A few reflections on the South Asian Summit

The South Asian Summit, held this past weekend in D.C., was an amazing experience for which SAALT deserves a great many thanks. The passion present in the room was undoubtedly invigorating to all in attendance. Most importantly, I learned something about the fundamental hurdles many of these South Asian American activists face in the pursuit of their varied causes. I believe that some of these hurdles have solutions that readers of this website (with their varied skills) can help with if only made aware of the challenges. Over the course of the next several months I plan to profile many of the organizations that attended SAALT and solicit from them what their needs are so that some of us can pitch in.

As a blogger residing behind the computer I rarely get to meet first-hand the dedicated activists we often write about. It is the difference between seeing ice cream and tasting it. The folks at this conference breathed their causes and it makes you re-evaluate whether or not you are doing enough in your own life. This really is the time to think and act beyond your immediate sphere.

At the beginning of the conference we were each handed a post-card which we were to self address and hand back to the organizers. The post card asked a single question: “What did the Summit inspire you to do?” The message we wrote was for our own benefit and the post card was to arrive in the mail to remind us of our commitment.

The challenge at the Summit has inspired me to attempt something big and I have started researching and working on a plan. The next time I attend a South Asian summit I would like to be able to say that I did something to move the ball forward, if only by a few yards.

34 thoughts on “A few reflections on the South Asian Summit

  1. what is this saalt? is it like netip? how come there’s nothing about them on desiparty.com?

  2. they sound very nice though. intersted inhelping people in a very non-partisan and non-political way. like acorn.

  3. Now, it all depends on which ball we are talking about. is it a ball which rolls, or is that the one which….hang it….I mean, is it a small and light ball like the Golf Ball, or is it something like the Bowling Ball. Heavy and utterly cumbersome to manipulate. I’d rather settle for a small tennis ball. Its the only ball that can be handled with sufficient ease. I’ve seen Maria Sharapova tuck three of ‘em in her pants and still hit the living daylights outta her opponents.

  4. LOL–I especially “like” SAALT’s response to the Mumbai attacks, b/c, you know, this is how the US (where we’ve chosen to live) became rich and successful:

    We encourage individuals of all faiths and nationalities to unite in addressing the impact of incidents such as the tragedy in Mumbai and those occurring in other parts of the world with compassion and a commitment to non-violence, tolerance, and respect. Our message is informed by the experiences of communities in the United States and abroad who have endured the impact of backlash, intolerance and suspension of civil liberties in the wake of September 11th.

    Nobody to be attacked here, folks, natural disaster, is all. LOL. What a “tragedy” it was, and, of course, must be linked to “those enduring backlash in the USA,” because, you know, we’re all on the same page if we look brown.

    Sigh.

    I’m looking forward to networking with my RSS brothers in late June during my next trip to the Desh!!

  5. I look forward to the profiles! I am always looking for new opportunities to volunteer in any capacity.

  6. hmmm, maybe they’re not the progressive trojan horse i thought they were. those quotes rob#1 provides makes them sound like michelle malkin after the dept of homeland security issued a warning on right wing terror groups.

  7. Manju, Good one! If you’re ever up for a steak at Peter Luger’s, it’s on me–seriously. (I am a “confused” Hindu nationalist that way!!) ;-)

  8. Manju, Seriously, send me an e-mail–we’ll get a nice meal. I will warn you that I will bring my ridiculously Anglophile (yet, rabidly Hindu, think VHP) DBD girlfriend with me. Still, dry-aged steaks all-round! ;-)

  9. I’m looking forward to networking with my RSS brothers in late June during my next trip to the Desh!!

    Those are the guys with the pink or khaki chaddis?

  10. anglophile lady friends wear pink chaddis when they go on a mosque or church burning date with their khaki chaddied boyfriends who are desperately trying to impress them.

  11. thanks for this post. i was bummed we didn’t get a chance to meet down there. i was hanging out a bunch with your co-conspirator. i too was inspired by the awesome community of brown folk fighting the good fight and building a movement together. onward and upward…

  12. Anyone care to share what type of issues are South Asian Americans working on?

  13. Thanks for your informative talk on blogging. Look forward to hearing about your new big idea.

  14. Never hype up anything because it never lives up to the hype.

    Create a goal that you know you can achieve, so when you over achieve everyone is all like, “Ohhhh my God I know you promised this much, but you did even more than you said you were”

    Advice from Donald Trump.

  15. I just posted at our site about my own reflections and also live-blogged one of the panels. In all, I thought it was a wonderful gathering and I was super-impressed. I wish I’d gotten to meet you there! Can’t wait to hear your big idea… keep us posted and we’ll put it on our site.

  16. Meetup was amazing. I’ll post up MY reflections on the summit and meetup by the end of the week – totally swamped, exhausted, and processing, but inspired all at the same time.

  17. SAALT is an AMAZING non-profit organization. I interned there when it was still in NY. Wish I could have went to the summit…

  18. >>SAALT is an AMAZING non-profit organization. I interned there when it was still in NY. Wish I could have went to the summit…

    Interesting. Could you tell us if this internship was funded and what task/projects you worked on ? I would not dismiss SAALT too quickly. If nothing it is definitely a stepping stone for ABD kids for bigger and better things. DBDs on the other hand are not going to be interested in flaky SAALT agenda.

  19. Sulabh – As a college intern, I mostly assembled data on hate crimes and hate crimes legislation. I also helped coordinated some of SAALT’s Community Workshops (the ones in NY, NJ and PA). It was not funded.

    I didn’t read most of the comments above so I don’t know if there was a dismissive tone against SAALT. In any case, I learned a lot and met some great people.

  20. Let’s have a conference in washington to discuss how hard it is to be a rich ethnic group in a rich country. Let’s talk about sustainability and a bunch of other empty obama talk and ignore the billion or so fellow south asians living in brutal poverty. check out my tweets, lol! south asian harvard club represent!

    (sent from my blackberry)

  21. I rarely comment here, but I must say how surprised to see some of the comments ridiculing SAALT or SM’s participation in it. It may not be an organization “saving” poor people in South Asia, but it is doing what anyone interested in development must first do, that is look around yourself and see what you can do here. May be some of you come from rich families and cannot identify with the problems SAALT and other are trying to address, but atleast be a little open and you will see that the South Asian community in the US is diverse, and many experience problems such as hate crimes, and I’m not even address other issues like representation. More than that, this represent every immigrant and minority experience and such gatherings, if anything, support movements initiated by other such communities.

  22. South Asians in the united states, are obviously more privileged than their counterparts back home. However, by basic income and education metrics, we are also some of the most privileged people in the US as well. I don’t want to marginalize those of us who do live in poverty in this country, but stuff like saalt seems like typical milquetoast, middle class, college kid hot air. Lets give lip service to “advocacy” and “awareness” but not talk about actual disparities in our local and global community.

  23. Ray, have you gone to any of SAALT’s strategic alignment meetings or conferences? Or is your impression based on their literature and web information?

    I’m happy to hear the conference was a success and went well. SAALT has certainly been one of the more organized, and thoughtful groups working to address SAA issues “where they lie” while maintaining a national presence, as well as develop partnerships within our community and across other communities.

  24. However, by basic income and education metrics, we are also some of the most privileged people in the US as well.

    Here’s the thing ray – those privileged Desis? They don’t represent me. My struggles, my families history, and the stories of the “marginalized” in the South Asian community are whited out like with statements like that. This conference wasn’t for the privileged South Asians that you see at the usual Netip event. It was a space for the others – the ones who fight for social justice. The ones that are undocumented, the ones that see women that are victims of domestic violence, the ones that know that the Desis in our community can’t access public services because they can’t speak the language.

    It’s not about living in poverty or not. There’s issues like higher rates of diabetes, or rates of domestic violence – real disparities in our community- that are not about income level, but are about differences in access to resources. It’s about the intersections of inequities between being South Asian and every other social injustice issue out there. I’ve already written about the importance of intersections of disabilities and deafness with the South Asian identity. As well as my thoughts on the conference as well. Sure there’s space to improve for the Summit, but the fact we’ve gotten here is a huge step, and it can only get more powerful from here.

  25. Taz,

    fair enough. Part of my feelings toward SAALT come from my experiences in south asian organizations in college and high school. organizations that speak to social justice etc. etc. but just seem like platforms for privileged abd’s to pad their resumes.

    “It’s not about living in poverty or not. There’s issues like higher rates of diabetes, or rates of domestic violence – real disparities in our community- that are not about income level, but are about differences in access to resources.”

    This is the attitude I take issue with when advanced by SAA activists, genuine or not. If we just think about advocacy for the SAA community as a whole, independent of income, then I feel we miss all the genuinely disaffected people that you brought up. The comment about diabetes further illustrates what i feel the problem might be. I think if we care about South Asians and their diaspora then rich Indians in America getting diabetes seems much less of a problem than infant mortality rates or the spread of AIDS among the most disadvantaged of us.

  26. Ray – It’s unfortunate that you had a shallow experience with whatever SAA organizations you participated in. The way I see it, even if “privileged ABDS” are only looking to pad their resumes, at least it gets them involved and thinking about SAA issues. You especially can’t undercut their potential when it comes to raising money.

  27. I think if we care about South Asians and their diaspora then rich Indians in America getting diabetes seems much less of a problem than infant mortality rates or the spread of AIDS among the most disadvantaged of us.

    Ameen!

    There’s nothing more annoying than a bunch of privileged rich kids getting together to whine (and wine and dine) over how their lives are so hard and they suffer so much coz someone called them “dottie” in the second grade or looked at them sideways while fueling up at BP.

    But I’m glad SAALT is different. Sounds like there’s some real potential there.

  28. The comment about diabetes further illustrates what i feel the problem might be. I think if we care about South Asians and their diaspora then rich Indians in America getting diabetes seems much less of a problem than infant mortality rates or the spread of AIDS among the most disadvantaged of us.

    Ray, I think you’re also missing that a wide swathe of disempowered, socioeconomically disenfranchised desis are more likely to be the victims of heart disease and diabetes than “rich Indians” — for example, look at your local taxi wallah or trucker as a prime candidate.

    If your concern is that the subcontinent’s poverty and wealth inequality drives inequality in the subcontinent, then you’re right, SAALT is not going to focus its advocacy on policies abroad. They’re an explicitly U.S.-based, U.S.-desi advocacy organization, and their work is rooted in a thoughtful analysis of the different institutions/social constructs (e.g., how race/ethnicity, language access, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, age, disability, etc.) compound the vulnerability of the desi community within the U.S. Advocacy issues could range from human trafficking, to supporting women in domestically abusive households, to helping workers collectively organize, to providing free health screenings in mobile clinics, to ensuring language access to voters. Which experiences do you believe advocacy organizations ought to focus on?

    Your comments speak to a lot of underlying assumptions around who constitutes the SAA community, what their class/experience is in the U.S. (and that such an experience is homogenizing or determinative), and that consequently work to ameliorate social inequality is a luxury, indulgence, or insincere affect. I’m not uncritical of the nonprofit/social justice scene, but it has more often been a privilege, and an incredibly humbling and heartwarming experience, to work with desis who are visionary and passionate about creating a more just and fair society. SAALT does a great job of fostering a conversation that is productive and community building, not ego-driven or superficial.