Asian students unite
care about the welfare of others and deciding to help improve human
conditions is a lifelong process, said Indian actor and Parliament
member Shabana Azmi at the 11th annual South Asian Students Alliance
conference held in downtown Chicago in January.
spending time among those living in poverty to understand my movie
roles better, Azmi explained, I learned that with my
resources, I have a responsibility to help those in need.
Azmi was among
the South Asian writers, producers, politicians, and activists who
spoke at the conference, organized by the South Asian Students Association
groups at Chicago and Northwestern. SASA, one of Chicagos
largest recognized student organizations, has more than 300 members.
conference, entitled Unity Through Action, attracted
more than 2,000 college and university students from across the
country to Chicagos Sheraton Hotel. The unity theme, say student
organizers, was chosen to emphasize the need for South Asians in
the United States to support each otherdespite regional, language,
and religious differenceswhen faced with discrimination. The
conference not only pointed out problems in the South Asian community,
notes Priyank Gupta, 00, who arranged conference security,
but also showed students how to make real change happen.
In her keynote
address, Azmi emphasized that she has learned not to assume she
knows what the poor need, but to ask them how she can help. She
also spoke of her controversial portrayal of a lesbian housewife,
Ratha, in the movie Fire. Though banned in theaters across India,
the movie has received acclaim in the United States.
to play characters that I am drawn to, Azmi shared. I
also play characters who I feel we need to portray. I considered
it a challenge to play Ratha not as a victim of a loveless marriage
but as a character who grows and strengthens.
00, was impressed by Azmi: She didnt suddenly
decide to save the world, but went through a process
of deciding that helping the impoverished is important to her.
In her talk,
Senain Kheshgi, a producer for CNN Newstand, said that students
interested in journalism could not only help destroy misconceptions
about South Asians but also bring more South Asian and international
news to the medias attention. Shashi Tharoor, communications
director for the United Nations, told students that South Asians
in the United States have a chance to work together based on their
collective outsider status, unlike in their native countries where
existing divisions often prevent collaborative action. In America,
he said, we have a greater chance to overcome religious, regional,
class, and caste boundaries.
South Asian leaders calling for unity, Bhairavi Desai, from the
New York Taxi Workers Alliance, attended the conference to discuss
the protests she has led on behalf of the cab drivers she represents:
We must unite to help the great numbers of South Asians in
low income brackets, like taxi drivers, store clerks, and motel
workers, who dont fit into the model minority