To brand, or not to brand? — Addressing the MTA’s “turban-branding” policy

Four years ago, Sikh tran­sit work­ers in New York City decid­ed that enough was enough. In response to a “tur­ban-brand­ing” pol­i­cy that required work­ers, both Sikh and Mus­lim, to brand their tur­bans with the Metro­pli­tan Tran­sit Author­i­ty (MTA) logo, Sikh tran­sit work­ers called on the MTA to end this pol­i­cy, deem­ing it an act of reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Fur­ther­more, in 2005, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice found that, over the course of three days, there had been two hun­dred cas­es of MTA employ­ees wear­ing some form of head­dress with­out the logo, includ­ing Yan­kees hats, yaar­mulkes, and a num­ber of win­ter hats in fact issued by the MTA. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice con­se­quent­ly filed a dis­crim­i­na­tion suit against the MTA. Yet for years, this issue has been placed on the back burn­er by city offi­cials.

On Tues­day of last week, a major­i­ty of the New York City Coun­cil final­ly spoke out against the “tur­ban-brand­ing” pol­i­cy. Coun­cil Mem­ber Tony Avel­la said, “It’s time for the City Coun­cil to take action on this mat­ter, and it’s long over­due that the MTA end reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Enough is enough.”

While this issue is being addressed for a small num­ber of Sikhs in New York, it still speaks to a greater issue that many South Asian and Arab indi­vid­u­als in the US face on a day-to-day basis. Even today, the con­cept of reli­gious wear is quite for­eign to Amer­i­can cul­ture. Many do not real­ize that a tur­ban, hijab, or any type of reli­gious wear is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an individual’s spir­i­tu­al life, and is there­fore a very per­son­al and pri­vate enti­ty. Like any arti­cle of faith, it is not some­thing that can just be set aside for appearance’s sake, nev­er mind brand­ed with a cor­po­rate logo.

The law­suit against the MTA has yet to be resolved, and we are hop­ing for an end to this dis­crim­i­na­to­ry pol­i­cy. In the mean­time, it is impor­tant to keep this in a wider con­text and rec­og­nize that if this law­suit goes through, it is a small step in a long jour­ney to address­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against Sikhs and Mus­lims in the Unit­ed States.

Facts and quotes from: New York City Coun­cil Major­i­ty Demands End to MTA’s “Tur­ban-brand­ing” Pol­i­cy from the The Sikh Coali­tion (June 18, 2009)

Poverty in the Asian American Community in New York Featuring SAYA!

NewsAs the reces­sion deep­ens and more and more peo­ple around the coun­try find them­selves job­less or stretched thin eco­nom­i­cal­ly, its impor­tant to high­light how dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties are being affect­ed in dif­fer­ent ways. This excel­lent piece from My9 News (New York) reporter Ti Hua Chang. Chang pro­files Asian Amer­i­cans and South Asians liv­ing at or near the pover­ty lev­el in New York. Many work for long hours for low wages and have lit­tle cush­ion as the econ­o­my wors­ens. More­over, few­er Asian Amer­i­cans use gov­ern­ment ser­vices; one of the star­tling facts Chang men­tions is that while Asian Amer­i­cans make up 12% of the city’s pop­u­la­tion, they recieve about 1% of the gov­ern­ment or pri­vate fund­ing. From seniors iso­lat­ed to their apart­ments to the Bangladeshi man work­ing two jobs to build a bet­ter future for his chil­dren, the sto­ries are uni­form­ly heart­break­ing and under­score how these com­mu­ni­ties are suf­fer­ing. The Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of an NCSO part­ner SAYA!, Annet­ta Seecha­ran, speaks to the impor­tance of invest­ing in these com­mu­ni­ties and help­ing them build more secure futures. Check the video out at <http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?et=1102477092076&e=001aIe-v1SY2wJtz3gLloLGdx1EKmzkq4MLylD-QY-vhvtPm4PpNI1fizuFNK7DJ9xNvqE7uIqAHfOuwQFZfhlGgbyZXU4mMQErjoOS5BY3c6v1VRiakPRE5d8nicqHS-RMP1dq69Qg8mw=>

What you need to know before you buy a home …

Have you thought about buy­ing a home? Do you know what home equi­ty is? Are you won­der­ing what your cred­it score is? I have to con­fess that I know very lit­tle about the process of buy­ing a home and have been intim­i­dat­ed by it because all that I heard from fam­i­ly mem­bers and friends was about how stress­ful it was!

For­tu­nate­ly, when I was in Queens, NY last week, I was lucky enough to par­tic­i­pate in work­shop pre­sent­ed by Chhaya CDC called “The Road to Home­own­er­ship: Your Rights, Risks, and Rewards.” This very empow­er­ing and acces­si­ble work­shop demys­ti­fied what it means to buy a home and how you go about doing it. Right then and there, my ques­tions were answered and the process was bro­ken down for me. This work­shop is a part of a series that cov­ers var­i­ous relat­ed top­ics such as whether home­own­er­ship is right for you, finan­cial and cred­it basics, ana­lyz­ing whether you can afford a mort­gage, and how to avoid preda­to­ry lenders. These work­shops are par­tic­u­lar­ly time­ly, giv­en the recent fore­clo­sure cri­sis that has affect­ed many Amer­i­cans and has brought up ques­tions about how exact­ly the home­buy­ing process works in the U.S. If you’re in the New York City area and inter­est­ed in attend­ing one of these work­shops, vis­it Chhaya CDC’s web­site or email them at info@chhayacdc.org.

Chhaya CDC is an orga­ni­za­tion based in Queens that address­es and advo­cates for the hous­ing and com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment needs of South Asian Amer­i­cans in New York City. They pro­vide indi­vid­u­al­ized home­own­er­ship and finan­cial coun­sel­ing, work on ten­ants’ rights issues, and engage in com­mu­ni­ty out­reach on hous­ing and com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment issues. They also devel­op “know your rights” brochures for the com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing fact­sheet on how to avoid fore­clo­sure res­cue scams (avail­able in Eng­lish and Bangla).

One “Be the Change” Volunteer’s Experience Registering Voters in NY

Read this post from Parth Savla, Be the Change Vol­un­teer in New York City:

On Oct 4, I had the plea­sure of par­tic­i­pat­ing in SAALT’s Be The Change event by vol­un­teer­ing with Chhaya CDC, locat­ed in Queens, NY on their Vot­er Reg­is­tra­tion dri­ve.  It was a great a expe­ri­ence street can­vass­ing – going up to South Asians and ask­ing them to reg­is­ter to vote.  I was real­ly sur­prised by how many peo­ple were com­pelled to vote for the first time in their lives.  In addi­tion to spread­ing the word about the impor­tance of vot­ing, we were also edu­cat­ing peo­ple on the pub­lic advo­ca­cy work that Chhaya does – pro­vid­ing every­thing from legal ser­vices to grass­roots com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment.


Sup­port­ing the vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, I believe, impact­ed the com­mu­ni­ty on a vari­ety of lev­els.  It enabled those who want to make a dif­fer­ence but don’t know where to go, by pro­vid­ing them access to do so.  Deep down, every­one wants to make a dif­fer­ence and sup­port each oth­er, but are often sti­fled by a lack of knowl­edge in how to do so.  By being out there, it pro­vid­ed greater acces­si­bil­i­ty to folks while help­ing them real­ize that they have cham­pi­ons stand­ing for them. 


Street can­vass­ing, I recall fight­ing my reser­va­tions about going up to one passer­by and say­ing:

“Uncle, have you reg­is­tered to vote for this year’s elec­tion?”

 

“No, I have nev­er vot­ed.  Why would it mat­ter?  I’m only one per­son” he replied in his bro­ken accent.

“Do you have chil­dren, uncle?  Are they in school or look­ing for a good pay­ing job or look­ing to get a loan for a house?”

        “Yes.” 

“Uncle, vot­ing in this year’s elec­tion will enable you to vote for the poli­cies that will not only affect their abil­i­ty to do those things, but also to safe­guard your retire­ment.  I can under­stand that you haven’t vot­ed before, nei­ther had my par­ents before this year,” I said empa­thet­i­cal­ly.

“Oh, I did­n’t know it made that much of a dif­fer­ence,” he said as he filled out the vot­er reg­is­tra­tion form.  Once he was done, he took a few more forms to take back to his fam­i­ly.

        “Thank you young man.”

By see­ing you make a dif­fer­ence, they also get inspired to make a dif­fer­ence!  


I want­ed to par­tic­i­pate in “Be the Change” this year because of see­ing the dif­fer­ence that SAALT had made in our col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts dur­ing our YJA (Young Jains of Amer­i­ca – www.yja.org) Con­ven­tion this past July 4th week­end, and being inspired by the pub­lic advo­ca­cy work they’ve done for the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty.  For SAALT’s “Be the Change” efforts this year, they’ve been able to mobi­lize thou­sands of vol­un­teers nation­wide to sup­port count­less projects for the com­mu­ni­ty.  That’s a pret­ty incred­i­ble feat!I was par­tic­u­lar­ly inspired about their Vot­er Reg­is­tra­tion dri­ve, because this the most impor­tant pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of our life­time.  There are many things at stake from our econ­o­my – being able to get loans for col­lege, to get­ting a good job when enter­ing into the job mar­ket – to edu­ca­tion, to retire­ment ben­e­fits for our par­ents.  Being a South Asian Amer­i­can, it was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak to elders in our com­mu­ni­ty about the impor­tance of vot­ing in this year’s elec­tion and enabling their voic­es to be heard.

I knew that being part this event would not only enable me to make a dif­fer­ence but also meet cool peo­ple who shared a sim­i­lar goal to make a dif­fer­ence.  While one per­son can make a impact, many peo­ple who share a col­lec­tive voice and vision can make an expo­nen­tial impact!

Over 2,000 people volunteer for Be the Change on October 4th!

On Sat­ur­day, Octo­ber 4, 2008- over 2,000 vol­un­teers from around the coun­try par­tic­i­pat­ed in SAALT’s annu­al day of ser­vice, Be the Change. As the Nation­al Be the Change Coor­di­na­tor, it was excit­ing to see many indi­vid­u­als from cities and cam­pus­es around the coun­try involved in this great cause- vol­un­teers from over 40 cities and cam­pus­es par­tic­i­pat­ed nation­wide! Atlanta, Boston, Bay Area, Wash­ing­ton D.C., New York, Philadel­phia, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cen­tral Flori­da, Texas A&M Uni­ver­si­ty- Col­lege Sta­tion and more joined in on this effort!

For the past 5 months, indi­vid­u­als around the coun­try vol­un­teered their time to plan and imple­ment this event in their city or cam­pus. These indi­vid­u­als are a tes­ta­ment to the change occur­ring in the coun­try and their role in Be the Change tru­ly exem­pli­fied Mahat­ma Gandhi’s prin­ci­ple of ‘be the change you wish to see in the world”. Of course, we can’t for­get the won­der­ful vol­un­teers who came out on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing because of their belief in the impor­tance of mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and chang­ing their com­mu­ni­ty.

This year, Be the Change vol­un­teers par­tic­i­pat­ed in activ­i­ties such as revi­tal­iz­ing local parks in East Brunswick, New Jer­sey; pack­ag­ing books for pris­on­ers in Wash­ing­ton, DC; restor­ing the bay in San Fran­cis­co; and work­ing with men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly dis­abled chil­dren in New York and much more.

I would like to chal­lenge every­one to let Be the Change be the first step. I chal­lenge you to let this not be a day of ser­vice but a life of service- whether it be at your cam­pus or uni­ver­si­ty, in your work­place, with your friends or fam­i­ly, by vol­un­teer­ing or by cre­at­ing your own orga­ni­za­tion- I chal­lenge all of you to car­ry on this prin­ci­ple of being the change wher­ev­er you go and in what­ev­er you do. I hope to see you ‘being the change’ for many years to come!

-Ramya Pun­noose, Nation­al Coor­di­na­tor of Be the Change ’08

Are you ready to “Be the Change” on Saturday, October 4th?

SAALT is gear­ing up for Be the Change 2008 and we want­ed to thank all of our plan­ning teams and local vol­un­teers who have worked so hard over the past few months to plan for this nation­al day of ser­vice! Be the Change, for­mer­ly known as the Nation­al Gand­hi Day of Ser­vice, is coor­di­nat­ed by SAALT along with vol­un­teers around the coun­try. This year, we are excit­ed that the event will be held in over 60 cities and cam­pus­es! You can find a full list of the cities and cam­pus­es here.This year’s theme for Be the Change is “Sol­i­dar­i­ty in Ser­vice” and we want to encour­age all of our vol­un­teers to keep this theme in mind when they are vol­un­teer­ing this year. This theme reflects the way com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice can build coali­tions, strength­en rela­tion­ships, and bring about sol­i­dar­i­ty among peo­ple of dif­fer­ent back­grounds.

Exam­ples of ser­vice sites this year include:

Books to Pris­ons: Vol­un­teers will be read­ing let­ters from pris­on­ers, select­ing books that match their request, and pack­ag­ing the books to send the pris­on­ers (Wash­ing­ton DC)

Hands on Atlanta Vol­un­teers will be build­ing wheel­chair ramps, men­tor­ing indi­vid­u­als in com­put­er skills, and more. (Atlanta)

Ronald McDon­ald House: Vol­un­teers will pre­pare a meal for, and serve fam­i­lies whose chil­dren are seri­ous­ly ill and receiv­ing treat­ment at near­by hos­pi­tals. (San Fran­cis­co)

Kids Enjoy Exer­cise Now (KEEN): Vol­un­teers will be con­duct­ing recre­ation­al activ­i­ties for kids in the pro­gram who have are men­tal­ly or phys­i­cal­ly chal­lenged. (New York City)

Boston Health­care for the Home­less: Vol­un­teers will be

 

work­ing with patients by lead­ing activ­i­ties like games, crafts, enter­tain­ment, etc.These are just a mere few ser­vice sites that Be the Change vol­un­teers will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in this year. Stay tuned for an update about how Be the Change went and how you can con­tin­ue your com­mu­ni­ty involve­ment.