty leader, reflect­ing on the com­mu­ni­ty roundtable.

We like to say every­thing is big­ger in Texas includ­ing the grow­ing Asian Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion. In Austin, the cap­i­tal of Texas, the Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty makes up around 6% of the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion with South Asians mak­ing up one the largest Asian sub­groups. City of Austin demog­ra­ph­er, Ryan Robin­son, pre­dicts that by 2015, the Asian pop­u­la­tion in Austin will sur­pass the African Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion becom­ing the sec­ond largest minor­i­ty group after His­pan­ics. In the spring of 2013, the City of Austin will open the first ever Asian Amer­i­can Resource Cen­ter. As our com­mu­ni­ty grows and diver­si­fies so does our need to mobi­lize, unite and build sol­i­dar­i­ty. So last week­end we called upon SAALT (South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er) to facil­i­tate an ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion through a com­mu­ni­ty round­table on how best to uti­lize our exist­ing resources and the resources of SAALT to ele­vate our voic­es and empow­er us to more effec­tive­ly engage in our local community.

Although many of us in the com­mu­ni­ty see each oth­er on a reg­u­lar basis and col­lab­o­rate on pro­gram­ming from time to time, the round­table was an oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to step back and reflect on the strengths and needs of our com­mu­ni­ty. It was help­ful to have SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Deepa Iyer, serve as our facil­i­ta­tor – as an out­sider look­ing in. Over 25 peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing var­i­ous seg­ments and sec­tors of the Austin com­mu­ni­ty attend­ed the roundtable.

Through the process of iden­ti­fy­ing our com­mu­ni­ty assets, issues and gaps, I was impressed at how far advanced we were in hav­ing estab­lished net­works and an infra­struc­ture of strong cul­tur­al, social and polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions. The list of com­mu­ni­ty assets in the room far exceed­ed the list of issues and gaps that were addressed. Need­less to say, we all agreed that there are many in our com­mu­ni­ty who are dis­en­fran­chised and their voic­es often go unheard.

We iden­ti­fied sev­er­al oppor­tu­ni­ties to improve our out­reach and engage those we defined as ‘invis­i­ble’ seg­ments of our Asian com­mu­ni­ty (i.e. seniors, refugees, low-income gas station/convenient store clerks). Sev­er­al strate­gies includ­ed con­duct­ing a work­shop using exist­ing SAALT mate­r­i­al on “Know­ing Your Rights & Respon­si­bil­i­ties” for new immi­grants and refugees in places of wor­ship, host­ing “Asian Com­mu­ni­ty 101” infor­ma­tion ses­sions for city/county gov­ern­ment agen­cies includ­ing law enforce­ment, and devel­op­ing a polit­i­cal lead­er­ship edu­ca­tion pro­gram to encour­age more civic par­tic­i­pa­tion of Asian Amer­i­cans in city/county government.

The ideas that came out of our round­table were con­crete and attain­able. SAALT has the resources and train­ing mate­ri­als and the indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ed at the round­table have the con­nec­tions and capac­i­ty to exe­cute. It is my hope that we con­tin­ue to build on the syn­er­gy from the round­table and con­tin­ue to meet quar­ter­ly. My biggest take away from the event was pride in Austin’s Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. Giv­en our exist­ing foun­da­tion, we can only go big­ger – Texas size – in our pur­suit to cul­ti­vate a more inclu­sive and just society.