(This article originally appeared on Real Change and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
This past April, thousands across the South Asian diaspora marked Dalit History Month, the birth month of the lawyer and freedom fighter Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Ambedkar, who was born into the status of “untouchable” (now called Dalit) of the Indian caste system, is known for his efforts to emancipate Dalit communities across South Asia and as the father of the Indian constitution for his role as chair of the drafting committee. His unrelenting advocacy for equality, feminism, and justice makes him a household icon for millions today.
This January, a local news station mixed up two elected officials from Washington State — both Indian women. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. In the segment, the reporter references a sales tax cut proposal by Democratic Sen. Mona Das, who represents Washington’s 47th District. The video then instantly pans to a clip of Democratic Sen. Manka Dhingra, who represents Washington’s 45th District. It was a mistake, but it was also a microaggression too often perpetrated against People of Color — the assumption we all look the same, and our own identities do not matter.
Representation can be a strong combatant against such microaggressions. And the recently increased inclusion of Indian women narratives in popular culture and media is a crucial step.
The Seattle Globalist was a daily online publication that covered the connections between local and global issues in Seattle. The Emerald is keeping alive its legacy of highlighting our city’s diverse voices by regularly publishing and re-publishing stories aligned with the Globalist’s mission.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the twin towers fell, and the face of terrorism became Muslim, Sikh, and South Asians of all religious persuasions. Xenophobia burned through the American landscape, unmasking deep-rooted racism hidden just beneath a thin foliage of inclusivity. Many people who were perceived as foreign were harassed. Rita Meher, the cofounder of Tasveer, was told “go back to your country” only weeks after she became a citizen. The experience shook her. She began to doubt her decision to immigrate. Was America really the land of inclusivity and opportunity she had imagined it to be? But out of the embers of her disillusionment the seeds of a new vision began to sprout — Tasveer, an arts organization, festival, and platform to showcase South Asian film, literature, and storytelling.
“It’s never so straightforward that this happens and then we do this,” said Meher during an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. Her journey to cofounding Tasveer with Farah Nousheen in March 2002 was filled with many twists, turns, and surprise destinations. But if one had to highlight an important waypoint, it might be Meher’s first film, Citizenship 101, an autobiographical account of what life was like for South Asians in the shadow of 9/11. Nousheen, who Meher said is an activist and a friend, encouraged her to make the film and helped cultivate Tasveer into a social-justice-centered organization.
“Our existence hasn’t been weaved into the community yet,” Meher said of the South Asian community, “but as you see in Seattle or greater Seattle, our population is huge.” She wants South Asian characters to go from sidekick to center stage. Tasveer has begun achieving that goal by funding films like Coming Out With The Help Of A Time Machine, which opened the Tasveer Festival Oct. 1, 2021, and introducing audiences to filmmakers like Aizzah Fatima and Iman Zawahry, the producers of Americanish, a romantic comedy about Muslim immigrant women navigating love, career, and family. Americanish will screen at the festival’s closing night on Oct. 24, 2021.
(This article was originally published by Real Change and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
Hunched over the screen of a glowing tablet, Fahmida Azim, a commercial illustrator, draws cartoonish figures of Rohingya women and children, depicting life in a refugee camp. This is one of the many illustration projects Azim has accepted, and, like most of her art, it has a personal connection to her. Never losing sight of who she is and the life she has experienced has helped this talented artist succeed in a highly competitive field.
“I grew up my whole life with people telling me that going into the arts was never going to happen,” said Azim, a resident of Seattle for three years. “There’s no other narrative of success for us.”
Exhaling … from the emotional exhaustion of the past four years. Saturday evening, after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris spoke as president and vice president elect, I joined the thousands, if not millions of Americans who finally slept through the night and woke up refreshed.
I had written commentary before the election, waiting only to insert a paragraph with the exact results. It was a get-this-out-of-my-system litany of the dishonest, disgusting, and death-causing policies of the current president. Writing was a good release as my fingers flew over the keyboard. But I realized Emerald readers have already lived through enough political trauma.