Apr 29, 2006


14 years. How have things changed?

Let's see how May 1 goes down.

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Apr 28, 2006

Listen Up: Weekly Music Update. v1:n1

In the interest of doing something regular on the site, I want to bring it back to the days when I actually listed what I was listening to. But I’ll just make it a weekly installment with some thoughts on the good stuff that I’ve been tripping out on. This isn’t just a navel-gazing exercise to expose the mundane minutiae of my personal taste. After all, who the hell cares? I guess it will serve me as a test of discipline to register things as I listen to them and write at least something on a regular basis, and also as a living documentation of some of the music that was compelling in a particular moment. Also - if y’all want to participate, feel free in the comments, on your own sites, whatever. And of course, dialogue on music is encouraged here. Everyone deserves good music!

So for this friday’s post...

1)Crazy” - Gnarls Barkley. I’m so behind the times on this track, but it’s been haunting me. It shot to number one in the UK as a download only track, and is the first single of a new collaboration between Danger Mouse (of the grey album, danger doom, and gorillaz production fame) and Cee-Lo of Goodie Mob. It may not be the best thing ever, but there’s something about the combination of beats and vocals here that really speaks to me. Shout to Ani for intro’ing me to it.

2) “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” - Bruce Springsteen. This new album, with the joyful Seeger Sessions band of 13 or 14 players, just makes you feel good. It is a masterful blend of nuanced approaches to American standards that blur the lines between some of America’s proudest musical eras, and actually pays homage to the American spirit by remembering and pointing directly to not only the traditional folk songs that have so often been touted as “true” American roots, but also the spirituals, hymnals, and other songs that were at the backbone of the civil rights movement. Springsteen writes, through the release of this record, a revisionist history of what Americana means, and how the rich history of American music is linked across time, communities, and geography. This record could be viewed as his tribute to New Orleans, even, with a prominent brass section that swings into some of the songs and plays it cool behind others while gospel vocals intermingle with a fiddle, a banjo, and the rest of the sessions band. It is truly a revelation that goes beyond the surface of fun-sounding “retro-folk-revivalism.” Springsteen can do anything at this point - and he’s chosen a very interesting path - challenging his fans, remaining true to the mission of keeping the music front and center, but making creative choices that speak volumes about who’s calling the shots and what’s important to him.

This man is a national treasure. I have been a big fan of his “quieter” solo album trilogy, starting with Nebraska, into the stark Ghost of Tom Joad, and last year’s brilliant Devils and Dust, because of the way that he’s taken us into different parts of this American experience, and how he connects the dots without hitting you over the head. A number of his songs deal with migrant workers, with the intermingling of lives that should be viewed within a common context, but so rarely are (like the fishermen of Galvaston Bay, Texas, who include working class white folk and Vietnamese refugees).

He may not be rubbing elbows with the world’s leaders like Bono, but Springsteen is real. It’s just a shame that more folks don’t see how he, as a popular artist, has been able to visit issues and themes that very few others attempt without feeling worried about alienating his base. Who else of his level of mainstream popularity (and support from policemen the nation over) would write and release a song called American Skin (41 Shots) in which he repeats “41 shots” over and over and sings words of warning from Amadou Diallo’s mother to her lost son. “You can get killed just for living, in your American skin.” Chilling.

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Apr 27, 2006

Rize and Sucker Free City.

I have had the chance to check out a few documentaries and indy films that I missed along the way. I wrote about Dark Days - which artfully tracked a subterranean community in NYC. I recently watched Rize, and Sucker Free City.

There’s something about docs that take place in L.A. The last one I saw was OT: Our Town, which tracked a teacher’s effort to bring theater to her inner city high school class in Compton. That was a good film, for what you’d expect - these youth take a piece of celebrated American literature, which talks more to a sometimes imagined nostalgia of small town white America, and make it their own through the support of a Teach-for-America teacher. It is definitely impressive to see these young people integrate their expression about their town through this piece of literature and through performance. While I definitely enjoyed and went through the highs and lows with the students, I felt like I’d been through it before. Unfortunately, there was also something a little Stand and Deliver-ish about the whole thing - and it feels like we’ve seen this in so many films. The outsider with the plan comes in and teaches everyone math, or chess, or ballroom dancing, or theater, and it’s a story about triumph in inner city hell. It’s a useful and valued archetype, I guess. Still, taking what is considered an American classic and showing that it’s relevant for our new towns, our new ‘hoods, our hidden worlds that exist within our known cities... I guess that has its own merits.

Our Town was an above average film, but Rize, on the other hand, is a great film. It looks at young people in Los Angeles who have created an art form - the schools of dance called clowning and krumping. Rize takes a look at the beginning of this dance movement, which arose from innovation and necessity in the inner city. I just loved the music and the feeling of the film, and rather than try to capture it here, just a few notes before you check it out yourself. First, the film didn’t over-romanticize anything. It just felt like it was showing you a small piece of the unique culture that has developed in this part of the country, how it was seen as a survival tool and a family for youth and others who took to it, and hinted at what was to come (krumping has gained national prominence through mainstream exposure in hip-hop videos, etc). But more than the pop culture element, the filmmaker definitely gives you a sense of how the form is connected in some way to the community itself. It’s hard to explain, but I definitely recommend the film. You even get a brief moment with an Asian American krump family called Filipino Rice Tracks. But regardless, I felt pretty satisfied at the end of the film - like I’d actually learned something, been taken on a ride for an hour and a half, and I had a different respect for a form that I’d seen, but not really understood for anything more than something like popping or b-boying.


While The Inside Man is the film that folks have been talking about recently, Sucker Free City is a Spike Lee Joint that came out last year for Showtime. It takes a look at 3 young men in San Francisco - a.k.a. the Sucker Free (though this a.k.a. should apparently be “Sucka Free“). The most compelling story is of the black man that’s part of a local gang in the HP (Hunter’s Point) which titles over the opening of the film explain is the site of some of the worst environmental hazards in residential neighborhoods in the United States, is the residence of a predominantly black population, and has a much higher rate of cancer than the rest of S.F. His story intermingles with the white kid from another, impoverished district in S.F. (the Mission) that is gentrifying really quickly, when said white kid has to move into the HP. Their interaction crosses with the Chinese dude... aww forget it. Just see the film yourself if you’re still interested.

As an outsider to the Bay area, I took this film as an opportunity to learn something about the cultures/subcultures in the area, like I’ve used some of the films on LA (with a healthy dose of skepticism, of course). But this film felt like such a particular slice, and though I was initially excited that there was an Asian element to the film, it felt pretty shallow. The character wasn’t very compelling - not at all like the African American character. I liked some elements of it, but it seemed like the writing could have been tighter (Asian American screenwriter, so that’s interesting), and it just didn’t feel like I was getting into anything more than three stories of individuals - my entry into their worlds felt like less than a window, and their interactions also didn’t really hold water. Ultimately, it felt like Spike Lee and Alex Tse were in over their heads, trying to make a point about gangs and communities, but not really getting anywhere because one person seems like he’s alone, one person seems like he’s the peon/bag boy for a larger crime syndicate, and the last one, who’s actually part of what could be called a gang, is in the middle of so many different stories that it’s hard to really understand the character’s arch in the film. So as a broad brushstroke about some of the things that different people face/see in the S.F... I guess it could be passable. As an allegory, or even a representation of anything, I don’t know if it does justice to real stories.

And to top it off, this review from a reader at the Internet Movie DataBase reminded me of some of the issues I had. Especially the fact that the only Latino in the film is supposed to be Puerto Rican - that seems so New York that it stuck out immediately. Not to mention that he didn’t actually seem to have any back-up or group, though he and the white kid talked as if there was something there. So that was questionable. Nevertheless, an interesting film to check out, if you don’t have to pay extra for it.

This has been a ”not quite a review“ squareroots desi production.

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Apr 26, 2006

Desi podcasting... and the future of our history.

I may be behind the times, but I didn't know about podbazaar. I'm going to enjoy sifting through this when I have more time.

Hmmm... podcasts are a whole other possibility. Especially if it was more of an open-source experiment that allowed for decentralized control of content - maybe if it's in the desi context, something that allows folks from diasporic communities in North America and elsewhere to contribute audio and video content to a clearinghouse site to explore and document some of the local flavor of their homes. At the end of some time, that content could actually be a participatory oral, audio, and visual snapshot of this particular moment in our collective history. Exciting! And if we can get some of the old-timers to talk about their experiences, wouldn't it be a wonderful archive of the hardships and triumphs of the great century of travelers, students, workers, migrants, and sojourners abroad that have carried their hopes and burdens with them across every ocean, and into virtually every civilised place on the planet?

If not anything else, at least it would be an interesting time capsule to open and check out in 20...30...50 years. If it's backed up somewhere, that is.

On that note, do people even make time capsules anymore? I started making one of the music that I was listening to each season, after hearing Cameron Crowe talk about how he did that (and how that helped him in the writing of Almost Famous)...

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Apr 25, 2006

In Memoriam.

R.I.P. Jane Jacobs. I'm saddened by this news. She was a wonderful writer and activist, and though I don't know precisely what the New York she loved and fought for looked and felt like, I know that I have her to thank for neighborhood planning that actually takes community perspectives, street life, and public space into account.

More to come when I find time.

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Apr 24, 2006

Fave Podcast of the Moment

After hearing a segment once in a while on NPR, I’ve been so thrilled to receive The World: Global Hit podcast daily from BBC/PRI. It’s usually a 5 minute introduction to amazing music from around the world that often touches upon the beautiful gray areas between traditions and the interplay of music, culture, politics, and people. I strongly recommend it - you can get more info here.

A few recent faves:

Maria Volonte
Tango is the musical expression of Argentina's immigrant history. It mixes Cuban habanera and African rhythms with polkas and waltzes. But tango isn't just about dancing. The lyrics themselves are an essential part of tango. For today's Global Hit, Sarah Elzas produced this profile of one tango singer who combines elements of jazz, pop, and bossa nova in her music.

Malaysian born singer, Ani, who makes her home in Los Angeles sings about what it means to be a Muslim today.

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Apr 23, 2006


I had the good fortune of catching with a dear old friend last night who happened to be in town for about 24 hours. A kindred spirit, really, his vision to integrate creative energy with community building and empowerment have always inspired me, and I'm really glad that he's thinking about plunging into a really important project in the near future.

Seeing him (and walking through the city in the rain) was what I needed to remember a past life, and to remember the power of bonds that don't grow weak over distance or time. And finally, I'm excited about creating and maintaining a dynamic exchange with a trusted comrade, as well as a more private laboratory for my nascent steps in a creative space. I really enjoy trying to make connections across my many interests, and the arts and creative work feel like the only way to make those leaps without having to explain everything.

More than anything, it will be nice to just talk freely and openly about the potential of creative work that can transform the lives of individuals and even communities in ways that research, legal advocacy, and services never can. Especially when folks are able to reach out and touch the stories, and the lines between performer and audience are blurred to the point where it’s not clear who is who. And it’s really exciting when members of those communities themselves take theater, performance, writing, video, or another form of art as a form of expressing their own stories.

Creative work springs from and affects the heart, and it is so exciting that there are folks out there finding new ways to nurture work (both their own and that of non-professionals) that is honest, rooted in communities, and not voyeuristic. I’m really proud to know some of them, and honestly, they usually don’t have a lot of money, but time with them reminds me of what’s important and sustains my own energy to strive for what I want to do in this life.

Perhaps even just regular conversations will keep my head above the thudding cascade of legal fictions that currently surround me. And with that, back to my work.

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Apr 17, 2006

Onward Towards Spring.

Finally got my computer back from friends who'd borrowed it for a week in DC. Using a PC just felt dirty during that time. Haven't been posting much, and won't be online as much for a month with finals around the corner. But at least the City is beautiful in the spring. And a promising summer awaits. I can't wait to actually read for fun again.

The A10 rallies were amazing. I heard estimates of more than 125,000 in NYC, and even though it's not close to Dallas and California, the diversity in the crowd seemed phenomenal. At the end of the day, it looked more like the America I feel comfortable in than the one that some folks like to pretend we still have, circa 1950. Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver, I'd like you to meet your new neighbors, the Lees, the Herreras, the Khans, and the McNairs.

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Apr 10, 2006

A10 Mobilization and Taking a Stand.

I've been reading some of the reactions and thoughts from desi and other Asian lists about the rallies and protests tomorrow. The papers are also covering this mobilization after the beautiful people came out in full force in L.A. I'm excited, but I'm also thinking that we have a lot of questions and uncertainty about where desis should or do stand on immigration. In the sea of brown faces, why, people wonder, are there so few desis? We all know that there are a lot of undocumented folks in our communities too.

First, remember that this legislation is about more than just undocumented immigrants and legalization. It's quite broad, and could have profound effects on more sectors of our community than even the horrible roll-backs that came under Clinton's watch in 1996.

Second, and I see this mistake made over and over by the mainstream press and the anti-free speech (unless it's pro-Administration) people: the vast, overwhelming majority of people who march and protest are not undocumented. It is not safe for someone who is undocumented to attend a rally or a protest, because if anything happens with the police because of some bonehead, disgruntled white dude who cares more about blowing up a Starbucks than marching peacefully, someone who is undocumented is at serious risk of deportation if they are caught in the aftermath.

So responsible organizers don't push undocumented members to go out to protests. That's what we, who have status privilege, should be doing. Many desis are lucky to have approved immigration status in this country, through the professional visas that were granted in the 60s and 70s, or derivatives for families thereafter. However, though some of us recognize that privilege, and don't take it as an entitlement (and remember that what the government giveth, the government surely can taketh back), there are many who actually believe that their status is through merit distinct from anything possessed by folks who aren't so lucky. Well, I'm not going to convince anyone otherwise, but we're just lucky. Nothing much more, especially if its our parents who actually did the migrating.

But when we finally realize that, and we remember that while growing up in suburban America, our faces represented perpetual foreignness to mainstream America, no matter where we were born or what papers we had stowed away in deposit boxes and safes. And so what do I think?

I think that now we have a chance to take that perceived foreignness that was stamped upon us just for looking different, for having different names, for not fitting into Smallsville and disappearing into the majority and do something with it. We can use that privilege and that perceived foreignness, gifted to us by the hard work of our parents and our forebears and we can stand in - not for their voices or their unique stories - not as saviors or martyrs or saints. But as brothers and sisters of those who are not as lucky as we.

We can take this to the streets and we can make a stand with all the other folks who understand, in one way or another, in our myriad paths and speaking in our many tongues. We can stand in to represent with our bodies and the chorus of our voices those who can't be in the streets and at the podium, speaking about their lives, and making the poignant case for recognizing human rights through a humane immigration policy in this country.


I'll be in the streets tomorrow. I hope many others will be too. Because this is our fight as much as it is anyone else's, and because though this country goes through waves of hateful xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, it rights itself when it wakes up. And I have faith that we can make it wake up before it makes that mistake again this time.

[previous post]

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Apr 7, 2006

South Asian Statement Regarding Immigration Reform

This is a great statement - signed on by most of the major South Asian organizations in the nation. This is an important step in getting folks on the same page about a critical issue for our community, and it gets the point across quickly. April 10th is coming. Time to take to the streets and let our voices be heard. We will not be the silent majority anymore. A humane immigration policy is the only opton.




See below for full list of supporting organizations

As representatives of organizations that serve South Asians across the United States – from empowering women, workers and youth to protecting the civil rights and liberties of ethnic and religious minorities – we see firsthand the impact of the immigration system on our community. As Congress prepares to pass the broadest immigration reform law in decades, we urge lawmakers to adopt sensible and humane solutions to fix the broken immigration system in the United States.

The South Asian community is predominantly foreign-born, with individuals tracing their backgrounds to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the diaspora, including the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. Any immigration law passed by Congress will undoubtedly affect the entire community as well as future immigrants.

Our organizations have already witnessed the impact of anti-immigrant sentiment, xenophobia and ill-conceived policies implemented by federal, state and local law enforcement on the South Asian community. We assist low-wage workers who work in the domestic service, restaurant and retail industries and often face difficult conditions and exploitation in the workplace. We advocate on behalf of survivors of domestic violence who are in need of assistance from social workers, lawyers and counselors. We hear from South Asians who have been waiting for years to be reunited with their family members due to the enormous backlog of visa applications. And we provide services to South Asian youth, many of whom are undocumented and are denied avenues to citizenship and higher education.

Congress has an opportunity now to identify humane and sensible measures to address many of these situations. However, the House of Representatives disappointed immigrants in December of last year by passing a bill that would criminalize those with undocumented status and would make the provision of services to undocumented immigrants a violation of the law in some contexts.

Now, it is the Senate’s turn to pass a bill on immigration issues. Two bills are before the Senate right now – one that passed the Judiciary Committee, and another introduced by Majority Leader Senator Frist. Both contain harsh enforcement provisions which would take a significant toll on immigrant communities around the country.

While the Senate bill that passed the Judiciary Committee contains some positive provisions - including the legalization of over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US and the expansion of educational and vocational opportunities for young people with undocumented status – its harsh stance towards enforcement of immigration law undercuts many of the highlights. These enforcement provisions would allow non-citizens to be indefinitely detained; would criminalize minor offenses such as the failure to file a change of address form; and would give local police the authority to enforce complex immigration laws locally, paving the way for mistakes, profiling, and distrust.

Legislation that does not balance the civil rights of immigrants will lead to separated families, isolation and fear, and distrust of law enforcement and government officials. We believe that our country’s immigration policies must reflect fundamental civil and human rights principles, which include:

  • Establishing a path to permanent residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants
  • Opposing criminalization of undocumented status and expansion of grounds for indefinite detention.
  • Reducing the visa backlog by eliminating visa caps and expediting the processing of applications
  • Promoting citizenship and civic participation
Our organizations come together from Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC to urge lawmakers to pass legislation that embraces these principles. We also make this statement today to urge our community members to make their voices heard to lawmakers about the urgency for fair immigration reform.


Adhikaar (New York City)
Andolan (New York City)
Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (San Francisco)
Coney Island Avenue Project (New York City)
Desist (San Francisco)
Desis Rising Up and Moving (New York City)
Friends of South Asia (San Francisco)
Manavi (New Jersey)
Narika (San Francisco)
Raksha (Atlanta)
Sakhi for South Asian Women (New York City)
Sikh Coalition (New York City)
South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (Washington DC area)
South Asian Progressive Action Collective (Chicago)
South Asian Sisters (San Francisco)
South Asian Network (Los Angeles)
South Asian Youth Action (New York City)

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Apr 5, 2006

GANA: July Guju Mega-Meetup

Man, I would so go to this thing, if I didn't have a prior commitment that weekend. Not only would the food at the first Gujarati Diaspora global meetup be slamming, but I may even meet some other really cool Gujaratis from around the globe doing interesting and good work.

Or, I'd meet a couple thousand reasons to keep pretending I'm from the 42nd State of India... anywhere but Gujarat...

Hmmm... choices...

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Apr 4, 2006

Add Your Thoughts: Are Women the Abusers?

My post about the questionable Indian men's "activism" in India/NRI communities has spurred a number of responses. It would be great to have some folks who are knowledgable about these issues, especially from the women's perspectives, add to the dialogue.

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