South Asian Americans comprise one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S. today. With the rise in population comes an uptick in hate crimes against members of this community. Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) discusses a report that analyzes this hate violence and addresses some potential solutions.
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Interview recorded on April 11, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham. Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: South Asian-Americans comprise one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S., with the most recent census showing 70% growth since the year 2000. With that increase has come a significant uptick in hate crimes against members of this community. Suman Raghunathan, of South Asian Americans Leading Together, has been tracking the developments and has identified potential solutions. She joins me now to discuss. Thank you very much for joining us.
Raghunathan: Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Traynham: You know, I wish we were here under better circumstances, but here, we´re talking about hate crimes, we´re here to talk about a groundbreaking new report that you have published, and we´re here also to talk about some solutions. That´s a good thing. Walk us through your report.
Raghunathan: Absolutely. So, we released a report in January of this year entitled “Power, Pain, and Potential.” It´s actually the fourth analysis that we´ve done on hate violence, as well as on the xenophobic political rhetoric that is explicitly targeting Muslim, Arab, South Asian, Sikh, and Hindu communities. Now, I know that´s a big swath of individuals, but I wish I could say that this is a phenomenon or a set of phenomena that are new. But we´ve actually been looking at this for the better part of a decade.
Traynham: You talk about pain in the title. I want to drill down on that. I think I know the answer, but I need to ask the question — why is this painful?
Raghunathan: Yeah. Well, I think it´s painful on a number of different levels. We have members of our community — the most rapidly growing demographic group, as you mentioned, growing more rapidly than Latino, immigrant, A.P.I. communities. We´re at large and we´re growing in places where — and founded upon the belief that we have a place in this country. And so when we have mosque attacks, when we have individuals from our community being targeted and harassed as they go about their daily business, when we have houses of worship vandalized, that creates pain in our communities, right? And that is even before we have individuals who are, unfortunately and tragically, being murdered. And so I think that the pain on an everyday level in our communities is deep and very profound because we are the victims of hostility and hatred. But it also, as I mentioned, makes things very difficult, because, again, the pain is coming from the hopes of immigrant communities — like my parents, who came to this country more than 45 years ago — being dashed, right? As individuals are actually made to feel not only unwelcome, but not worthy of their place in this country.
Traynham: Let´s talk about a solution. Let´s talk about how you´ve taken some of this information and you´re not just putting it on a bookshelf somewhere. You´re actually turning this into action items.
Raghunathan: Well, so, there are a number of different things. We want to make sure that every state in the country has a strong and robust hate-crimes law on the books. We still have five states that do not have those. We want to make sure that individuals that are perpetrating actual violence on communities are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We also want to make sure that our community members and the community institutions that serve them are able to build real relationships with law enforcement — to make sure that before the next attempted murder of Alok Madasani and the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas or the tragic murders at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh gurdwara in 2012 — that there are open lines of communication between community members and law enforcement so that folks can anticipate attacks and make sure that preventative measures are able to be taken. And finally, we want to make sure that the rhetoric from our current and aspiring elected officials doesn´t reinforce ideas of our communities being seen — by virtue of what we look like, where we worship, how we dress — as being un-American and disloyal and worthy of suspicion.