On the 4th Anniversary of the Oak Creek Massacre

On August 5, 2016, we marked the fourth anniversary of the massacre in Oak Creek that killed six people and wounded many. The attack, committed by a man with ties to white supremacist organizations, occurred at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on a Sunday morning.  Local community members marked the 4th anniversary in Oak Creek with a 6K race/walk and services at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.  The youth group, which organized the anniversary event. asked me to provide remarks, which are below.

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Credit: Lee Matz

 

Remarks On 4th Anniversary of Oak Creek Hate Violence (August 2016)

Let me start by sending my deepest gratitude to the group of young people who organized this community commemoration in Oak Creek along with Serve2Unite.

I am deeply humbled to be here this Saturday on the fourth anniversary of the hate violence at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. The youth group asked me to provide keynote remarks, but this will be  more of a love letter to the community in Oak Creek.

I know that we are also still absorbing Kamal Saini’s moving, powerful words who spoke before me. Even though I’m not related by blood to you, Kamal, and Harpreet, or to Amardeep, Pardeep, Palmeet, Prabhjot, Gurvinder, Kamal, Sarbjit, Harmeet, and Jasbir   – all who lost a parent four years ago – you are my brothers and sisters.

And even though I do not live here, Oak Creek has become a home to me.

And even though I am not a Sikh, the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin has become a place where I can find a sense of comfort, spiritual connection, and belonging.

I do not say any of this lightly. I say it, fully aware that those of us outside of Oak Creek on August 5, 2012, and who did not lose loved ones in the massacre at the gurdwara, can never fully grasp what this community has endured.

That is why we have a responsibility, a duty and obligation, to make sure that Americans do not forget what happened here four years ago.

That is why it is so important that we come together each August.

That is why it is critical for us to say their names again and again – the names of Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Suveg Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, and Satwant Singh Kaleka.

That is why we must not forget to support Baba Punjab Singh, wounded four years ago and still in a coma a few miles from here.

Because in remembering, in uniting every August, in saying the names of those taken away, and in supporting the families who endured unbearable loss, we are standing firm in our commitment to prevent another calamity of gun and hate violence from tearing the fabric of our communities. We are standing firm in our own commitment to creating more humane, more inclusive, more safe, more loving communities all across our nation.

You – the Oak Creek community – have been living and embodying this message from the days right after the tragedy on August 5, 2012.

It was at the memorial service in the gymnasium of this very high school when the nation first realized the resilience and strength of this community – in the emotional words of the family members who lost loved ones, in the sincere promises of first responders including Mayor Scaffidi, Lieutenant Brian Murphy, Chief John Edwards, Lieutenant Sam Lenda, US Attorney James Santelle, and in the actions of Oak Creek residents like Mandeep Kaur, Rahul Dubey, Navi Gill, Simran Toor and so many others who supported from the sidelines without need for attention or credit, who cleaned the gurdwara in the days after the tragedy, who organized youth groups for the young people who were exposed to deep trauma in their own place of worship, who helped with immigration applications, who provide ongoing psychological support, who speak at schools about the Sikh faith, who build bridges with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities locally, and who help to put together these anniversary commemorations year after year.

In Oak Creek, ordinary people have heeded a call to action in the midst of tragedy in order to do remarkable and extraordinary things that continue to inspire me and so many others around the nation.

At the time of the Oak Creek tragedy four years ago, I was the director of a South Asian American civil rights organization in Washington, DC. We worked with people like Amardeep Singh and Gurjot Kaur of the Sikh Coalition, Jasjit Singh at SALDEF, Valarie Kaur of Groundswell, Puni Kalra and Jasvir Kaur Singh at the Sikh Healing Collective and many others to bring national attention to what had happened in Oak Creek, to press successfully for changes to how the FBI collects data on hate violence targeting Sikhs, and to ensure that the federal government was being responsive to the range of linguistic, immigration and psychological needs in the community here.

But more than anything, we knew that our responsibility was to keep telling the story of the Oak Creek community. My small part in ensuring that as many people as possible know about what has happened here has been through writing a book called We Too Sing America, a book which begins by centering Oak Creek in a chapter called “Not Your American Dream.” The chapter’s title is a reference to the powerful testimony that Harpreet Saini provided at a hearing in Congress months after his mother, Paramjit, was murdered at the Sikh gurdwara. The chapter goes on to document how community members, public officials, government employees, faith leaders, and non-profit advocates played their parts in creating the infrastructure to provide rapid response and long-term support to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.

But we must also remember that hate violence against South Asians – such as the massacre at the Sikh gurdwara four years ago – did not begin on August 5th, 2012. In fact, it has a long history. It is one that started in the early twentieth century when Sikh and Hindu migrant workers from India were excluded from becoming citizens and from owning land, as well as subjected to violence. The Bellingham riots in Washington. The Dotbusters in New Jersey. The attacks on people like Rishi Maharaj in Queens and Sandip Patel in Pittsburgh. The post 9/11 murders of Vasudev Patel and Balbir Singh Sodhi. These are all part of the history of South Asian America, and Oak Creek stands as the latest marker of mass violence targeting our people.

But, there is more to the story here in Oak Creek. You play a critical role in our unfolding community story by reminding us that love overcomes hate, that inclusion and understanding of each other prevents fear and suspicion, and that acts of solidarity sprout hope.

You see, what is so special about this community, is that you don’t give up. No, instead, you show up.

Through your words and actions, you show us all what it means to overcome, what it means to get up day after day and spread a message of love even with a deep hole in one’s heart, and what it means to be in solidarity with people who have suffered similar losses – from the extending of your embrace to American Muslims who face tremendous discrimination and violence even 15 years after 9/11, to recognizing the families who lost children in Newtown to holding a vigil at the Sikh gurdwara last year for the African Americans killed by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina, to remembering the Latinx gay, lesbian, and transgender people killed in Orlando earlier this summer in today’s anniversary events here.

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Credit: Lee Matz

So how do we each of us carry on the legacy of the Oak Creek community? I invite each of us to make a pledge today, to identify a way in which you will make a difference.

Perhaps it’s to share the story of the Oak Creek tragedy at the workplace. Perhaps it is to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about the importance of diversity and inclusion. If you are a student, organize a talk or forum on campus about hate violence. If you are a parent, inquire about the anti-bullying policy and teacher training on bias at your children’s school. Visit the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Call out racism and bigotry at gatherings of friends and your Facebook feeds. Ask local elected officials and government agencies about their preparedness to handle hate violence.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said in 1963, “[W]e are now faced with the urgency of now.” Four years after the tragedy at the Sikh gurdwara here, we should be even more focused on the urgency of the moment.

It is up to us to practice the spirit behind the words chardhi kala – to remain in grateful optimism while we continue to fight against hatred and bigotry. As we participate in this weekend’s anniversary events, let us do so in honor of the six people who lost their lives in an act of hate, and let us recommit individually to doing our part to create safer, more inclusive, and more loving communities.

If not us, who? If not now, when? And if not here in Oak Creek, where?

Thank you.

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Credit: Pardeep Kaleka

 

 

The California History Textbook Debate: Why Progressive South Asians and Hindus Must Speak Up

What should California’s sixth and seventh graders learn from their history and social studies books about the South Asian region and South Asian religions? Over the past few months, community advocates, organizations, and scholars have been engaged in a contentious process, proposing edits and counter-edits about how California textbooks should describe and characterize the South Asian region, South Asian history, and religions followed by South Asians.

On one side of the debate is a diverse coalition of 24 interfaith and intercaste organizations called South Asian Histories For All, which has been holding the line against the efforts of a well-funded Hindu lobby that includes groups such as the Hindu American Foundation, the Uberoi Foundation, the Hindu Education Foundation and the California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM). These groups, as Eesha Pandit mentions in her piece here, have faced questions about their ties to Hindu nationalism. The South Asian Histories for All coalition has pointed out that the suggestions proposed by this Hindu lobby include distortions of Sikh and Muslim history, and the characterization of the caste system as merely a regional set of social practices, rather than as an oppressive institution rooted in Hinduism that discriminates against and marginalizes communities.

Progressive South Asians and Hindus must pay attention to these misleading, inaccurate and revisionist narratives, and most importantly, we must speak up. Doing so is often neither easy nor comfortable. In writing this piece, for example, I contended with my own caste privilege. As a light-skinned South Indian who was born into an Iyer Brahmin family, as my last name very visibly attests, I have operated for decades under the assumption that the caste system is an antiquated structure of a past that we left behind when my family immigrated to the United States from India in the mid-1980s.

But this is simply not true. Like many others, I have unwittingly and unknowingly gained benefits from being a member of a high Hindu caste, even if I do not subscribe to or embrace this identity in my daily life.

This is because as with many other ingrained biases and perceptions that South Asians hold, caste discrimination has migrated with the diaspora. Within the Hindu community in India, the United Kingdom and the United States, caste privilege and caste discrimination continue to exist, often unnoticed and under the surface, but with loud reverberations on the communities that are excluded and marginalized. We can spot it in the hierarchy of access within institutions that privilege Hindus, the hegemony of the Hindu religion in inter-faith spaces, the delivery of Hindu religious services, the decisions related to marriage within many families, and the unspoken standards of cultural and social acceptability that implicitly advantage people who are upper-caste, Hindu, and light-skinned.

This even happens in the non-profit sector and social justice spaces. During my work at a progressive national South Asian American organization for a decade, for example, my peers and I were very vigilant about creating safe spaces at community events that respected the diversity and complexity of class, immigration status, and language ability navigated by South Asians. But, we did not think enough about creating caste-safe spaces, in large part because of my own lack of understanding about the ongoing influence of caste bias in the diaspora.

Clearly, the caste system and its effects are not a remnant of the past or only a set of regional practices. Learning the truths then about the origins and ongoing impact of the caste system is not a wasted effort, especially for American children growing up in a country where the racial demographics are changing rapidly. If framed and presented truthfully, information in our children’s history textbooks about the caste system will result in increased empathy and understanding for others. Students will also be better equipped to make connections with other systems of oppression that they are learning about inside and outside their classrooms. In the same ways that learning about the system of Jim Crow segregation in the American South, the Japanese American internment, and the post 9/11 environment for Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim provides students with a critical lens to analyze race and immigration in America, so will information about the caste system give students an important critical lens to approach and understand the effects of discrimination and exclusion. Sanitizing history and erasing the experiences of marginalized peoples is not a worthwhile cause for those of us committed to diversity, justice, and equality.

One of the arguments that has emerged about the characterization of the caste system in the California textbook debate is that Indian and Hindu children will be forced to explain or defend their religion’s unsavory practices. The Washington Post has reported on a statement made by Akanksha Maddi, a California ninth grader, through the Hindu American Foundation. Maddi wrote: “My classmates and teachers think that we Hindus still believe in primitive and unjust practices…I don’t want my friends to look down upon me and my culture because of my textbook.”

I’m sure that many of us can relate to Maddi’s sentiments given our own experiences of being singled out in classrooms and having to respond to questions from peers and teachers. But our experiences will not change simply by excluding or mischaracterizing information about the caste system. Instead of focusing on the erasure or revision of history and practice, we should be ensuring that teachers are properly trained to present material in classrooms and are creating safe learning environments where no child has to experience what Maddi has. That’s how systemic change will happen.

Let’s also be clear about how and why anti-Hindu bigotry happens. While examples of anti-Hindu bigotry can be found in South Asian American history – think of the mobs that targeted “Hindoo” migrant workers at the turn of the twentieth century, or the Dotbusters who harassed and assaulted Indians in Jersey City in the 1980s, or the vandalism against Hindu temples in post 9/11 America – this type of discrimination occurs because Hindus and Indians are perceived as foreigners, outsiders, job-stealers, undesirable immigrants and “Muslim terrorists.” Anti-Hindu bias does not occur because its perpetrators have an analysis about or are motivated by caste bias. Caste is not easy to spot, whereas the characteristics of being brown in America today – the vulnerability factor for South Asians – are often very obvious.

The California textbook struggle offers an opportunity for progressive and upper caste Hindus to raise our voices. That means acknowledging our own caste privileges and the ways we benefit from it. It means committing to working towards the dismantlement of the caste system altogether, one that has been characterized by activists to slavery and apartheid. If South Asians are involved in efforts and rhetoric to tear down the system of white supremacy and to support Black and Latino communities in the United States around police brutality or the deportation crisis, we must also just as fiercely raise our voices against caste discrimination, Hindutva, and the influence of the Hindu nationalist lobby, especially in higher education.

This Thursday, the California Department of Education will be holding another hearing on proposed revisions to the history textbook struggle. Here’s what you can do.

What Can I Do?

  1. The first steps to annihilating caste are to learn more and to speak up. Learn about caste privilege and discrimination with this primer, and share this survey on caste in the diaspora widely.
  1. This week – and especially on Thursday, July 14th – send a message to the California Board of Education. It’s important for non-Californians to do so as well to demonstrate that we are listening and monitoring what is happening in Sacramento. Use or tweak the sample message below (ready for Twitter-use):

I’m a South Asian who wants children to learn the truth abt the caste system, @CADeptEd. Accept the edits of @desihistory4all

You can also call the department at 916-319-0800 or write to them through their online form.

If you are in California, attend the California Board of Education meeting on July 14th in Sacramento. For information please email getinvolved@southasianhistoriesforall.org.

  1. Hold events, conversations, and online forums at summer leadership programs, college campuses, and places of worship about issues brought up in the California textbook debate, and how you will deal with them when your state starts to revise guidelines.

Deepa Iyer is the author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. She blogs at www.deepaiyer.com and tweets @dviyer.

Orlando

Orlando. Another marker in a seemingly interminable list of places that bears the wounds and memories of hate violence and incomprehensible tragedy: Aurora. Oak Creek. Sandy Hook. Boston. San Bernadino. Charleston (a year ago on June 17th). Wounds that reopen, personally and publicly, every time another city’s name is added to the list.  Wounds that remind us of the inability of lawmakers to put into practice the solutions and policies that would end this cycle of injury and death, which should never become mundane, expected, or normalized.

The horrific attacks in Orlando took 49 lives – almost all LGBTQ Latinx people – away from their life journeys, away from their loved ones.   Another physical space where people gather has been added to the growing number of places where violence can erupt: classrooms, places of worship, movie theaters, night clubs.

The contrasts, contradictions, and connections that converged in Orlando are overwhelming.

Race and gender identity; immigration status and  sexual orientation. Latinx and Muslim. Homophobia and Islamophobia. Gun and hate violence. Gay Pride and Ramadan. The war on terror and the war on gay rights. The revelations of the shooter’s motivations and affiliations.

As the days go on, the questions that arise after every act of gun and hate violence will continue to stay in our midst.  But the complexity of what happened in Orlando demands that our questions and efforts are even more nuanced and responsive.

How can advocates ensure that communities affected by the Orlando massacre are not demonized? How will our own communities recognize, acknowledge, center and make space for complex and nuanced identities to be seen and heard? Will cross-community solidarity on paper translate into solidarity in struggle, especially as calls for increased surveillance policies that arbitrarily target Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities continue, and as rights of queer and trans community members are not secure from the bathroom to the streets to the workplace? How will governmental authorities protect communities already on the receiving end of threats of backlash? Will law enforcement agencies use smart intelligence tactics to identify threats to public safety rather than profiling, investigating and mapping communities simply based on national origin and religion?

In response to many of these questions and others, the words of those who identify as Latinx,  Muslim and LGBTQ have provided solace, inspiration and guidance. To those who are writing, speaking out, and mobilizing in the midst of grief and pain, and despite worries about your own personal safety: your words and actions are radical acts of resistance that help all of us stand up to fear and backlash.  We are with you.

Below is a shortlist of articles and videos that center LGTBQ people of color (please add more in the comments). For information including counseling support, places to donate, and organizational statements, please share this tremendous resource list from the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA). Please support the work of organizations such as the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) and the groups within the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA).

*Say Their Names:

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

*From Black Lives Matter: In Honor of Our Dead, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black – We Will Be Free.

*Rejecting Islamophobia as a Queer Latina in the Wake of the Orlando Shooting by Delma Catalina Limones

*Queer Muslims Confront Intersectional Challenges, featuring members of MASGD, USA Today

*Gay Pride, Ramadan, and Solidarity After Orlando by Muneer Ahmad in The Nation

*Post-Pulse Massacre, Moving Forward Means Rejecting Scarcity and Fear by Yas Ahmed in Colorlines

*Latinx LGBTQ Community and Its Stories of Survival Should Be at Center of Orlando Response, Democracy Now

*When the One Place That Feels Like Home Has Been Invaded by Miriam Zoila Perez in Colorlines

*Please Don’t Stop the Music by Richard Kim in The Nation

*Why We Will Keep Dancing by Ignatius Bau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join We Too Sing America Conversations in June 2016!

We Too Sing America community conversations continue to happen around the nation. Please contact Deepa (deepa@deepaiyer.com) to schedule one on your college campus, with a workplace affinity group, or as part of an event organized by a community-based organization.

*June 2, 2016: National Council of Race and Ethnicity conference

*June 2, 2016: at Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California (Oakland), more here

*June 9, 2016: Presentation at the Department of Labor (Washington, DC)

*June 13, 2016: at GVSU Grand Rapids Campus’ Loosemore Auditorium in Grand Rapids, Michigan, sponsored by the Progressive Women’s Alliance of West Michigan (more information here)

*June 23, 2016: Presentation to Center for Asian Pacific American Women

*June 23, 2016: “Confronting the New Islamophobia” panel hosted by Open Society Foundations in Baltimore with Kameelah Rashad, Tariq Toure and Amardeep Singh  (more here)

*June 25, 2016: Diversity Plaza, Jackson Heights (NYC) community event sponsored by Chhaya CDC (information forthcoming)

*June 29, 2016: Woodbridge, New Jersey, sponsored by South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey (more here)

 


 

 

 

 

Join We Too Sing America Conversations in May 2016

Already in 2016, We Too Sing America community conversations have occurred on campuses like the University of Berkeley, Towson University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Texas, at bookstores like Booksmith in San Francisco and Potter’s House in Washington DC, and at community centers like the Asian American Resource Center (Austin), the Nashville Public Library, Asian Americans for Equality, the Ursuline Arts Center (Louisville) and the Sri Ganesha Temple (Nashville).

Here’s a list of upcoming conversations in May. Please spread the word and join us! If you’d like to convene a conversation at your place of worship, with your youth group, on campus, at a government agency, at a corporate affinity group event or at your community center or local library, please email me at deepa@deepaiyer.com.

We Too Sing America Book Tour (MAY 2016)

(please click on links for more information or contact deepa@deepaiyer.com)

*May 1st at 6:30PM at the Beverley Hills Community United Methodist Church (Alexandria, VA) for Building Inclusive Community: An Evening of Dialogue and Dessert with Deepa Iyer

*May 5th at 7PM at the Asian American Writers Workshop in New York City: Intro to Islamophobia with Deepa Iyer, Yalini Dream, Aber Kawas and Hina Shamsi (all appearing in personal capacities)

*May 21st: I’m speaking on a panel with author, Chaitali Sen, at the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) annual literature festival. Check out the agenda here.

*May 25th: Presentation at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Asian Pacific American Heritage program.

*June 2nd from 6 to 8PM in Oakland: I’m in conversation with Ayoka Turner (Black Lives Matter) and Zahra Billoo (Council of Arab-Islamic Relations in the Bay Area) at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, and presented by the Oakland Public Library and the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California as part of ‘Islam & Authors’.  There’s also a book club gathering on May 11th at 6:30PM for those who are interested – you can sign up here.

 

 

Join We Too Sing America Conversations in APRIL 2016

Already in 2016, We Too Sing America community conversations have occurred on campuses like the University of Berkeley, Towson University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Texas, at bookstores like Booksmith in San Francisco, and at community centers like the Asian American Resource Center (Austin), the Nashville Public Library, Asian Americans for Equality, the Ursuline Arts Center (Louisville) and the Sri Ganesha Temple (Nashville).

Here’s a list of upcoming conversations in April. Please spread the word and join us! If you’d like to convene a conversation at your place of worship, with your youth group, on campus, or at your community center or local library, please email me at deepa@deepaiyer.com.

We Too Sing America Book Tour (APRIL 2016)

(please click on links for more information or contact deepa@deepaiyer.com)

*April 5, Washington DC at the Potter’s House (7PM), hosted by the Advancement Project, South Asian Americans Leading Together and Many Languages, One Voice

*April 6, NYC, Ford Foundation conversation about Steve Phillips’ book, Brown is the New White

*April 11 in Wilmington, Delaware, hosted by South Asian Bar Association of Delaware (contact deepa@deepaiyer.com for information)

*April 12 in New York City, in conversation hosted by the Asian American Federation, with Kermit Roosevelt, Chris Kwok and Arun Venugopal

*April 27 in Philadelphia, hosted by the South Asian Bar Association of Philadelphia

*May Sneak Peek! Join me, Hina Shamsi of the ACLU and Linda Sarsour of MPower Change for a conversation hosted by the Asian American Writers Workshop and the South Asian Bar Association of New York on May 5th in NYC!

 

 

 

Join We Too Sing America Conversations in March 2016!

Already in 2016, We Too Sing America community conversations have occurred on campuses like the University of Berkeley and the University of Texas, at bookstores like Booksmith in San Francisco, and at community centers like the Asian American Resource Center (Austin), the Nashville Public Library, and the Sri Ganesha Temple (Nashville).

Here’s a list of upcoming conversations in March. Please spread the word and join us! If you’d like to convene a conversation at your place of worship, with your youth group, on campus, or at your community center or local library, please email deepa@deepaiyer.com.

We Too Sing America Book Tour (March 2016)

(please click on links for more information or contact deepa@deepaiyer.com)

*March 2 at Towson University (in conversation with Shani Banks and Yves Gomes)

*March 7 at Brennan Center for Justice 

*March 18 at Asian American/Asian Research Institute of the City University of New York (in conversation with Zohra Saed)

*March 24th at Asian Americans for Equality’s Equality Fund Book Club (NYC)

*March 28th in Louisville, Kentucky at the Ursuline Arts Center

 

 

 

Booklist Includes We Too Sing America in Top 10 List of Multicultural Books

Pledge Postcards

 

Thank you, Booklist, the magazine of the American Librarians Association, for including We Too Sing America to the Top 10 Multicultural Non-Fiction Books of the Year! It’s simultaneously surreal and gratifying to share any ink space with writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sandra Cisneros. Please check out the full list – and read all these books at your local library! 

 

 

Five Steps Forward Towards Addressing Islamophobia and Xenophobia

When my book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, was released in early November, I did not expect that the themes it addresses – the devastating impact of the national security policies, the daily phenomenon of anti-Muslim sentiment, and the growth of xenophobic narratives on communities in post 9/11 America – would come into such sharp focus as they have over the past month and a half.

In the wake of the heinous attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, we have witnessed the drumbeat of dangerous political rhetoric and a spate of attacks targeting Muslim, Arab and South Asian community members on streets and campuses, and at stores and places of worship. As we digest news about horrific hate crimes on a daily basis, as we begin to understand the impact of today’s climate on young Muslim, Arab, and South Asians, and as we read about the divisive rhetoric from those seeking political office, it is natural to feel discouraged.

At #WeTooSingAmerica community conversations from New York to Washington, DC to Chicago to Atlanta to Seattle, people have shared that they are experiencing a range of emotions these days, from frustration to hopelessness to outrage to sadness. That is exactly why what we do now matters: to come together, to speak up, to show up, and to do so in ways that center the experiences of Muslim communities in the United States.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of people ready and willing to do so, to explicitly say that “we are better than this.”  I’ve seen this firsthand at #WeTooSingAmerica community conversations, where people of all racial and faith backgrounds have been making pledges to talk about, take action on the issues and narratives facing Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities in post 9/11 America, and to influence others to do the same.

Culled from the responses from people around the country, and from the examples of positive actions already happening, below are five ways to take action now to demonstrate that it is vital – and possible – to point our country in an alternative direction: one based on a shared vision of respect, justice, equity, and solidarity.

[Want to add to this list and provide additional examples and best practices? Email deepa@deepaiyer.com or post up on the We Too Sing America facebook page].

  1. Statements Matter “I will ask my organization, my elected official, my place of worship to make statements of support and solidarity”

At this moment, strong statements that directly center and address xenophobia and Islamophobia are important in setting a different tone for our country. Here are some solid examples that you can use to make an ask of your local newspaper to write an editorial, your campus administrators for an official message from the President, your own organization or network, or your local elected official or City Council.

  • From City Agencies and City Councils

Nashville Metro Human Relations Commission

Seattle City Council Resolution

  •  From Campus Administration/Student Voices

Best practice tip: Ask university officials to consider sending a message to the entire campus community about the impact of today’s climate on Muslim, Arab and South Asian students, and to reiterate the campus’ anti-discrimination policies and commitment to inclusion. Ask student groups to stand in solidarity with Muslim Student Associations on campuses and centralize Islamophobia and xenophobia as key aspects of conferences, meetings, and programs in 2016. Examples:

Cal Poly Pomona

Eastern Coachella Valley Youth Speak Out Against Islamophobia after a nearby mosque reported being firebombed

  • From Allies and Organizations

National Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander organizations speak out against bigotry at the Japanese American Memorial

Statement from Asian and Pacific Islander organizations in Washington State

  • From Editorial Boards

Detroit Free Press Editorial Board’s We Stand Together. We are better than Bigotry.

2. Prevention Matters: “As a parent, I am going to ask my school counselor and principal how they are planning to address bullying and bias against Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian students.”

We can attempt to stem the tide of hate violence and bias incidents in schools, communities and workplaces with three R’s in mind: ensuring that communities being targeted are aware of their rights; that government agencies and public stakeholders publicly articulate and vigorously enforce their responsibilities under anti-discrimination laws; and that resources are made available to assist communities in need.

Examples:

  • Ask your local civil and human rights commission to release in-language factsheets about the legal protections that exist on the basis of national origin and faith.
  • Ask your City Council to hold a hearing on the impact of today’s climate on Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities that reflects the voices and experiences of local community members and leaders.
  • If you are a parent, ask your school principal and counselors about their plans to ensure that policies and resources are in place to address bullying. Free resources from the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments here

3. Conversations Matter: “I will have a conversation about race and Islamophobia with my colleagues at work”; “I will challenge my relatives who make anti-Muslim statements.”

The messiest and most difficult conversations are often the ones we have with the people in our closest circles of colleagues, family members and friends to raise awareness and shift viewpoints. Here are some resources to help shape those conversations that include questions and remarks such as “Aren’t all terrorists Muslims?” or “The Syrian refugees could be dangerous.”

Resources:

4. Supporting Organizations and Grassroots Efforts Matters:

Crisis response has been a daily phenomenon for groups working with Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Sikh communities, including local community-based organizations and places of worship in your area. This is an ideal time, as we close out the year, to make a donation to support their work.  While there are many amazing organizations to support (many are linked in the sections on this post or here), I’m highlighting two local ones that are particularly invested in organizing and base building.

5. Showing Up Matters:

Coming together with Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities for a press conference, a civic action, a march on campus or a solidarity event at a mosque sends a powerful message at this moment. Check out the links above for examples of events.

Prepare for or follow up on solidarity events with an awareness and strategy session with the membership of your own organizations and representatives of Muslim, Arab and South Asian groups.  Best Practice Tip: At all times, it is important to connect with and take the lead from groups working directly with MASA communities to reflect their voices and expertise on messaging.

[Want to add to this list and provide additional examples and best practices? Email deepa@deepaiyer.com or post up on the We Too Sing America facebook page].

 

We Too Sing America in Bookstores on November 3rd!

Thank you for stopping by! Here are some quick links and information about my new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. 

*What’s the Book About?  Race, demographics, power, communities of color, immigrants, post 9/11 America, and stories of young activists from South Asian, Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities. More details here.

*Interested? Get Your Copy: Please purchase at an independent bookstore near you (ask them to order a copy if they don’t have one in stock) or online. You can also order via Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

*Come to a Book Talk:  Join me in conversation with local activists in New York City (11/10), Washington, DC (11/11), Baltimore (11/12), Chicago (11/17), the University of Michigan (11/19), Louisville, Seattle (12/1) and Atlanta (12/8), San Francisco (1/20/2016) and Austin (2/20/2016).

*Convene a Race Talk on your campus, city, community center or workplace: Contact Deepa at deepa@deepaiyer.com.

*Stay in Touch: Complete the form below to receive occasional dispatches from Deepa with resources, articles, and updates related to the themes in the book. Just indicate that you want to subscribe to my e-newsletter.

Thank you for your interest and support!

 

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