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An Indian mother living abroad on why her kids deserve to see Indian faces represented in media

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by Nirupama Kumar Hecker 

I was looking forward to seeing the new Pixar short Sanjay’s Super Team for so long. Ever since I learned it was coming out years ago, I couldn’t wait to see how artist Sanjay Patel would portray Hinduism for Disney, a topic never explored by the company before.

How Pixar got it right with Sanjay’s Super Team

When it finally came out on YouTube, I sat all of our kids down to watch it together. Less than halfway through, I had tears streaming down my face. It’s not a sad story like your typical Pixar tearjerker. There was no dramatic portrayal of a miscarriage and then the loss of a spouse. (Oh, Up, you get me every time.)

I was crying because it was so long overdue to see characters on screen who look like my family and me.

I was crying because instead of having a brownish little boy with a “mainstream” name, they gave him his actual Indian name — unlike Cece on New Girl or Alex onQuantico.

I was crying because they didn’t just make fun of Hinduism or pretend it didn’t exist — like the NASA director in The Martian who was changed into a half-Baptist for the movie, apparently to make him more palatable for mainstream Americans. Instead, they actually let Hinduism be a part of the story. It was celebrated.

I was crying because I know how much this would have meant to me when I was younger.

What it’s like to grow up without media representation

My parents worked very hard to instill a sense of religion and culture in my brother and me, but they couldn’t keep the outside world away. My real friends did more than tolerate me — they tried to understand me. It still didn’t erase the shame of being mocked by my peers for being a heathen and somehow gross.

You would think 30 years later my son would not have to go through the same thing. He tells me daily about comments from his classmates about how Hindu gods aren’t real or that Ganesha is “creepy.” Watching a Disney short isn’t going to erase that hurt, but it does give him the kind of validation that I cannot. To him, it means his favorite cartoon company thinks he is not creepy and that his Gods are real, too.

In Sanjay’s Super Team, it felt so fantastic to see an Indian father and son together, learning to relate to each other in new ways even if neither speaks a word. It even gave me hope that kids might someday tease my son a little bit less for being Hindu.

Most media couldn’t even pass a two-point Bechdel test about South Asians. First of all, how often do you see two Asian characters together — with names? Then they have to speak? That one is even harder (ahem, Big Bang Theory). The topic of conversation they’d have would be irrelevant at this point.

Media representation matters to me

Seeing an Indian woman onscreen matters. Exposure to media results in a lower self-esteem for minorities and women, both of whom have fewer roles and fewer lines than white males.

Media representation matters to my children

We need more than a short from Disney — an Indian princess would be great, or some characters with speaking parts. My daughter spent a long time questioning her beauty because Elsa has yellow hair. I finally thought to show her a video of Idina Menzel as the “real Elsa” — #parentinghack.

Media representation matters to all of us

Media representation also changes how others view you.

When people question if you speak English or they give up on pronouncing your name without even trying, it becomes obvious how foreign I am to them. I’m different and therefore not worth taking the time to relate to, and this impacts everything from friendships to school admissions, jobs, salaries and housing — even car loans.

It matters when schools are forced to stop saying “namaste” or putting up pictures of mandalas because a few parents are worried that portraying Hinduism in yoga class will be a corrupting influence. Stripping yoga of all its cultural context sounds a lot like appropriation to me. I cannot even begin to imagine how degrading it must feel to the Indian students in those schools.

As media representation of South Asians continues to grow, I expect stories like this will become fewer and farther between. Bollywood is awesome, but it doesn’t reflect the real-life experiences of the Indian diaspora in America, and it does little to impact inclusion and tolerance in America.

It gives me so much hope to see artists like Sanjay Patel making books and cartoons and shorts that are so relatable to kids of all backgrounds. I love seeing more and more South Asians in media as well, such as Lilly Singh, Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling (née Vera Chokalingam). Things are slowly changing, and maybe they’ll portray their culture without apologizing or hiding it.

(The article was originally published in sheknows.com)

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Why Does Trump Separate Families, A Policy Or A Law?

A video released Monday by Customs and Border Protection

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In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018.
In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018. VOA

The Trump administration at least since April has been separating children and parents who enter the United States illegally at the border — that much is supported by the numbers. But much of everything else surrounding the practice has become mired in confusion.

Here is what we know:

In recent weeks, news stories of children in detention centers have circulated more widely, and the numbers of detained children have grown.

Department of Homeland Security officials told reporters Friday that between April 19 and May 31 of this year, nearly 2,000 (1,995) children were separated from their parents or other adults with whom they were traveling.

A video released Monday by Customs and Border Protection shows what appears to be humane conditions at a shelter site for children, but many worry that this video, the only video that has been released from within one of the detention centers, may not accurately depict them.

A policy or a law?

As criticism over the separation of parents and children at the border grows, the Trump administration has struggled to explain the policy.

Trump, himself, said the practice is the result of a law passed by Democrats, which has forced his administration into separating parents and children.

But there is no such law.

Rather in May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy, which means that those detained entering the United States illegally would be criminally charged. This approach generally leads to children being separated from their parents because the law requires it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about religious liberty at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center's annual leadership mission in Washington, June 13, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about religious liberty at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s annual leadership mission in Washington, June 13, 2018, VOA

On Sunday, senior policy adviser to the Trump administration Stephen Miller told The New York Times that the crackdown “was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry. Period.”

Administration officials, including Miller and Sessions, have defended the separation of families, saying that having children does not exempt anyone from the consequences of breaking the law.

“If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. … If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions told a gathering of the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies.

The administration has said the new practice is directed at combating a “surge” of unlawful border crossings. But the “surge” appears to be numbers marking a return-to-normal after a dip last year.

Not a new idea

Though the practice of treating all people who cross the border unlawfully as subject to criminal prosecution is new under the Trump administration, it is built on existing policies from the Bush and Obama administrations.

Amid a surge of unlawful migration from Central America to the United States in 2014, the Obama administration considered many plans to deter illegal border crossings, including separating parents and children. Ultimately, Obama decided against separations but did expand the detention of immigrant families. New facilities were opened along the border, which held women and children for long periods of time before their cases were processed.

Following widespread criticism after photos of detained women and children, accompanied by testimonies of people being held for extended periods, a federal judge in Washington effectively ruled that asylum-seeking mothers could not be held for longer than 20 days, leading to what has been called a “catch and release” system where adults were released with GPS ankle monitors tracking their movements until their cases could be heard in court.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018.
=U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018. VOAU.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018.VOA

But this “catch and release” system has been heavily criticized by Trump and his administration.

Also read: Trump Launched A New Attack On Mueller Probe In Russia

“This get out of jail free card for families and groups who pose as families has spread,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. “The word of this has spread. The smugglers and traffickers know these loopholes better than our members of Congress. I’m sad to say that from October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315 percent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into this country. This must stop,” she said. (VOA)