“It is inexcusable that the kinds of problems outlined in the report are evidenced in 2004”, said Congressman Gregory Meeks, at the release of “Unlocking the Golden Door: A Report on the Needs of South Asian New Yorkers” organized by the South Asian Council for Social Services
(SACSS), on June 11. The event was held at the Royal Arcadia Palace in Hollis, Queens.
Congressman Meeks said that this was the first report that “says it like it is”. He said that you always heard of South Asian doctors and engineers and not about those still struggling to make a life here. He believed that the report would serve as a model for community action. Acknowledging that the largest South Asian community lives in his district, the Congressman said that he had a good relationship with the community and wanted to build on that alliance. Urging South Asians to become politically active, he promised to work with the community and with SACSS.
The report is based on a needs assessment survey of 626 South Asians throughout the five boroughs. Speaking at the event, Sreenath Sreenivasan, co-founder of the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), said, “The problem for the community is that it does not want to acknowledge that there are problems. South Asians only want to talk about their successes. This report actually acknowledges problems in the community”.
Welcoming the gathering, Sudha Acharya, executive director, SACSS, said that it was important to note that the report was not about the overall community but about those who were underrepresented and underserved. Dr. Runi Mukherji-Ratnam, vice-president, SACSS Board and project director of the Needs Assessment project, presented the report and said that South Asians in New York City were experiencing severe economic difficulties, higher rates of unemployment, increased levels of discrimination and harassment and, also had trouble finding culturally competent services to address their needs. She said that over 50% of those surveyed had an annual income of $25,000 or less for a family of four. More than 13% reported being unemployed.
Harassment has also become a commonplace occurrence since 9/11; 44% reported experiencing verbal harassment and problems with obtaining or retaining jobs or being promoted. An alarming 27% of respondents reported being concerned for their personal safety. Half of those reporting discrimination did not even know where to report the incident and 22% did not believe reporting the incident would change the situation.
The report offers more than 30 separate recommendations and strategic action steps that can be taken to improve the lives of South Asian New Yorkers and calls upon elected officials, policy makers and community leaders to take immediate steps to address the serious problems faced by this fast growing population of more than 250,000.
Thomas Kaippakaseril, president of SACSS Board, introduced Congressman Meeks and Dr. Sushila Gidwani-Buschi, treasurer, proposed a vote of thanks. The evening concluded with a brilliant dance performance by Satya Pradeep.
SACSS’ mission is to plan, provide, support, and advocate for a continuum of services addressing the social service needs of the underserved South Asian and other immigrant communities. As part of its initiative on “Community Organizing and Educational Empowerment”, SACSS is launching its pilot program in fall this year to support parents of South Asian youth at Susan B. Anthony Middle School in Jamaica. Other programs include informing the community of immigration and other legal issues, civic responsibility and voter education and 9/11 relief.
A copy of the report "Unlocking the Golden Door" is available from SACSS. The report is free. Send in a check or money order for $10 for postage and handling to SACSS, 140-15 Holly Ave., Flushing, NY 11355. Tel: 718 321-7929 or E-mail: