Tag Archives: immigration

What You Need to Know About the State of the Union

State of the UnionTalking about politics is a touchy thing (and we don’t try to hide that we’re pretty liberal here at Intent – but we do promote listening to contrary opinions with an open ear and encourage healthy, respectful debate!). However, the annual State of the Union address isn’t really about which side of the aisle you vote for – it’s about civic responsibility to  be informed about the state of affairs of the country.

Last night the President covered several important topics from raging minimum wage, increasing America’s clean energy initiatives, creating greater access to higher education and ending the war in Afghanistan. He repeatedly called out Congress’ tendency to gridlock in debate rather than create legislation to help Americans move out of a recession and lead the way in the 21st century. He also re-iterated on several fronts, including minimum wage and infrastructure policy – that he will take whatever action he can without legislation to promote American progress, circumventing the roadblocks often created by tension in the House of Representatives.

The President’s most powerful moment however came at the end of the address when he called out  Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg who was severely injured during his 10th deployment to Afghanistan. After being hit by a bomb while on duty, Cory was left unable to speak and barely move. After dozens of surgeries, hours of grueling physical therapy today, Cory has relearned to talk, stand and walk. He still has trouble with his left side but he and his father were both present for the State of the Union address. His presence garnered an extended applause and standing ovation from the entire assembly. “Cory reminds us what is best about America,” the President said.

If you missed the State of the Union, we’ve compiled some of President Obama’s most compelling quotes from last night:

On Congress’s responsibility to the American public: “If our business is shutting down the Government or ruining the good faith and credit in America then we are not doing right by the American people.”

On creating a bi-partisan Federal budget: ‘The budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crisis.”

On American wages: “But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”

On American troops and military involvement abroad: “I will not mire our sons and daughters in open ended war entanglements. We must fight battles that need to be fought, but not those that terrorists prefer for us. America must move off it’s permanent war footing.”

Closing statement: “If we work together, if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it is within our reach.”

To see these quotes in context and to hear the President’s point by point plans for energy initiatives, healthcare progress and the path to comprehensive immigration reform you can watch the full State of the Union Address below:

What do you think of the State of the Union? Leave your opinion in the comments below. Remember to be respectful of those that disagree!

*Picture credit to WhiteHouse.Gov

New Miss America Attacked By Internet Ignorance

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 11.57.35 AMOn Sunday night, Nina Davuluri (Miss New York), became the first Miss America winner of Indian descent. Davulri won after wowing judges with a Bollywood fusion dance. She plans to use her $50,000 prize to help pay for medical school. As Miss America she will also spend a year traveling the country talking about her platform: celebrating diversity.

This is a hard earned and historic moment for Davuluri, and for minority little girls across the country who watched the pageant. Instead of congratulations and praise though, Davuluri’s crowning as greeted with an onslaught of hateful and bigoted comments from the internet. You can get a good idea of the social commentary on twitter from this viral Buzzfeed post. Only moments after she won the crown twitter exploded with dismayed tweets that “an Arab” could win Miss America, accusing Davuluri of being a terrorist and of course, saying it was distasteful to name an Indian woman Miss America four days after the anniversary of September 11. There’s not enough blog space in the world to correct all of the cultural/geographical/historical errors these people made when bashing Davuluri, and that’s not even the most disturbing part of their tirade.

What’s most ironic is that so many of these people justify their opinions with the statement “This is America.” – as if that’s a righteous defense for bigotry. Do they even know what that phrase means? This is, indeed, America – the great melting pot! Davuluri is from New York, where the Statue of Liberty greets newcomers to this country every day with the words “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” 

Yet there are so many who deny America’s immigrant roots and reject our diverse identity. This is America, and we should be doing better than this.

So from Intent, we offer Miss Davuluri our sincere congratulations and best of luck with your future endeavors. We look forward to hearing more of your stance on celebrating diversity during your reign as Miss America. Obviously it’s a message we still need to hear.

Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra Discuss the Meaning of Brotherhood

In Brotherhood, a new memoir by brothers Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra, the two reveal the story of their personal struggles and triumphs as doctors, immigrants, and siblings. In this first installment, the brothers discuss the nurturing side of India, the importance of family in their lives, and what brotherhood means to them.

Stay tuned for more upcoming discussions between Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra on the meaning of brotherhood and life in the Chopra family.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and order your copy of Brotherhood today!

Deepak Chopra: “Immigration Is Us,” an American Story (Part 2)

Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 4.04.11 PM

Click here to read part 1. 

By Deepak Chopra and Sanjiv Chopra

Psychological survival meant relying on the time-honored mechanism of the immigrant community. Ours was peculiarly select. It consisted of poor Indian doctors living in the largely black neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain in Boston, where rows of cheap apartments served as the temporary shtetl (the term “Indian diaspora” came into being, although this appropriation isn’t something to be proud of – Indian emigration is voluntary, not forced, and unlike the Jews, we’ve always had a homeland).

It took a decade or so for the shtetl to move to the suburbs. Jamaica Plain was all about curry, beat-up VW beetles, and lonely wives whose husbands slept at the hospital. With prosperity came backyard barbecues, Scotch whiskey, and husbands bragging about their first Cadillac. Willed amnesia became fun. We were fortunate. Our choice to assimilate wasn’t made under hostile scrutiny, unlike the fate of today’s poor Mexican-Americans or religiously conservative Muslims.

A combination of anxiety and ambition drove the founders of the major Hollywood studios. Five studios were founded by Polish Jews born within the Czar’s pale of settlement. These early moguls did everything they could to disguise their origins – sometimes their own children weren’t told – but familiar scenes in Hollywood movies were linked to ancestral memories: the bad guys riding into a Western town at night to burn it to the ground echoed mounted Cossacks burning down Jewish villages during a pogrom.

The darkest suspicion that can be aimed at immigrants is doubt over their desire to become “us,” because remaining “them” is always a threat. After 9/11, many observers were astonished that the band of terrorists who crashed the planes weren’t seduced by their stay in America. Embedded for months in Florida, Las Vegas, and elsewhere, the terrorists partook of American luxuries, but they hadn’t been seduced. Their hatred only deepened. Now there seems to be a pervasive feeling that other immigrants might follow the same path.

Sikhs wearing their traditional turbans look like Muslims to many Americans and suffered for it in the aftermath of 9/11. A harsher spotlight shines on immigrant Muslims who want to retain not just their clothing but their own private schools, the madrassas where strong emphasis is placed on the Koran. In essence their desire to retain a strong religious identity and aloofness from American culture is the same as that of ultra-orthodox Jewish groups and Hasids. The political difference, however, couldn’t be greater. (The Muslim connection to the two Chechen brothers behind the Boston Marathon bombings will probably add to the general suspicion, even if overt Islamophobia remains confined to the harsher corners of the blogosphere.) Historically a stigma was attached by turns to the Irish, Italians, and poor Russian Jews as their waves of settlement arrived. “Anarchists” and “Reds” were secretly infiltrating and subverting American society a hundred years ago when imaginations were as inflamed as they are against Muslims today.

Only now a tipping point has been reached, the so-called demographic time bomb.  The influx of illegal immigrants, combined with higher birth rates compared to the white population and a preponderance of young people, has skewed immigrants as never before. As of 2010, the Census Bureau reports that 12.9% of the population is foreign born. The last Presidential election exhibited how strongly this growing cohort has skewed toward the Democratic Party, creating anxiety and soul-searching among the Republicans. Young voters tend to become imprinted with the political party they first vote for. Among the so-called millennial generation, the skew to the Democrats is strong in general but overwhelming when it comes to Asian-Americans, for example.

The children of the foreign-born are succeeding in their aspirations. According to a 2013 Pew Research study that profiled the 20 million children of immigrants who have now reached adulthood, they are outpacing their parents in college degrees, household income, and home ownership. The generation of Indians that we represent quickly shed the anxiety of assimilation – at least we thought so – but this new generation’s anxiety is about being too successful at the game. Some universities are having to confront suspicions about an Asian quota (heatedly discussed in a recent Times discussion). Such a quota probably doesn’t exist. The most prestigious colleges have embraced an influx of Asian students. CalTech is typical, reporting that their freshman class in 2008 – last summer’s graduates – was 40% Asian, compared with a total U.S population that is only 4% Asian. The number has only increased, so that the brilliant home-schooled Asian kid has even become a stereotype.

Are “they” taking over, or will this new slice of “us” be the most useful immigrants ever, taking care of an aging population, doing the menial jobs that no one else wants, competing in technology with China, lowering the age of our workforce compared with Europe, Russia, and Japan, and in the end swinging national politics leftward in the direction of social justice? We can only surmise. But it was poignant to attend a recent charity event where young Indian-Americans were asked to help the poor in India. They gave lavishly, with tears in their eyes, and more than one said, “I never had any idea that things were like that over there.” Our amnesia has become theirs, except that they have nothing to forget.

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Borotherhood cover1Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times Bestsellers in both fiction and non-fiction. Chopra is the Founder of The Chopra Foundation, co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream

Sanjiv Chopra, MD, MACP is professor of medicine and faculty dean for Continuing Education at Harvard Medical School, and author of  seven books including, Leadership by Example: The Ten Key Principles of All Great Leaders.

www.deepakchopra.com

Follow Deepak on Twitter

Deepak Chopra: “Immigration Is Us,” an American Story (Part 1)

Lady Liberty By Deepak Chopra and Sanjiv Chopra

When you hear the word immigrant, what conjures up in your mind? Is it illegal vs. legal immigrants, contentious debates over immigration reform, or the Arizona lawman, Joe Arpaio, who styles himself as “America’s toughest Sheriff?” Chances are that most people are not aware of the fact that nearly one of every four Americans – 70 million – is an immigrant or the child of parents who came from abroad.

Immigrants come to America for a number of reasons: To escape persecution, to get post-graduate training, to enter the work force and have a better future for themselves and their children. Immigrants have made seminal contributions in academia, business, entrepreneurship, innovation, and in groundbreaking scientific discoveries. In 1906, 30% of all U.S. Nobel laureates were foreign born. The percentage has been as high as 39% in the 1950’s.

America is an immigrant country, but the American identity isn’t an immigrant identity. These two ideas contradict each other. Many of the thorny issues involved in immigration reform get stuck because of that. One kind of immigration (arriving long ago) makes you more American than the other kind of immigration (arriving recently). There is social pressure to forget your old identity and assimilate quickly, yet even if you succeed at this, forced amnesia has its price in loneliness and anxiety over belonging to no country at all.

As first generation immigrants, we have gone through the process of willed amnesia. We were lucky to arrive in the ’70s, when the Vietnam War caused a doctor shortage. We had medical degrees in hand, and there was a community of Indian doctors in Boston that we fit into while making the transition to “real” Americans. So it’s troubling that the country seems to be more hostile and suspicious toward immigrants of every sort, including those who earn university degrees here but are not allowed to get work without returning to their home countries first.

After 9/11, and with the dramatic rise in illegal workers from Mexico, the case for immigrants feels like guilty until proven innocent. One’s heart sank when the two Boston bombers turned out to fit the stereotype of angry Muslim males who hated the country that had given them asylum. One’s heart rose when the New York Times reports on a study showing that the health costs for illegal immigrants is less than the cost of caring for a native-born person. (Of course, giving medical care to undocumented immigrants is largely a subsidized venture and a burden on the whole healthcare system – no one can deny that.)

But, then, prejudices about the undocumented as freeloaders aren’t going to change simply by airing the facts. Guilty until proven innocent holds too much sway even if you arrived legally. To be really successful at turning into an amnesiac, the best tactic is to be born the child of immigrants. Your parents will have worked so hard to disguise their foreign roots that you have a good chance of not knowing they exist.

Assimilation is ambivalent, a happy/sad, win/lose affair. It could hardly be otherwise. At the present moment, during one of America’s periodic waves of hostility toward immigrants, we are suspect outsiders. The animus of toxic nativism is doubly ironic. Those casting suspicion must first forget that they themselves came from immigrant stock, while the accused must work as hard as possible to agree with their accusers that forgetting where you came from, as fast as possible, is your only defense.

Community hospitals were anxious about staffing, and so an active outreach began – foreign doctors were made to feel desirable. Not that India wanted us to go. Deepak had to travel to Sri Lanka and Sanjiv to Hong Kong to take the necessary qualifying test to come to the U.S. since India had banned it. We were allowed to take only a few hundred dollars in currency with us. When we arrived here, the jobs existed, as promised, but the welcome was more a push/pull. American-born doctors were suspicious of anyone with foreign training. Deepak’s first appearance in print was a letter to the Boston Globe protesting a prejudice against Indian physicians that became stronger in the ’80s once Vietnam was over and the doctor shortage a thing of the past.

Stay tuned for part 2!

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Borotherhood cover1Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times Bestsellers in both fiction and non-fiction. Chopra is the Founder of The Chopra Foundation, co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream

Sanjiv Chopra, MD, MACP is professor of medicine and faculty dean for Continuing Education at Harvard Medical School, and author of  seven books including, Leadership by Example: The Ten Key Principles of All Great Leaders.

www.deepakchopra.com

Follow Deepak on Twitter

Facebook to Spend Millions on Immigration Reform (infographic)

Mark Zuckerberg Keynote - SXSW 2008We all know about the exorbitant sums corporations funnel into the government – the whole “voting with your wallet” maxim certainly pans out when that wallet is full of millions. Turns out the practice is not lost on tech companies, now some of the biggest influencers in the public sphere. This week, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch of a new lobbying group, FWD.us, which, in addition to Zuckerberg, will include top executives from Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Zynga, and other major tech companies. Tech lobbying is nothing new, and it’s understandable that these companies would take personal interest in issues like cyber security and online piracy. But FWD.us has one sole purpose, and it’s not web-related (at least not directly): Immigration reform.

Here’s a rundown on immigration lobbying over the last five years. Click on the infographic for an awesome, in-depth look at some of the key issues and influencers.

ImmigrationNetwork_final

For more on FWD.us’ mission, read the full article at BusinessInsider.com.

Deepak Chopra: One American Dream Fades – Will Another Be Born?

The United States remains the country that foreigners criticize the most and want to move to the most. Pursuing the American dream remains a potent motivator for every wave of immigration. It is also a constant theme among this year’s crop of Republican hopefuls, who criticize President Obama for tearing down national greatness and pride. Yet beyond hope and rhetoric there are some undeniable facts that counter our embrace of the American dream.

First, the dream was based on democratic equality. Yet the trend has been for certain votes — those cast by the rich, the influential, the corporate connected – to count more than the average citizen’s. In some quarters the dominance of lobbyists in Washington indicates that American democracy is for sale. However you view that proposition, there’s no doubt that Congress is stuffed with millionaires, lawyers, prosecutors, and soon-to-be-lobbyists.

Second, the American dream was based on opportunity. The Horatio Alger climb from rags to riches is our national archetype. But as it stands, other countries, mostly in Europe, offer greater social mobility, meaning that the ladder is harder to climb in America than we like to believe. As evidence we see income inequality that is skyrocketing, along with protests from the 99% that the 1% at the top have rigged the game in their favor.

Third, the American dream flourished in a melting pot of immigrant cultures. Each wave of immigrants arrived as strangers in a strange land, but by the second generation their children were assimilated into the cultural mainstream. Historians tell us that ethnic divisions have always been strong, despite the cultural ideal of the melting pot. Now, instead of pitched street battles between Irish and Italians fighting over jobs and power, we have social divisions baked into the cake, as it were. De facto segregation keeps African-Americans isolated in pockets of crime, drugs, and unemployment. Immigrants are looked upon suspiciously by the right wing. Selected ethnic groups, such as Muslims, are considered as almost permanent outsiders.

There are other ways in which the American dream has been undercut. If that dream includes the doctrine of peace, in reality we are the most militarized nation on earth. We develop the latest means of mechanized death, and lead the world in arms dealing. If the dream includes tolerance for all minorities, the almost rabid opposition to gay marriage and the barely disguised racism of voter ID laws cast doubt on that ideal.

What remains intact and most hopeful in the American dream is our flexibility, ingenuity, and willingness to change. Progress cannot be halted, and a new American dream is beginning to cohere. If the brightest trends bear fruit, this country is demographically at a great advantage over Europe, Russia, and China. As those societies grow old, America’s influx of immigrants assures that we will have younger workers. Some economists see American manufacturing being reborn as costs in China rise. This week General Motors regained its place as the largest auto maker in the world. The high price of oil has made the extraction of alternate fuel sources more viable. Becoming oil independent is an actual possibility, and motivated by the threat of global warming, the trend toward non-fossil fuels has a fighting chance.

The new American dream isn’t simply economic. Once we regain our optimism (a tall order but inevitable, I think) the basis for renewed prosperity is already in place: the GDP in 2011 was higher than before the recession began. Forward movement depends on keeping a progressive-minded President in place, but this post isn’t about that. It’s about realism as it intertwines with myth. The two aren’t enemies. It needs to be part of the progressive agenda to heal the old American dream while giving the new one all the encouragement we can.

www.deepakchopra.com

Follow Deepak on Twitter

NEESHA MEMINGER: An author interview… and book giveaway!

 


 

 
In the wake of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon, life in the U.S. changed for millions of immigrants – Muslim, non-Muslim, brown, black, Middle Eastern, South Asian, the list goes on. Anti-immigrant sentiment became confused and obfuscated by anti-terrorism measures.
 
To this day, many legal residents of the U.S. get imprisoned in immigration detention centers – cases of maltreatment abound and many people are deported to countries they hardly remember. (Click here for a recent story from Colorlines, and here for the work on immigration detention being done by the organization Breakthrough – Building Human Rights culture)
 
These social changes didn’t just impact adults, but teens and children as well. Neesha Meminger’s Shine Coconut Moon looks at the life of one teenage girl in the wake of 9-11. Samar’s journey to find her Indian Sikh roots is both a typical teen struggle to find personal identity, and a broader struggle to locate herself in a changing cultural and political landscape.
 
Intrigued? Well, read on to hear Neesha’s ultra-cool interview!
 
 
Q. I’ve read that "Shine, Coconut Moon" was in progress for many years. How much of this novel was written pre-9-11, and how much of it post 9-11? How important was it for you to locate this novel in a post-9-11 landscape?

Neesha: The bulk of SHINE was written pre-9/11. It was, initially, the story of three generations of Punjabi, Sikh women, and how they negotiated the bonds and fissures that come with migration, uprooting, generational and cultural divides. The 9/11 piece came, obviously, after September 11th, 2001. After the events of that date, and the year that followed, I felt that I simply could not *not* write about being Sikh in a post-9/11 world. The story wouldn’t feel true to the experience of young people today. And since then, a teacher in Queens emailed me to tell me that a seventeen-year-old Punjabi, Sikh boy in her class pressed my book into her hands and said, "Read this. It’s my life." I had never expected my book might be a "boy book," but that young man’s experience was reflected nowhere else, in a sympathetic, inside-out way, and he really connected with the characters of Uncle Sandeep and Sammy.

The attacks on 9/11/01 have had a resounding impact on South Asians, and our youth are struggling to navigate these often choppy waters. I wanted to add that layer to SHINE because I understood it so well. I grew up in Canada during the 1970s when there was a major backlash against South Asians, and much of the same hostility, fear, and mistrust was directed at us then, as it is now against anyone perceived to be Muslim or Arab or Middle Eastern.


Q. The novel deftly balances very serious issues such as identity politics, social politics, national politics alongside everyday teenage issues including parent relationships, sex, drinking, friendship, homework. How did you strike that balance? Was there ever a time you considered writing this story for a grown up, rather than YA audience?

Neesha: The strongest voice among the generations of women was always Samar’s in this story. Even when it was a multi-generational epic (the likes of which I thought I was "supposed" to write as a South Asian woman writing in English – think: Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, etc.), Sam had the most energy when I wrote her parts. There was something about her that wanted to be expressed, that wouldn’t allow me to turn away, and so I just went with it. And I’m so glad I did! I quite like her as a character and she’s touching a lot of young South Asians’ lives because they can relate to her. This is what young South Asians are dealing with – racism, sexism, homophobia, parental conflicts, raging hormones, school stress . . . the things of teenagers all over the world, but then some very specific and unique things, as well. But to answer your question, I get a lot of adults telling me they loved the book, too. It’s written not just for a teen audience, but also for folks who want to know more, are looking for insight, and who want to understand how they connect with another’s experience, even if it is nothing like their own.

Q. At one point in the novel, the protagonist Sammy writes "After September eleventh, I never felt more un-American in my whole life, yet at the same time, I felt the most American I’ve ever felt too." Can you tell us about your own reactions to 9-11, and the backlash against South Asians and Middle Easterners?

Neesha: Mostly it was a huge shock. I had a six-week-old in my arms as we watched the towers burn on TV. We couldn’t get in touch with loved ones because the phone lines were all out. l knew the backlash was coming, and I was immediately thrown back into my own childhood and teen years. I remember well, the feeling of being targeted for taunts and threats, the feeling that you must always apologize for something, or defend something, or hide something. And I knew, too, that feeling of wanting to shout, "I’m just like you!", but knowing that I would always be considered, by some, a foreigner in my own home.

Q. A fellow student calls Sammy a coconut – brown on the outside white on the inside. How do you think that identity politics among South Asian or Sikh youth is different to day than when you were growing up? The same?

Neesha: I think there are some changes, definitely. As more and more generations are raised in western culture, there is more of an assimilation on the one hand, and sometimes, a desire to cling to tradition on the other. That’s what my second novel is about – the push/pull of old ways and current ways; of love versus duty; of family unity versus individual expression. The young South Asians I meet now are way more hip than we ever were. They’re deeply enmeshed in current trends, have active social lives with other South Asian teens as well as non-South-Asians, and their parents, who might be second or even third generation arrivals to the US, are more tolerant of their kids’ desires to be part of the larger culture. But South Asian traditions and culture are often deeply embedded among us Desis, and even with tolerant parents, there is always an epic battle in homes where there are teenagers >grin<. It’s the aforementioned push/pull.

Q. Tell us about the journey to publish this novel? Was the publishing community enthusiastic right away? Did you meet any resistance?

Neesha: It took me forever to find an editor who connected with SHINE. Actually, that’s not true. There was one South Asian editor at a large publishing house who LOVED the book. She was completely behind it and busted her behind to acquire it. But, ultimately, the acquisitions committee at that house didn’t feel as strongly as she did, and we had to move on. It was such a devastating experience for all of us. That editor was just amazing and was truly heartbroken. But we did move on and found an editor who was able to acquire the novel. It took me *ten* years from the first stages of beginning the novel, to final acquisition. Now that doesn’t mean I wasn’t writing other stories and novels in the meantime – I was. I had a full book of short stories for middle-graders, I had another novel I’d written, and I was constantly submitting to editors directly, as well as agents. But I kept hearing that my work was not marketable and that it wouldn’t sell. Even with SHINE, I had feedback from some agents that it was too "racially." It’s a real struggle to put something out there that is unique, offers a new perspective, and is outside the margins of what is typically accepted as mainstream. But it’s SO, SO important to get those stories out there!

Q. Mitali Perkins wrote on her blog recently about the lack of humorous ‘multicultural’ books out there. Ie. that ‘multicultural’ authors are pigeonholed as only writing serious, heavy books. Have you felt that? Are ‘multicultural’ YA authors pigeonholed or limited in any ways?

Neesha: I absolutely agree. My second novel, JAZZ IN LOVE, is a contemporary realistic with elements of humor and romance. I could not sell it to save my life. I did a guest post on The Rejectionist about this recently, but basically, every editor we sent it to gave similar feedback to what I was getting when I was shopping SHINE: that it wouldn’t sell, that it was unmarketable. Some said it was "too quiet," others said it was "too commercial."

It’s a tough time in publishing right now, and even white, previously-published authors writing more mainstream fiction are having a tough time getting second books published. In 2009, there were TWO contemporary YA books published with South Asian protagonists. One was mine, and the other was Sheba Karim’s SKUNK GIRL. And both of us wrote books about identity, racism, fitting in, and navigating "other-ness." These types of books are *always* important. But when that’s ALL you get to see, there’s a problem. It means some large chunks of the youth population are not given the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the full spectrum of their experiences. They are not allowed to be anything other than "other."

The CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) puts out statistics of books published each year. And the number of authors of colour published is dismal, with African-Americans being the highest at 0.05 percent. There’s a zero before that five. And in this economy, if the white kids are having a tough time getting into the party, brown folks better be prepared for a long wait. So I’ve decided to publish my next novel on my own. What’s important to me is getting these stories to the readers who need them – young South Asians and East Asians, and other marginalized readers who rarely get glimpses of themselves in their vast spectrum of experiences. I don’t have to prove I can write – SHINE garnered rave reviews from top industy resources and is taught in classrooms all over North America. My readers know me – and I see it as my responsibilty as a voice for those who don’t have a platform, to speak the truth, and to craft as accurate a representation as I’m able – to help shape and reflect the lives of our young people.

Q. There seems to be a surge of South Asian YA authors out there. Why do South Asian women write such fabulous books? Any advice for upcoming South Asian women YA authors? (not that I know any…)

Neesha: Yes, there certainly has been a surge, hasn’t there?! I think anyone who has access to different languages and different perspectives can write beautifully. It’s certainly true for African and African diasporic authors (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nnedi Okorafor, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich to name a few), Asian authors (Grace Lin, An Na, Cynthia Kadohata, etc.), Latina authors, and the list goes on. It’s part of a rich and far-reaching tradition. But mostly, writers are a sensitive, inquisitive, watchful bunch. We pay attention to emotions and details and what’s unseen, then we give it solid form in words. How could that not be fabulous?

As for advice . . . hmm. I would say that right now, given the climate in publishing, I would explore what options are available to dedicated, committed writers who have something unique to share. If you’ve really paid your dues, written a fantastic manuscript, had it critiqued until it hurts, had agents show interest (even if they ultimately passed), then you are very, VERY close. Don’t give up! We need your voices. Write what the young adult inside you would have wanted to read. Because, really, young adults today need the same things. There were zero YAs featuring South Asian protagonists when I was growing up, and there is maybe a handful now. Nowhere near what’s necessary.

Q. Favorite current day YA reads – go. Childhood faves – go.

Neesha: I haven’t read much YA lately as I’ve had my head stuck in documents of my own, but let’s see . . . I’m going to say, in no particular order, BINDI BABES by Narinder Dhami; BORN CONFUSED by Tanuja Desai Hidier; TELL US WE’RE HOME by Marina Budhos; SKUNK GIRL by Sheba Karim; BAMBOO PEOPLE by Mitali Perkins; A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT by Zetta Elliott; and though it’s not YA (it still reads like it could be), 8th GRADE SUPERZERO by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

Childhood faves are tough because there was no YA category then. We just read what we wanted. But from the "juvenile" shelves, these were the titles I cherished ;). Again, in no particular order: TUCK, EVERLASTING, Judy Blume’s ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET, Paula Danziger’s THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT series, S.E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDERS (and every other book she wrote), and many of Lois Duncan’s books.

Q. What you’d like to see more of in the YA market – sexy brooding South Asian vampires perhaps? What are you working on now?

I’d like to see more genre fiction by authors of colour – more sci-fi/fantasy and romance by South Asian authors, mystery books by authors of colour, and in general, just expanding the box of authors of colour, so that we’re writing more than race and identity and the angst of being "other."

Right now, I’m working on getting JAZZ IN LOVE out in the world and into the hands of my readers – I’m aiming for a release date of late November.

Q. Do you think your story is good medicine? (I think so – but I’d love to hear your answer!)

I think all stories can be good medicine! Stories heal, they mend, they expand, they offer insight, they teach. How absolutely critical is that? 🙂

 

And that’s not all! Here’s a short synopsis of Neesha’s forthcoming book, JAZZ IN LOVE. It’s a light, fun, humourous contemporary –

Jasbir–a.k.a. Jazz–has always been a stellar student and an obedient, albeit wise-cracking, daughter. Everything has gone along just fine. She has good friends in the "genius" FSL (Future Stars & Leaders) Program that she’s been in since kindergarten, her teachers and principal adore her, and her parents dote on her. But now, in her senior year of high school, her mother hears that Jazz was seen hugging a boy on the street, and goes ballistic. Mom immediately implements the "Guided Dating Plan," which consists of laying out photos for Jazz to pick through, and setting up blind dates with "suitable," pre-screened Indian candidates. The boy her mother sets her up with, however, is not at all what anyone expects; and the new boy at school, the very unsuitable hottie, Tyler R, is the one who gets Jazz’s blood boiling. Suddenly, everything in her otherwise stable, ordinary life explodes. Her best friend turns her back on her, the plan Jazz had hatched to get her Auntie Kinder, a family friend, back together with her long lost, now-famous first love – and to prove to her parents that finding love on your own could be a perfectly viable path to marriage – backfires, and Jazz must decide between the traditional, acceptable path laid out for her by her parents, or the rocky, unpredictable one she seems to be stumbling headlong into. Jazz will need a lot more than her genius, FSL education to figure out how she’ll manage to follow her own heart and stay in the good graces of her parents.

 

Intrigued? (Who wouldn’t be – check out the photos of the Gossip Girls holding up copies of Neesha’s book on her website!)

Want to hear more about Samar, Coconuts and post-9-11 America?Well, simply leave a comment on http://storiesaregoodmedicine.blogspot.com and

***You could win a copy of Shine, Coconut Moon! ***

 

Winner announced next Friday October 15. Please leave your email address with your comment so I can reach you!

 

MARINA BUDHOS: An (only teensy bit snarky) author interview… and book giveaway!!

 


 

[From Stories are Good Medicine: Leave a comment there to qualify to win a copy of Marina’s book!]:

I first got to know of Marina Budhos when I read her adult novel The Professor of Light(Putnam, 1999). I admired her voice tremendously: its intimacy, its authority, its humor and critical eye.

 
But Marina isn’t a one-genre author. She’s crossed over from adult fiction to YA fiction and from fiction altogether to nonfiction with books on everything from the post-911 life of a Bangladeshi Muslim teenager to a co-written book (with her husband) on the global politics of sugar cultivation.

 
Her latest YA novel, Tell Us We’re Home (Atheneum, 2010) is the tale of three immigrant daughters – one South Asian, one Latina, and one Eastern European – in a wealthy New Jersey town. But while their classmates wear expensive clothing, and dabble in fair trade and social politics in between ultimate frisbee matches, Jaya, Lola and Maria’s mothers are housekeepers and babysitters. Together, they negotiate the social minefields of immigrant identity, class politics, fashion, dating, and school dances. But when one of their mothers is accused of stealing, everything in their tautly held together worlds begins to unravel – including their precious friendship itself.
 
 
And now for Marina’s faboo author interview:
 
Q: Tell us about the inspiration for "Tell us we’re home." What sort of research went into writing it?

 

Marina: This book was a long time ‘cooking.’ A while ago, when I had my first son, I was thinking actually of writing a nonfiction book about the relationship between mothers and nannies, and the changing face of motherhood in the U.S. as American mothers increasingly rely on immigrant women. I had my own experience in which our nanny was Indo-Caribbean, from Guyana, and so we often were mistaken for sisters, and yet underneath that surface similarity were profound differences in our lives. Or, I was mistaken for being the nanny sometimes or she was mistaken for being the mother. I became fascinated with moving fluidly between ‘both sides’ of the playground. In the course of my research, though, I became more interested in the children of nannies–I would overhear nannies talking on the phone to their own while minding their charges, or I went home with one babysitter whose son was painfully shy; or I had a family friend who worked as a nanny for six years before she could bring her own children over, who had become strangers to her. Eventually I published an essay, "Sisters" in the anthology, Searching for Mary Poppins: Women Write About the Intense Relationship between Mothers and Nannies. By the time I began the book, the whole idea had morphed, and I had begun writing for the young adult market. By this time, too, I had moved to the suburbs, which was a kind of ‘immigration’ for me, and I realized how this story–of immigrant nannies and their children–was taking place right here, in cozy American towns, and that these were children who had not really been portrayed.
 
Q: At one point in the novel, the three protagonists – each a daughter of a maid or nanny from a different immigrant community – marvel at having met each other. How did you decide to write "Tell us we’re home" from three different points of view? What issues did that pose for you as a writer?

Marina: At the very beginning of working on the book I had tried it from Jaya’s pov, but that felt much too constricting for this story is really a novel told ‘in the round’ and each of these girls gives you something different as a daughter of a maid or nanny. Later on, I also tried first person, but the novel lost a certain narrative cohesion, the language became a little less interesting, and the setting–which is so important to this novel–fell away. So I realized my challenge was to take you inside each girl’s world as evocatively as possible, but allow you to move between them with a slightly wider angle. In terms of the three perspectives, they all came pretty easily to me, as they were so distinct. Yet even though I alternate pretty equally between the three, I continued to consider Jaya to be the main character since her struggle is much more internal and it is her mother who is accused of the theft. Finally another challenge was the rhythm of the book since the characters spend so much time apart as they each try to deal with the fall-out of their friendship. I actually read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because I admired how Anne Brashares moved in and out of the three girls in short bursts. In my process, this became like a kind of film cutting where I would move scenes around and see how the contrast worked, and what kind of tension could be built with these parallel, developing stories. For me, the structure then became the arc of each girl and how they cope with a difficult situation, how it exposes the frailities in their lives, and the little, important insights they gain along the way. The other thing I really enjoyed about writing the novel was the fact that I had three very different immigrant worlds to capture. It was great fun–sinking into each distinct setting with its own set of secondary characters, textures, memories.
 
 

Q. This novel, and your previous "Ask me no questions," balance immigrant politics with the usual YA issues of teenage angst, parental conflict, issues with friends and school. How do you achieve that balance in your YA writing?

 
Marina: That’s a great question. In one of my earlier drafts, which I had shown to my editor she kept laughing at me and saying, "You’re so ambitious for this book!" I realize that perhaps this is my place in the YA world–I just see all these things, these experiences as interconnected, especially for the kinds of characters I write about. The challenge for me, though, and which my editor kept pushing me to do, is to see those larger social issues through the very concrete details and perceptions of a teenager. As someone who did come over to YA from adult, this was a learning process for me, where I couldn’t quite rely on an omniscient or more distant analytic narrator. But once I hooked into those details–such as Maria’s responses to Tash’s home; the way she perceives something as small as the professional-like photographs his family have of him on the walls–all that came flooding through the writing. Then the writing became a kind of pleasure because I kept amplifying and adding these little moments, some of them heartbreaking, where the girls navigate their social status and they come to understand their own place in this town. But one thing I will add: even as I wanted to give all the material around the social externals of their situation, their predicaments as daughters of maids and nannies, I knew each girl had a journey to go on that was quite personal. For all the girls that especially had to do with grasping their relationship to their mothers and the weight and responsibility they felt, even as they were trying to separate and become their own person.
 
Q. What was the impact of post 9-11 social politics – the patriot act, anti-immigrant sentiments, and the like – on your writing? On the writing of other authors of color?
 
Marina: Obviously it had a big impact. My prior book, Ask Me No Questions, really tore out of me in the period as I contemplated the impact on young Muslim teenagers who were undocumented. But in the next period, as I was writing this book, I was thinking more about not so much characters who were on the frontlines of the post 9/11 period, or affected by the Patriot Act, but those who had ‘settled’ in the U.S. and were trying to come to terms with ‘becoming American’ when frictions around immigrants were on the rise, especially in the suburbs. I kept clipping articles on those stories to keep it in mind. As well I became aware that much of what the country was going through with respect to immigration wasn’t taking place necessarily in the traditional places, such as cities, but in suburbs all over the country, for this is where immigrants moved, and it was often the immigrant economy of maids, nannies, landscapers, construction workers, who were making our lives plausible. This does bring me to what I’d mentioned earlier–I think part of what I like about YA, or at least the YA I’ve been working on for the past few years, is fusing some of my interests as a journalist to YA stories.
 
Q. In fact, there seems to be a rush of fabulous South Asian YA writing lately. Why is it that South Asian women write such amazing books? Any theories? (:)
 
Marina: Oh, I wish I had something brilliant to say! My biggest thought, I suppose, is it was just a matter of time. That is, we’ve of course witnessed the marvelous rise of South Asian literature (I think it is no longer a boom but is here to stay) And yet so many of us also grew up on ya and children’s literature and so knew it was time to try our hand at that literature as well. I was a voracious YA reader as a teenager, and I felt it was just a matter of time before I tried my hand at that world, but with characters that I hadn’t seen written about.
 
Q. You have written adult novels, nonfiction books, and now YA books. Tell us how you make the decision to write in one genre or another. What are the challenges and joys of each? What has been the reaction of the publishing industry to the variety in your work?
 
Marina: Part of the challenge is simply figuring out what ideas work best in what genre. I think that’s become clearer to me over time. The hardest part is balancing the different ideas and projects I have–I also have a teaching job and so split my time between teaching at my university and usually working on an adult and a young adult manuscript (not simultaneously, but sequentially). For me the joy is I think I’m simply not a person who ever wanted to be defined by one genre or approach and so I just love that. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘working writer’–someone who produces in many realms, who has something to say through different forms and audiences. I think that’s become a bit harder in the American market, but you see this in other countries all the time. I have loved coming over to ya–there’s a built in community of readers, librarians, teachers, and others, including blogging teenagers, who care about this literature and thus nurture along the life of the book over a long time span. This is very different from the adult world, where books either soar or vanish within a rather short window of time. In terms of response, I sometimes think the publishing industry has a memory that goes back one day. I’m aware of the range and the interconnectedness of these different genres I’ve worked in, but each project is almost a separate one, that you must sell to an editor or a house. But I’m always so pleased when I discover a reader who has really followed these different books and also doesn’t mind following me from ya to adult, or fiction to nonfiction.
 

Q. What projects are you currently working on?
 
Marina: I have just finished a very big manuscript, an adult historical novel, that I have given to my agent, so I’m a bit drained from that. This has been a six year project that I have been working on and off on, while doing the ya, and it entailed a deep amount of research and travel to India and the Caribbean. During this time as well, my husband and I were working on a new nonfiction book, Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science, which actually dovetailed with the setting for my novel, a large portion of which takes place on a Caribbean plantation. This year I am on sabbatical and so my plan is 1) to recover a bit and 2) to start researching and begin the writing on a few projects (I always think in ‘bundles’) One is a memoir that is also a social memoir, and will involve interviewing others (don’t want to say too much more, because I fear it won’t work out). The other is a ya idea I have that is set in Newark, NJ, and is very urban and will be from the pov of a young man. And finally I have a novel or novella that I never got right that I think I may fiddle around with during this time. While it may seem like these are disparate projects, they’re all connected in a certain way–they are urban in their setting and about coming to terms with a city. But at the same time, I want to be open to the process taking me wherever it takes me. Frankly, I’ve been going at a pretty intense and scheduled rate the past few years, and I’m mostly looking forward to letting the ‘barrel’ fill up a bit and not lashing myself to a writing deadline.
 
Q. Tell us about your creative process – do you have rituals or other creative practices that keep you going? What’s your go-to solution for when you get creatively "stuck"? (or do you never get stuck, in which case I’m jealous!)
 
Marina: I can’t say I get stuck but sometimes I’m a bit ‘dry’ or I can’t quite find the solution to things. Or I only manage to write a paragraph or two. One of the challenges for revision is you have this structure, this story line already laid down and it’s a bit difficult to get back inside and generate new material, which is needed. So sometimes I find myself making very minor tweaks or finely tuned additions, when what I really need to do is break it open a bit, riff, and not worry about whether it fits into the existing structure. So what I do is I actually go into a kind of brainstorming, thinking aloud mode. I turn on the all caps and just ‘go’ with various ideas or associations and soon enough that can be molded into a paragraph, a scene that can be slipped into the story. Another challenge for me is the stage I’m at right now–beginning. That is the hardest. Somehow I’m always a little creaky at the start of something and everything sort of sputters and I am sure I have no imagination. Once I get momentum and the wind is at my back, frankly I’m pretty obsessed because that world has become so real and compelling to me.
 
 
As to rituals–I like to get right to the computer before anything else, which sometimes is hard with the jumble of family life. And then, as I’m working on a book, I carry around a moleskin book in which I write down various ideas that might come to me in the course of the day, or where I put down my research notes.
 
Q. I know you teach at university – what sorts of courses do you teach? What are your favorite pieces of writing advice for your students?
 
Marina: I teach a variety of creative writing courses in different genres, and literature, with a focus on adolescent literature and Asian and Asian American literature. When I arrived they had just designed the new Asian Studies minor, so I created two new courses–Modern Indian Literature and Asian-American literature–which I love to teach. I feel fortunate in that I’m in a department that doesn’t segregate writers from literature and so we all have an opportunity to teach a range. I also really enjoy teaching graduate students (we have an MA program and now a new MFA program) taking their work to the next level where they start to see it as a cohesive manuscript. I usually advise a few theses a year. I guess my advice to students if 1) to respect the notion of drafting. That is, to recognize when something is an early draft and not mistake it for something polished and finished. And 2) to engage in the excitement of language. I think writers are engaged in a battle, restoring our excitement around language itself, which is so often hollowed out and hackneyed through daily usage. I want them to see the power of language to change and reorder the way we see, perceive the world.
 
Q. Are your stories good medicine? (I think so but I’d love to hear what you think)
 

Marina: Interesting question and not something I’ve thought of before … I know that my stories are good medicine for me as I ‘m writing. That is, I am never happier or more ‘whole’ than when I’m writing or getting these stories out. I think for me, I have such a back up of emotions, perceptions, ideas, upsets, and it is only through writing that some order comes; that I feel, honestly, okay in the world. Thus, I can only hope that what I am getting out; the strains I believe I am tapping, also has some similar resonance to my readers. I know that for me it is profoundly important to get at the perceptions, the experiences of characters that are often invisible and I do hope this touches others as they recognize some of these hidden recesses brought to light.

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