Indian American, South Asian

Remembering Balbir Singh Sodhi

By Masum Momaya, Curator
Spring 2012 intern Christine Chou contributed to the research and writing.

Balbir Singh Sodhi

Rana Singh Sodhi holds a photo of his murdered brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi, in the film “A Dream in Doubt” (2007). He was shot and killed at his gas station in Mesa, Arizona, on September 15, 2001. Sodhi is widely considered to be the first hate crime murder victim in the wake of 9/11. Photo by Andrew Ramsammy / ITVS.

Eleven years ago, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed while standing outside the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona.  His death was the first of many reported attacks targeting Arab and South Asian immigrants and Americans in the wake of September 11th, 2001.

The oldest of eight brothers, Balbir Singh Sodhi immigrated to the United States from India in 1987 with a diploma in mechanical engineering.  Indeed, the beginning of Balbir’s story is characteristic of the South Asian immigrant experience.  He lived in Los Angeles, where he worked as a taxi driver, before moving to San Francisco and later Arizona. In 2000, Balbir opened a small business, his gas station, and was known among the community for his generosity. He kept candy for children who visited his store and provided gas at no charge for customers going through difficult times.

Earlier this year, Rana Singh Sodhi kindly donated some personal effects of his older brother, Balbir, to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  Among the artifacts include a journal that contains his business records, a diary entry written one day before his death, and a blue turban worn by him, which will be on display during the 2013 Smithsonian exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation.

The exhibition will explore the history, daily life experiences and professional, political and cultural contributions of Indian immigrants and their descendants.  The story behind objects such as the turban represents the shared struggle faced by immigrants of many ethnic and religious backgrounds as they strive for acceptance in a new land.  The memory of Balbir, and others like him, remain part of American history in a post-September 11th world.

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Academic, Event, Film, HomeSpun, Literary, South Asian

SALTAF 2011 – South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival

SALTAF 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011
10 a.m. — 5:30 p.m.

Baird Auditorium
National Museum of Natural History
1000 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004
Google Map

Metro: Federal Triangle

Free and open to the public.

Update: This event has passed, you can read the recap and view pictures.

For ten years, the South Asian Literary and Theatre Arts Festival (SALTAF) has been an annual celebration of South Asian creative talent, showcasing the work of established and emerging artists and connecting them to a wide audience in the Washington, D.C. area. The festival emerged from the book club created by the Network of South Asian Professionals D.C. (NetSAP-DC) and has blossomed with its partnership for the last eight years with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program (APAP).

Featured Literary Artists:

  • Aatish Taseer (Noon)
  • Mitali Perkins (Bamboo People)
  • Nina Godiwala (Suits: A Woman on Wall Street)
  • Shailja Patel (Migritude)
  • Roksana Badruddoja (Eyes of a Storm)

The festival will open with a screening of the film The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan to be followed by a conversation with the director, Phil Grabsky.

This event is co-sponsored by NetSAP-DC.

Program Schedule

10:00 a.m. – 11:45 Film Screening of The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan (2011)
11:45 – 12:15 p.m. Discussion with director Phil Grabsky
12:15 – 1:00 Break
1:00 – 1:15 Opening Remarks
1:15- 2:00 Discussion with author Aatish Taseer
2:00 – 3:00 Discussion with authors Nina Godiwalla and Mitali Perkins
3:00 – 3:30 Book Signing
3:30 – 3:45 Reading by scholar/author Roksana Badruddoja
3:45 – 4:00 Performance by Shailja Patel
4:00 – 4:30 Discussion with Roksana Badruddoja and Shailja Patel
4:30 – 5:30 Book Signing
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Chinese American, Event, Film, Indian American, Literary, South Asian

SALTAF 2010, South Asian Literary and Theatre Arts Festival Recap

South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival 2010

Co-Chairs: Kiran Meegada, Latha Reddy, Mridula Srinivasan
Contact: saltaf@netsap.org

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and NetSAP-DC presented the tenth annual South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF). The partnership between NetSAP and the Smithsonian has established SALTAF as a premier showcase for South Asian-themed literary and theater arts in North America.

This past festival’s schedule can be found if you click here.

SALTAF 2010 | Photo by Manish Alimchandani

This year’s festival featured panel discussions, readings, and film screenings by internationally acclaimed writers and artists, including:

  • Award-winning writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the bestselling author of Arranged Marriage, One Amazing Thing, and other novels which focus on the themes of women, immigration, and the South Asian experience. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
  • Born in Sri Lanka and educated at Oxford, the San Francisco-based poet Pireeni Sundaralingam is a PEN USA Rosenthal Fellow. She is also the editor of the first anthology of contemporary South Asian American poetry, Indivisible, as well as the author of the forthcoming Margin Lands.
  • Writer and artist Naeem Mohaiemen‘s photography and video projects have shown at venues such as Laboral Center for Art & Technology and Zurich Shedhalle, and will show next at Sharjah Biennial 2011. He is editor of the just published Between Ashes and Hope: Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism.
  • Washington, DC-based journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of the acclaimed Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is National Editor at The Washington Post. He has written extensively on the Middle East and has been widely praised for his reporting on that region.
  • The San-Francisco-based writer, performer, and activist Canyon Sam, author of the 2010 PEN-award winning lyrical memoir Sky Train, has performed across the United States and Canada. Her creative nonfiction has been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies.

The two films showcased were:

Shakti Rising (Shakti Pirakkudhu), created in association with writer and director Usha Rajeswari of Prakriti Jiva Media, is a special tribute to the undying spirit and power of women throughout the world. Based on the true-life stories of a group of women from Madurai, India and their association with Madura Micro Finance Ltd., this inspirational film offers a case study of success and triumph.

Udaan, created in association with director Vikramaditya Motwane and producers Sanjay Singh, Anurag Kashyap, and Ronnie Screwvala, is a story about 17-year-old Rohan who is expelled from boarding school and returns home to his stern and abusive father. Rohan has dreams of becoming a writer but is instead forced to work in his father’s metalworks factory and attend engineering classes at a local university. From the ashes of conflict Rohan has to decide whether or not his dream of becoming a writer is too strong to give up.

See photos by Manish Alimchandani from this year’s event by clicking here.
See the original event listing by clicking here.

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Chinese American, Event, Film, Indian American, Literary, South Asian

SALTAF 2010, South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival

South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival 2010

Co-Chairs: Kiran Meegada, Latha Reddy, Mridula Srinivasan
Contact: saltaf@netsap.org

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and NetSAP-DC present the tenth annual South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF). The partnership between NetSAP and the Smithsonian has established SALTAF as a premier showcase for South Asian-themed literary and theater arts in North America.

To view the festival’s schedule, please click here.

Featured guests (left to right): Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Pireeni Sundaralingam, Naeem Mohaiemen, Rajiv Chandrasekaram, and Canyon Sam

Time:
Saturday, November 13, 2010
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 

Location:
Baird Auditorium
National Museum of Natural History
10th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW

Metro:
Smithsonian or Federal Triangle
(Orange or Blue line)

This event is free and open to the public

This year’s festival will feature panel discussions, readings, and film screenings by internationally acclaimed writers and artists, including:

  • Award-winning writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the bestselling author of Arranged Marriage, One Amazing Thing, and other novels which focus on the themes of women, immigration, and the South Asian experience. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
  • Born in Sri Lanka and educated at Oxford, the San Francisco-based poet Pireeni Sundaralingam is a PEN USA Rosenthal Fellow. She is also the editor of the first anthology of contemporary South Asian poetry, Indivisible as well as the author of the forthcoming Margin Lands.
  • Writer and artist Naeem Mohaiemen‘s photography and video projects have shown at venues such as Laboral Center for Art & Technology and
    Zurich Shedhalle, and will show next at Sharjah Biennial 2011. He is editor of the just published Between Ashes and Hope: Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism.
  • Washington-DC-based journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of the acclaimed Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is National Editor at the Washington Post. He has written extensively on the Middle East and has been widely praised for his reporting on that region.
  • The San-Francisco-based writer, performer, and activist Canyon Sam, author of the 2010 PEN-award winning lyrical memoir The Sky Train, has performed across the United States and Canada. Her creative nonfiction has been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies.

A feature film Shakti Rising (Shakti Pirakkudhu), created in association with writer and director Usha Rajeswari of Prakriti Jiva Media, is a special tribute to the undying spirit and power of women throughout the world. Based on the true-life stories of a group of women from Madurai, India and their association with Madura Micro Finance Ltd., this inspirational film offers a case study of success and triumph.

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Academic, Chinese American, Event, Filipino American, General APA, Literary, South Asian

Angel Island Event Recap

Erika Lee speaks at the Angel Island event at the National Museum of the American Indian

“I came to America hoping to make this land my home…

But now they come and say to me I am no longer an American citizen.

Now what am I? We cannot exercise our rights.

Obstacles this way, blockades that way, and bridges burned behind.”

-Vaisho Das Bagai’s letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, 1928.

These lines appeared on the screen as one of the slides in Erika Lee and Judy Yung’s presentation on September 21, 2010, of Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America, illustrating that immigration issues is by no means a contemporary one.

The scholars Lee and Yung took the audience on a brief tour through the history of the Angel Island immigration station. Not as well-known among the American public as Ellis Island, Angel Island processed a diversity of immigrants, not just those from Asia and the Pacific like the Chinese paper sons. With immigrants from Russia, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, China, Japan and many other countries, Angel Island saw many individuals and their families in its detention centers.

And while there are those detained for months at a time, unable to get in touch with family, and while there are those who are deported, there are also those of the merchant class like Vaisho Das Bagai who, with adequate financial resources, were accepted into American society and granted citizenship. However, it’s unfortunate that, through the SCOTUS case United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Vaisho retroactively lost his citizenship like many other South Asian Americans and committed suicide.

Lee and Yung also highlighted several other individual cases of Chinese, Mexican, Russian immigrants, among others. They noted that origin of nationality is not always the determining factor in the immigration process, socioeconomic status, for example, is another.

For those who missed the event, a video is available below and on our YouTube Channel.

Click here for background information on Erika Lee and Judy Yung.

Click here for the original event listing.

Check out photos from the event on Flickr!

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General APA, History, South Asian, This Month in History

This Month in History: 9/11 and the Asian Pacific American Community

New York, NY, September 17, 2001 — FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams work to clear rubble and search for survivors at the World Trade Center. Photo above by Andrea Booher/ FEMA News Photo

On September 11th, 2001, America was attacked by hijackers who flew planes into two World Trade Center buildings in New York City, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Approximately 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, which have been widely called a defining moment in the country’s history. The attacks of 9/11 sparked a wide range of reactions, from unity and solidarity to frustration and anger. In their aftermath, the attacks have sparked considerable debate and controversy on how to memorialize the event and what is considered appropriate.

Asian Americans were affected by the attacks just as all Americans were. Although the hijackers came from Middle Eastern countries, anti-Muslim fervor has led to strong reactions toward South Asian American Muslims in the past decade. Hate crimes against Muslim Americans have risen dramatically compared to rates prior to 2001. Government policy, too, has affected South Asian Americans. The Special Registration program installed on the first anniversary of September 11th singled out Muslim Americans for special scrutiny by the federal government. South Asian American Muslim youth were also especially affected by the 9/11 attacks, with name-calling and accusations coming from their classmates.

New York’s Chinatown suffered in the wake of 9/11. Because of freezes on transportation and access, many Chinatown businesses lost revenue and were forced to close. In the three months following 9/11, Chinatown restaurants reported losses of up to 70% in revenue. Despite these losses, Chinatown businesses received little assistance as the Small Business Administration granted only $14 million in assistance to a total of 237 businesses.

Sources:

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HomeSpun, Indian American, South Asian

Washington Leadership Program Scholars Visit APA Program

Washington Leadership Program Scholars Visit APA Program

Suchin Adhlakha, former HomeSpun Project Manager and Krista Aniel, Management Support Assistant welcomed Harin J. Contractor, Vice-Chair of the Washington Leadership Program (WLP) and eight young scholars to the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and promoted HomeSpun: The Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project. WLP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building the next generation of leaders from the South Asian American community through innovative programs. The program places promising college students in a congressional office for an eight-week summer internship accompanied by a structured leadership curriculum.

WLP scholars learned that HomeSpun will create an exhibition chronicling the story of immigrants from India and their descendants in America. The exhibition will be accompanied by a curriculum guide for middle school students, a public program series to educate the general public, and a website with supporting social networking tools to engage audiences.

HomeSpun seeks to establish a permanent presence through collections, research, exhibitions, education, and public programming within the Smithsonian complex. Here, students and visitors to one of the nation’s busiest museums can not only view displays about Indian American history, but also learn about the role Indian Americans have played in shaping American society. To support HomeSpun, please visit http://homespun.si.edu

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