DNC Day 2: Hillary’s Night

Well, for the second straight day, SM got awesome access to the convention. As a proud honorary Alaskan delegate, I had the privilege of standing on the podium with the other swing states and seeing the candidates up close. And I’ll have Abhi know that there are South Asians everywhere – even in Alaska! I discovered that this means that one could barely hear anyone speak due to the commotion occurring all around them (in this instance, making it quite like the ‘blogger lounge’), but hey, it was the podium of the DNC, so even all this commotion was quite exciting. Andrea Mitchell, Max Baucus, and even one impressive young South Asian (see Tumblr soon) were seen in action. To be honest, I can’t tell you much about the keynote, seeing as the whole crowd was buzzing in anticipation of the main act…

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On the anniversary of women receiving to vote, Hillary’s speech was framed as both a celebration of her historic candidacy as well as a call for party unity. It certainly achieved the goal of celebrating the candidacy, as Hillary urged the crowd to celebrate their achievements, and used that as a standpoint to urge unity, describing how John McCain’s policies would be the direct opposite of all that she has fought for in her life. Whether she made an effective case for Obama can only be truly be gauged by Hillary supporters – all I know is that her lead to her most memorable line, describing all the parallels between Bush and McCain before commenting that “It makes sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the Twin Cities, because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart,” was quite cutting and powerful.

Her candidacy and discussion about it raises some interesting questions in the South Asian community. In some aspects, we could say our community is ahead of the curve, as female leaders have already been elected in many of our countries of origin. On the other hand, there sometimes (though not often) exists a chauvinist attitude in South Asian communities that can result in great tragedy. Where do you feel South Asian American communities are when it comes to womens’ rights? Are we already very progressive, or do we have a ways to go? Do political successes or failures have a correlation to the daily rights of women in community, family, and society in South Asian communities? These are the questions that are (or should be) discussed these days in general when reflecting on the Clinton campaign, and are interesting and constructive to look at in the context of our community. Continue reading

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DNC Day 2: Hrishi Karthikeyan, Founder of SAFO

On the afternoon of DNC Day 2, Abhi and I went to another of the numerous AAPI events this week, the AAPI grassroots strategy session. Before that, we had the chance to interview Hrishi Karthikeyan, the founder of South Asians for Obama. Karthikeyan founded the organization in February 2007 to “mobilize and organize” the South Asian community in support of Obama’s candidacy – we asked him a few questions, and had an informative and interesting interview.

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When we asked about his motivations to start the organization, he mentioned that he (and his co-founders) wished to engage South Asians in a new way – they had been known to be more than capable of writing checks and discussing Indo-Nuclear deals, but he wanted an organization that would be able to represent the South Asian community in its true multidimensional form. SAFO aims to organize and mobilize South Asians to give community members from all walks of life, whether they be the “rich uncles,” the cab drivers, or the college students, and give them the opportunity to help the campaign in whatever manner they are best suited. By doing this, the organization also hopes to start changing the perception that South Asians only care about a few issues (i.e. Doctors’ issues, Immigration, Healthcare), and show that it truly is a diverse community and coalition that is affected by a great deal of policy from economics to the environment and college loans.

In terms of coordination with the Obama campaign, Hrishi mentioned that the Obama has dictated the needs and SAFO has worked hard to meet them, matching talented members of the community with the campaign’s needs in various areas. He stated that the goal was not to see how much money the group could raise (though that is important), but rather, “how many people can we get involved?”

We asked what the future goals of this organization would be – what would become of SAFO if Obama won in November? He mentioned that the eventual goals of the leadership included making sure that qualified South Asians were put in appointee positions, not as quota system, but rather as a way of making sure that the community was represented as well as it could be and deserved to be on a national level. When he was asked if he would take a cabinet job personally, he stated that he wasn’t holding his breath (though he would do anything Obama needed), and (and I would agree with this) he has a pretty sweet day job. Continue reading

DNC Day 2: Subodh Chandra, Captain of Team Ohio

I was just on the floor of the Pepsi Center here in Denver. I passed by Senators Claire McCaskill and Dick Durbin very very slowly since traffic on the floor is completely choked. So choked in fact that I ended up standing next to the CNN folks long enough to see the make-up on Blitzer and Cooper’s faces. I got to say, thus far I have been EXTREMELY disappointed in the organization of this convention. Calling it chaotic would be too kind. They didn’t even have lanyards left for me to put my credentials in so I had to rig something together (which included the use of scotch tape). I feel like that kid in school who tapes his glasses when they break. Also, myself and a handful of other press had to walk a half hour in the blazing sun because the buses dropped us off at the wrong gate. Ok, I will quit my complaining now and talk about something positive. The positive is that this is still a great event and we have a lot we will be blogging about through the night.

While on the floor I had a chance to speak with former Ohio Attorney General candidate Subodh Chandra. I didn’t get to speak to him for very long however, because as you can see in the clip below, he was busy passing out signs and rallying the Ohio delegation. Chandra’s energy is unreal. The days here are really long and hectic given all the security checks, walking, and schmoozing. I’m yawning twice a minute but Subodh was still energized.

When speaking with him I wanted to know, “What comes next?” After the convention is over and everyone goes home, what is he going to be doing? Turns out that early voting in Ohio starts in just 5 weeks. He plans to use that time raising money for Obama (a meme I will revisit later tonight), getting out the vote (especially the South Asian vote), and educating the naturalized citizens of Ohio about their voting rights. This last issue is something I hadn’t heard about.

Today, we won.

Secretary of State Blackwell’s counsel agreed to a permanent injunction against enforcement of most of Ohio Revised Code Section 3505.20(A), the section that would permit a poll worker to demand of voters whether they are naturalized citizens and their certificate of naturalization before permitting them to vote by a regular ballot.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko then issued the permanent injunction and agreed to publish his decision, because it is an important issue and no other state has tried to do this before. Blackwell’s counsel agreed to draft a directive to county Boards of Elections informing them about the court’s decision, so we assisted them in preparing some draft language. The directive, which we anticipate will be issued soon, will inform Boards of Elections and poll workers that they are not to enforce the offensive provisions of Section 3505.20(A). It will also require them to post at polling places notices that proof of citizenship is not required. [Link]

Time permitting I will tag up with Subodh again later this week to get his impressions of each night. Meanwhile, Ravi has scammed his way into the Alaska delegation. Do South Asians even live in Alaska? :)

Continue reading

DNC Day 1: Kennedy and Michelle

Thanks to the kindness of a few very nice people, I was able to go to the convention for the Kennedy and Obama night, and I would be remiss if I did not give at least a short comment on both. Caroline Kennedy’s tribute as well as the video ably paid justice to a man who has done a great deal to benefit all Americans, especially in many cases immigrants. The issues of immigration reform and immigrant rights, healthcare, discrimination, poverty, and an intelligent foreign policy were all discussed in great detail at the many Asian American events today, and Ted Kennedy has certainly done a great deal of work on all of these issues in his extensive time in the Senate. When he said he wanted to “close the book on the old politics of race and gender, group against group..,” I thought he would certainly be encouraged by the bonds forged by the many different ethnicities in the AAPI caucus, which showed itself today to be formidable and only growing stronger and more cohesive in the near future.

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Michelle Obama’s speech probably brought the most enthusiastic response from the crowd, and it had a lot of messages that had the potential to resonate with the South Asian community. Craig Robinson introduced her as a devoted and caring mother and the Obama and Robinson extended family as one that has a strong emphasis on bonds and family values, a theme of extended connection that is common and cherished in South Asian communities. She discussed how her parents taught her that “America should be a place where you can make it if you try,” the idea of the American dream that certainly is powerful for all immigrants. Her major theme was that her and Barack see the “world as it is and the world as it should be,” and only accept the “world as it should be.” Whether you will vote for him or not, the fact that, as Michelle said, “a son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House” has to be encouraging to any proud immigrant parents or children of immigrants. Continue reading

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DNC Day 1: AAA-Fund and IALI Reception

This afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing everyone I saw at the AAPI Caucus, and a few more, at the AAA-Fund “Power Hour” and the IALI Reception. In case you are wondering what these lovely acronyms mean, AAA is the Asian-American Action Fund and IALI is the Indian American Leadership Initiative, both 501(c)3′s that support Asian-American (in IALI’s case, Indian-American) Democratic candidates, as well as a few candidates that are special supporters of these communities.

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The AAA Fund event brought together a great collection of Asian-American leaders and activists, led by the omnipresent and eternally cool Congressman Mike Honda. Honda remarked how he was the first recipient of AAA funds, and how this meeting was far larger (double the size) then it was four years ago. He gave a great introduction to our very own Ashwin Madhia, who gave his campaign pitch, got a standing ovation from our group, and also mentioned (a few times) that his campaign is in the homestretch and needs another million dollars to run strong through the fall. We also heard from numerous other leaders, including California folk hero comptroller John Chiang and whiz kid Sid Salvi. We heard about the AAA’s ambitious AAPI Vote Project, which has substantial resources and a well-documented plan.

At the IALI reception, many more Indians appeared on the scene (obviously), though many of the same faces were still present. Madhia and Honda made appearances, and media from seemingly every Indian TV station imaginable was covering the event. The big news at this event were the appearances by majority whip Steny Hoyer and former vice-presidential contender (and current Virginia governor) Tim Kaine. Their appearance highlighted the rapid ascendancy of Indian-Americans in politics, and most importantly, Tim Kaine noted that he had 3 Indian-Americans in his 10 person cabinet this past year, and they all did an exceptional job, showing that South Asians are rising politically not due solely to wealth, but due to qualifications and will. Continue reading

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DNC Day 1: AAPI Caucus Meeting

I can’t say I was expecting to have a terrific time at the AAPI caucus meeting – after all, it was at 10 AM, and the gathering was quite sparsely attended when it began. However, it was well-organized, ran on time, and I found it entertaining, educational, and informative. A comprehensive “who’s who” of Asian American politics showed up, and the rising influence of Democrats in this party was hard not to miss.

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We began with statements from many of the chairmen, all who seemed to have made impressive contributions to the “AAPI Democrat” cause, and you can see all of the leadership on the AAPI website. One theme that was repeatedly emphasized (and I guarantee will be a general theme all weekend) was that of coming together and coalescing behind Obama after the bruising primary battle. Whether at the IL delegation breakfast, the interfaith gathering, or this event, leaders were urging delegates to come together behind Obama. Congressman Mike Honda was recognized by just about every speaker as a valued Asian-American pioneer and mentor, and Congressmen and women David Wu, Mazie Hirono, and Doris Matsui spoke as well. Surprise guest speakers included Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC, and Leah Daughtry, CEO of the convention, appeared, which was representative of the importance this caucus will have in this year’s election.

Dean gave a nice and detailed speech in which he outlined a few main points

  • A USA Today article in today’s paper points out how the Democratic delegates are very similar in ethnic makeup to our country’s population, which should be a point of pride for the party

  • The increase in the number of AAPI delegates to the convention this year (if I recall correctly, +27), shows that the party is open to change.

  • We need to get AAPI voters to register in larger numbers and to vote early so that they do not run the risk of widespread disenfranchisement on election day – we need to make sure no immigrant voters are bullied or scared away from the polls

Dean’s speech generated widespread excitement at the meeting – as did Tammy Duckworth’s short appearance. Duckworth is an Iraq war veteran who ran for Congress in 2006 and lost, and she mentioned how AAPIs make up 8% of the population of her home district, and that she lost the election by 1.25% – a large voter registration push in our community could really have an impact on the electoral landscape.

Many different leaders noted how Democrats take the lead on subjects such as immigration reform and healthcare, while Hrishi Karthikeyan, founder of South Asians for Obama, commented on how it is important to address all types of issues when campaigning with South Asians, as opposed to only discussing what a candidate would assume the community most cares about (he gave Obama as an example of a candidate who is good at talking about major problems with everyone).

Karthikeyan, S.R. Sidarth, and Ramey Ko spoke about new technologies and their potential to change the electoral landscape. With SAFO and asianamericansforobama.com, they are aiming to use “new media” to get their word out – - they mentioned it would be wise for AAPI candidates at all levels of government to do this as well.

Continue reading

The Caption Game: The “Pukka Baby” Edition

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It is Monday, and that means it is time for a ridiculously-delayed (the last one I posted was last fall, I believe) edition of your favorite way to commence the day– The Caption Game. Since the vast majority of us are hungover, bleary-eyed, exhausted pensively contemplating our sure-to-be productive work week, captioning a funny (or in this case excruciatingly cute) picture is a gentle way to ease in to Monday.

This is little Avni and she is consuming an idli. Avni, idli, idli, Avni. Adorable, no? Avni’s mom was kind enough to allow us to imagine funny things baby might be thinking, as baby noms on one of my favorite South Indian foods. Blogger Neha Viswanathan of Global Voices Online inspired all of this when Avni showed up on her flickr stream. I thank her for securing permission from Mother, baby and idli, for this post.

Perplexed? Bemused? Hung-over? Consider previous editions of the Caption Game, awailable for your edification here: onnu, rendu, muunu, naalu, anji, aarru, erzhu , ettu, onpatu , pathu

p.s. Backstory re: picture, after the jump. :) Continue reading

Countries & Queueing

Gadling is a blog for frequent travellers that I peruse from time to time. In between the tips and tricks for getting through security a littler faster and aircraft takeoff/landing trivia, they occasionally post travel observations from different countries. This one compares / contrasts queueing culture and asks readers for theories on why some places are so much more orderly than others -

If you’ve tried to buy a train ticket in a place like Morocco or Indonesia, you know that this seemingly simple task is actually a full-contact sport. Rather than forming an orderly, single-file line, people are forced to scratch, claw, elbow, and gouge their way to the ticket window, in a process that even an Ultimate Fighting champion would describe as unnecessarily painful and violent.

So why does this happen? Why can’t people in certain, usually less-developed countries form neat, single-file lines? Here are a couple possible explanations:

India is NOT one of the countries mentioned but I’m guessing most folks would toss it into the “lining up is a UFC match” camp. Continue reading

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DNC Day Zero: Faith Day

Hello from Denver everyone – this is my first official post from the convention, although if you’ve been astute and checking out our very nice Tumblr page, you’ll have realized that its actually my third! One would think nothing would happen on a Sunday at the DNC – but then one would have missed the epic DNC “interfaith gathering” that took place this afternoon at the Colorado Convention Center. At this gathering, we had Catholic Priests, Jewish Rabbis, Pentecostal Ministers, Muslim Imams, Buddhist College Students, and Catholic Anti-Death Penalty Activists. Many of them spoke very well and inspiringly, and interestingly enough, they didn’t stick to the party line – Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty activist, was to the left of Obama on the issue, while Bishop Charles E. Blake was to the right of him on abortion. One thing they could all agree on, however, was that the Democratic Party’s “Big Tent” was a good place for them to express their opinions and could offer a strong hope for future considerate policy. To read more about it, you can watch the whole video here, but I took a special interest in the speakers that would interest the Sepia readers.

There were three main parts of this interfaith gathering that had the most “South Asian relevance.” One was Kathryn Ida, the Buddhist college student who read a passage and that I briefly profiled here. Another was Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, who I’ll get to in a moment. And last was a notable absence – the absence of any Hindu leaders at this interfaith gathering! Hindus make up a similar percentage of the American population to Muslims and Buddhists, and also identify overwhelmingly Democrat as a religious group. Alas, it was probably an oversight, but quite an unusual one for a Convention that has a sizable number of South Asian related events (see the next three days of posts). I’d like to add to the irony of the moment by wishing all the Vaishnavs out there a very happy Janmashtami =)

The Muslim-American community was recognized in full-force, with local imams assisting in opening and closing prayers, and Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), as a keynote speaker. There had been some controversy over her organization , and I really don’t know enough about ISNA or the speaker to judge, but her speech was strong and anything but controversial. The theme of her speech was “Our Sacred Responsibility to Our World” and she covered a variety of subjects including:

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  • The importance of learning more about and engaging people of different nations to better understand them (she gave the example of an instance in which Syrian women had the opportunity to travel and meet Christian and Jewish women, and the opportunities this gave for cultural understanding)

  • On the same theme, promoting a policy of allowing more foreign students to travel to the United States as the best way to spread the American message of freedom

  • She mentioned that despite the discrimination Muslims occasionally face in the U.S., “this is still the best place in the world to practice our faith”

  • She addressed the need to “confront evil…but do so with humility” and that it “saddens me tht this evil is done in the name of my religion”

  • The need to fight terrorism without causing indiscriminate civilian harm

Her speech was well-received by the entire crowd, and afterwards SM had the chance to ask her a few questions (answers might be paraphrased due to speed of interview): Continue reading

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