To tell stories is to connect with our own humanity and forge a stronger bond with others. Since images were first etched onto cave walls over 40,000 years ago, humans have been seeking to share their stories in the hopes of seeking a greater understanding, a more profound truth and illuminating some of the darkness within.
The Indian American Impact Project hosted its 2023 gala in Washington D.C. on June 6, focusing on the future with the theme, “The Next 100 Years” – a nod to the 1923 anniversary of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, a U.S. Supreme Court decision which ruled that no person of Indian origin could become a naturalized American.
The theme focused on the progress made since that landmark decision and how far Indian Americans and the South-Asian community will go, navigating challenges and opportunities together as we seek greater understanding and deeper truth.
Given the fact that two of the world’s greatest storytelling epics – the Mahabharat and the Ramayana – originated in India, the Building Community Through Storytelling panel was one of the hits of the event.
Led by moderator Devina Khanna, Economic Policy Advisor, US House of Representatives and DC Lead contributor for Brown Girl Magazine, Megha Rao, Designer and Founder of holiCHIC, Annika Sharma, Host of That Desi Spark podcast, and Harini Krishnan, National Organizing Chair for South Asians For America – the panel focused on how to use one’s platform to mobilize positive and tangible change.
In response to folks expressing hesitancy about speaking up due to the fact that their experience might not align with others in the South Asian diaspora, Annika Sharma reassured that this was OK and that given the breadth of the migration, “You don’t have to represent the entire diaspora.”
Instead of being the linchpin for the conversation – it is important to provide space for community members to speak and be heard.
“I don’t claim to know everything or be the expert on everything,” said Annika, which is why her podcast, That Desi Spark, “approaches each episode with compassion, advocacy, and information, bolstered by subject-area experts.”
Like Summit attendee and That Desi Spark guest, Dr. Anjali Ferguson – a clinical psychologist and expert in trauma-informed care and early childhood mental health.
Dr. Ferguson is also a second-generation South Asian immigrant in a biracial and multi-faith partnership and the mother of a Blindian (Black and Indian) child with a personal passion for racial justice advocacy – all of which also resonates deeply with the mission statement of Brown Girl Magazine – empowering and engaging those who identify as a part of the South Asian diaspora with a hyphenated identity and elevating the voices of marginalized groups and challenging stigmas surrounding cultural and religious stereotypes and taboos, gender inequality, race, class, casteism, immigration, sexual orientation, age, creed, mental health, and disability.
These topics are usually at the heart of political maelstroms, and Harini Krishnan, National Organizing Chair for South Asians For America, urges South Asians to get more involved politically. In her role as organizing chair, Harini has helped SAFA establish chapters in more than 18 states and works with interested individuals to build key relationships with South Asian elected and community leaders as well as AAPI & other coalition groups nationwide in the hopes of furthering advocacy and making sure the concerns and stories of the diaspora are heard.
Storytelling goes deeper than the worlds of politics, publishing, and academia. Rich and powerful stories can also be found through wordless artistry, such as Megha Rao’s Ma Collection for HoliChic. The daughter of an immigrant, Rao felt like she balanced between two very different worlds and her collection is a tribute to her own mother and representative of the bond between South Asian mothers and their daughters.
“No matter who you are, you have a story about your mother,” she told Urban Asian Magazine. “About something that she’s instilled in you, something that’s inspired for you.”
By engaging Indian and South Asian Americans more deeply in the American civic process, the Indian American Impact Project seeks not only to ensure more equitable representation politically but also wants to ensure that their history, lived experiences, and stories become a fully enmeshed part of the culture, essential to the fabric of American life and inspiring others to claim their own voices and stories so they can lift up all communities.