Five Rivers to Five Boroughs

bhangraagainstbush.jpgI’ve been obsessed lately with political posters. Particularly artwork depicting struggles of the Desi diaspora. So obsessed that I created Mutinous Mindstate on tumblr to curate the various important images and artwork I’ve come across over the years. In fact, it was DJ Rekha that first responded to my tweet asking for Desi political art with an image of PardonMyHIndi designed event poster for Basement Bhangra Against Bush in 2004.

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Along very similar vein, DJ Rekha is also involved with an art show that premiered in New York City this month at 92YTribeca. The Soho Road to Punjab is an exhibit inspired by bhangra music and has exhibited overseas in the UK over the past few years. This NYC-angled exhibit, title Five Rivers to Five Boroughs, is the first time the exhibit will be shown in the U.S.

The exhibit will showcase behind-the-scenes photography, album sleeves, promotional art, and rare prints from South Asian media. The exhibit also highlights individuals who have helped the Bhangra scene progress.

The exhibit’s story refers to the impact New York has had on the spread of Bhangra. Brooklyn-based DJ Rekha, a musician and curator, named Ambassador of Bhangra by the New York Times, shares her personal collection of material for the New York version of this project. [facebook] Continue reading

‘I, Nikki Randhawa Haley’: An Inaugural Moment

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Governor Nikki Haley’s inauguration last Wednesday felt like a glimmer of light in a political landscape darkened by the recent tragic mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Republicans, Tea Party supporters, Mama Grizzlies, crack-the-fiscal-whip types, Haley’s family, friends and community–all these people and others had reasons to feel happy on the occasion of her inauguration. But what made my day was seeing the young girls who braved the freezing weather in Columbia to see the first-ever inauguration of a woman and minority governor in the history of South Carolina, a history that spans at least four centuries.

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We Are Those Lions

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Photo by simonm1965

Jayaben Desai passed away recently at age 77, leaving an extraordinary legacy in labor history. With a handbag in one hand and a bullhorn in the other, she led a two-year strike in the mid-1970s protesting the unequal pay and poor treatment of workers at a North London Grunwick film processing factory. The factory’s workforce consisted mostly of desi immigrants from East Africa, and many were women.

Before she walked off the job one day in 1976, the diminutive Gujarat-born Desai who came in at under 5 feet tall and immigrated to England by way of Tanzania, had a few words for her manager Malcolm Alden.

What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your finger-tips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr manager. Continue reading

Sikhs in the Yankee Army

As we tweeted earlier, here is an intriguing picture: A Sikh American Civil War veteran [via Sikhnet]

Here is the caption as to the origin of the picture:

I came across this photograph recently. It is a photo of British veterans of the American Civil War of 1861-65. The British veterans had gathered in London in 1917 to welcome the American troops on their way to Fight in France during World War One. Among them is (I believe ) a Sikh gentlemen sitting near the centre. I am curious to see if there were any Sikhs in the US army at this time.I am trying to discover this persons story as it is seems very interesting. Any insight in this matter would be most appreciated. -R.S. Kooner

Keep in mind that service in the U.S. military has always been one path to citizenship.

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Deported and Denied

It’s absurd really how the immigration debate has been commandeered by people who have messaged this issue as though “brown” is only Mexican, and “the border” is the only way people cross into the U.S. Evidence of this can clearly be seen in dirty political ads that are coming out as the countdown to Election Day approaches November 2nd.

The truth is, the history of immigration in the U.S. is complicated. And the current history of undocumented immigrants as well as deportation of immigrants is just as complicated. For Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package, many different issues should be addressed besides just building a wall. Colorlines Magazine put out a fascinating and well-made report this week about a Bangladeshi youth that was deported out of the U.S. after authorities were not satisfied with how he responded to the question, “Are you a citizen?”

Shahed Hossain was a Texan to the core. He spent most of his childhood and adolescence just outside of Fort Worth, dated a young women whose mother worked as an accountant for a military contractor, went fishing on the river with his best friend and held a weekend high school job scooping ice cream at a breakthrough near his family’s house.

The young man had a green card and was soon to be a citizen, but he was removed from his home over a trifle: He accidentally told a border guard he was a citizen rather than a permanent resident, thus triggering automatic deportation….In the three years since Hossain was deported, over one million others have been removed from their homes as well. [colorlines]

Happy Columbus Day, y’all. Continue reading

WWII Flying ace passes away

SM tipster Amol notifies us of some sad news today out of the UK:

An Indian pilot who flew Hawker Hurricanes during World War II has died, it has been announced.

Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Pujji, 92, died at Darent Valley Hospital in Kent on Saturday following a stroke.

Sqn Ldr Pujji was believed to be the last surviving fighter pilot from a group of 24 Indians who arrived in Britain in 1940.

He survived several crashes and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for services in Burma. [Google]

The photograph in the article conveys the swagger of a pilot who knows he’s a bad-ass.

He seems to have given an interview earlier this year:

Mohinder Singh remembers the start of the war vividly. Just a year after it had begun, at the height of the Battle of Britain, he decided to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). He was 22 years old and in search of adventure.

‘I saw London being bombed, I saw what people were suffering and I knew what they were going through and how cruel the enemy was because they were throwing bombs on civilians. They were not fighting soldier to soldier and hundreds of people were being made homeless so that changed my perspective, then I was very keen to fight for the country, for this country where I had come to seek adventure really.’

Two or three pilots would be lost everyday and Mohinder almost became a casualty himself several times.‘From day one in every letter to my parents I said don’t expect me back.’ [Link]

Here is a newer picture from an article in The Guardian last year that detailed a permanent exhibit at the RAF museum (that I once visited as a kid) called “Diversity in the Royal Air Force”:

I will likely re-visit this whole topic in greater detail at some point in the future.

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America has a Nativism problem, not a “Muslim Problem”

Does America Have a Muslim Problem?

…Islamophobia in the U.S. doesn’t approach levels seen in other countries where Muslims are in a minority. But to be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith — not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country’s most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery. In France and Britain, politicians from fringe parties say appalling things about Muslims, but there’s no one in Europe of the stature of a former House Speaker who would, as Newt Gingrich did, equate Islam with Nazism. [Time]

My answer to Bobby Ghosh, the author of Time’s cover story, is “no.” America, despite all the ugly rhetoric of the past several weeks, is not Islamaphobic. Instead, I would say that America is currently in the grips of yet another episode of ugly Nativism, this particular episode fueled by power hungry ideologues that have access to methods of mass communication not present during former episodes of Nativism in our country: the 24 hour media cycle and the internet. “Islamaphobia” is not what afflicts our nation. It is merely a symptom of the underlying malady which, like chronic malaria, can flair up and leave the collective “us,” the American people, weak until treated. It will never be totally eradicated. Treating the problem by adopting an “enlightened” us vs.”ignorant” them mentality will make things worse, as will appeasement (see examples of the latter here, here, and here).

Before continuing the discussion it is important to understand what “Nativism” is in the context of American history. History has always been my favorite subject because historians are like fortune tellers. Everything that has happened will likely happen again. Let’s start with the most basic place to learn about the history of Nativism in our country. You guessed it, Wikipedia:

Nativism favors the interests of certain established inhabitants of an area or nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. It may also include the re-establishment or perpetuation of such individuals or their culture.

Nativism typically means opposition to immigration or efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups because the groups are considered hostile or alien to the natural culture, and it is assumed that they cannot be assimilated. [Wikipedia]

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Sri Lanka: A Year After War’s End

We had some very vigorous discussions at Sepia Mutiny last year as the civil war in Sri Lanka ended, with the LTTE defeat, the death of Prabhakaran, and the placement of some 200,000 Tamils in temporary refugee camps.

I haven’t followed the week-to-week developments since then terribly closely, but several recent developments were mentioned in a thought-provoking Op-Ed by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi in the Guardian yesterday. There is some good news overall, as the peace has held, but Tutu and Brahimi also acknowledge that progress towards rebuilding the affected parts of northern Sri Lanka, and the broader project of healing and reintegration, has been painfully slow. Here are the specific things Tutu and Brahimi want to see the government do:

Respect for minorities, human rights and the rule of law must be centre stage in Sri Lanka’s future. The worsening conflict saw limitations imposed on civil liberties and democratic institutions. The recent relaxation of emergency laws and the promised presidential pardon for Tamil journalist JS Tissainayagam are welcome, but they are only a start. Real change must begin with repealing the state of emergency and re-establishing the constitutional council.

All displaced civilians should be helped to return home. Those suspected of being fighters must be treated humanely with full regard to international law.

[...] There is a growing body of evidence that there were repeated and intentional violations of international humanitarian law by both the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) in the last months of the war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision earlier this month to appoint a commission on lessons learnt and reconciliation is a step in the right direction but not nearly enough. There is no indication, as yet, that the commission intends to hold anyone to account for any violations of domestic or international law. (link)

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End of Decade Polls #2, #3 #3A: Sports and Cinema

The results of poll #1, on the most influential Desi musician of the 2000s, are pretty clear — with about 200 votes cast, A.R. Rahman wins by a significant margin, with M.I.A. as the second most influential Desi musician of the 2000s.

The topic of the next poll was strongly suggested by the comments following the first one — sports. I tried to use what the commenters were suggesting to guide my choices.

While I am at it, however, I am also doing a poll for the best Desi film of the 2000s. Here, it seemed wrong to put artsy “diaspora” films up against commercial South Asian cinema (Bollywood, Tollywood, etc.), so I created a poll #3 — for commercial cinema — and a poll #3A — for specifically South Asian diaspora cinema.

Choosing the films for the commercial cinema category was challenging, and I kept finding that certain films had a natural pairing (for instance, Lagaan, by Ashutosh Gowariker, goes with Swades). I also realized that some of the most influential commercial films were known not for their directors, but for writers and producers; Vidhu Vinod Chopra, whose name was associated with both Munnabhai films, only wrote the first one. Similarly, Karan Johar’s name is associated with several important films he produced rather than directed. And the directors for many Yash Raj Films are unknowns, but the films have a certain “stamp” to them. So I used the idea of the “filmmaker,” which could be the writer, director, or producer.

I’m sure my approach will seem a little unusual to some folks, but hopefully it’s coherent enough, and you see something there you want to vote for. (At the very least, my approach solved the problem of how to pick just 10 commercial films from over the entire decade.) Finally, people who really know regional cinema might want to create your own “Best Of 2000s” lists in the comments — I simply haven’t seen very much Telugu cinema, for example, so I don’t have any Telugu filmmakers listed here.

All three polls after the fold. Continue reading

Desi Women of the Decade: Poll #4

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Back in my younger mutinous days, when I was the youngest in the bunker, I wrote this post on “cool” desi women under the age of 30. I wrote it because I wanted to highlight other Desi American women in my age range who were “doing something”. A list like that didn’t exist then. We have since had many more young folk added to the mutinous blog roll in the bunker and there are even more Desi women than ever doing amazing things.

I too am jumping on the ’00 decade list making band wagon. In the past decade, I went from being a nascent 20 year old to a pseudo-mature 30 yr old. But more significantly, I think of how in 2000, as a desi girl in the U.S., I didn’t have any South Asian American females that I could turn to – as role models, as women breaking barriers, as women in the media. It was alienating and isolating, to not see Desi women breaking glass ceilings. I didn’t realize that there were things that desi girls could do outside of the “model minority job list” – I had no one really to look towards. In these past ten years, the South Asian American community has grown with leaps and bounds. Strong desi women have coming out of the wood works. They are on big screens, on the shelves of major book stores, and profiled in the news. Desi women are running for office, going to space, starting and directing non-profits, and running companies. I am so proud of to be a Desi woman of this decade, to be a part of a community giving the next generation of Desi girls role models to look up to.

So here is my mutinous list of the top 20 most influential South Asian American Women of the Decade (in alphabetical order). Please vote on the woman that you feel has been most influential to you in the poll at the bottom of the post. Continue reading