Jersey City, NJ (August 1, 2011) — Over 70 community members gathered for a July 30 hearing called “South Asians in New Jersey: Ten Years After 9/11” to reflect on the decade since the 9/11 tragedy, and to provide recommendations for moving forward. The hearing, held in Jersey City, New Jersey, was organized by South Asian Americans Leading Together, a national nonprofit organization, as part of its campaign – An America for All of Us – to mark the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.
Community members affected by backlash after 9/11, as well as policymakers, shared stories and examples of positive solutions. Notably, the hearing happened a day after the Board of Education in Passaic, NJ unanimously passed an anti-bullying resolution presented by SAALT.
The resolution calls on the Board of Education to enforce the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, institute a bullying prevention program; and train students and employees around cultural and religious practice sensitivity, among other requirements. Just a week earlier, the Township of Teaneck, New Jersey also passed an anti-bias resolution presented by SAALT.
Divided into three panels, the New Jersey hearing addressed the ongoing struggles of communities impacted by discrimination, racial profiling, Islamophobia, immigration enforcement and hate crimes. A Sikh community member, Rajinder Singh Khalsa gave a disturbing account of how, following the 9/11 tragedy, he was accosted by individuals who insisted that he remove the “dirty curtain” on his head.
After he reported the incident to the police, his attackers threatened beat him to unconsciousness and threatened to kill him. Khalsa said that he had immigrated to the U.S. in the hope of a better life.
“We came to America thinking it’s all cultures, living together with equal rights. But now we feel, this is a different America,” said Khalsa. Yet, he ended his comments with “God Bless America.”
In response, the second panel of advocates provided recommendations on how communities can strengthen their voices and take action. James Yusuf Yee, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), suggested that a first step could involve replicating the resolutions in Teaneck and Passaic in other municipalities in New Jersey.
He recommended that media outlets should cover the subject of intolerance and educate the public about religious practices. Engy Abdelkader from Muslim Women’s Lawyers for Human Rights, urged demanding accountability from our elected officials.
The third panel of policymakers stressed the importance of community involvement. Mayor of Teaneck, New Jersey, Mohammed Hameeduddin, spoke about the importance of building strong partnerships with other communities to address these issues. He said, “Xenophobia is not just something that our community has to deal with. The Latino community… the African American community is always looked at as a scapegoat. We must understand… justice is not about ‘just us’, it has to be liberty and justice for all of us.”
City Council President of Hoboken, New Jersey, Ravi Bhalla also discussed the importance of getting involved at the local level, and urged community members to become civically engaged. Amardeep Singh, Commissioner from the White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, was present and heard complaints from the community regarding post-9/11 discrimination.
Commissioner of the Board of Education in Passaic County, Salim Patel, asked parents to come forward to raise issues that their children face in schools. “If I don’t have parents advocating… and saying… [that] bullying is an issue, and staying on top of board members and keeping us accountable, we won’t see change.”
Additional speakers at the hearing included Sterling Waterman, Board of Education President for Jersey City, New Jersey; Hansdeep Singh from UNITED SIKHS; Aparna Garg from Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF); and, community members, Hansdip Bhindra, Omar Mohammadi from Al Falah Center and Vineeta Kapahi from Manavi.
The hearing closed with a robust Q&A session, giving community members the opportunity to discuss concerns and solutions.
The hearing was held in conjunction with SAALT’s An America for All of Us campaign. SAALT will host another hearing in collaboration with the South Asian Network (SAN) in Los Angeles, California on August 20, 2011.
Sodexo sponsored the event. The hearing was co-sponsored by Action 21, American Friends Service Committee, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey, Citizens of Old Bridge, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hindu American Seva Charities, Manavi, Muslim American Society, New Jersey, MAS Freedom, MAS Immigrant Justice Center, New Jersey Forum for Human Rights, New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association, New Jersey Independent South Asian Cinefest, North American South Asian Bar Association, The Sikh Coalition, South Asian Bar Association New Jersey, South Asian Bar Association New York, Subcontinent Peace Foundation, UNITED SIKHS.