In 1992, Congress passed a resolution marking May as a month to remember and honor the contributions and presence of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States. As I reflect upon Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I naturally think about the experiences of my own family and many others who immigrated to the United States in search of new opportunities and experiences. I also reflect upon the history of our community; while many think that Asians are a relatively new community in America, this is far from the truth. In fact, the first Japanese immigrants came to America in 1843, and the transcontinental railroad (constructed by many Asian laborers) was completed in May of 1869. Sikh farmers from India worked in California and Washington State in the late 1800s. Nearly three million South Asians live in the United States today, tracing their ancestry to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
As an immigrant from India who moved to Kentucky when I was 12, I slowly grew to understand my place in the diverse fabric of our country through the lens of race, culture and gender. Like many others, I have been able to fashion a hybrid identity which incorporates Indian customs with American values. Asian Americans are deepening and expanding the meaning of being “American” through cultural, political, academic and professional contributions in their communities. Still, challenges continue to exist within many APA communities, ranging from socioeconomic and educational disparities to discrimination and inequity to inadequate access to resources and benefits. I feel fortunate to be part of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), an organization that is addressing these inequities in order to build a more just and inclusive society in the United States.
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is the only nationally staffed organization in the United States that advocates around issues affecting South Asian communities through the use of a social justice framework. SAALT’s strategies include conducting public policy analysis and advocacy; building partnerships with South Asian organizations and allies; mobilizing communities to take action; and developing leadership for social change. In addition to coordinating the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), SAALT engages in regional initiatives for the empowerment of local networks of community support and advocacy. SAALT also organizes an annual national day of service, Be the Change, which involves thousands of community members giving back to their communities in over 50 cities.
SAALT’s work is made possible through the support of institutional funders and individual donors. SAALT is proud to partner with Southwest Airlines for events such as the 2009 National South Asian Summit. Through Southwest’s support, community advocates and students were able to attend the Summit and participate in trainings and workshops to develop their leadership skills. Southwest was SAALT’s only airline sponsor for the Summit, and those who attended via Southwest’s support enjoyed the friendly customer service. SAALT looks forward to continuing our partnership with Southwest, and wishes all of you a very happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!