Third National South Asian Summit 2011, hosted by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Washington, DC - Over 250 South Asians gathered to speak out, raise awareness, and collectively brainstorm solutions against growing xenophobia and discrimination in the United States, at the third national South Asian Summit 2011, hosted by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) in Washington, DC from April 1-4, 2011. At a community briefing on the impact of September 11th on South Asian communities, community members and policy experts shared personal stories and policy recommendations about the continuing impact of the post-9/11 backlash.
Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), joined the briefing to provide closing remarks. She said, "It is so important for you to be at the Capitol at this time as we approach the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. It is so important for you to be here to fight against the worst policies that occurred due to 9/11 but also to ensure that even more egregious hate crimes do not occur as people are reminded of the horrors of that day."
The briefing capped the national conference, which brought over 250 individuals from around the country for a four-day convening that included workshops, discussions, roundtables with federal government agencies and visits with Congressional offices. The briefing was attended by Congressional staffers, advocates, community members and those directly affected by the backlash since September 11. Speakers included Gurwinder Singh, a student whose bias-based harassment culminated in a violent, physical attack, as well as Linda Sarsour from the National Network of Arab American Communities, who described the troubling rise in xenophobia in the political climate.
Talat Hamdani, from September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, shared her personal experience as the mother of a firefighter who lost his life during the September 11 tragedy, gave a powerful account of her ordeal following the attacks, especially during a time when her son, a 9/11 hero, was wrongfully accused of being a terrorist. "Nine years ago, I lost my son, I lost my faith because of those hijackers, and now we are [under threat] to lose our nationality, our identity as Americans. And that's what we are fighting for... Since 9/11, American Muslims... have been involved since day one. We are at the frontlines fighting terrorism."
Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), echoed these views in a prepared statement, noted that, "Until people stand up and show political leadership, even when it's hard, we are going to continue this vicious cycle. When Executive Order 9066 was signed, authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans, few in Washington were brave enough to say no. Now decades later, I'm seeing a return to this race prejudice... It is the job of those in Washington, your elected leaders, to recognize the situation, and take that tough stand."
Following the briefing, participants made visits to Congressional offices to ask their elected representatives to pledge to oppose racial profiling and bias-based bullying.
This year's Summit was also part of the SAALT's campaign to mark the 10-year anniversary of September 11th. The campaign - An America for All of Us - launched earlier this year, seeks to include the South Asian perspective in the national dialog about September 11, and works to mobilize communities to demand accountability from their elected officials by urging them to sign a pledge to protect their constituents against hate and xenophobia. "What we want to do throughout the year is really contribute to the process of reflection that our country is undoubtedly going to be engaged in over the next few months. For South Asian communities, it is so important that we contribute to that process of reflection, adding our voices, stories and experiences," said Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, SAALT.