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 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.

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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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A “Minority Majority” Nation

With the DNC approaching, it is a good time to examine one very relevant recent piece of news that will surely impact my generation. The U.S. Census recently reported that by 2042, “Americans who identify themselves as ethnic and racial minorities” (NYT) will outnumber those who do not. This was earlier than the previously predicted 2050, and it is a trend that could have profound influences on all elements of American society. Here is a short summary of the demographic changes:

The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.
The main reason for the accelerating change is significantly higher birthrates among immigrants. Another factor is the influx of foreigners, rising from about 1.3 million annually today to more than 2 million a year by midcentury, according to projections based on current immigration policies.
“No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change,” said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization in Washington. (NYT)

Jeffrey S. Passel, from the Pew Hispanic Center, says, “Almost regardless of what you assume about future immigration, the country will be more Hispanic and Asian.” When it comes to Asian-Americans, “People who say they are Asian, with their ranks soaring to 41 million from 16 million, will make up more than 9 percent of the population, up from 5 percent” (NYT). Here is the brief Wall Street Journal analysis of how this will impact politics:

The growing share of retired white baby boomers are more likely to be concerned about issues like pensions and health care for themselves and their parents. The growing share of minorities will be concerned about issues like education and job growth. “You always get that generational shift, but now there’s a racial layer over it,” says Mr. Passel.
Shifting demographics may change everything from local and national elections to bilingual education and the rationale behind affirmative-action plans. Already, fast-growing states in the Sunbelt and West are seeing signs that shifting demographics could alter state politics. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is campaigning hard in Nevada and Colorado — two states that were carried by President Bush in 2004 but have grown more Democratic as the states have added more young and minority voters.

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Hanif Kureishi: One of a Kind?

In between watching the glory that has been the Olympics (can’t say I expected so much Sepia-related content, but hey, awesome) and signing up to be one of the very few (10,000+ish) people to receive my very own VP text from Barack Obama, I came across this great piece in the NYT Magazine about Hanif Kureishi, his career, and his latest novel, Something to Tell You.

The novel is, in brief, about a member of the rebellious British South Asian generation, Jamal, that came of the age during the 80′s, and how he and his now successful peers have to overcome their past conflicts, loves, secrets, and continuing personal challenges as middle-aged parents and professionals. It actually sounds familiar in theme to My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru (a very nice book), except with a South Asian focus, and from the British reviews that have been published, it seems as though it will be a good read. I’ll be looking forward to reading it and the review world seems to see it as an improvement over his previous few novels, which have not been critically well-received. South Asian blog reviews of this novel have already been written, and it is to come out in America on August 19th.

The article highlighted more than his new novel – in particular, it noted how Kureishi’s emergence on the scene during the late 1980′s and his writings, including the screenplay of “My Beautiful Laundrette” and the novel Buddha of Suburbia gave a voice to a generation of South Asians in Britain that felt unrepresented and typecast in British society at Hanif_080424031803483_wideweb__300x375.jpg the time:

The novel and a subsequent BBC mini-series made Kureishi a hero to a generation of British Asians and other nonwhites, a kind of postcolonial Philip Roth who brought to the mainstream themes that were previously relegated as “ethnic” and added lots of sex and humor. “What, above all, made Kureishi a talismanic figure for young Asians was his voice,” the critic Sukhdev Sandhu wrote in The London Review of Books in 2000. “We had previously been mocked for our deference and timidity. Kureishi’s language was a revelation. It was neither meek nor subservient. It wasn’t fake posh. Instead, it was playful and casually knowing.

Kureishi’s most important role was to knock down the stereotypical image of South Asian immigrants as the hard-working, polite and dutiful members of society who would make nor do no trouble. For a group of immigrants that had historically faced a great deal of discrimination in the U.K., there was finally someone who articulated their true lives and struggles. Perhaps most importantly, the writings were not staid nor politically correct – they showed life as it really was for immigrants and their children:

Sandhu (the critic) recalls how his father — who left India for England in 1965 and worked in a Nestlé factory, and was taunted by local schoolchildren and punks as he walked home with sacks of chapati flour — beat him up after Sandhu insisted that the family watch “My Beautiful Laundrette” on TV. With nudity, gay sex, Pakistani businessmen cheating on their wives and a drug smuggler disguised as a mullah with heroin sewn into his fake beard, the film wasn’t just a wake-up call to white Britain; it also flew in the face of the traditional immigrant narrative. “Why are you showing us such filth?” Sandhu’s father asked him. “My father was right to be appalled,” Sandhu wrote. “The film celebrated precisely those things — irony, youth, family instability, sexual desire — that he most feared.” It taught his father, Sandhu added, “that he could not control the future. And control — over their wives, their children, their finances — was what Asian immigrants like him coveted.”

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Cricket in America: From the American Revolution to the NYPD

A few days ago, I opened up the Chicago Tribune to see this nice story about games of cricket taking place in the Chicago suburbs, which is not a rare occurrence in most South Asian communities. Yet, as I did some research, I found that cricket has an interesting history in the United States that extends far back before the South Asian diaspora. After all the United States was a British colony as well. A disclaimer here: I am proud to say I have a reasonable knowledge of cricket and am a devoted Cricinfo reader, but I can’t say I know cricket as well as, say, the NBA, and thus, I’m sure many of you will know more about cricket in America than I do – please do contribute your knowledge on the subject. Cricket in the United States extends back as far as the 18th century. This great Smithsonian article speaks of some of the earliest recorded history of cricket in the states:

In a diary he kept between 1709 and 1712, William Byrd, owner of the Virginia plantation Westover, noted, “I rose at 6 o’clock and read a chapter in Hebrew. About 10 o’clock Dr. Blair, and Major and Captain Harrison came to see us. After I had given them a glass of sack we played cricket. I ate boiled beef for my dinner. Then we played at shooting with arrows…and went to cricket again till dark.”

Evidently, spending large portions of the day playing and following cricket is a practice as old as the British Empire itself. Not only that, but the Smithsonian has uncovered some Revolutionary Hero interest in cricket:

The rules of the game on this side of the Atlantic were formalized in 1754, when Benjamin Franklin brought back from England a copy of the 1744 Laws, cricket’s official rule book. There is anecdotal evidence that George Washington’s troops played what they called “wickets” at Valley Forge in the summer of 1778. After the Revolution, a 1786 advertisement for cricket equipment appeared in the New York Independent Journal, and newspaper reports of that time frequently mention “young gentlemen” and “men of fashion” taking up the sport. Indeed, the game came up in the debate over what to call the new nation’s head of state: John Adams noted disapprovingly—and futilely—that “there are presidents of fire companies and cricket clubs.”

Disregarding John Adams’ chronic moodiness, cricket continued to have a strong presence in the U.S. throughout the 19th century. The first ever international cricket match was held in the U.S., a match between the U.S. and Canada in 1844, in Bloomingdale, New York. The considerable national interest in this game was evident, as 20,000 spectators attended and the equivalent of 1.5 million 2007 dollars were wagered on the match. The United States set a telling precedent in the match, however, losing by 23 runs. As the 19th century neared its end, baseball began to take precedence, and with that, the primacy of cricket in America’s sporting interests neared its end. One place, however, where cricket was still going strong was in the city of Philadelphia. The Philadelphian Cricket Team carried the mantle as the last remaining bastion of professional cricketing in the U.S., and frequently toured England and Australia, playing against some of the best cricketers in the world. A sign of the declining influence of the sport in America was that the American team consisted of “gentleman” players that had sources of wealth that allowed them to play cricket at no salary. 154px-Bart_King_Head_Shot.jpg The team had on it the best American cricket player in our national history, Bart King. King was quite the guy:

King was a skilled batsman, but proved his worth as a bowler. During his career, he set numerous records in North America and led the first-class bowling averages in England in 1908. He successfully competed against the best cricketers from England and Australia. King was the dominant bowler on his team when it toured England in 1897, 1903, and 1908. He dismissed batsmen with his unique delivery, which he called the “angler,” and helped develop the art of swing bowling in the sport. Many of the great bowlers of today still use the strategies and techniques that he developed. Sir Pelham Warner described Bart King as one of the finest bowlers of all time, and Donald Bradman called him “America’s greatest cricketing son.”

Bart King and his generation of extraordinary American cricketers could not live forever, though, and baseball only continued to gain in popularity throughout the country. As the 1910′s came to a close, the Philadelphian cricket team played its last game. Cricket in the U.S. became increasingly harder to sustain when the Imperial Cricket Conference was created, excluding non-British Empire members. Continue reading

Score One for Tolerance

A recent story I read in the New York Times last week began with this anecdote about a trip to the airport that I know many of us can relate to:

Yasmine Hafiz was passing through security at an airport near Washington several weeks ago when a federal agent stopped her. Something strange and metallic had shown up in her carry-on bag during screening. Now she needed to explain what the suspicious object was.
At 18, newly graduated from high school, Yasmine knew the drill all too well. A few years earlier, an immigration officer had demanded she present a visa to board a flight from Canada to her home in Arizona. It was as if, because she had dark skin and a Pakistani surname and was Muslim, she, an American citizen, still needed permission to enter her own country.
This time, the security agent began unpacking the carry-on bag until he found his quarry. It was a bronze disc plated with gold. “It’s a medal,” said Yasmine’s mother, Dilara, who was traveling with her. “It’s from the president.”
Yasmine had received the medallion in the White House the day before, when she was honored as one of 139 Presidential Scholars.

fontchangedlastfrontcover.jpgThis airport story is not one-of-a-kind – many of us have been through similar experiences in recent years. What it is resemblant of, however, is one of the challenges many South Asian-American students face – despite widespread success in various areas of student life, from math and science to athletics, South Asian high school and college students in the U.S. still face misconceptions about their culture, religion, and background, often at the most basic level. One graduating senior from high school in Arizona, Yasmine Hafiz, who is described in the Times article above, at only 18 years old, is working hard with her family to change misconceptions of Islam that are common in American schools, discussions and media. She and her family have written a book, the “American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook,” that aims to “bridge a cultural chasm” (NYT) by giving a clear and light explanation of the basic religious and cultural tenets of Islam for audiences of all ages. This book is an “easy-to-understand, nonproselytizing explanation” of Islam that has become a popular and moderate explanation of the religion among Jewish mothers and Episcopal schools in Arizona, as well as the ministry of education of Malaysia. Yasmine’s younger brother Imran, a sophomore, explains why his family has written the book: Continue reading