WASHINGTON, DC, USA—The 2013 National South Asian Summit, hosted by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), was held in Washington D.C. from April 19-22, 2013. This year’s theme was “In Pursuit of Justice” and was held to learn about issues affecting South Asians in the United States, and to build skills and connect with other activists, government officials, and South Asian organizations.
UNITED SIKHS representative and policy advocate, Anisha Singh, spoke on the panel entitled: “Faith and Social Justice: Strengths, Stigmas, and Possibilities of Social Justice Through a Faith Lens.” This panel was formed to address the struggles associated with incorporating religious viewpoints into progressive advocacy work. Just as the South Asian community in the United States is very diverse in its faith/religious identities, the panel consisted of representatives from Islam, Christianity, Hinduism & Sikhism. The moderator was Sethu Nair from Sadhana and panelists were UNITED SIKHS’ Anisha Singh, Arun Lobo, a Catholic priest and activist, Shaykh Abdool Rahman of ICNA Relief, and Sadhana’s Sunita Viswanath.
Anisha spoke on her personal experiences with balancing religious views while being progressive in her activism. She emphasized the importance of having confidence in one’s own faith and internalizing that for it not to be a factor when working with other organizations with alternating viewpoints on religious. An example given by Anisha was the UNITED SIKHS advocacy work against bias-based bullying in conjunction with LBGT organizations. By finding a common issue like bullying, UNITED SIKHS has been able to collaborate with progressive organizations despite our faith-based roots. Anisha also spoke on the importance of finding common ground with other organizations and working towards that common goal despite differing opinions in other aspects such as religion, especially when alliance building is vital in advocacy work.
Several other panels took place during this summit as well. On Friday, April 19, 2013, the ChangeMakers Reception included special guest, Pramila Jayapal, founder of OneAmerica, who spoke on the significant impact on social change in the South Asian community. The following day, the panel, “Law Enforcement in the Community: Exploring Multiple Strategies for Engagement” addressed the struggling relationship between law enforcement and South Asians, especially Sikhs and Muslims post-9/11. Issues raised included the lack of cultural sensitivity by the FBI when questioning our communities and the abuse of surveillance and stop-and-frisk on our community. Another panel spoke on the rising South Asian population in the United States and the need for South Asians to be better engaged politically in order for our voice to be heard. The evening plenary spoke to the hearts of the audience by reflecting on the Oak Creek shooting nine months after it took place. The reflection reminded the South Asian community that Sikhs are particular targets for hate crimes and are still fighting twelve years after 9/11. The need for mental health help for Oak Creek victims was also brought to light.
On Sunday, April 21, 2013, other panels were presented such as the “Profiling and Surveillance of the Muslim Community” panel where panelists spoke on the alarming civil rights violations by the NYPD through the city’s allowance of racial-based surveillance. The lunch plenary included panelists from the around the globe who spoke on their efforts to help South Asian communities in our countries. There were also panels addressing anti-immigrant laws and the best way to advocate for immigration reform on Capitol Hill.
On the last day of the summit, Anisha participated in Advocacy Day where representatives from the White House Administration and government agencies spoke on immigration reform, healthcare, and hate crimes. These officials included: Kiran Ahuja from the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Mayra Alvarez from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Roy Austin from the U.S. Department of Justice Felicia Escobar from the White House, and Gautam Raghavan from the White House Office of Public Engagement. After the discussions, Anisha joined others to Representative Joseph Crowley’s office and spoke with Staffer Jeremy Woodrum to speak on immigration issues. She informed him that Sikhs are most likely to be profiled and have their legal status in the United States checked based on post-9/11 stereotypes. These profiling programs deter Sikhs and South Asians from reporting crimes, sharing information, and serving as witnesses due to their fear of profiling and deportation. Mr. Woodrum agreed that these programs are counterproductive and that progressive immigration reform is necessary in this country.