Jun 26, 2008

National Coalition of South Asian Organizations; NFIA

This past week, 30 South Asian community-based groups around the nation launched a policy platform and national agenda for the South Asian American community at a press conference in NYC. I haven't had a chance to look through the whole agenda/policy platform (that mofo is 65 pages long!!) but it's pretty cool that this many groups have actually signed onto something with substance, that talks about issues from a progressive lens (i.e. recognizes the undocumented population that is a significant part of our community, speaks outright about women's rights, and has a platform concerning the LGBTIQ community).

Think about it - a lot of these groups are not the far left of center groups we all know and love -- many are service and advocacy groups.  It's hard enough to get a few desis to agree on a place to eat, let alone have 30 groups sign onto a comprehensive, progressive policy agenda.

Definitely better this than just adding their names to yet another telephone directory and counting themselves as part of some large "federation" in name alone.  Speaking of which, seems like the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIA) chair is a little upset over this launch. Check out his comment, posted here on the SAJA Forum as soon as the Media Advisory for the NCSO launch hit their site. Actually, I'll reproduce the whole thing after the jump, it's just so rich.

The National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO) is not a new concept nor is a new effort for Indian Americans to unify and speak with one voice. In 1980, the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) was founded with the main goal of unifying the diverse community under one umbrella. Currently, the NFIA has over 200 member associations from all parts of the United States making it the largest umbrella organization representing 2.8 millions Indian Americans here in America. The NFIA has played a leading role in reforming the Immigration policy of the country, has appeared before the Senate Committees to Represent the interest of Indian Amereicans, has raised funds for natural disasters in the United States and India, advocated the strengthening of US-India relations and has presented a collective Indian American Agenda. The Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAOHA,) the American Association of Physicians from India (AAPI), Indian American Forum for political Educarion (IAFPE) and Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) took their birth at the NFIA Conventions held every two years. Many leaders of the NFIA have been bestowed the highest awards in the land and have received the highest public service appointments. By and large, it has done a remarkable job in the service of the community.

We welcome the new associations with similar objectives. The more associations crop up the better we will be served. However, every new effort must acknowledge the hard work of many in the past and should not pretend to be a new kid on the block.

One can call these associations as Coalitions, National Federation or by any other name. One must not forget that the primary aim of any such organization is to improve the quality of life of its constituents and not aim at any personal glory or gains.

Rajen Anand
Chair NFIA

Where to begin on this one?  First, a little history (biased, of course). NFIA is indeed a group that has been around for a long time. But what does it do? What do people know of it? I can't remember, but I can guarantee that it's the successful uncle set. Actually, his email says most of what you need to know: photo-op focus, overwhelmingly well-off, male leadership, model minority pushing, and perhaps less secular and "inclusive" than they will admit in all the accolades they list. And is anyone under 40 involved with that group? But not to be ageist - it's just a question about how they oriented. 

One can call these associations as Coalitions, National Federation or by any other name. One must not forget that the primary aim of any such organization is to improve the quality of life of its constituents and not aim at any personal glory or gains."

This statement seems kind of at odds with the range of self-congratulatory remarks in the long paragraph above it. Beyond the statement's many shortcomings, the most obvious is that this Coalition is not just about "Indians" but about South Asian Americans - recognizing that some of the nationalistic ties that groups like NFIA and the wide assortment of photo-opportunity groups (PACs included) are less useful to people who are still actually struggling in the United States. People in groups like NFIA still don't understand that there's more to the work than photo-ops and getting awards (or pushing for the India-US Nuclear treaty, which is a key NFIA agenda item).

And that brings me to: what is NFIA's public policy agenda?  It does seem like they mention some things of concern like hate crimes and civil liberties, but what has the organization done to promote access to services in our communities? Where has it been when there are conversations about true immigration reform that takes into account how broken the current system is and actually pays attention to the undocumented and low-wage workers in our communities? Where is NFIA's statement that recognizes and pushes for real inclusion of LGBTIQ and other wholly marginalized communities with the "South Asian community"? Actually - wasn't it the group that spawned NFIA - the Federation of Indian Americans (FIA) in NYC that actively discriminated against SALGA and created one of those moments in the late 90s that we still talk about as being an important moment in the formation of a more pan-issue progressive South Asian movement in NYC? Hey, thanks FIA/NFIA!

But on that tip, does anyone know who the NFIA affiliates are? They say that they have 200 member organizations, but where's the list? How many of those groups actually serve the community directly? How many have Hindutva ties? If you missed it, here's their statement that they were "disappointed" that the Butcher of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, was denied a visa the first go around with the State Department.

Oh, and remember this charming line from NFIA's congratulatory press release on Bobby Jindal's election: “it is a great moment in the history of America when some one who looks like us becomes the Governor of Louisiana. We should all be dancing in the streets to display our pride.” It's just ridiculous that groups like this still get the ear of members of Congress - it's only because they throw their money around and play out that they represent community interests.  Looking deeper at their website, they did have a celebration to recognize "Gadar heroes".  Different president at that time, though.

Meanwhile, hats off to the groups that signed onto this policy and action agenda. It's a good step in the right direction.

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