Monisha Das Gupta
It has been over an year since we sent you our first issue of Desiaspora. Lacking the money to put out subsequent issues, we have been racking our brains about how to get in touch with you again. In January this year, some World Wide Web-literate activist friends of ours offered us our own space on their "domain." So, here we are, hoping to reach out to new readership and reconnect with those of you who sent us newsletter requests over e-mail (a long time ago!).
All this while, we have been organizing and participating in a number of events in the New England area. The work has been hard but mostly fulfilling. Over the four years of our existence, we have grown into a strong community of women in the process of crafting visions for spaces where we can speak out, be heard and effect change. In doing so, we have made attempts to work in coalition with other organizations. [ARTICLE]
In the last few years, our work has led us to educate ourselves on issues of domestic violence as they manifest themselves in our communities. A number of our members have trained as advocates against domestic violence and are in the process of translating that training to issues specific to South Asians. We have also been preoccupied with ways in which the pioneer shelter in Boston for Asian survivors of domestic violence could meet the needs of the area's South Asian communities. We have come to understand spousal abuse, same-sex battery and dowry deaths as part of a much broader problem of violence against women. This was the analysis of dowry and dowry deaths that we brought to a conference we were asked to co-sponsor in the Fall of 1995.
Strategies to fight racism and elitism have been at the heart of our struggles. We realize that class differences are perhaps the least talked about and most taken-for-granted phenomenon among South Asians and Asians. At many of the forums and conferences we attended, it seemed critical for many middle class, college-educated South Asians to believe that the label, "model minority," was far better than negative stereotypes. The belief that success in this society was contingent on hardwork was widespread. These attitudes have pushed us to start bringing up the question of class privilege and inequity within our communities at public gatherings and in our own meetings.
When we, as South Asians in the U.S., do see ourselves as people with a racial identity, we are more sensitive to being targets of racism. While recognizing and fighting against racism directed at us is hard enough, examining our own racism toward other people of color is still harder. Even within SAWA, we have been torn about whether we South Asians, as a minority group, have the institutional backing to be racist. But once we got past semantics, we agreed that we needed to confront and intervene in prejudicial behavior and practices, whether it was our parents' dread of our chosing non-White partners or our friends' negative comments about the abilities of affirmative action appointees. If we are to find allies among other people of color to fight on common issues, then we need to build a broad-based anti-racism agenda.
The newly promulgated immigration bills powerfully bring together issues of racism and classism and underline the importance of working in coalition with other groups. The hostility that the supporters of the bills (as they were originally proposed) displayed against immigrants, the majority of whom are from the "Third World," goes to show that we are a long way from being accepted by this society. The emerging outcomes do not bode well for those of us who are poor, exploited and/or undocumented. At the time of writing this, it is still not clear what public benefits legal immigrants will be entitled to. Despite the watering down, the bills clearly discourage immigrants from having any sense of entitlement even though our contributions to the U.S. economy and society were made clear by all those who fought against the bills.
The tasks that face us are formidable. But the year started with a number of encouraging developments. In January, several queer women of color groups in the area decided to come together and get acquainted with each others' work. The spirit of sisterhood in that room made us heady and a coalition was on its way to being born. In March, we attended the eighth annual conference of the South Asian Students' Organization hosted by Brown University. The panels were organized around issues of class inequality, gender discrimination, race politics and political representation in South Asian communities in the U.S. Gay and lesbian rights activist, Urvashi Vaid, was one of the keynote speakers. We were enormously encouraged by the fact that these issues had been foregrounded as some of the most pressing problems faced by our communities.
We had come together four years ago to contest our invisibility as South Asian women. This continues to be our goal. Over the years, some of our core members have moved away from the area. But other women have joined and enriched our group with new perspectives. Those who had to leave have become involved with other groups in their new place of residence and their commitment inspires us. Much to our delight, one of the members who had left Boston two years ago is back in the area. Her experience of working with the civil rights group, YAAR, in New York City has been very instructive for us. Despite all the flux, we have continued to nurture a space where we can politicize what we have often experienced as our private predicaments. This tenacity has confirmed the need to reach out and empower ourselves to speak as progressive South Asian women. A word about the form of our "virtual" newsletter. It will always be in process. Articles, comments, reviews, letters will be put up as we receive them. We realize that the medium limits our audience. Once we manage to raise the money to print hard copies, we hope to reach those who do not have access to the internet. However, the interactive possibilities offered by the Internet makes us look forward to your response so that we may work together in claiming our voices.
[Navigating Way Net]
Last altered May 29, 1996