Despite this being our first year at the API Policy Summit, we were honored to have been chosen as team leaders for the groups’ legislative lobby day on Tuesday. Both Ravneet and Neha worked with a group of attendees to identify API bills currently being considered in the California Capitol. Today, we met with legislators in the California State Assembly and Senate to promote the bills each of our groups had chosen.
This week marks the sixth annual Asian Pacific Islander Policy Summit in Sacramento, California. The conference is an opportunity for Asian American policymakers, activists, organizers and community groups to meet and discuss issues relevant to our communities. Sikh Coalition staff members this year are attending the conference as part of a special track that addresses civil rights issues. These issues range from hate crimes and discrimination to the Sikh community’s kirpan education bill.
This afternoon, I attended and spoke at a public forum and discussion organized by our friends at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) entitled The Asian American Vote in New York. The Sikh Coalition has been a co-sponsor of AALDEF’s voting rights project for the last several years, and we have helped to monitor the polls and conduct exit surveys of voters in heavily Punjabi and Sikh neighborhoods like Richmond Hill, New York.
At today’s event, AALDEF presented the results of 8,771 surveys of Asian American voters we conducted in NYC on Election Day 2008 (16,665 Asian American voters were surveyed nationally). You can check out the full results and the key finding of these surveys here.
One important finding that we discussed is the high percentage of limited English proficient voters from diverse Asian communities who often faced barriers when they went to vote. According to AALDEF,
Thirty-nine percent (39%) of respondents in New York were limited English proficient (LEP). Among native Korean speakers in Queens, 75% were LEP and 29% preferred to vote with assistance. Among native Chinese speakers in Manhattan’s Chinatown, 61% were LEP and 36% preferred to vote with language assistance. For native Bengali speakers, 50% in Brooklyn and 37% in Queens were LEP. For native Urdu speakers, 39% in Brooklyn and 22% in Queens were LEP. Twenty-nine percent (29%) of native Punjabi speakers in Queens were LEP.
I talked about my observations while conducting exit surveys in Ozone Park, Queens (right next to Richmond Hill), including the reality that a lot of Sikh voters do not read or speak English fluently and would have benefited greatly from having a Punjabi interpreter present. While talking to Sikh voters on Election Day, it was clear to me that many of them did not fully understand everything while they were voting and were not able to communicate effectively with poll workers if they had questions or were confused. Currently, Punjabi is not one of the languages where interpreters are providing nor are voter registration forms available in Punjabi.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lead a Sikh Awareness Presentation at Middle School 72 in Queens, NY. But this time there was a difference: Instead of presenting to students, I was speaking to the faculty. According to our bias-based harassment survey several Sikh students that attend this school received taunts and threats from their fellow classmates because they are Sikh. Ordinarily, our objective is to give both a staff and student presentation on Sikhs and bullying issues. However, in this school, we were encouraged to only talk to the faculty because the principal did not want to single out one particular group. There was a fear that the Sikh students would then receive even more harassment.
After our Community Organizer, Sonny Singh, met with some of the students and discussed the situation, he and I collaborated to work with both the Department of Education as well as the administration from this school to coordinate this presentation.
This past Sunday, The Sikh Coalition and Asian Law Caucus (ALC) jointly outreached to the sangat at El Sobrante Gurdwara Sahib in California. Sikh Coalition representatives asked sangat members to sign the Army Campaign Petition and distributed Know Your Rights brochures about “Language Discrimination,” while Asian Law Caucus distributed Know Your Rights information on racial profiling and answered legal questions about immigration. By presenting ourselves as resources to the community we were able to collectively provide information to help stop the violation of Sikhs’ civil rights in America. We plan to continue this joint effort at other California Gurdwaras. Read the rest of this entry »
Last weekend, Sonny and I had the opportunity to attend the 2009 South Asian Summit, held in Washington DC. South Asian Americans Leading Together, or SAALT, did an excellent job in bringing together over 200 community members, activists and organizers from 17 different states to indulge in conversations about social justice work in South Asian communities. The summit included a full day of advocacy on Capitol Hill, a ChangeMaker awards reception that recognized individuals who have motivated social change in their communities, and numerous workshops and panels on a variety of topics ranging from the effects of the economy on South Asians to bullying in schools.
The summit provided a space to meet and create relationships with individuals and organizations who have dedicated their lives to social justice work. We learned about all of the complexities involved in different arenas of this work and how organizations and individuals are working through the issues they face. Most importantly, we learned of how all of our roles intersect with one another, despite the different niches in which we reside. Over the course of the Summit, it became increasingly clear that we need to unite and collaborate with each other in order to succeed in our fight for justice. We left DC on Sunday with piles of resources and materials and with anticipation to work even more collaboratively with our allies, supporters and communities.
Ramneet Kaur is a former Sikh Coalition Operations/Marketing Intern in the National Office
As a freshman at Baruch College and a former intern for Sikh Coalition, I felt an immediate desire to participate in the 2nd annual Sikh Scouts event. Sikh Scouts is essentially a small-scale Sikh youth mentoring event that aims to forge and develop a long-lasting relationship with children in need of good Sikh role models to help them guide them on the path towards Sikhi. And so, I, along with eight others, woke up at 7:30am on a Sunday and trekked out to Richmond Hill, Queens for a fun-filled day at the New York Hall of Science. We were each paired with a same-gender child ranging from the age of 5 to 12, based on some mutual interests and off we went to the NY Hall of Science. We went from activity to activity, laughing, learning, playing games, making shadows and blowing bubbles. I forgot how much energy kids these days have! I think it’s safe to say that most of the mentors got “schooled” by the 10-year-olds, instead of the other way around.
This Saturday, after a long but inspiring day of rallying for immigrant and workers’ rights on Friday, I attended the Northeast Turban and Personality Competition in Richmond Hill, Queens. This was my first time attending the annual event organized by our friends at the Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, New York.
I’m not sure of the exact number, but at least 100 Sikh youth participated, most of them in high school or younger, and hundreds of community members were present to watch the competition and support the participants.
As I sat in the large auditorium and watched these young Sikhs (as young as 7 years old!) strut down the runway (yes, there was a runway), proudly wearing their dastaars that they tied with careful attention and love, I realized how important events like these are in empowering Sikh youth.