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.