Category Archives: Desi

Where to Go and Where to Get Gifts for Diwali

I don’t usually do this, but I’ve several shameless plugs to make in the next few days, so please bear with me.

First, for everyone who is away from home this Diwali and does not have access to a local neighborhood Indian store, you can now check out eBay India’s new Diwalimicrosite. You can get a great selection of necessities for your Diwali celebration, and gifts for your loved ones, including Bollywood movies! They even have a special handcrafted section for goods that are made by artists in India. And for every purchase made from from Oct 18 – Nov 10., eBay will donate $1 to the National Rural and Development Association (NARAD), a non-governmental social service organization in India that provides self-help training, motivation and skills to farmers, women and youth, who work to support their families and keep these traditional Indian art forms alive.

Second, if you live in the DMV area, I’d suggest attending the Diwali Banquet on Nov 9, held by the GW South Asian Law Students Association. You are sure to enjoy an evening with an unlimited Indian Buffet, DJ, and Indian drum player in a great location. Tickets are on sale here.

Third, please donate to the Prerna Needs a New Bike fund. I am going to have a hard time doing my daily trips from home to the office, going to school, back to the office and back home again for a while, and any little bit would help.


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Weekend Music: Farhan Saaed

I was upset when my favorite band, Jal, broke up last year, but since Farhan Saaed and Gohar Mumtaz parted ways, Farhan has released two great songs: Pi Jaun (above) and Khwahishon (below). So instead of getting great Pakistani music from one source, I’m getting it from two, besides the likes of Atif Aslam, Ali Zafar and Amanat Ali.

For anyone interested in checking out the Pakistani music scene, I created a collaborative playlist on Spotify. There’s really nothing like it.

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Calling South Asian Youth: Apply for DC Desi Summer

I will be part of the team this summer in Washington D.C. Last year, I spoke at the Bay Area Solidarity Summer, the sister program on the West Coast. Please spread the word to your friends and family members, and if you are too old or too busy to participate, do consider donating!

Friday, July 13th to Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Washington, DC

For more information and to apply:

First priority deadline:  May 15th

**For young South Asian Americans age 15-20**

(with origins in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the South Asian diaspora)

Free (We cover meals, but participants arrange for transportation and housing). Limited number of scholarships available.

DC Desi Summer (DCDS) is a weekend-long youth leadership and empowerment program. Spearheaded by the volunteer DCDS Collective, DC Desi Summer provides a radical and inclusive space for youth of South Asian heritage to examine key social justice issues and take action! Community activists, advocates, and academics will facilitate workshops and activities that focus on topics, such as sexism, racism, capitalism, and the nuts and bolts of organizing for justice.

More information about organizers here.


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IndiaCurrents: Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic

Click here for the March 2012 issue of India Currents

I did this story to reach out to a group that is pretty invisible when it comes to debates about immigration reform and immigrant rights.

It’s a big deal for India Currents to shine the spotlight on an issue that most of our community speaks about in hushed tones. The United States knows us as mostly doctors and engineers. And while many South Asians do enjoy a relatively good life, silver-lined with “model minority” status, there are many of us who do not have the same luxury.

South Asian Americans make up one-sixth of the undocumented population in the United States. They become undocumented in many different ways:

  • Overstaying visas to stay with family
  • Losing their H-1B jobs
  • Leaving an abusive marriage with a H-1B holder
  • Being exploited as a domestic worker or sex trafficking
  • Aging out
  • Losing their asylum cases and overstaying due to family ties here
  • Crossing the border through Mexico

We need to have these hard and awkward conversations within our communities. We need to ensure that the most vulnerable parts of our population get the support and services they need. And it is my hope that through the article, I’ll get to meet and help out many others like me.I hope everyone enjoys the issue.


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Sh!t Legal South Asians Say To Me

I’m speaking at the South Asian Awareness Network (SAAN) conference this weekend in Ann Arbor, to a bunch of awesome young people.

I’ve charted a workshop that starts with exploring why people migrate, how they may become undocumented (including what that means), and created a timeline of South Asian immigration to the United States, which I hope people find fascinating. I’m hoping students place their own family’s immigration stories on the timeline.


While generally supportive, these are just some of the statements I’ve heard from my own community over the past few years. It’s rather nice:

  1. “What, you aren’t smart enough to hold a visa?”
  2. “Everyone knows about aging out. Your parents didn’t plan well. It’s their fault.”
  3. “You seem angry at the U.S. That doesn’t reflect well on our people.”
  4. “Your parents didn’t strike it rich in the U.S.? Maybe you should all go home.”
  5. “Being undocumented is a character test. Think of it as a life lesson and you’ll go far.”
  6. “I have a visa that took a lot of work. HOW is it fair that you get to go to school without one?”
  7. “I can’t go to high school here on an F-1, but you can as an undocumented person? HOW is that fair?”
  8. “So how exactly does someone become undocumented?”
  9. “Your victimhood won’t get you anywhere. You just need to work hard. Become a doctor or engineer.”
  10. “If you were a guy, I’d marry you” or “If you are less like a guy, I’d marry you.”
  11. “You just make us all look bad. Be quiet and don’t say anything about your status.”
  12. “I’ve never met an illegal Indian person! Wait, you are really only half illegal anyway.”
  13. “Fiji is a great place. I mean, I haven’t been there but I’ve heard great things. Just go back.”
  14. “Why don’t you just immigrate to another country, like Canada?”
  15. “Look, you are pretty educated. Supporting you distracts from more genuine cases of injustice.”
  16. “Your story just doesn’t add up. What did you do wrong?”
  17. “You aren’t even really South Asian.”

Additionally, during my own research, I found out that it it is the 100-year anniversary of University of Michigan’s ban on South Asian students! This is on the timeline, among other awesome newspaper clippings that describe “Hindoos” as undesirable immigrants:

The timeline shows us that South Asians are part of a long history of exclusion directed towards people who are not “white persons.” We’ve certainly come a long way and yet there is still much work to be done. Today, we are still banning certain students from our institutions of higher learning because of where they were born, which is more acceptable than exclusions based on race.

I hope everyone has a blast even in the snowstorm!

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I feel, therefore I’m free

“The job of being a human is so hard, and it is the only job there is left—though we keep on pretending otherwise.” – Toni Morrison

I’m halfway a lawyer and I’ve finally started to feel alive. There is no correlation between the two things, of course.

The year was a massive struggle, as is every year in our lives. I uncovered deep dark family secrets. I got placed in deportation proceedings. My mom became ill and lost her job. I was fired from my job the day of my last 1L final. I went home to work at the National Lawyers Guild and then I turned around and went to work for a corporate firm. I battled degenerating heel tissues and wisdom tooth surgery. I learned more about painkillers and alcohol than I needed to know and indulged in other self-destructive behaviors. I’m still battling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — the villain in a lot of our lives. And I fell in love, for the first time in a decade.

It happened in the most unexpected place in the most unexpected way. One moment I was barely paying attention to what she was saying to me and the next I could not look or listen to anything else but her. And it came with all the romantic shenanigans that my desi heart had expected — maple leafs flying in the wind, violins playing in the background, connecting under the moon and stars and so much more. She took me along for a long spin cycle, rinsing and cleansing me of the raw cynicism I had about love and commitment and family. In some ways, it has been a fairy tale. I don’t really know if it is truly over or if it ever really began but I’ve grown through the experience and learned so much more about myself.

The heart is a muscle, with an amazing capacity for loving. And I’m finding out that like other body parts, my heart has muscle memory. Once you train it to do something, it just keeps getting better at it. I’m getting better at loving the people in my life, and appreciating them so much more, be it the concierge at the front desk of my apartment, the room-mate whose just about given up on getting me to care about school or the loving classmate whose been such a rock through it all. They are all family.

I’ve even started to love seasons. The sunshine warms my soul. The rain washes away my sorrows. The chilly winds provide a good excuse to sit at home with a book. And the bloom of Spring is ideal for romance. Actually, come to think of it, every season is ideal for romance.

Of course, it’s unfortunate when your brain starts producing serotonin for the wrong person, but I figure that it will get better at it with lots of practice. After all, what is more rebellious and revolutionary than loving and living in a place that denies you humanity? And doing it over and over till you get it right.

I suppose that is me, someone once said to me — “to be open and loving and the hell with what happens.” I need to hang on to that and I can only wish that for everyone else in my life.

Next year, I plan to fall in love again. Maybe twice. Bring on the heartbreak(s). I also want violins and maple leafs flying around, and I’m ready for some grand gestures like running through airports and after trains for a girl. I also suppose I can get started early since there are still some days left of this year.

Till then live and breath every moment. It may be your last so make it worth your while.

Happy holidays.

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Reading: Occupations

While I think it is fantastic that Occupy Wall Street is offering immigration training to protesters, I also think that the well-meaning individuals quoted in this article also need to wake up and realize that undocumented immigrants have been organizing for their rights quite visibly and vocally for several years now, risking everything from arrest to deportation to imminent death.  The question is not really about where we are in terms of being the 99% but where have you been?

I’m not sure why people of color, who face the brunt of an oppressive system on a daily basis, are always expected to follow the lead of the outraged cisgender white citizen masses instead of the other way around. Lets be real – undocumented immigrants are the bedrock of a system that extracts surplus value from our labor while denying us basic due process and civil rights. On a related note, in a latest poll, 79% of Latino voters support the California Dream Act, compared to 30% of white voters, which is quite telling and sums up my point.

I don’t think there is one correct way of resisting or fighting for our freedoms and at the same time, highly recommend How Nonviolence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloo:

Nonviolence declares that the American Indians could have fought off Columbus, George Washington, and all the other genocidal butchers with sit-ins; that Crazy Horse, by using violent resistance, became part of the cycle of violence, and “as bad as” Custer. Nonviolence declares that Africans could have stopped the slave trade with hunger strikes and petitions, and that those who mutinied were as bad as their captors; that mutiny, a form of violence, led to more violence, and thus, resistance led to more enslavement. Nonviolence refuses to recognize that it can only work for privileged people, who have a status protected by violence, as the perpetrators and beneficiaries of a violent hierarchy.

I heard Shailja Patel, a Kenyan-Indian poet perform Shilling Love recently, and it moved me beyond measure. I’ll leave you with another powerful performance by her:

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for someone who eats absolutely no meat, including fish? Try Tofurkey, I’ve been told. We’ll see how that goes.


Filed under Desi, Ethnic Studies, Racism