It’s been five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office. We wanted to take this opportunity to reflect back on the past five years and look forward to many more. I’ll be putting up entries from SAALT staff and Board as well as past interns and staff.
From Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of SAALT:
“Has it been five years already? When we opened our first office in New York City, just a few blocks from Penn Station, in a rented space at Citizens NYC, I was hopeful but unsure about what the first five years would hold. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of a number of people, including staff (current and former), Board members, interns, volunteers, and donors, we have been able to build a strong foundation for a national organization. When I started at SAALT five years ago, I was very sensitive to the model that we would create — how could we develop a national organization that would be informed by the experiences of people who were facing inequity on a daily basis? It took years of trust-building, conversations, a bit of struggle, flexibility, and faith for the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations to emerge, and for SAALT to have a meaningful presence at policy tables.
In many ways, I think of another anniversary that is coming up — the ten year anniversary of September 11th. I remember in the days and months after 9/11, wondering how our community would be able to weather the unprecedented backlash, immigration enforcement tactics, and profiling that we faced. At that point in time, there was no formal network, no real ties that organizations had to one another. As we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the community feels stronger, more connected, a bit more cohesive. If SAALT has had a part in that, I think we have achieved quite a lot! Here’s to the next five years!”
From Aparna Kothary, our former Development and Fundraising VISTA (2007–2009):
“I started working at SAALT right after college and it served as my introduction to both the South Asian community and the broader social justice movement. Along the way I met passionate individuals who continue to inspire me to remain engaged in this community, the non-profit sector, and the movement. I see SAALT continuing to serve as a hub for the Souh Asian community through the NCSO, local capacity-building, and policy work. It is also my hope that support from the community increases over the next five years through membership and involvement.”
From Priya Murthy, our Policy Director:
“I first got involved with SAALT almost four years ago as part of the Be the Change national day of service. Handing out know your rights brochures to taxi cab drivers at Union Station in Washington, DC, I knew that this was a progressive South Asian organization that I wanted to be a part of. Over the past few years, SAALT has made a tremendous impact on my life. It has meant connecting with a diverse and strong South Asian community as we advocate for policy change. It has meant being inspired by the tireless work that local organizations and community leaders do everyday. It has meant working with fierce allies from other communities as we strive for immigrant and civil rights. As our community grows in the next five years (as I’m sure it will!), I am excited to see where SAALT will go in working with the community and fostering a space for South Asian empowerment.”
Continuing our series commemorating the fifth anniversary of the opening of SAALT’s first staffed office, let’s hear from two SAALT Board members, Lavanya Sithanandam and Anouska Cheddie (respectively).
“Five years ago SAALT opened its first office and hired staff in New York City. In that short time, SAALT has grown tremendously. My involvement with SAALT began during those same five years, and what this organization has given me is invaluable. SAALT has provided me with the inspiration and the tools to speak up as a physician activist, advocating on behalf of immigrants both inside and outside of my medical practice. I continue to be inspired and motivated by the hard work of the staff, the dedication of the NCSO members, and the vision of the organization. I feel confident that SAALT will continue its wonderful work over the next five years and will become an even stronger voice both within and outside our South Asian community.”
“SAALT is community. It’s about collaboration. SAALT is trust. It’s about participation. SAALT is empowerment. It’s about representation. SAALT is inclusive. It’s about including the diaspora.
With SAALT, I know that local grassroots groups have a national organization that they can work with to ensure our community has a strong progressive voice that is heard in DC and around the country.
This is just the beginning.”
We have more to come from our series commemorating five years since SAALT opened its first staffed office, but I wanted to put in my two cents:
To me, SAALT is where we come together as a community and fight for the change we want, both for ourselves but also in solidarity with other communities-of-struggle. SAALT is an open and inclusive hub that invites the South Asian community, allies and partners to envision a world that is truly free and equitable. Moreover, SAALT is vehicle to help individuals make these lofty aspirations a reality. In five years, I see us doing this with ever more empowered, engaged people. This is only the beginning!
To continue our series celebrating five years since SAALT’s first staffed officed, today we feature Madhur Bansal, SAALT’s Americorps VISTA Development Assitant from 2006 to 2007:
“To me, SAALT represents a collective and progressive voice for South Asians in the US. SAALT offers community members a way to engage directly in civic life and public policy issues. In the next five years, I hope that SAALT continues building support across the country and that it can be the primary national advocate for the South Asian community in public affairs, particularly in the upcoming debate over immigration reform. I also hope that SAALT can expand by reaching even more community members and getting them involved in its work.”
..and from Imrana Khera, former SAALT staff member:
“I can’t believe it’s been five years already–Congratulations! SAALT represents the very diverse South Asian community living in the United States, a challenging job for any organization. SAALT pushes our community forward by advocating for change within a social justice framework. SAALT’s strength is its respectful and effective collaboration with organizations that are working with South Asian community at a local level across the country.
My expectation is that SAALT will continue to grow over the next five years and continue to affect change on behalf of our community — through education, policy, and research — like the award-winning Raising Our Voices DVD, through SAALT townhalls/community forums, and reports like Washington DeSi: South Asians in the Nation’s Capital (July 2009).”
Another set of reflections about the 5 year anniversary of SAALT opening its first staffer office. Now we’re hearing from Imrana Khera, SAALT’s Program Manager from 2004–2005.
“SAALT represents the very diverse South Asian community living in the United States, a challenging job for any organization. SAALT pushes our community forward by advocating for change within a social justice framework. SAALT’s strength is its respectful and effective collaboration with organizations that are working with South Asian community at a local level across the country.
My expectation is that SAALT will continue to grow over the next five years and continue to effect change on behalf of our community — through education, policy, and research — like the award-winning Raising Our Voices DVD, through SAALT townhalls/community forums, and reports like Washington DeSi: South Asians in the Nation’s Capital (July 2009) .”