Going Back to Cali

On the heel’s of my national Desi post, and Razib’s international Desi post, I got curious. What about California? That is a state where data was released for “Asian Indians only” by the Census data so far. A friend asked me for California numbers over the weekend (he wants to set up a practice in California and wanted to see where Desis were living – I never would have thought to use census data for that). To make it visually easier for him (and me) I dropped the data for California cities with Asian Indian populations on a google map.

View Asian Indian Population in California in a larger map

It’s no fancy GIS map nor does the data really tell you much beyond population and concentration – but it was quick and simple. The purple markers represent the top ten cities with Asian Indian populations and the yellow markers are for everything above a population of 3,000. The blue markers are for cities with high concentrations of Asian Indians but did not have a population of Asian Indians over 3,000 people. Once again, this map is for people that marked “Asian Indian only” – it does not account for mixed race, nor does it account for other South Asians like Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, etc…

To me what was the most surprising were the really small cities in the central valley that have a relatively large concentrations of Asian Indians. I’d love to do a Cali road trip based on this map, and hit up the Indian restaurants along the way. Because I imagine, where there’s an Indian population, there’s a saag paneer joint not too far away. Is there an app for that? Continue reading

Where My Desis At…So Far?

Two million South Asian Americans. At least, those are the figures we’ve been working with since the 2000 Census and many of us have been on the edge of our seats to see how these numbers have changed in the past 10 years. The US Census is slowing releasing their data and this week they released numbers the larger Asian subcategories under Asian. Meaning, we now have access to some “Asian Indian only” data for SOME of the states. This didn’t keep the media from publishing findings, and I spent some time trying to suss out their source.

A little surfing on American FactFinder (actually, a really inordinate amount of time surfing – they’ve updated the site and it’s not very intuitive). It turns out the South Asian American population has grown – of the Asian American categories, Asian Indians are the second largest only after Chinese. The South Asian population is at 2,802,676 and these will most likely change as the 2010 numbers get published on the census site.

So. Where exactly are the Desis at?

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I took the population data available and did a county break down of all the Asian Indians residing and divided that by the total population. Please note, since the data is still being released in waves, we are still missing a few states to this analysis – Arkansas, New Jersey and Texas and likely some more. Clearly the data for New Jersey and Texas will change the findings. Also keep in mind that the sub-categories for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc… have not been published yet.

At 11.1% concentration, we have Sutter County, CA listed at the top. Home to Yuba City and a long history of Sikh American farmers, this should come as no big surprise, though the percentage point is rather high. Santa Clara County is next on the list and is considered the “Silicon Valley”, including landmarks such as Stanford University and Google. Third on the list is of course, Queens County, which is where the Indian neighborhood Jackson Heights is.

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If you look at raw population count alone, Santa Clara County is number one, Queens County is number two and Los Angeles County is number three. Continue reading

Tiger Moms raising Paper Tigers?

This is going to be the most talked about article since Amy Chua’s. Every South Asian American man visiting this site should read the whole thing. Here are just some of the attention grabbing sections from Wesley Yang’s piece in New York Magazine, broken out for our readers (and these excerpts are from just the first half of the 11 page article). First, what a school with admissions based purely on test scores looks like:

Entrance to Stuyvesant, one of the most competitive public high schools in the country, is determined solely by performance on a test: The top 3.7 percent of all New York City students who take the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test hoping to go to Stuyvesant are accepted. There are no set-asides for the underprivileged or, conversely, for alumni or other privileged groups. There is no formula to encourage “diversity” or any nebulous concept of “well-­roundedness” or “character.” Here we have something like pure meritocracy. This is what it looks like: Asian-­Americans, who make up 12.6 percent of New York City, make up 72 percent of the high school.

This year, 569 Asian-Americans scored high enough to earn a slot at Stuyvesant, along with 179 whites, 13 Hispanics, and 12 blacks. Such dramatic overrepresentation, and what it may be read to imply about the intelligence of different groups of New Yorkers, has a way of making people uneasy. But intrinsic intelligence, of course, is precisely what Asians don’t believe in. They believe–and have ­proved–that the constant practice of test-taking will improve the scores of whoever commits to it. All throughout Flushing, as well as in Bayside, one can find “cram schools,” or storefront academies, that drill students in test preparation after school, on weekends, and during summer break. “Learning math is not about learning math,” an instructor at one called Ivy Prep was quoted in the New York Times as saying. “It’s about weightlifting. You are pumping the iron of math.” Mao puts it more specifically: “You learn quite simply to nail any standardized test you take.”

But it won’t last into college:

Colleges have a way of correcting for this imbalance: The Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade has calculated that an Asian applicant must, in practice, score 140 points higher on the SAT than a comparable white applicant to have the same chance of admission. This is obviously unfair to the many qualified Asian individuals who are punished for the success of others with similar faces. Upper-middle-class white kids, after all, have their own elite private schools, and their own private tutors, far more expensive than the cram schools, to help them game the education system…

And it isn’t like the movies anymore:

“The general gist of most high-school movies is that the pretty cheerleader gets with the big dumb jock, and the nerd is left to bide his time in loneliness. But at some point in the future,” he says, “the nerd is going to rule the world, and the dumb jock is going to work in a carwash.

“At Stuy, it’s completely different: If you looked at the pinnacle, the girls and the guys are not only good-looking and socially affable, they also get the best grades and star in the school plays and win election to student government. It all converges at the top. It’s like training for high society. It was jarring for us Chinese kids. You got the sense that you had to study hard, but it wasn’t enough.”

Continue reading

Dharun Ravi is Charged with a Hate Crime

Today, a New Jersey grand jury indicted Dharun Ravi with hate crime charges. Ravi was a freshman at Rutgers University when he streamed footage of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, becoming intimate with another man on September 19, 2010. Tragically, on September 22, Clementi committed suicide by leaping from the George Washington Bridge.

If he is convicted, Ravi could receive five to ten years in prison for invading his roommate’s privacy and attempting to cover up his actions– the 19-year old deleted a tweet that invited people to watch Clementi a second time and did other desperate things:

In addition, prosecutors accuse Ravi of attempting to mislead the investigation, deleting text messages and Twitter posts, and trying to persuade witnesses not to testify against him. He is charged with evidence and witness tampering, and hindering prosecution. [The Record]

According to ABC news, “Ravi filmed Clementi with the purpose of intimidating him” for being attracted to other men: Continue reading

With So Much Drama in the DMV

DMV Masala.jpg

I walked outside and felt abnormally grateful for the traffic clogging my street at lunch time. I needed a cab and there were several, stranded in front of me.

The middle one had a female driver, so I chose her. Once I slammed the door, I was surprised; the interior smelled like auto parts, dust and WD-40– a combination which transported me into the past, to my father’s garage, a place where I learned the difference between a flat and Phillips screwdriver before I figured out the alphabet. I checked my sexism immediately and felt bad for the dissonance I was experiencing at the shock of such a scent combined with a female driver. I knew better than that.

“Thanks for picking me.” She smiled wryly. She was middle-aged and African American, with thick, bouncy curls. Some of her facial expressions reminded me of Loretta Devine, which secretly delighted me. Devine was the best part of one of my favorite seasonal guilty pleasures: “This Christmas“. Stop judging me. I liked it before Chris Brown did that. Oh, you’re judging me because it’s a mediocre film which over-relies on holiday cliches to make its point…sure, I deserve that. Carry on!

“I’m not going to lie,” I began. “I thought it was cool that you were a female cab driver. I don’t usually get those.” I smiled at her.

“Yeah, we’re rare.” She studied me in her rear view mirror.

“Are you Indian?”, she asked.

“My parents are–”

“And so are you!”, she declared, emphatically.

I laughed. My pat answer had been challenged; that usually doesn’t happen. Continue reading

A nuanced brown place in the world

Recently my friend Michelle re-tweeted this tweet you see to the left from Aziz Ansari. When I was in college some Indian students would play cricket in the public spaces I had to cross to get between classes, and they would consistently stop what they were doing and give me an inviting stare down. Finally I asked them what was up, and one of the players wondered if I played cricket. I explained not only did I not play cricket, but I had no idea what they were doing most of the time. One of my interlocutors quipped that I looked like I should play cricket. I had to laugh at that, and went on my way.

So first, congratulations to India! I recall how excited Americans were when we won the Women’s Soccer World Cup in 1999, when frankly most Americans didn’t even follow the sport. I can only imagine the euphoria in India due to victory in a sporting activity which is near the center of national consciousness.

But this gets me to a broader issue: as an Indian American, Aziz Ansari serves as a representative in the minds of his fellow Americans of India. In several of the comedic references I’ve seen to his ethnicity Aziz seems to express curiosity as to the farcical nature that his representation of a billion people sometimes takes on. For example, when Slumdog Millionaire was in the public eye people would apparently discuss it with him constantly (Aziz naturally expressed wonder at what the world must be for like for white people, who are the subject of so many films!).

Continue reading

Behind the Orange Curtain is a Minority Majority

When you hear the words “Orange County,” I’m sure you have an image that comes to your head very much like the ones on television shows “The O.C.” or “The Real Wives of Orange County.” The image I have, after having organized there for the past two years, is very different. The O.C. is a largely diverse county, with a “minority majority” where only 45% of the population is White and 17% of the population of Asian descent, according to the recent 2009 Census report. The largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam resides in Garden Grove in Little Saigon, and Santa Ana is an epicenter of the Latino population. And of course, the Muslims. There is a large population of Muslims scattered across the county – in fact, according to a religious study from 2000, it is the 5th most popular religion in the county, representing 1.4 percent of the population of The O.C. I’m sure the statistics on this will be different if you look at 2011 result of the region on religion.

Why am I telling you about this other perspective of Orange County? To give you context as you watch this video, released by CAIR-LA on Wednesday.

The above video was filmed at a rally in February, outside of a fundraiser for the Islamic Circle of North America, a charity driven international Muslim organization.

The event – held at Yorba Linda Community Center, a facility that has been frequented by Muslim families and businesses over the years – first became a target of anti-Muslim bigots over two of the fundraiser’s speakers, who were to speak on the importance of charity in Islam. [cair-la]

What was most disturbing to me, albeit not surprising since I’ve had to build relationships with Electeds in this region, is the statements that came from the politicians that spoke at the rally. Councilwoman Deborah Pauly clearly implied that all the Muslims should be murdered. In light of what happened with the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, due to the hate sentiments fueled in the community (as well as by Sarah Palin) and a lunatic eventually retaliating with a gun shot in to head… Well. Can Deborah Pauly really be that ignorant to not make a connection that her words could have the same effect? Or maybe she knows, and simply doesn’t care.

Villa Park Councilwoman, Deborah Pauly, while addressing the crowd at the rally, appeared to threaten Muslim event-goers. Congressman Ed Royce (R-40), in a troubling trend of disparaging Islam and its followers, added fuel to the fire by encouraging protesters to continue on with their hate-mongering. The attendance of Congressman Gary Miller (R-42) was a clear surprise, since he previously has engaged with all constituents, including Muslims, toward a better America. [cair-la]

But this situation isn’t simply a one-off of crazy tea-baggers in Orange County. There have been a string of Islamaphobic stories recently in Orange County – from the protesting of the construction of mosques to a hijabi woman fighting for her job at Disneyland because she wanted to wear her hijab to work. But the biggest story currently comes from UC Irvine, with the case of the Irvine 11.

The students — 8 currently at UC Irvine and 3 UC Riverside graduates — were charged with with two misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and disturbance of the meeting by the Orange County District Attorney’s office on Friday, only a few days after a protest was staged outside of the DA’s office in support of the so-called ‘Irvine 11.’ Continue reading

We Have Come a Long Way

Today South Asian Americans Leading Together is launching a year long narrative campaign ‘America4All.’ The campaign will be collecting and sharing stories from the South Asian community on reflections of the past ten years since September 11th. Cross posted below is my piece launching the campaign on the SAALT Spot blog. Please follow the blog to get the latest from the ‘America4All’ series.


I used to tell this story. It was 2001 and I was living in D.C., 22 yrs old and miles away from my family in Los Angeles. It was just months after September 11th and as a Muslim South Asian woman, though I knew there would be repercussion for looking like the enemy, I was most worried about my family.

Sure enough, on a phone call with my mother she shared a story of how Homeland Security came to our house looking for my male cousin. My family had stopped going to the mosque, wore patriotic flag pins and got followed in unmarked vehicles. My mother said “it doesn’t matter that I’ve lived here for 30 years or that I have my citizenship. I will always be a second class citizen.”

Thus marked my oft told founding story of why I became a South Asian American activist.

Ten years since September 11th, 2001, I wonder, how much has really changed?

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This is the story I tell when people ask me about South Asian American Voting Youth, an organization I founded in 2003 to organize young South Asian people around the country. I was young, naïve and invincible. I truly believed in the power of electoral politics and civic engagement and, most importantly, I believed we could swing political power in our favor when we vote. If we did that – the racial profiling, hate crimes and marginalization of our community would all just stop.

The organization has since dissolved and the state of the South Asian American community has evolved. For me, it has now gone beyond simply registering South Asian Americans to vote into a world of identity politics and includes documenting our narratives and building community at both the pop and politics level. Continue reading

Dash the Curry

indian-spice.jpgHitting the interwebs and twitterverse today is a story out of Wales that makes you scream, ‘that’s racist!” It’s the story of a teacher who thinks she can aerosol the Brown away.

Elizabeth Davies, 48, was accused of “humiliating” children aged between three and six by using the aerosol spray on them on nursery class. Mrs Davies, a nursery schoolteacher for 20 years, taught at a inner-city school where more than half of her pupils were Bangladeshi.

The hearing was told she accused Bangladeshi children of smelling of onions or curry – and would say “there is a waft coming in from paradise” before blasting the air freshener. [telegraph]

I’m show you wafts of paradise, Mrs. Davies. You should know better than to be OCD about aromas if you are going to be a school teacher of preschoolers!

Mrs Davies is also accused of spraying other children who broke wind, washing their hands with pine disinfectant and making them stand on newspaper for accidentally wetting themselves.

Mother-of-two Mrs Islam said the spray was “usually” for children who had English has an additional language. [telegraph]

This case is just abhorrent. It’s difficult enough going to school as a pre-schooler. Do you remember it? Being four years old, having to say good-bye to your mother at the classroom door, walking into a room full of strange kids, and having to make new friends? Remember navigating which language to use or why your skin was browner than the others? Really though, it was simply about wanting to belong. What Mrs. Davies was simply uncalled for, and what she did could only be called racist.

Thank goodness she was fired after a parent complained. May her next job be a waitress at an Indian restaurant. Continue reading

The Absolutely Sick Sikh Knowledge

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On his right forearm he has this tattoo. I didn’t recognize it at first – a four by four of solid black squares. “It’s the squares to my drum pad,” Sikh Knowledge said, pointing casually to his arm. It made sense – he was a reggae dancehall musician that loved to produce music. You may not know who he is but you will and I guarantee you’ve heard his beats. His tunes are the base music for many of the up and coming hip hop Desi artists of the day - Humble the Poet, Mandeep Sethi, and Hoodini have all used tracks produced by him.

Hailing from Montreal and well known on the Canuck Desi scene, Sikh Knowledge made his way to California for a mini-tour in December, hitting up cities all along the coast. I met him in Sacramento, where he was doing a show with his Sikh hip-hop posse at the Sol Collective. The show was live and it was intense to see a whole scene of brown underground hip hop heads. I sat down with Sikh Knowledge aka Kanwar Anit Singh Saini before he jumped on the mic at the Sacramento show. Here’s what he had to say.

Sikh Knowledge got his start young, singing at the temple when he was a child. But he got into hip-hop also at a young age. “I was one of those kids that would beat box going to school… I was the only grade 3 kid bringing mixed tapes to school. I lost Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step” on the playground and that’s when I cried at school.” It was when he heard the Sound Bwoy Burill track in 1994 that he knew he was going to make music his life.

But what really made an impression on me was Sikh Knowledge’s confidence in pursuing his life. At the age of 20, he decided to stop being what other people wanted him to be, dropped out of engineering school and re-started honestly. “I dropped out, came out, and rearranged my whole life,” he stated. “I reapplied and did my undergraduate degree in music with a minor in linguistics. It was the happiest time of my life. I felt good about the decisions that I made.” He’s currently pursuing his Master degree in speech language pathology while having the dual career of mixing some of the ill-est beats in North America. Continue reading