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South Asian Summit discusses issues since 9/11

April 15
02:35 2011

SAALT team members with Congresswoman Chu at the SAALT Summit

NEW YORK: Over 250 South Asians gathered to speak out, raise awareness, and collectively brainstorm solutions against growing xenophobia and discrimination in the United States, at the third national South Asian Summit 2011, hosted by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) in Washington, DC April 1-4.

At a community briefing on the impact of September 11th (2001) on South Asian communities, community members and policy experts shared personal stories and policy recommendations about the continuing impact of the post-9/11 backlash.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), joined the briefing to provide closing remarks. She said, “It is so important for you to be at the Capitol at this time as we approach the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. It is so important for you to be here to fight against the worst policies that occurred due to 9/11 but also to ensure that even more egregious hate crimes do not occur as people are reminded of the horrors of that day.”

The briefing capped the national conference, which brought individuals from around the country for a four-day convening that included workshops, discussions, roundtables with federal government agencies and visits with Congressional offices. The briefing was attended by Congressional staffers, advocates, community members and those directly affected by the backlash since 9/11. Speakers included Gurwinder Singh, a student whose bias-based harassment culminated in a violent, physical attack, as well as Linda Sarsour from the National Network of Arab American Communities, who described the troubling rise in xenophobia in the political climate.

Talat Hamdani, from September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, shared her personal experience as the mother of a firefighter who lost his life during the 9/11 tragedy, gave a powerful account of her ordeal following the attacks, especially during a time when her son, a 9/11 hero, was wrongfully accused of being a terrorist.

“Nine years ago, I lost my son, I lost my faith because of those hijackers, and now we are [under threat] to lose our nationality, our identity as Americans. And that’s what we are fighting for… Since 9/11, American Muslims… have been involved since day one. We are at the frontlines fighting terrorism.”

Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), echoing these views in a prepared statement, noted that, “Until people stand up and show political leadership, even when it’s hard, we are going to continue this vicious cycle. When Executive Order 9066 was signed, authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans, few in Washington were brave enough to say no. Now decades later, I’m seeing a return to this race prejudice… It is the job of those in Washington, your elected leaders, to recognize the situation, and take that tough stand.”

Following the briefing, participants made visits to Congressional offices to ask their elected representatives to pledge to oppose racial profiling and bias-based bullying.

This year’s Summit was also part of the SAALT’s campaign to mark the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. The campaign – An America for All of Us – launched earlier this year, seeks to include the South Asian perspective in the national dialog about 9/11, and works to mobilize communities to demand accountability from their elected officials by urging them to sign a pledge to protect their constituents against hate and xenophobia. “What we want to do throughout the year is really contribute to the process of reflection that our country is undoubtedly going to be engaged in over the next few months. For South Asian communities, it is so important that we contribute to that process of reflection, adding our voices, stories and experiences,” said Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, SAALT.

ChangeMaker Awards

The Summit kicked off with a ChangeMaker award reception to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on social justice. Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director and co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) and keynote speaker at the ceremony, spoke passionately about the importance of organizing, and fighting for the rights of the working class. “There is no other answer to organized oppression, racism, the xenophobia that we see unfold on a daily basis in this country – there is no other answer to that except organizing,” said Desai, who through the NYTWA, not only led six historic city-wide strikes of taxi drivers in New York fighting for improved labor rights, but also helped raise over $15 million as September 11 disaster aid for drivers.

In the spirit of fighting for the rights of working class, this year’s award honored Luna Ranjit, Executive Director, Adhikaar for Human Rights, a New York-based, direct services and social justice advocacy group that serves Nepali-speaking communities. It also recognized Prerna Lal, a law student at The George Washington University, and co-founder of DreamActivist, who, through online activism in support of the DREAM Act, managed to generate over 8,000 followers on Twitter and more than 70,000 fans on Facebook – all without financial and organizational support. The third awardee was New Jersey-based organization called SAMHAJ, which has done monumental work in breaking barriers and dispelling the stigma of mental health among South Asian communities.

Summit Sessions

The four-day long Summit had two full days of sessions dedicated entirely to issues affecting the growing South Asian population in the United States. From discussing the impact of the Census on the South Asian community, to talking about worker rights, health care policies, and advocacy among others, the Summit collected over 250 individuals, including representatives from 29 organizations, from across the country.

At the Summit’s plenary session community members and organizers shared their experiences in working with the community and spoke about some of the positive changes that have come through in the 10 years since 9/11 – the major one being the fact the many organizations that may not have collaborated in the past, are coming together to respond to the challenges facing communities. An example was the Sikh community, building alliance with the LGBT community to collectively unite and fight against bullying at school. Another example is domestic violence organizations finding allies with immigrant rights groups to address the issue of alienation and fear.

India Post News Service

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