Mar 30, 2005

Keep it in the Family (2)

I've written about the 'rage clan a couple of times, most memorably in the aftermath of Modi-less Midtown. After that post, Saurav gave me a shout for "trying to organize" my diasporic family. I definitely wouldn't go that far, at this point, but I do see how I have been trying to influence my cousins slowly. I also see how my periodic outbursts about family, which I am sure many others share (see here for a particularly funny outburst - trust me, I consume more than DDA, but it is pretty filling on its own), are connected with the love that I feel for my kin. The frustration that I feel is more of self-measure: if I can't convince those who will actually give me some time to air out my opinion, what chance to I have with the world of strangers?

So I'll try to break this down. With my cousins:

1) The first challenge is turning the conversation from the usual domestic chitter-chatter. If they haven't seen me for some time, their concern and interest is in the minutiae of life with my partner, the inevitable personal-timeline questions with which they can easily measure my progress on the life-o-meter. Now that I'm in a committed relationship - they have made the enormous leap in life decision and judgment and decided that it is now time to hint about expanding the family. "Hint" is a very weak word for the outright extortion that we experience at some of these events. But the years of pre-marriage talk have enhanced my endurance and given me reliable tactics to maneuver from even the tightest spots.

So I have to find ways to drop in references to current events - "yeah, we are still getting used to a household of two... but it's really crazy that the Senate GOP may use the nuclear option to neutralize the final resort of those crazy Dems, isn't it?"

2) Usually, I have to go with the issue that someone else brings up. If you are around certain folks long enough, they are bound to say something that will tick you off and give you a door through which to begin some re-education. I find that with my family, it is usually around race or religion. Like many desis, they have had limited exposure to other communities in the United States, remaining fairly insular (my immediate family, due to the suburban environ and the preference to socialize in English, had "Indian" friends, but many other folks stick to their own ethnic group). So at some point, I'll hear a comment, intentional or not, about one or more third world communities, to which I choose to respond, at least so that they stop and think once in a while about the ignorance that they may be passing to their children.

But my favorite has to be about "Americans" - or in other words, white people. Never a disparaging remark (except perhaps about their melanin-deficiency? Wait - that's me), I hear many a comment about "he's an American" or she married "an American", and wait for some qualifier, with none to be found. This used to drive me up the wall, and I'd state "I'm American," which would have some impact, but usually would result in the uncle or whomever assessing my Indianness based on my language-ability, my impetuous lack of respect, and my limited discipline to choose a "sensible" career. "American" in this context is not a good thing.

As the club scene in Bombay explodes, Valentine's day is all the rage (on either side of the Hallmark holiday), and Bollywood films continue to distort hypersexuality in some bizarro version of an MTV that I've never seen, the older NRI community laments "Americanized!"

I've since become more nuanced (or perhaps just more academic) in my approach to my American identity. First of all, the United States is not the only America. On top of that, do I even want to be identified as "American" anymore? And was I ever truly "American" in the sense of what American is supposed to represent? Can we not pledge our "patriotism" to ideals rather than nations? Must we identify our individuality with the rigid (and shrinking) American definition of what that should be - when I also believe in group identities that the United States can't even begin to deal with? Let's all move to Canada, where canucks can actually dream about recognizing Punjabi as an official national language.

3) Two weekends ago, though I was having a good time, I felt the need to exclaim to no one in particular "Good thing that Modi, that nutcase, isn't coming here" in hopes that my uncle would take me up on the challenge. Sometimes, that's a tactic that I have to resort to, but it makes me look feel like an idle American rather than someone trying to plant tolerance and more expansive thinking in my family tree. D called me out on it, and no one else heard me. Back to the drawing board. I guess picking ideological fights at family functions is not the best way to "organize" the family.

4) But it is not all about confrontation. For example I was touched when, as I walked into the space for the family event, one of my cousins and her husband came to greet us and said that they'd been talking to their son about me just earlier. They said that he should speak with me for five minutes, and he would learn a lot. That is a pretty hefty compliment, though the boy did not seem equally impressed by it. I guess somewhere along the line, particular cousins of mine are listening more than I give them credit for. When I think about it a little more, I realize that there have been a handful of times when I've been able to help them out with questions concerning services (especially for a couple of women friends and distant relatives) trying to escape batterers. I thought that was all forgotten, but I guess that it isn't. And in some way, those emails that I keep sending out to my family do sink in to some level.

I just have to keep my own level of propaganda generation (and forwarding) to some reasonable level. However, the last note for now on this whole concept of "organizing" (or even just engaging) my cousins around issues that they are either already have a conceptualization of or that they know nothing of is that I find small ways to subvert otherwise harmless exchanges. Our many cousins receive an email every Diwali that someone starts to wish well upon everyone. This time around, Diwali coincided with the end of Ramadan, so in my reply to the mass email, I wrote "Wishing you a peaceful Eid and a Happy Diwali". The reactions were interesting. Some of my cousins actually wrote back something similar. Some were clear about the "Happy Diwali" part and gracefully ignored the rest of the message. At least they didn't get into a flame war with me. Progress?

This spring, a message about Holi went around. Not to skip a beat, I responded with "Happy Easter, Happy Holi, and Happy Phagwah"... with a hyperlink on "phagwah" for those who may not know the parallels and generations through which the tradition has crossed oceans and seas and found a permanent home in Richmond Hill. Macro-diaspora and my family's micro-diaspora crossing neatly over the information superhighway. I love the power of the internet.

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David Byrne and blogging

David Byrne: Best Scribe
David Byrne accepts the esky: "I'm thrilled and flattered that someone is reading and even enjoying and appreciating my web journal. In a conversation with a friend, she mentioned an acquaintance who, when she asked what he'd been doing lateley, replied peevishly, "Haven't you been reading my blog?" If I ever say that, you can take the award back."
Okay - I have to admit, I have been guilty of the emphasized words as well (sorry D, A, and everyone else). In other news, though, DB has an interesting 3 hour set of music that you can play on his site, if you're into the same kind of music.

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Mar 29, 2005


'phones blaring:
Rage Against the Machine

Just had a really really frustrating conversation with someone that I'm on a project with. I can't understand people who pose as if they are open and willing to learn but actually have severe short circuits in their personal skills. This particular individual has had a chip on his/her shoulder about me for a long time, and is completely unable to deal with it in a direct way. I think that s/he actually has internalized this issue to the point where s/he thinks that I've got issues with his/her leadership or initiative.

As if!

That's like stars being jealous of Michael Jackson because he is in the headlines so often.

Stop flattering yourself, sister.

So much for the lame attempt at "gender neutral" language up above. All the slashes were getting to me anyway.

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Mar 28, 2005


Digital Rotation:
Asian Dub Foundation: Enemy of my Enemy

Okay - so this is not a review. I don't have the album. And if you read below, you'll see that I can't even beg for my faithful readers to get it for me. Yet.

The new album from the not-so-small massive Asian Dub Foundation is available on iTunes [only click that if you have iTunes open] now. Sadly, there's no U.S. album release date listed on their website, so we're either limited to buying the e-version of the album (environmentally more sound, but I want to HOLD the new album), paying more than $30 for the UK or Japan release (plus shipping), or just sit around waiting for a U.S. release. Damn it. Yet another reason why it blows to be brown in the U.S. We gotta wait for the ADF releases.

By the way how many people are in this collective now? Boy, talk about massive. I think that it's larger than a cricket team, but you gotta give props to the growing diversity in the group, both musically and literally. The brothers ADF rock. I wonder what their stage show is like now. I saw them in 1999 at the Bowery Ballroom, and I swear, Deeder, at 19 and thinner than a rail, was about to jump from stage to balcony at some guy who was giving them the finger. Fierce. And righteous with the work that they have stayed true to in the underserved youth communities of the UK.

Check them out if you haven't already. And let me know if you hear about a U.S. release date. Meanwhile, I'll have to listen to the :30 tidbits that iTunes affords me. Maybe I should drink more Pepsi in the interest of getting free caps enough to buy the e-(al)bum.

Urgh. Pepsi bad.

Note: The ADF that I'm talking about here is this ADF. Not this ADF. Scary.

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American Song

I too sing America
wrote Brother Langston.
How true the words ring!
as I lift my weary eyes in this seamstress song
silent as a fading sun
that will rise again strong
tomorrow or the day after that
for my two girls and son
who learn their English
in a perfect, clipped tongue
that carries them along
far away from their home.
away from their Amma
and from where they belong
lost in the chorus
of this American song.

written c. 4/16/2001

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Mar 27, 2005

Ringling Butchers...

The circus is in town again.

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Mar 25, 2005

Keep it in the Family (1)

I've written in the past about a particular uncle of mine who angered me because he is vocally anti-Muslim, for no real reason that I can see, other than some knee-jerk response. This uncle was the one who, after receiving a few emails and reports that I'd emailed my extended clan on the horrors of Gujarat after the riots, had spent an afternoon in Ahmedabad last year trying to convince me that there was another side to the Gujarat massacre.

He did so by driving me to his wife's old neighborhood in the center of the city and showing me that it was now a Muslim neighborhood.

"See?" he said, as if the justification for the brutal rape, murder, and removal pogroms of which I was so ashamed was as clear as the brown on my face. All that I saw was an unattended neighborhood of poor people who have followed in the footsteps of other poor people. All that I could connect was the tremendous gap between the core city and the "new Ahmedabad" region across the river, where the "saffron flight" had taken the Hindus and Jains with any resources out of the city. And I started to see that all who probably stayed in the city didn't have the means to leave, and that made the Hindus who were there angry because they couldn't leave, and the Muslims angry because the core city was increasingly less protected, less maintained, and less cared for as a result of the demographics of who was living where: the money was now across the river in New Ahmedabad.

Add a few sparks to this tank of kerosene, and watch it burn. The core city is where the majority of the violence has occurred on and off over the past decades, and where the meltdown happened after Godhra.

I wanted to say that it was a neighborhood nothing like the comfortable apartment that he and his wife owned at the time. I challenged him a lot in that ricksha ride, stating that I could not see any new "evidence" as he'd claimed he'd show me. His ability to make the leap from "this used to be a Hindu/Jain neighborhood" to "it was well-deserved" (not something he said, mind you, but that's what I was feeling) blew me away, and angered me to no end.

Is this the son of a great scholar who was respected throughout Ahmedabad for his learned approach towards Gujarati, English, and Jainism? And he has 7 kids, each of whom have kids now. What are they all learning from him?

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Desi Org Supreme

Forget the writing that I have put up about South Asian organizations in the U.S. Check out this place up north. I particularly like the "It's About Time" Hate Crimes Portal.

I guess it makes sense, since Toronto alone, with a desi population of more than 500,000, surpasses New York City and the entire state of NJ put together.

Wow. Canada truly does rock.

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Desi Revelations (2)

Forget the FOB descriptor
If you must draw a line between yourself
and the new brown immigrants
Call them RAJ
Recently Arrived by Jet
(and probably more hip than you'll ever be)

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Mar 23, 2005

Chained, but in sight of the key

Sound Off:
Megadeth: Rust in Peace

Today was the day that I realized that I am finally heading in the right direction on my life's path. The journey has been all but straight, and I anticipate and welcome the curves that lay ahead, but at least I'm soon to get off this goddamn caravan of idiots that I call my current dayjob.

I had a couple of two-hour conversations today, the first with my current boss, the second with my boss for 2 year who I view very much as the one true mentor figure that I've come across, at least in the older activist crowd. I can't even begin to describe the world of difference between the first and second conversations. But most importantly, the first confirmed for me that I've really got to reset my internal clock for when to bail from a sinking ship. Over the course of more than 4 years, I have been loyal, I have taken on the jobs that no one else would, and I've played nice with my clueless co-workers. I've associated myself with an institution that can't get its head out of the sand, and surely have been tied with its inability to commit to a position on specific policy issues, absolutely quixotic pursuit of pie-in-the-sky and high-concept strategies, and top-down approach to communities.

My decision to go to school has been plagued with a deep personal conflict about how the overeducated class has dominated the power structure of so-called community-based work, and also a deep-set resistance to the whole trend of law-degree wielding neophytes grabbing up all the jobs, legal or otherwise, in the field of community service, organizing, and advocacy. I was not convinced that a graduate degree was the right way to go - couldn't I do more, and make more of an impact by releasing myself from the shackles of this organization and moving on to become part of an organizing or advocacy group?

Do I want to be a part of the cadre of lawyers who have infiltrated most spaces, usually operate within the confines of legal thinking, and have shifted the dialogue around community empowerment and growth into one almost wholly about legal rights (when I believe that transformative societal change is not rooted solely in assuring "fair share" in a system that is in itself inherently unjust, unfair, and in many ways just plain sucks)?


But now I see that leaving this job to attend school is not only a way to develop my skill set far more effectively than the dead-end job in which I'm currently situated. It is also a way for me to release myself from the confines of structured (and routine) thinking connected with the life of an organization. Even if the school that I eventually choose does not have the brightest or most progressive curriculum, I will be able to learn both in the classroom, and through the experience of being off campus, and a student in the field of local communities again, in a way that I haven't been for so long, if ever.

Shedding the skin, and the baggage, even, of working in a community or a supposed community organization is a refreshing step. I look forward to moving freely again, without the encumbrance of a past life. I look forward to being new, and learning anew, without the entrenched politics of the professionalized, 501(c)(3) setting. I look forward to being a volunteer in causes that I care about. So onward, as the time to decide between the schools that have accepted me draws ever nearer.

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Challenging the Leftist/Marxist/Anti-Hindu Position that Global Warming Is An Evil Thing

Fuck. This. Weather.

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Mar 20, 2005

New Jersey (1)

Dominating my thoughts:
Sanctuary: Into the Mirror Black
Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine [major props to Saurav for this]

Crossed over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from the planet (Bucktown, the BK, and all the other great names given by the residents to the county of Kings) into Staten Island through to NJ twice this weekend. We attended a dialogue with many NJ South Asians on Saturday, and to a family function on Sunday. While almost on either side of the spectrum of activities in which I usually partake, both events made me think more about NJ, about the posts that I'd put up so far about family, and about why it's not easy to summarily pass judgment on whether it's better to wear the analytical goggles every day, or to find some happy medium between critical of everything and allowing yourself to just celebrate life more often.

Saturday, I attended a day-long dialogue with different community-based groups and interested individuals in NJ. The goal was first to bring people together and hear voices on critical issues that were most relevant to the local communities, and second, to see if there was some synergy in the room to get folks to work together on these and relevant national policy issues that were directly related. It seemed that the nationally-based organizers wanted the event to help integrate the concerns of local stakeholders into their planning for future work.

The concept, which will hit the road and 9 other locations around the country, is a good one, and a proposition that seems like a useful exercise, even if the result isn't a clear roadmap. Even though I believe in action, I think that process is very important, and I would think that South Asian communities around the nation are in very different stages in their "development", capacity, and ability (or desire) to work together on a common agenda. I know that NYC has gone through different iterations of collaborative work, and even an attempt to bring together all the groups (Desis Organizing, in May 2001), and I was curious to hear more about the dynamics and landscape in NJ.

My crude understanding of the NJ desi scene came from my personal connection, as a native son of the Garden State, as well as the majority of my extended family starting and settling in various parts of Hudson and Middlesex counties. I have been very familiar with the Jersey City streets, with relatives living above the shops and restaurants since the mid-80s, and the growing Edison community that has now become something of a new Ahmedabad. On the organizing and activist scene, aside from knowing that Manavi, the first group in the country to focus on the growing domestic and family violence issue in South Asian communities was based in NJ, and that Bhairavi Desai of NYTWA was proudly an NJ girl, I didn't know much about NJ. The Dotbusters incidents in the late 80s was the only real community action story that I connected to NJ until the more recent electoral victories of Upendra Chivukula and Parag Patel.

However, I have known for a long time that NJ lived in the shadow of NYC in both the mainstream and even the desi consciousness. With communities growing at phenomenal levels in NJ, the question of who these folks were, and whether they were actually creating something new and different from the urban centers of NYC, the Bay Area, Chicago, LA was, I believe, the theme of Mitra Kalita's book Suburban Sahibs (which I haven't read yet). And it's true - even Edison (really Iselin) is a much more suburban setting than any of the desi commercial districts that I've visited. So who are these desis in NJ - and was there more room for growth and political power than in the interest group and racialized power hierarchy-laden streets of New York?

The dialogue brought together about 20 people, and I believe that there were more people unattached to formal South Asian groups discussing these issues than I've seen for a long time. It was refreshing to be in a space with different generations and different levels of exposure to the burgeoning South Asian American scene. Many came in without pre-conceived notions of what the dialogue would be, and few had been through similar exercises in the past. One of the early exercises, meant to liven up the rote introductions that we, the workshop-weary, have grown to despise, asked participants to recount their personal "point of entry" into South Asian America. It became far more personal and descriptive than anything I've ever been to, save performance workshops with groups of people who I knew very well. I learned about the various personal pathways into the US, NJ, political consciousness, and even the very room in which we'd been meeting. So many divergent, convergent journeys, all leading to one place and flashpoint in time. At 1:30 hours, it was the longest, and most effective, introduction session I've ever been a part of.

There was a data presentation that shed light on some of the particular desi dynamics in New Jersey. Census 2000 counted approximately 190,000 South Asians in NJ, as compared to the 250,000+ in New York City alone. I had thought that the NJ number was actually much higher than 190K, so that was an initial surprise. And then the data showed that it was far more overwhelmingly Indian than even in NYC, where the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indo-Caribbean communities have established neighborhoods and a rightful chair at the desi kitchen table. So that was also interesting, because I'd walked in with the clear belief that NJ was like NYC, just larger and more spread out.

The strategy session conversations, in which the 2 groups were asked to come up with discreet goals and strategies to meet those goals regarding advancing the South Asian community in NJ, led me down another path of thinking. One group insisted in its discussion that there were many groups in NJ that no one knew about, and wouldn't it be great to bring these groups together in a directory, which could be handed out to everyone in the community. First of all, everytime 3 desis get together, they want to create a directory. Seems like it is the easiest thing to consider, it won't take that much time, and voila! suddenly the problem is solved and we can all go out for chaat and a Kingfisher.

Secondly, as an outsider to NJ, I still had a feeling that there were few staffed South Asian organizations around. NJ has a tremendous population, and is one of the top 5 states in regards desi population, but they haven't organized in formal organizations beyond the many faith-based, cultural, regional, and business associations that are omnipresent in these communities. I simply couldn't think of more than 3 or 4 agencies, even though one woman, who I think had worked in a politician's office for a couple of years, continued to stress that there were "tons of them" in NJ. My spot analysis at the moment led me to believe that there was a perception gap between what folks thought existed in the community, and what was actually there.

Community infrastructure, as I've stated before in passing, is quite limited in NYC. But in NJ, it's even moreso. Because we're talking about a state now, not just a city, or a metropolitan area. How do you organize a state when there are extremely limited local resources? And how do you bring people to the existing resources, or even meet regularly, when you have to rely on driving from one part of the state to the next just to get to a meeting? Is public transportation a critical equalizer in the quest to organize disparate stakeholders from different parts of the community?

So then my thinking goes even further. NJ is highly unorganized in regards formal non-profit or even active anti-racist or other progressive coalitions. However, the cultural communities are extremely organized, have shut down the streets for Navratri in Jersey City, have created large temples and retreats like the Siddhachalam, and have begun to draw the attention of the mainstream in many ways. Not to mention that the political and monied side of the community have been more successful at putting South Asian (really Indian) events and communities on their tour schedules, even if it's really taking the money and running without accountability most of the time. So even as I think that NJ is where a progressive desi candidate for the national scene can come from, the connection between that person and the issues that I actually care about is faint, if at all existent. And the groups hardly exist to make that link between seeking public office and remembering that it should be a life in public service.

So through it all, NJ remains an enigma to me. And I'm too tired to write about the other half of the weekend, in which I realized that I'd been a bit too hard on family, especially my cousins.

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Mar 18, 2005

Modi & Jainism (1)

Good news on the home front. The application for a diplomatic visa was denied for Gujarat CM Narendra "the butcher" Modi since his imminent visit was not of a diplomatic nature. And his business/tourist visa has been revoked on the grounds that he has denied religious freedoms at home. Thanks to Saurav for fast and furious writing on this news. I thought about it for a short while, amazed that this government would take such a strong position on this issue, but I felt very quickly that this was about the Christian Right flexing its muscle, as Modi and the BJP had been in power during the most egregious attacks against Christians in India in recent memory. From some initial research, it doesn't seem that that is too far from the truth. The Christian Right has made it an institutional priority to pressure the Administration on religious persecution of Christians around the world. We've seen it in East Timor, in Sudan, and elsewhere. I'll have to post links when I get a chance.

However, I am not fully satisfied with this news. I was half-hoping that I would have the chance to send an email out to my family members in NJ, many of whom harbor their own biases in favor of Modi and against the diversity of Gujarat. We have a family event on Sunday morning, and I wanted to send an email to announce that shortly thereafter, we would be leaving for the protest at Madison Square Garden that had been planned to deny Modi the benefit of a quiet acquiescence from those in the U.S. who don't agree with his policies of hatred and genocide. I wanted to open up the remaining seats in our car to anyone who would like to join us in this fight to reclaim Gujarat as something other than the place where intolerance reigns, or "the Hindutva laboratory".

This was my hope, because on the whole, I worry that my family is filled with Modi-sympathizers, and I wanted to out some of them in this fairly jarring way (although even as I type this I am composing a victory email with the title "Gandhi prevails over Hitler as Butcher Modi denied entry into U.S."). While I don't condone their compliance and complacency to accept the RSS-driven status-quo feeling of NRGs who think that "Gujarat Shining" should be the motto of the land, I can occasionally move past the older generation's defense of the progress with the BJP in power. I still try to confront this line of thinking, but I operate within some parameters of respect and balance, in deference to my parents, upon whom my uncouth behavior would unnecessarily be blamed.

However, to my cousins, I show little patience for their angry responses, unaware that I am onto their game: "passing" as part of the Hindu-majority when in Gujarati circles, yet strangely adamant in their preservation and observance of Jain traditions, and accumulated rituals within the home. And this is the true irony - even as they become more removed from the Gujarat that they knew, they continue to develop a zealous community here to mirror the imagined community at home that they have come to believe once existed. A "pure" community, of sorts, in which groups only interact with their own, and the lines of difference become even more hardened than they once were.

My mother was a high school teacher in Ahmedabad in the sixties. Her family was educated, but quite poor. She taught a class that was ~60% Muslim. Daily interactions in formal settings were taken for granted, and as in the United States or any other society, it seems, there were invisible and visible lines that people didn't cross often, and I'm sure that there were biases and harbored feelings of mistrust. But it was not state-endorsed, nor mob-driven, and the ideological hatemongers did not dominate the bandwidth of public discourse. The Jain identity of my mother's community was quite strong, but I don't feel that they were as willing as they are now to just fall in line with the Hindu majority with whom they broke rank more than 2,500 years ago.

But now, it is harder to draw that line between the Jain and Hindu communities, this realm of thinking and questioning is now almost entirely limited to the academician and the monk. The layperson merges the two easily, shifting between customs that have been adopted in Jainism to the familiar rites of Hinduism. We pray to "God" now, though Jains do not technically believe in omniscient, omnipotent deities. What happened to the introspection and meditation that is supposed to be the root of Jain philosophy? Have we become co-opted into a culture of ritualism that believes that rote religious tasks and habitual praying will cleanse and save the soul, divorced from our karma?

How can Jains stand idly by as hundreds are killed, and tens of thousands are put deliberately in harm's way, be it in the Northern border conflicts, the streets of Gujarat, or wherever else? Worse, how can they allow Hindutva-driven neo-nationalism to blind them of their responsibility and quest to "live and let live"? Am I being too idealistic? Instead of a strong center for social justice, does Jainism only offer solace for an individual to find her own path, as she moves towards personal enlightenment, and detachment from the material world, as I was informed at the JAINA Convention of 2000? This is the first of more posts on this topic.

I know that I have not gone into detail about Jainism, and just broke into this stream of consciousness, but I'll post some links and background for anyone interested soon. I did find out that the SAJA Stylebook doesn't have a listing for Jains, which I'll have to inform them about.

Next post on this topic.

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Mar 17, 2005

Desi Revelations (1)

Sometime in my adulthood
I discovered that Parsippany
was a town in New Jersey
not a Zororastrian drink.

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Mar 15, 2005

Skin-whitener and Mexican Cheese

I'm on this list from NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and get some of the most interesting emails from it. A few weeks ago, it was a warning about skin-whitening products. I scanned their notice and the referenced article closely, keenly interested in whether the crazy obsession with skin-color that consumes so many South Asians would finally be outed in a broader discussion about skin-whitening products (a whole category of personal hygiene, as I gathered from the reference material I'd perused in my search), but was eventually disappointed. Apparently, the offending products were labeled as such more for the Mercury content of some varieties found in the Dominican community than the mercurial flocking of so many of our brown brothers and sisters who have been programmed to think that white is beautiful.

Anyway - this time around, it is a warning about certain kinds of Mexican cheese, as stated in the press release excerpted below (blue emphasis is mine):

"Several types of cheese imported from Mexico may be contaminated with Mycobacterium bovis, which causes tuberculosis, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). The types of cheese, including queso fresco, may be unpasteurized and may also be illegally imported from Mexico and sold without approval by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The Health Department has identified 35 cases of tuberculosis caused by M. bovis in city residents between 2001 and 2004. In one of those cases, a 15-month-old child who died in March 2004 was later determined to have died from complications due to M. bovis infection. As a rule, people should not eat food products that are unlabeled or not labeled in English, as is required by law, said DOHMH Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden. Illegally imported food products are not manufactured or packaged in compliance with the FDA's strict regulations; consuming these products may endanger your health...

The Health Department is currently working with the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on an investigation to determine the source of products associated with this illness in New York City in particular, targeting stores that serve the city's Latin American communities, and Mexicans in particular. Unlabeled or improperly labeled cheese has been obtained for testing from Mexican grocers in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as directly from Mexico through a courier.

I just feel so much safer that the city is cracking down on those damn Mexican cheeses. I wonder if they'll be paying as much attention to the Russian-only labels that are as much a part of the landscape of a Brooklyn culinary adventure as Spanish is in Queens. Is this the risk that we're trying to reduce with draconian border-control methodology? Kudos to the Department of Homeland Security! I'm sure that the powerful dairy lobby in the U.S. is very pleased with this development.

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Mar 13, 2005

ayudame, por favor!

iMac Shuffle:
Cure: Homesick
Bjork: Sun in My Mouth
Natalie Cole: The Very Thought of You

To add links and must-read posts
I have spent the past 45 minutes
searching without revelation
for the key to unlock the mystery
of customizing the sidebar
of this little brown blog

won't someone guide me
in this seemingly
fruitless quest?

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Mar 12, 2005

Famous BROOKLYN Pizza...

While walking through downtown Brooklyn late last night, on the way home after seeing a fantastic production of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, we happened to see the following sign on Livingston Street:

I was absolutely floored. I grew up looking forward to our occasional trips to Elmhurst to visit family friends, and the real treat: stopping at Singa's Famous Pizza for lunch. Singa's is an institution in most of the desi neighborhoods in Queens and NJ now: at last count (not counting the Brooklyn location), there are 3 in Queens, 1 in Long Island, 1 in Jersey City, and 1 in Edison/Iselin. Actually, it's so much an institution, that it even found itself in the academic work, Becoming American, Being Indian, about the Indian American community in New York City by Dr. Madhulika Khandelwal:

"Among all New York Indians the food next in popularity to their own was pizza, which also suited the vegetarian preference of many immigrants. Indian families patronized the Pizza Hut chain, but the first notable indication of the popularity of pizza was the large Indian clientele of a restaurant in Elmhurst called Singa's Pizza. This Greek-owned pizzeria, opened in 1967, sold small eight-inch pie with various meat and vegetable toppings (including hot pepper) and became a favorite among Indian immigrants."
I always thought that "Singa" was an Indian name, but, as the quote above shows, I guess it was a Greek chain. But at least 40 - 50% of their clientele are desi. But forget all that. I can't believe that it's going to be in Brooklyn. As D said, that's one clear "plus" for going to Brooklyn Law School...

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Mar 10, 2005

Letter to the NY Daily News

It's been a while. I was reading the Daily News y'day on my way to the firm, and this is what I saw in the letters (Voices of the People) section, evidently about recent events at SHot 97:

Middle Village: You never heard of Led Zeppelin threatening Jethro Tull, or Black Sabbath waiting outside a radio station for Rush with .38s, or the Beatles looking to bust up the Stones. Let these damned gangsta rappers kill each other, already. Any time one of them had an appearance in a major city, tax dollars of law-abiding citizens are spent on police protection, and for whom? For well-paid thugs who contribute nothing, and I mean nothing, to society and habitually destroy their culture and urban youth. -- Michael Gibbons Jr.
I had to reply to this load of crap (which was not the only offensive letter in the bunch, so we gotta write a lot more letters to the editor). I wanted to mention that the writer seemed to have forgotten that Elvis tried to frame, upstage, and eventually deport the Beatles, but I thought it better to talk about something as violent and disturbing as the history of black metal:
Dear Editor, On Wednesday, March 9, Voicer Gibbons claimed that the rivalries between so-called gangsta rappers has no parallel in the rock world. Maybe he hasn't heard about the multiple murders and church burnings in the Norwegian black metal scene. He could argue that black metal is on the fringe of rock. Gangsta rap is on the same fringe of hip-hop.

I wonder if the focus on the violent fringe of hip-hop in the media and the voiced desire by others like Gibbons that "these damned gangsta rappers just kill each other, already" has a more insidious root in racism.
-- Ravi Abraham

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Mar 8, 2005

Snow and Flames.

Digital Rotation:
Cynic: "Veil of Maya"

I've been spending my blog minutes (and minutes and minutes) on writing long-ish replies to interesting comments on recent posts here on my little brown blog. I'm hoping to actually put up links to my favorite and friends' sites soon (notice that they aren't necessarily the same thing). Just kidding.

The snow is falling yet again. This time, I don't feel quite as elated by the weather as I had in a more introspective mood, but it's still pretty. And it's a nice backdrop to all the work that is piling up on the personal and work fronts.


I was in PA this past weekend, keeping on the down low more than on the brown side. I had the wonderful chance to dig through a small bookstore and actually finding a book that I've been hoping to get for a while on the remainder table. Maxine Hong Kingston's The Fifth Book of Peace has been of interest to me ever since I read an interview with the author in the Asian American Writers' Workshop magazine, in which she recalls the forging of the book in the aftermath of her father's death, as the flames that engulfed her house also took with them the book that she was working on for many years. She contextualized her losses with the losses that war had been visiting upon the people of Iraq (the fire occurred during the first Gulf War) and other communities destroyed over the decades and centuries of warfare. So she goes through the process of reimagining the book, as well as engaging her feelings about war and peace through a series of writing workshops with veterans in the Bay Area, through which they all come to some sense of what peace truly means. I was fascinated by the concept of the book, the honesty through which she was willing to open up these very personal thoughts and processes, and even the novel that was destroyed and recreated, since I thoroughly enjoyed her previous novel, Tripmaster Monkey, whose main character, Wittman Ah Sing, was the lead in the new story as well.

In my enthusiasm to find the hardcover book for only $1.00 in this tiny bookstore, I actually ended up buying five copies, and convincing one of our friends to buy one as well. It seemed a waste to allow the books to sit forlorn and forgotten on those shelves. It seemed a waste to allow this confrontation with truth and with BIG ISSUES to languish in an eastern PA mall. I'll gift the books. I'll find somewhere to donate them. I'll do anything, but I had to take them from that space where they weren't doing anything for anyone. D was patient, though our bookshelves are brimming with the other books that I've had to rescue from peril in the past 2 years ("look! the complete Federalist Papers for only $1.00!").

Kingston holds a special place for me because her first book, The Woman Warrior, which is the one that most folks know, was our assigned reading when I began my freshman year of college. I got to meet her before our classes started, during freshman orientation. Little did I know that I would eventually find my own path towards both literature and the Asian American studies in which her book had already been cannonized.

Kingston's loss of her book in the flames of the Oakland fire make me appreciate the internet and web journals and weblogs that much more. At least this writing can be accessed from somewhere outside of my home, should it also be lost in flames.

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Chris Iijima and Grain of Sand

Following up on a reply in the comments that I'd posted here, I wanted to put up the quote from Chris Iijima that I had paraphrased crudely. First of all, the group was loosely called Grain of Sand, not Yellow Pearl, though that was a song.

Grain of Sand is now in the Smithsonian Institute's Collection as the first Asian American record, and was a folksy, roots recording that captured the heady spirit of change and self-determination that peppered the liberation movements of the early seventies. Chris Iijima is now a professor of law, but I'm sure that he's still a guitar player and singer. I saw him at a conference at SUNY Albany many moons ago. He was raw and righteous, and the kind of professor that I hope I'll have wherever I end up. If I end up somewhere.

"Originally "identity" was less about who one was and more about what one stood for. Lost in contemporary definitions of Asian Pacific American "identity" is that it was conceived not primarily as an expression of racial pride, but as an expression of resistance to stereotypical assumptions about people of color in general and Asians in particular. Grain of Sand was essentially about celebrating the ability of people to grow in hostile soil. indeed, that is the foundation of the culture and "identity" of all American people of color. The album stands for the proposition that Asian Pacific American "identity" as solely a celebration of one's roots and without a larger political context of struggling for a more just society, is empty and incoherent. Indeed, that is the reason why most of the album does not deal directly with Asians and our "identity" at all." - Chris Iijima, 1997.

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Mar 7, 2005

West Bengal and Medical Research

This just in on the news wire... I wonder if Saurav can illuminate why his peeps are more willing to donate their bodies to science than the rest of India. I know that my peeps would only do it if there were a monetary incentive...

Taslima Nasreen to donate body
[India News]: Kolkata, March 4: Controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen has pledged to donate her body posthumously for scientific research.

Nasreen, who has been in India during the past few weeks, will sign the relevant paper on March 7, said the chief of the health agency responsible for collecting dead bodies for research.

"Taslima has been interested in donating her body for a while, and she will finally enter a written agreement on Monday," said Braja Roy of Darpan, the agency.

West Bengal tops the list of states whose people who have agreed to donate their bodies for medical science. Among them are Marxist icon Jyoti Basu and theatre personality Sobha Sen.

Nasreen, 43, has sought Indian citizenship or at least permission for indefinite residency after coming under attack in Bangladesh from Islamic fundamentalists.

She fled Bangladesh and began living a life in hiding after receiving death threats from Islamic radicals in 1994 for her book 'Lajja (Shame)'. Since 1994, she has
lived in Sweden, France, Germany and the US.

Though well disposed of towards her, West Bengal banned one of her books in 2003 for allegedly hurting Muslim sentiments and promoting personal slander. The book makes uncharitable references to some Bengali authors in the state.

--Indo-Asian News Service

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Mar 6, 2005

iPods and Bowling Alone

Click the photo for a fun slideshow.

I've gotten to the point where, Apple loyalist though I claim to be, I can't stand seeing those goddamn white wires peaking out through the various layers of winter clothing that New Yorkers have been forced to wear into March. White wires that signify one thing: iPod on board.

I loathe the prospect of walking onto yet another train, which was once the ultimate equalizer, only to be reminded at every turn, in any section of the train car that I'm unfortunate enough to stand or sit in, that I am and will remain a disgruntled member of the iPod have-nots. At first, it was simply a matter of cost. It still remains a matter of cheddar, but more than anything, my refusal to buy or yearn for a little white box is now a matter of principle. No longer a signifier of rebellion, anti-monopoly, or underdog, the Apple logo in this context simply replaces the Microsoft logo in the OS wars.

And what's perhaps far worse is that it has become the ultimate symbol of urban chic.

White iPod wires hang all around me in my morning commute, indicating that the train I take has become more overrun by the yuppie, hipster crowd that I don't identify with. Moreover, if I were to take a demographic snapshot of the riders on trains and compare that with the race of the iPodders, I am sure that the correlation between whiteness and propensity to have white earbuds sticking out of your ears would be very interesting, if not outright damning.

For a while last summer, I took to wearing an old pair of iPod earbuds that I'd acquired through the adoption of a dying (since deceased) iPod from a friend. I would put on my earbuds, and put the other end of the wire into my pocket, my bag, anywhere. And at some point during the trip, I would deliberately pull out the wire and put it back, just to see if anyone would notice that I was an imposter. No such luck, and I soon grew tired of my little game. But I could feel the eyes of the iPodders upon me. I just knew that they were trying to figure out what I was up to...


It seems that more and more people are plugging into some kind of listening, or now viewing, device while on the trains. One of the remarkable elements of the NYC Subway is the tremendous mix of people who ride the trains. As I'd written before about the DC Metro, it really felt like you only had college/graduate students, lawyers, and bureaucrats. But in NYC, you have students, elders, kids, suits, rags, whatever. And folks eat, and it's raucous, and there's so much interesting reading, music, and storytelling going on. It's a microcosm of the giant and everchanging city up above. But it seems that more and more people are closing themselves off to that - ears tuned into their own private memories, or their favorite video game or film, as Gameboy and portable DVD players break into the subterranean market.

It feels isolating, sort of like the feeling I got after hearing my pal Rags tell me about Los Angeles drivers, each in his or her own world as they head to work, the beach, wherever. The public spaces provided by the subway system are a natural breeding ground for peace, love, and understanding. Or in the very least, tolerance, shared experience, and funny stories. But as people withdraw from that shared space, into a self-imposed isolation created by headphones and moving images, are they withdrawing from a part of the shared New Yorker identity? Are we moving apart from one another, and cutting the threads that bind the city together in this and other isolating acts? Are we all destined to bowl alone?

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Mar 4, 2005

Apple Brand Loyalty, a new beginning

Okay - so that stupid iBook is at it again. I'm having the same problems that I had last year, and can't access the stupid white machine for anything. I have to call Apple support again, go through the whole rigmarole, and see if they can actually help this time. Perhaps they'll replace the whole damn thing. I don't even want another iBook, to be honest. This leaves such a bad taste in the mouth about the whole line. I don't know what to do - it's not like a PowerBook is affordable, but moving back to WinTel boxes? Can't do it.

Linux anyone?

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Mar 3, 2005

Desis and Desi Organizations in Asian America

I've been thinking a lot about the current state of desis working in community-based settings around the nation, and specifically in NYC. The community infrastructure, at least through the lens of professionalized and staffed non-profit organizations, is still very limited, and not balanced around the nation. While there seem to be far more individuals entering the field, they are doing so without established channels for leadership development, nor even training and an introduction to the community. I fear that more folks are jumping in with hopes to create big waves and become the identifiable leadership before learning the ropes or engaging the broader social justice movement, and, to put it crudely, without paying their dues. There are always natural leaders in our midst, but without training in larger coalitions like Asian America, some folks have been questioning the value of these connections, either aligning with other interest groups, or going solo on a mission to make a brown voice heard above the cacophony of other groups.

When I began, and in the years before me, there was a very limited pool of South Asians who were interested in community-based work, and far from having South Asian-specific organizations in which to work, we took positions and interest in the pan-Asian mode of identity and coalition. There are a number of activists from that time, beginning in the late 80s on through the mid-nineties who took these positions and became more involved in the majority Chinese/Korean institutions within the Asian American communities in the East coast. These folks cut their teeth in the second wave of the Asian American movement (or whatever remained of it at that point), and were trained to recognize the commonalities between the communities, the uneasy alliances, and prospects for true coalition-building between the old order within Asian America and the new, more diverse young leadership.

Many of these desis came to more directly recognize the need for brown spaces, but not as an only resort. While the alliances between East and South Asians within Asian America are wrought with their own challenges, the need for political cohesion to form a critical mass of like-minded progressive/radical proponents for social change still seemed necessary, good, and worthwhile. Jump forward ten years, and the gap seems to be widening. I feel that the time at which it could have gone either was in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, but that's another post altogether. The point to remember here is that it wasn't always this difficult to have South Asians more involved in pan-Asian organizations and work, and it's a shame that in a city like New York, the principal pan-Asian organizations can't seem to hold onto their South Asian staff - with the holdouts who remain only biding their time, but seemingly uninvested in the bridging of the evident gap between the established communities and the new and emerging communities in the fragile alliance called Asian America.

On top of that, there are a lot of fledgling South Asian organizations that are forming, or splitting off from more established groups. With the funding landscape only becoming more and more difficult to navigate for new groups, specifically for agencies that work with communities that have come under so much scrutiny after the Patriot Act and other punitive measures have come into play. Foundations are stating overtly that they aren't interested in funding more South Asian groups - "why don't you learn to play nicely with one another?" is the general gist. So what to do? Some group leaders are coming together to talk about this soon, but there's so much mistrust, mixed history, and positioning going on that it's hard to figure out what's going to happen. Getting the groups to meet together isn't that difficult (unlike some communities), but getting them to work together in the long haul - that's a completely different, and far more difficult, proposition.

Not to mention that there seems to be a vacuum in the leadership structure, at least in New York City... where are all the progressive Desi men? But that's a future post...

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