South Asian Americans Hit the Stage — In Community Theater

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Photo courtesy of NBC News

While theater may not be the most commonly encouraged career field among South Asian Americans, Vinita Sud Belani did not let her love of theater die after becoming a working professional.

In an effort to connect the professional and lay theater world, Belani started her own theater company called Enacte Arts, Inc.

Belani also called the lack of mainstream South Asian roles into question.

“’There were Indian American theater companies, but I was not seeing a global view [in their shows] either on living in America or in the global world.’”

Belani created a successful talent development program within the company to combat this issue.

For more information on the company’s process and work, click the link below!


Not sure whom to vote for in Washington’s 7th District? Consider Pramila Jaypal!

How did Pramila Jaypal become a senator who has combated intolerance post 9/11, advocated to ensure debt-free college for young people across America, and encouraged civic engagement  among young South Asian Americans ?

Read below to discover how this remarkable Indian American moved from a career on Wall Street to one in public service on the West Coast.


How did you become an activist and how did it change after Sept. 11?

I wasn’t born with activism in my blood.

When I was 16, my parents took the last $5,000 they had and sent me off to Georgetown University.

They got me to promise that I’d pursue a career in a field that would earn me a good living. Right out of college I landed a job on Wall Street. While I made good money, I found myself growing restless.

I felt empty.

After obtaining my MBA from Northwestern University, I worked for PATH, providing loans to women’s health programs in developing countries, including India.

In contrast to my 1980s Wall Street days, this experience was transformative, giving me a front-row seat to the existence of true inequity.

But my roll-up-your-sleeves era of activism, however, began in earnest in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with the wave of hate crimes directed against Muslims, Arabs and Sikhs.

I created Hate Free Zone, not only to combat such intolerance but to start a dialogue about how we can bridge the differences between us.

Known today as OneAmerica, it is the state’s largest immigrant-rights organization and a leading voice in the push for comprehensive immigration reform.

OneAmerica is also at the forefront of advancing the principles of democracy and justice at every level by building power within immigrant communities in collaboration with key allies.

How did your career lead to your running for office?

It was only after a career in activism that I decided to run for office.

I had long believed, as many advocates do, that it was only through a process of organizing and activism on the outside that we demanded change from our elected officials on the inside. But in so doing, too often, we felt taken for granted, including by a Democratic Party afraid to confront head-on the uncomfortable social issues of our time out of fear of alienating some voters or upsetting big funders.

I reasoned that if elected officials determined so much of what affects our day-to-day lives, why were we ceding this space?

It was clear that we needed movement builders who understood that the role of an elected representative is not only to pass good policy and block bad, but to be a bridge between government and the people. 

As a Washington State Senator, I have been proud to serve Southeast Seattle, pushing to raise the minimum wage, increase equity education and improve voter access.

I’m running for Congress at a time when a progressive movement is building across this country. The time has come to tackle the inequities spawned by a system rigged to favor big corporations and the top 1 percent over regular Americans. We need to fix that: raise the minimum wage, expand Social Security and Medicare, and ensure debt-free college for young people across America.

What should people who don’t hold office know about the life of a senator?

The first year is like drinking from a firehose…There’s so much you need to learn and about such a wide range of issues, I don’t think I could have imagined what it was like fully. But the reasons I ran, in terms of making sure new and different voices are at the table, still ring true.

In our Republican-controlled Senate, I’m both the only woman of color and the first-ever South Asian American member of the state legislature. That makes a difference. Additionally, life in the minority party means you always have to be creative and strategic about how you get things done.

Relationships and power are relative to your position in the minority. I’m conscious of my race and ethnicity; it’s hard not to be.  My background as an activist and a woman of color means I bring with me the perspective that race touches almost every single issue. There are, sadly, not nearly enough elected officials at any level of American government willing to acknowledge and respond to this simple truth.

More generally, my favorite part of a day in Olympia is meeting with constituents and listening to their stories – the sad, moving, tragic, heartbreaking, uplifting, motivating stories of the people I’m elected to serve. We get only 15 minutes; it’s never enough time.

What are the greatest issues for the South Asian community in Washington, and what are your policy recommendations?

Consistently, immigration is a pressing issue for South Asians in Washington State, both in terms of the decades-long backlogs that keep families separated and the tortured process for those on employment-based visas to seek permanent residency.

Another group, the spouses of H-1B visa holders, mostly women who hold multiple degrees and would like to work in the U.S., have recently seen limited gains in obtaining work authorization. But still too many of them are left out, unable to work.

Comprehensive immigration reform has always been an important policy issue for me and one that I plan to continue pressing in Congress.

There is invisible poverty within the rapidly growing South Asian community, shattering the myth that all South Asians are wealthy. Others rarely see the problem because people seldom seek help, publicly, turning instead to the community and other South Asians who understand the culture.

While this is less of a policy issue, we are always searching for ways to tap the vast resources of our high-tech entrepreneurs and find opportunities for them to contribute back to the community. Immigrants don’t often grow up in a culture of community service and civic engagement and so the idea of giving back doesn’t occur to them naturally.

I’ve made it a priority to reach out to young Indian-Americans to do campaign work and to serve as legislative interns and pages. 

I want to get the South Asian community more involved so we can lift up the next generation of leaders.

How did you ethnically/culturally identify growing up, and why? Did this identity pose any challenges? And now?

I identify as an Indian American. I’m a very proud of my Indian heritage. My parents still live in India and I have strong, deep connections to the culture, the people and the country. I spent two years there in the 1990s doing meaningful development work, living simply among people in villages and towns all over the country. 

Being an immigrant has deeply influenced so much of my worldview and of the connections I made with people from every walk of life. I’m very proud to talk about my Indian background and to bring it into my work. 


The Fearless Collective




Photo courtesy of the Fearless Collective

The Fearless Collective represents a group of “visual artists, filmmakers, street artists, photographers and activists that harness the power of art to create social change, with a focus on issues related to gender and sexuality.”

It started off as an online movement and progressed into outdoor exhibitions and international street campaigns.

The collective’s founder, Shilo Shiv Suleman, is an Indian designer who gave a Ted Talk on how technology can enable dreaming.

Suleman has since been involved in several community initiatives, including projects in Pakistan with Pakistani women’s rights activist Nida Mushtaq.

The two women worked with Wajood, a trans rights organization, and painted the wall of a bank when they lost a proposed site.

To see the artwork and read about the evolution of this project, follow this link: 

The Fearless Collective will be expanding into Lebanon, Syria, and Sri Lanka.


enhanced-31714-1452007128-3Photo courtesy of Shilo Shiv Suleman

The Forgotten Era of Punjabi Mexican Marriages

familyPhoto courtesy of PBS

Chicken curry enchiladas, Catholic Mass, and Sikh gurdwaras?

This article explores the history of interracial Punjabi/Mexican marriages.

A study showed that 378 of these couples existed in California alone.

But, as this article points out, “discovering love didn’t mean finding acceptance.”

Couples still had to battle intensely to obtain  the legal rights of white American couples.

Click the link to read more, and feel free to leave comments!

Photo courtesy of


Police Brutality in America: Desis are Far from Exempt

An Alabama police officer who caused 57 year old Sureshbhai Patel to be hospitalized in a state of paralysis will not face criminal charges for his actions.

Photo courtesy of

On February 6, 2015, Alabama police offers stopped Sureshbhai Patel after receiving a call to investigate from a neighbor who did not recognize him.

Patel had only been staying at his son’s house for two weeks when this happened.

Police attempted to frisk him while ignoring his statements of “No English” and gestures towards his son’s house.

When Patel moved during the frisking, police officer Eric Parker slung him to the ground where he was bleeding and in need of paramedics.

A judge has recently thrown out the civil rights case for this incident, after two previous trials. U.S. District Judge Haikala states that reasonable doubt to Parker’s guilt exists because his actions may have been in line with his training when faced with an uncooperative suspect and that dashcam evidence contradicts Patel’s testimony.

Patel has stated through an interpreter that his limited English proficiency prevented him from understanding the officer, something that Judge Haikala has criticized.

Patel needed a vertebrae replaced and could not move his hands after the attack.


Patel (left) and his son Chirag before Parker’s first trial. Image courtesy of

A civil rights case against Parker is impending.

A video of Patel’s takedown can be found here:




A personal account of a peculiar phenomenon

When we consider the South Asian American diaspora, it’s common to think of the Indian sub-continent.

But Americans with Indian roots also hail from the Western Hemisphere.

In her Brown Girl Magazine article, Elizabeth Jaikaran states, “Indians comprise the largest ethnic group in Guyana, with Africans following closely as the second largest ethnic group.”

The compelling piece details how Jaikaran considers her identity, as well as how her heritage emerged through the colonial legacy of “detention, servitude, sexual violence and rejection.”

Jaikaran details the immigrant experience and prejudice crafted by “real Indians” who refused to believe that she was one of them.

Jaikaran writes a thorough historical briefing coupled with a sensitive personal narrative.

To read it, click here:

Image courtesy of the Huffington Post


The community speaks after tragedy

Photo courtesy of Newsday

The media has been capturing Pakistani-American voices after the shooting in San Bernardino earlier this month.

According to an article by Al Jazeera, the California Pakistani-American community is “shaken to the core.”

The Council on Islamic-American Relations has condemned the attacks and offered condolences for the victims.

Reactions has also come at an international level, as the Pakistani Ambassador to the US released a statement saying, “Our physicians, engineers, IT professionals, lawyers, entrepreneurs as well as industrious wage earners are contributing to the socio-economic development of the United States as well as Pakistan through their hard work, integrity and commitment.”

While Muslims decry the violence, Islamaphobic actions have been increasing. They started with inaccurate coverage of the attack, morphed into threatening messages, and have extended to violent acts.

Non-Muslims have been conflating Islamic extremists with general practitioners of Islam, and the results have been devastating.

The link below describes hate crimes that have followed the shooting at San Bernardino:

Please feel free to leave comments to describe your experiences or offer any other commentary.

Violence and “silence” in Punjab

Photo courtesy of Indian Express

Anti-Sikh violence represents a grave concern both in America and outside of it.

Simran Jeet Singh, Senior Religon Fellow for The Sikh Coalition, describes his family’s past experience and the current media blackout in Punjab.

A recent lack of news from this region indicates that freedom of speech and access to the press have been severely limited.

Singh calls us to action in his article below:

Super Sanjay! Hitting Theaters Near You Come November!

Photo courtesy of

Pixar artist Sanjay Patel has created a seven minute short based on his own life as a child of Indian immigrants. It features Pixar’s first Hindu hero. The film focuses on both Hindu deities and the conflict between a son and his father.

Patel’s parents bought a Lido Motel on Route 66 when he was younger, and that location will serve as the setting of the story.

The film will premier before The Good Dinosaur on November 25th.

Patel has worked on Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc., and The Incredibles. 

This film, however, will be different.

It is the first animated short to focus on religion, and Patel hopes that it will inspire curiosity about Hinduism among non-Indians.

According to an interview with Spinoff Online, Patel says, “‘I’m really proud of the studio for taking a chance on something very personal…something that is really different, and yet something that is in a weird way familiar part of America.'”

To watch the trailer, click here:

Photo courtesy of Superherohype

Happy birthday!

Photo courtesy of Forbes

August 13 marks the 57th birthday of Iqbal Quadir, Bangladeshi born American entrepreneur.

Quadir invented founded Grameenphone, a Bangladeshi telecommunications operator, and GoNoPhone, a software program that provides remote control access to a landline from external locations.

Quadir has advocated for technology innovation and decentralized access to communication to eradicate poverty and ameliorate social conditions.

To read and hear more about his views and work, click on the link below to follow his contributions to Ted: