Friday, May 3, 2013

The Whirlwind of an Activists Life

When I first started this blog, it was a way for me to update my East Coast friends about my brand spankin new journey to the West Coast. I came here completely on my own, save for Roberto. He was the only person I knew in the Bay Area. He was my only connection. I had left all of my friends, family and networks on the East Coast. Though I had a job when I came here, I had a burning desire to continue my activist work, I had been so well connected back in New Jersey, I was a domestic violence advocate who ran around going to meetings, attending political events and hosted 30 hour long marathons on public access television ( to witness this insanity go to  for videos of the Princeton Megathon, which I hosted in 2009, you have been warned).

Proof that I've always been nuts, here is me hosting and being a crazy cat lady at 1 in the morning    

All of which I left behind. In my first few months in the Bay Area, I was excited but pretty lost. I had no idea how I would reconnect back to activism. How I would reconnect with no connection, with no friends or contacts to guide my way.

Now three years later I really could not be busier (seriously). These past three weeks have for me, been a whirlwind of that pretty sums up where I am in my work and activism right now. Last weekend I was asked to present a workshop at the ASPIRE empowering migrants conference at UC Berkeley. It was a conference with a focus on immigration and undocumented migrants. I have to say I had a great time, there's nothing I love better than talking for an hour (jk...sorta). My workshop was on how to utilize social media to tell our stories and how those stories can impact the issue on higher levels. My dear friend, Javier was there to record it, so maybe I will be able to post it up if I don't sound too crazy.

The cool thing about the panel was how the participants opened up about their own personal stories and what part immigration has played in their lives. In all the work I do, connecting with people is probably my favorite part. Everyone starts off as a stranger, but it's cool to get bits and pieces of someones background, of why they are passionate and why they want to see change. My parents were immigrants who came to this country due to sibling sponsorship (something that is being thrown out in the new Immigration Reform Bill) and my boyfriend, Roberto immigrated to the US first as an undocumented immigrant due to escaping the genocide in El Salvador, then become a Resident Alien for years before getting his citizenship by serving in the Marines. Our immigration stories fuel my passion behind this issue, and presenting in a workshop and continuing advocacy on thus is not just a social justice cause to me, it is my own story and the story of people I love.

Immigration was also a central point at the 2013 SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) In Pursuit of Justice Summit, which I attended 2 weeks ago. I covered the last SAALT summit in previous postings, here and here (it was two parts because it was awesome and because I love SAALT). I have been involved with this organization since 2008, so almost 5 years and what amazes me is not only the incredible work they do for the South Asian community throughout the country, but how it has also helped me create a national community; a community of activists, friends, mentors and people I honestly consider a huge brown family (and if you know anything about brown families, you know they are HUGE). I don't know if other organizations have that personal feel while being such an influential and active organization. My friends and fellow activists and I got to hug, catch up and follow up with the amazing developments in our lives and organizations.  For example, I caught up with my friend Javaid Tariq, the co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Javaid is someone I met at the last summit, and is now a dear friend who buys me pizza when I'm in Queens =). His organization is expanding rapidly, and making efforts to open union chapters in cities all over the country, it is inspiring to see the progress they have made and are making! I was also happy to be part of a pretty impressive showing of California-based activists, the Bay area rolled pretty deep this time, and it's great to see the West Coast come in to become increasingly involved with a greater South Asian based movement.

A nice little picstitch of my kickass South Asian activism weekend
The Summit occurred on the heels of the Boston Marathon bombing and there was an air of uncertainty as to what the path ahead holds for our communities. Anti-Muslim sentiment has led directly to violence as seen in the Oak Creek shooting, an incident that was a big part of what the summit covered. Two years ago when we last came together at the summit to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11,  did we have any idea of the tragedy that would befall this community? As Sikh activists spoke about Oak Creek and reflected on the community that came together after the tragedy, I know that potential retaliations form the Boston bombings lay heavy on our minds. Only time will tell what the fall out from recent incidents will be, but regardless of what happens, we know that we have have friends and allies that will always have each others backs.

With fellow activists outside of the Capitol
The Monday of the summit, we had an Advocacy Day, where we visited legislative office on the Hill to advocate for issues impacted South Asian Americans. This time around, immigration was really on the forefront. My group and I visited Rep. Becerra's (Congressman representing Downtown LA and neighboring areas), office. Becerra is a already a supporter of progressive immigration reform, he was an early proponent of the Dream Act and came from a migrant family background himself. Though it's great to have advocates on our behalf in Congress, outreaching to republican offices and reaching across the aisle has always been a much more complicated task, but one I hope that we can undertake as our communities look to impact the more troublesome aspects of immigration reform.

I barely had time to catch my breath during this DC trip, especially since the weekend before I had spent the entire weekend in Sacramento for the State Democratic convention. I was a proxy delegate there (every State Assembly district has a delegates to represent their area to the state convention). That was also an interesting weekend, though understandably not even close to being as crazy as the Democratic National Convention, which to this day is one of the craziest things I have ever been a part of (crazy in a good way of course ;-) ). At the convention, I was pretty stoked to be elected as Northern California Secretary of the API caucus and was also elected as the Director of Communications for the California Young Dems Muslim American Caucus.

Also I drank apple juice with Congressman Mike Honda during karaoke woohoo!
Am I doing too much? Maybe. But the point is I WANT to be involved in all of this and am learning so much. It's all part of my crazy process. I am glad to be a part of all of it, and I am sure down the line, I will focus more and maybe do just one thing ( haha yea right). I care about everything I do very deeply, and I am trying to get to the core of the work I want to do and the impact I want to have. Human beings have constantly been pondering the meaning of their existence, why they're here and what they are meant to do. I have no answers whatsoever, but at least I am searching, and hopefully having a positive impact on the greater human race.  I suppose that is my end goal and all of this, these workshops, panels, conferences, political stuff is the path I am choosing (or maybe it's choosing me?) to get there. So far it has been a fulfilling one.