A Day Without a South Asian American: Boycott May 1st

All across the country May 1, people will be wearing white shirts and not buying things- That’s right, Monday is the Day Without an Immigrant Boycott. With over 2 million strong, will South Asian Americans make a difference if we all boycotted? A doctor that calls in sick, a taxi worker that stays home, a professor that cancels class? Though not as numerous as other immigrant communities, these days we can be positive that there is a South Asian American representing in almost all lines of business and a boycott by our people will make a mark in a lot of industries.

Choosing May Day for this boycott is significant in itself – it is International Workers Day, and 120 years ago was the mark of bloody riots for workers rights.

In 1884, the U.S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions had passed a law declaring that, as of May 1, 1886, an eight hour workday would be the full and legal workday for all U.S. workers – the administration had that much time to recognize this new law and put into effect. The factory, workplace and corporation owners refused.

On May 1, 1886, workers took to the streets in a general strike throughout the entire country to force the administration to recognize the eight-hour working day. Over 350,000 workers across the country directly participated in the general strike, with hundreds of thousands of workers joining the marches.

In what they would later call the Haymarket riots, during the continuing strike action on May third in Chicago, the epicenter of the U.S. labor movement at that time, the Chicago police opened fire on the unarmed striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works, killing six workers and wounding untold numbers.[link]

May 1st here in Los Angeles, there will be a group of South Asians taking part in the boycott at MacArthur Park at 3:00pm listen for the sounds of the dhol to see where the desis at. I highly encourage you to organize (& post in SM events tab if you do!) your own posse of desis to take part in the activities all across the nation. Take pictures and send them to us. If you are able to take off work or school, please do it on behalf of the rest of the desi immigrants who can’t because a day without work would be too big of a loss. I know we’ve been discussing the debate here for the past few weeks, but it’s because when Congress goes back into session this week, this will be at the top of their agenda. Let’s make sure the South Asian voice is heard in the debate.

Continue reading

The Dark Mark

No, not the kind Voldemort spreads in the sky in eerie green only to have it dissipate without a trace. We are discussing the kind that sticks ugly in people’s minds and in history. Can-do Canada’s past is no stranger to such impressions, no stranger to xenophobia. In the early part of the last century the Canadian government imposed a head tax on all Chinese immigrants that began at $50 in 1885 and increased to $500 by 1903. Out of the around 80, 000 Chinese in Canada who paid that tax, 15, 000 were working to build the Canadian Pacific Railway and around 4000 of them died during construction. The head tax kept families apart for decades, sometimes for good, and kept them in a state of economic depression while they made it possible for goods to travel across Canada’s enormous land mass.

In April, the Chinese Canadian National Council’s mission to gain a formal apology and remuneration for the estates of Chinese-Canadians who paid the tax came closer to status ‘accomplished’. At the end of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s throne speech there was mention of an agenda item concerning a formal apology for Chinese Canadians. This type of dialog has prompted hope among many in the Indo-Canadian community of a similar apology, with possibility of redress, with regard to the Komagata Maru incident:

The Conservative government should issue an apology and compensation to Indo-Canadians over the Komagata Maru incident if it is going to give both to Chinese-Canadians over the head tax paid by Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century, B.C. Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal said… “If the government is going to apologize to one group of Canadians, they should also have a similar line for other groups of Canadians who have suffered discrimination” [Link]

Harper is said to be “looking into the matter”.

The Komagata Maru was carrying passengers who were Sikh by a large majority but the “white, please” immigration policies of the Canadian government at the time saw only brown. Passengers were not allowed to disembark, were left on board for two months in miserable conditions and were ultimately forced to return to India where they were persecuted by the British as participants in the Independence Movement. All because the Canadian government was afraid of some hardworking brown folk. This episode is as much a part of our history as Indian-Canadians as it is a part of Sikh history. Early immigrants to Canada were largely Sikh but they came here as Indians and they were discriminated against as Indians. Continue reading

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

I’ve been informed, via an online quiz, ,that my happiness level is at a solid- average. It is somewhat perplexing, because I like to think that I’m generally a happy-go-lucky, live-life-with-no-regrets kind of a gal. Maybe, I need to move to Bhutan.

The government must consider every policy for its impact not only on Gross Domestic Product, but also on GNH: “Gross National Happiness”… The politics of happiness has led Bhutan to make very different decisions from countries simply searching for wealth. In Bhutan the government puts inner spiritual development on a par with material improvement.. Development has been moderated and people are less well off financially than they could have been. [link]

Amazing. I started picturing an America that would put aside its economically efficient consumerist society and for once, considered the gross happiness of its people. In this ficticious world, Chevron’s profit would not have surged 49% and gas prices for us would be far less than $3.25/gal that is today. Wal-Mart would take some of the $11.2 billion of net profits and provide healthcare to the 775,000 Wal-Mart employees that live without it. I would no longer have college debt hanging over my head. Alas, I think to force government and corporations to think of the gross happiness here would be expecting a little too much.

The idea that politics should be about creating “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” goes back to the end of the 18th century and the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. However, no-one could work out how to measure happiness, or how to weigh one person’s happiness against how other people feel. So economics, which is built on objective measurement, took hold instead. [link]

Bhutan, on the other hand, was able to have a GNH because it is a far smaller nation than the U.S. is; a monarchy, in a remote region, they only started having televisions in 1999, and they only had one traffic light (that is until they took it down because it was making people unhappy). Bhutan has been developing their GNH in interesting ways…

The capital, Thimpu, is remarkable for its lack of advertising. In an attempt to hold back consumerism the city council recently banned hoardings promoting Coke and Pepsi…Recently they banned a number of channels including international wrestling and MTV, which they felt did little to promote happiness…Bhutan has even banned plastic bags and tobacco on the grounds that they make the country less happy…One of the pillars of Bhutan’s happiness philosophy is care for the environment. [link]

The research tells us if we want a happier society, we need to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. It suggests advertising is a major cause of unhappiness because people feel less well-off. Every 10 minutes of commuting cuts all forms of social involvement by 10%. And like there isn’t enough material out there for our parents pushing marriages, “…science of happiness suggests marriage is so good for your well-being that it adds an average seven years to the life of a man and something like four for a woman.”

Thinking about all this was starting to make me feel even more unhappy, and it reminded me of the laughing clubs in India. Laughing clubs are groups of people that get together and laugh as a form of exercise, and there are plenty of them in India.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Saturday55: “The Mercy Seat” Edition

What a week it has been, for printed pages, for brown people, for the Mutiny. Kaavya and Opal, Kaavya and Katie, Kaavya and Megan. The teenager from Harvard turned Mutineers against each other while energizing idiots on Yahoo! to diss desis– there’s nothing like a brown scandal to unleash smug, ignorant racism.

The most important aspect of the whole fustercluck might just be our collective, unexpected education about the process of publishing. For some, this was cause for disillusionment; many of us had indelible visions of a solitary artist, sacrificing themselves to merge imagination and soul in to a pristine, sacred creation. Learning about production companies shocked us in to a deep dismay. Wasn’t it supposed to be about the writing? Has EVERYTHING become a commodity, an image, a focus-group-tested myth? Were books being produced instead of written? Suddenly the idea that words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm is stuck in my head, all to a wistful electronic beat.

Though the vast majority of you were reared better than to admit such things in public, I know that hundreds of you read about “Opal’s” backstory and thought to yourselves, “I could do that. How hard can it be?” Well, why don’t you find out? Leave a concentrated, concise story containing no more than fifty-five words, in the comments below.

Write about whatever you feel like, don’t let my memories of Nick Cave songs force you in to feeling some mercy. If you don’t want to 55 here, leave a link to where we can see your flash fiction elsewhere. You might not get half-a-million dollars, but isn’t the love and appreciation from other Mutineers worth so much more? Continue reading

Driving Miss Desi

Making fun of the driving skills of New York City taxi drivers is an easy snark. In NYC, over 80% of taxi drivers are third world men from countries which are not known for their sedate and obedient styles of driving. Since there are large numbers of brown cabbies (in 1999, 40% of cabbies were from the subcontinent, although that number has probably gone down), this easily turns into a joke about desi drivers. You know, a roll of the eyes, a hand gesture to indicate the erratic path a screeching yellow cab took, etc.

What was that address again? Don’t worry, this is just a shortcut, Amber fort is on the way.

It turns out, however, that riding a cab in New York is considerably safer than being in a private vehicle:

according to … [a recent] study… based on state motor vehicle records of accidents and injuries across the city… taxi and livery-cab drivers have crash rates one-third lower than drivers of other vehicles. [Link]

This is very different from what people think, but it makes sense:

The lower crash rates for cabbies are not so surprising given that taxi drivers are far more experienced than other drivers. They are behind the wheel up to 3,000 hours a year. Their driving records are scrutinized by the Taxi and Limousine Commission and auto insurance carriers. They risk losing their livelihood if they have too many crashes or get too many tickets. [Link]

They’ve also gotten safer over time, as a result of both market forces and government regulation:

crashes declined 12 percent from 2003 to 2004, and 30 percent since 1999. These declines are attributable to the City’s strict ceilings on the number of DMV points drivers can accumulate and improved auto insurance underwriting practices. Cab drivers have also been staying in the industry longer, a significant fact given that less-experienced drivers are more crash-prone. [Link]

Continue reading

Voices Carry

Last week, I took a train from North Podunksburg (where I live and work) to Metropolis (the nearest large conurbation) to attend several days of business meetings there. I was riding with some of my colleagues, and after the conversation had died down and people were looking out the windows, I turned on my mp3 player and zoned out.

You know that moment when you wake from a reverie and you remember where you are, when you realize that you are in one place and not in another? Well, I had a post 9/11 moment, a quick reminder that I wear a turban, “sport” a beard, am graced by almond skin … and that these things mean something different now than they once used to.

I was humming along under my breath, then mouthing the lyrics, then singing along quietly. A Billy Bragg song was on, and these were the words I heard in my ears:

Revenge will bring cold comfort in this darkest hour
As the juke box says ‘It’s All Over Now’
And he stands and he screams
What have I done wrong
I’ve fallen in love with a little time bomb [Link] [Audio: wmv, real]

I had sung, softly and under my breath, but perhaps audible “I’ve fallen in love with a little …” and then I tried hard to swallow the next few words, but I ended up mouthing “… time bomb.” It was my own personal Clash moment, except that the song I was singing had lyrics far worse than “…war is declared and battle come down…”

Continue reading

I Just Play One On TV

Gone are the days where brown skinned actors are typecasted to play the thick accented T-Mobile kid. These days, if you are brown, Hollywood is looking for you to play the role of a terrorist. United 93, the movie about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11, hits the big screens today and The LA Times did a great article on the men that play the terrorists.

As filmmakers tell a number of stories about Sept. 11 and other attacks both real and fictionalized — a rapidly growing list that includes “Munich,” “Syriana,” “Paradise Now” and Friday’s “United 93” — there’s increased demand for young Middle Eastern actors. But directors and their casting agents must convince those actors that their cinematic cause is more noble than that of directors a generation ago, who routinely depicted Arabs as cartoonish, fanatical madmen.

Mazhar Munir from Syriana

When writer-director Stephen Gaghan was casting “Syriana,” his ensemble drama about the political and personal costs of America’s dependence on foreign oil, he struggled to find a young actor of Pakistani descent to play a suicide bomber… “I had found a couple of terrific young actors who simply weren’t allowed by their families to take the part,” Gaghan said. “One young man’s family said he would be cut out of the family” if he accepted the role. He held casting sessions in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Damascus, Bahrain, Dubai and Karachi without success before he finally found Mazhar Munir in London.[link]

I haven’t watched ‘Syriana’ yet, and personally, have absolutely no desire to watch ‘United 93’- just watching the trailer makes me queasy. I can only imagine the conflict that these actors feel, especially when it comes to starring in a film about the events around 9/11, a day that impacted so many people in so many ways around the world.

[T]he actors say they are thankful to be rid of the clichéd Middle Eastern villains of the late 1980s and early 1990s (in films such as “Delta Force,” “Navy Seals,” “Iron Eagle”), who were far more likely to be bearded, wear kaffiyehs and shout Arabic insults than resemble a real person. It was precisely those clichéd depictions that made Abdalla so nervous about trying out for “United 93.”

“The reputation of representing Arabs by Hollywood is a stereotype, and it’s an incredibly hurtful stereotype,” says Abdalla, who was born in Scotland to Egyptian parents… “The idea was to put all of those people on the plane and try as best as we can to tell that story,” Abdalla said of his meeting with the filmmaker. “[United 93] wasn’t to be a film about stereotypes.”

#1 Mutineer Crush


Though playing a terrorist these days tremors actors with trepidation, the role of playing an Iraqi terrorist ex-Republican Guard soldier Lost on an island was one that Naveen Andrews picked. It has served him well as it has now landed him as one of the World’s Most Beautiful People in 2006.

“I feel a sense of responsibility to the Iraqi community and to the Arab world,” Andrews told us…. “I was concerned that the way Sayid was going to be perceived would not be negative or peripheral in any way. The audience is reaching out to the so-called enemy in a way that the government and the media won’t allow them to do.”[link]

If I thought airport security was too constraining for me, I can’t imagine what it must be like for these actors when they go through security. “I’m sorry, officer. But I’m really not a terrorist, I just play one on T.V.”

Continue reading

My Super (Simple) Sweet 16

For my 16th birthday, we had a sheet cake from Sam’s Club, and maybe a couple of balloons. It was small with just family, and a few of my school friends. It wasn’t elaborate, but in those days, we didn’t have MTV to show us how ‘the others’ celebrate their Sweet 16. Maybe that’s why I have a sick, sick obsession with watching MTV’s reality TV show Sweet 16, where in the span of a half an hour segment you see thousands and thousands of dollars being thrown down for a measly birthday. From the SM news tab, we’ve now learned desi teen girls haven’t missed the wrath of this reality TV show either.

…Dr. Srinivasa Rao Kothapalli, a prominent cardiologist in Beaumont, Tex., is more than willing to relinquish his checkbook. His daughter Priya turned 16 earlier this month, and she is in the throes of planning a joint birthday-graduation party with her elder sister, Divya, 18. “If you can afford to have a grand celebration, then why not,” said Dr. Kothapalli, who immigrated to the United States from India in the mid-1980’s. “It’s the American way. You work hard and you play hard.”

Their Bollywood-themed party for 500 guests will be held in the family’s backyard — all 4Å“ acres, behind the 10,000-square-foot house. The Format, their favorite band, will perform. And they will make their grand entrance on litters, during an elaborate procession led by elephants…”We both want to lose three pounds,” said Priya, who received a Mercedes convertible and an assortment of diamond jewelry for her birthday. Her sister’s graduation gift package included a Bentley, diamonds and two homes in India. [link]

Can you believe this ridiculous consumption? Elephants, diamonds, Bentleys and homes? If this is what they got for their Sweet 16/18, can you imagine the weddings? I can’t wait till the show airs, which unfortunately, has no links up yet on MTV-but I’m sure the mutineers will keep us posted. So let’s see, there were first those two desi girls that secretly partied, Kaavya gets half a million to write a ‘plagiarized’ book before turning 17, and now, we have these girls. Sigh. Such a contrast from the girls, girls, girls earlier this month.

Priya added, “It’s pathetic when people suck up.” Still, dealing with sycophantic classmates and a bit of teasing is a small price to pay for the spotlight. “We both love attention–that’s one of our main motives for having the party,” Divya said. “The more attention the better.” [link]

At least I have something in common with the girls from Sweet 16…I’m kidding. KIDDING.

Continue reading

This Charming Man

This morning I awoke to find my cell roommate, Rajni, sleeping on my leg. Monkeys can be heavy. Monkeys can also be strong. “Rajni, man, I’m late making breakfast for the masters, eek!”, I gave her a shove. She single-handedly flipped me off my hammock and onto the floor, face first. Monkeys = 1:Neha = 0. THIS. After spending all night coughing because she insists on smoking cigars before bedtime. All those cute gibbons and gorillas about and I get stuck with a smoking lemur.

Anyway, I crawled around looking for some type of wake up/make up music, something less aggressive than my usual fare of German synths, big bass, and synthetic hand claps (just like garba!). Something combining bittersweet melodies, energetic drums and clever lyrics. Something to make Rajni like me better so we can just chill, sing along and bond over heartbreak, instead of all this fighting-biting. Good thing I took my indie-loving friend Bird’s advice and brought along some most suitable fare…


Last December, Spin mag profiled a then under-the-underground band called Voxtrot and made it their ‘Band of the Day’:

The Austin, Texas quintet’s debut EP, Raised by Wolves, is a stunning mini-collection of John Hughes-heyday paeans, twitchy pop, and surging, Strokes-y dancefloor fillers. [link]

Had I been keeping open to the possibility of jangly guitars bringing me to my knees then news of lead singer, Ramesh Srivastava, would have hit SM tip boxes way sooner:

When Srivastava moved to Glasgow at the age of 19, he’d already written the tracks that would comprise the Raised By Wolves EP, songs with deft arrangments and charming melodies that evoke Belle & Sebastian, Morrissey, and the Lucksmiths, but with jagged, rumbling guitars remindful of early Cure and, sometimes, Joy Division. [Link]

Continue reading

Ice cream truck driver 1, Government 0 (updated)

In a case which I have been following daily for the past week, a Federal judge in Sacramento has declared a mistrial in the “terror” case against a Pakistani American ice cream truck driver. His son’s (accused of attending a terrorist training camp) jury is still deliberating but may also end up hung (see previous posts for backstory 1, 2, 3). This is a huge defeat for the government. CNN reports:

Umer Hayat, 48, and his 23-year-old son were tried at the same time but given separate juries. The son’s jury was still deliberating Tuesday.

The announcement of a mistrial in the father’s case came one day after the jurors told U.S. District Court Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. they could not reach an unanimous decision after nearly two weeks of deliberations.

“The jury declared that it was hopelessly deadlocked this morning,” deputy court clerk Carol Davis said Tuesday. Burrell questioned each juror and then discharged them…

“They couldn’t prove it because it didn’t happen,” Umer Hayat’s attorney, Johnny Griffin III, said outside court Tuesday. “He’s not a terrorist. There is no evidence to demonstrate he is a terrorist…” [Link]

What makes the government’s loss particularly embarrassing is that jurors were shown a taped confession but STILL didn’t find him guilty. I’ll bet you this case is used as a teaching tool in law schools for years to come. That’s what happens when you try to manipulate someone who doesn’t have mastery over the English language (see my previous post #3 linked above). The manipulation seems like it was evident to the jury but we will have to wait until they are interviewed in the coming days.

The Hayat case centered on videotaped confessions the men gave separately last June to FBI agents and a government informant who secretly recorded hundreds of hours of conversations but whose credibility was challenged by the defense.

Defense lawyers’ biggest hurdle was trying to persuade jurors to discount the men’s videotaped confessions. They argued that the confessions were made under duress, after the men had been questioned for hours in the middle of the night… .

The father and son eventually told the agents merely what they thought they wanted to hear, without realizing the legal consequences, their lawyers argued. [Link]

The case against the son was considered stronger by the government but the fact that the jury has been out this long is a good sign for him as well.

Update: The jury convicts the son after all. Continue reading