Tag Archives: south asian

Voices Revisited: 9/11 And Communities Of Color

Twelve years after the September 11th attacks, we wanted to take this chance to revisit stories told from the perspective of Muslim communities and other communities of color dealing with the event. First, this episode of the Ask A Muslim webseries posted last year, in which Imam Murad Abdul-Zahir breaks down the backlash against Muslims following the attacks: “Anyone even resembling a Muslim were attacked and came under a lot of scrutiny.”

And two years ago, Latoya introduced us to the Unheard Voices of 9/11, a collection of short testimonials that included this one from Gigi El Sayed.

“They called you racist. They called you terrorist,” she explains. “I was still a child. I barely understood the words and I would ask my parents … My mom almost had her scarf pulled off in an elevator.”

There’s also this story by Amenah, a Staten Island resident, about her experience after telling classmates she was making her pilgrimage to Mecca:

“I remember distinctly that the boy who was behind me had remarks for me not to bring a bomb back,” Amenah says. “I remember that the whole class had heard his remark, and that nobody had said anything.”

But to end on a positive note, let’s also revisit this video by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) — particularly the young student featured around the :52 mark: “It’s time we raise our voices and return to our ideals — of an America that is open to diversity, accepts varied viewpoints, protects the rights of all and is tolerant of differences.”

The Racial Legacy of 9/11 [Voices]

Superman and the Heroes of 9/11

September 11th is often remembered as one of those moments where we all came together as Americans in response to a horrific attack on our nation’s soil. However, the truth is more complicated. The enduring legacy of racism prevents many people from being considered as full Americans, and the years after the attack were marred with prejudice and hatred toward American citizens who were suddenly marked as different. We spend this day in remembrance, not only for those who performed everyday acts of heroism, and not only for those who lost their lives, but also remembering the way in which Americans have failed each other – for allowing an attack from terrorists to call into question our ideals as a nation. We may have lost the Twin Towers, but we did not lose who we are.

So, in true American fashion, we will continue to fight to be heard, ensuring that everyone’s American story is told.

Let’s begin with a great video series on the Unheard Voices of 9/11 produced by the Sikh Coalition.

Since many people were caught in the wave of backlash and discrimination post-9/11, the Sikh Coalition asked people to send in their videos about how discrimination has impacted their lives.

Shawn Singh talks about how suddenly, post 9/11, it impacted his understanding of his Sikh Identity:

Kevin Harrington talked about discriminatory treatment at the New York City Transit Authority – despite the fact that he helped to evacuate people on 9/11, Harrington was approached in 2004 and told he could not continue working in passenger service because of his turban:

Rabia Said remembers being 8 years old and being told by a pastor and by the police that her clothing was why she was targeted racial profiling:

Continue reading

Mother Jones Falls Short with ‘My Summer at an Indian Call Center

by Guest Contributor Kirti Kamboj, originally published at Hyphen

Outsourced promo

Mother Jones recently published “My Summer at an Indian Call Center,” which looked at the other side of the “these people are stealing our jobs!” outsourcing scenario. It was written by Andrew Marantz, an American who spent a summer in India and took a training course for call center agents, and focused on his experiences during this training and his views of the industry. Some parts were interesting, such as the strange and amusing anecdotes from his cultural training bootcamp, and it provided a much needed counter to the idea that the current system of globalization brings greater happiness and prosperity to everyone.

Points like this were particularly insightful:

Call-center employees gain their financial independence at the risk of an identity crisis. A BPO salary is contingent on the worker’s ability to de-Indianize [16]: to adopt a Western name and accent and, to some extent, attitude. Aping Western culture has long been fashionable; in the call-center classroom, it’s company policy. Agents know that their jobs only exist because of the low value the world market ascribes to Indian labor. The more they embrace the logic of global capitalism, the more they must confront the notion that they are worth less.

But its critique was ultimately limited, full of over-generalizations, and at times contradictory. Below are four reasons I found it so, and why I would hesitate to recommend this article.

(1) Near the beginning of the piece, Marantz quotes a 2003 Guardian article which states: “The most marketable skill in India today is the ability to abandon your identity and slip into someone else’s.” It’s factually correct that this is a marketable skill, but by labeling it the most marketable skill the article is overreaching. It also fails to make a distinction that few Indians overlook. Namely, that there’s very little money that a middle class urban Indian can earn by slipping into the identity of, say, a villager in Orissa, or a farmer in rural Nigeria. The marketable skill is the ability to slip into an affluent Westerner’s identity.

By itself, this is a small omission and overgeneralization, but there are similar ones throughout this article, forming a pattern indicative of a lack of awareness or concern for the underlying hierarchies that govern many aspects of a call center employee’s life, as well as a lack of nuance.

(2) The most interesting, as well as most questionable, parts of the article were those which talked about the cultural training call center agents are required to undergo. In this training, Marantz says,

trainees memorize colloquialisms and state capitals, study clips of Seinfeld and photos of Walmarts, and eat in cafeterias serving paneer burgers and pizza topped with lamb pepperoni. Trainers aim to impart something they call “international culture” — which is, of course, no culture at all, but a garbled hybrid of Indian and Western signifiers designed to be recognizable to everyone and familiar to no one.

While in this instance learning “international culture” is obviously corporate doublespeak for “If you sound too Indian, you’ll be fired,” to claim that there’s no international culture seems similar to the claim that white people have no culture, especially in its glossing over of underlying hierarchies. The point of this culture training, it must not be forgotten, is to give the Indians at these call centers names, accents, mannerisms, and cultural signifiers that help them to pass for Westerners, to circumvent the “protectionism” instincts of the callers. This isn’t a melding of two cultures into something no one is familiar with; it’s the attempted erasure of one to avoid instigating the anger and scorn of those from the other. Continue reading

What’s Behind “The South Asian Boom” On TV?

by Latoya Peterson

Mindy Kaling Office

Over at Slate, Nina Shen Rastogi points to the rise of South Asian characters on television. In an article titled “Beyond Apu: Why are there suddenly so many Indians on television?” Shen Rastogi examines the changing opportunities for South Asian actors:

Why are Indians suddenly the “it ethnicity,” as Ravi Patel put it to me?

This, too, is at least partially a function of changing demographics. More Indians in the fabric of American life means we’re more likely to be a source of inspiration for non-Indian writers, like the two Jewish guys from suburban New Jersey who wrote Harold and Kumar—the title characters are based on their friends. Reshma Shetty, who stars as Divya on USA’s hit dramedy Royal Pains, told me that her character was based on a Divya that creator Andrew Lenchewski grew up with on Long Island.

But according to Karen Narasaki, who heads the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, the rise in primetime Asians is also the result of advocacy. Her organization and its partners have been working with the networks to develop diversity initiatives for the past decade, ever since 1999′s infamously “whitewashed” primetime season, in which not a single freshman show had a leading minority character.

Narasaki’s group doesn’t track all the various Asian-American subgroups, so it’s hard to tell if Indians are rising in Hollywood at the expense of, say, Chinese and Koreans. But there are a few reasons why Indian actors might have more opportunities. America’s growing fascination with Bollywood—and relative ignorance of entertainment industries in other Asian countries—may be opening some doors. Narasaki notes that TV executives tend to have a mental barrier that prevents them from seeing Asians as “stars” who can carry shows. But “Hollywood is intrigued by Bollywood,” she says. It’s not so much that Los Angeles wants to start aping Bombay’s storytelling style, but when executives are thinking about diversifying their shows, the allure of Bollywood—and, more recently, the runaway success of Slumdog Millionaire—may mean that Indians seem more attractive than members of other Asian groups. Continue reading

Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race [Conference Notes]

by Latoya Peterson

These are the notes for “ Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race.” The notes are from a paper by Madhavi Mallapragada, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.

  • Resist identifying South Asians as a knowable identity
  • Media produced by SA as well as media cultures that speak to them are major influences in web 2.0
  • Categorizes are informed by transnational sensibilities
  • What is the “Indian” being imagined in the construction of Indian American?
    • How is the web mobilized around categorizes and what are the politics around these identities.
  • Focusing on the term “Desi”
    • Derived from “desh” which means homeland
    • Term of self and community identification
    • 2nd and 3rd gen youth often collectively identify as desi
    • While desi is a pan-South asian term, it often means Indian
  • She points to the popular website desihits.com
    • Bicultural remixes uniquely reflect the reality of people
    • Overwhelmingly focused on bollywood
    • Centrality of Indian pop culture and politics
  • Mallapragada plays the video “You Are Not an Indian
    • In this video titled, “You are not an Indian,” a young male addresses viewers who like him are neither just American nor Indian but desi. Wearing a t-shirt with the word “desi” written prominently in Hindi across it, the young man points out that desis are not South Asians but of South Asia. People of South Asian origin in the United States commonly refer to each other as Desi. The term means “from the homeland” and simultaneously invokes one’s identity as South Asian but also as being “outside South Asia”. As the young man reminds his viewers, the difference is key. Being desi implies being critically engaged with the “realities” of India rather than uncritically celebrating the hype surrounding its contemporary global image as high-tech nation.
    • Video is important as it displays the process of reasserting identity against a current narrative – of reclaimation, of identification
    • The idea of desi is undergoing a renovation in South Asian community spaces
  • Desi is being articulated as brown racialized identity asserted against the American nation state
  • Continue reading

    The Big Bang Theory, Nerds of Color, and Stereotypes

    by Latoya Peterson

    “Though you do add some much needed cultural diversity to an otherwise homogeneous group, your responses to [The Friendship Survey] were deeply disturbing.”

    —Sheldon to Rajesh, The Friendship Algorithm

    A few weeks ago, I discovered a new favorite show to watch. My boyfriend has been a How I Met Your Mother devotee for the past couple of years, and tends to always make his way to the couch around eight-ish on Monday nights.

    One night, I was working in the bedroom when I caught an errant nerdy reference.

    Oh, love! A discussion of the physics involved in Superman with a comic book reference challenge at the end? Be still my heart!

    The next time I wasn’t paying attention, but I was in the living room, so I caught the reference that changed my life:

    Rock, paper, scissors, lizard, spock. Genius!

    But as I continued watching, a little nagging thought started interfering with my enjoyment of the series:

    So, we only get one nerd of color? Continue reading

    Slumdog Explotasian Scandal: Fake, Real or Something In-Between

    by Guest Contributor Jen, originally published at DISGRASIAN

    There’s a new Slumdog Millionaire scandal a-brewing, with the families of two of its child stars claiming exploitasian. The parents of 8 year-olds Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail, who play young Latika and Salim in the film, respectively, and are both still living in Mumbai slums, have accused the film’s producers of underpaying their children. (The families also appear to be in the direst of straits: Rubina’s father broke his leg during filming and has been out of work since, and Azharuddin’s father has TB.)

    The movie’s distributor, Fox Searchlight, responded by saying that the children were paid three times the average wage of adults in their neighborhoods. Considering their neighborhoods are slums and the average annual income in India is $941, this sounds like a raw deal for the kids. Apparently, a trust fund has also been set up for the child actors that they will be able to access when they are 18, provided they stay in school. Which sounds slightly better, until you start to wonder: Isn’t it pretty fucking impossible to stay in school until you’re 18 when you’re living in a slum in India? The drop-out rate is 30% in America and higher in lower-income areas, so what must it be like in India, where ONE-THIRD of ALL the world’s poor live? This may be a noble plan in theory, but is it even tenable?

    Maybe Fox Searchlight and Danny Boyle and Slumdog’s producers have done right by those kids, relatively speaking, but would it be any skin off their noses to do, for lack of a better phrase, more right? What would it cost, a few thousand dollars? That’s nothing to a movie that’s already grossed $62 million.

    Entertainment Weekly asked its readers to weigh in on this controversy, and there’s an array of thoughtful ideas on the situation, like how the movie’s overrated, or how the media’s making all of this up, or how these child actors–hell, all of India–is to blame for…um…outsourcing:

    And some of you wonder why we don’t allow comments.

    [UPDATE: Some backpedaling.]

    Perception Through the Lens of Slumdog Millionaire

    by Guest Contibutor Sulagna

    First, I have to say that this isn’t a critique.

    It’s a serious of observations, an analysis of my viewing, and a reflection on one of the warmest and most electrifying movies I’ve seen in a while. Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t perfect, but I know that after I saw it, I felt incredible. I had already known I would like it before I had gone in, because it fit the type I liked—the interesting premise, the quirky storytelling device, and, of course, the overall familiarity of the subject matter, but it defied my expectations. The hopeful, love-themed story was at Bollywood levels of intensity (though better made), and I easily identified with the setting and characters.

    Here is where I realized that I saw this movie differently than how perhaps my non-Indian college friends at college did. I saw layers underneath certain scenes in the movie that I doubt they would’ve.

    When Jamal answered the question about the Hindu god Rama, I predicted the clash of religion. As the pulsing beat of the music and the main character’s mother’s anxious face forecasted the riots, frustrated emotions burst in my chest, the fatigue of the age-long conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India and Pakistan pressing me with its weight.

    Wasn’t it just a little more than a month ago that my family and I had watched the news about Mumbai on fire during our Thanksgiving holiday? I had felt uncomfortably separated from it—India felt so far away, but I still felt a scrambling anxiety at the events, nervous about what this changed. Continue reading