by Zain Ahmed
On Sunday, September 27, 2015, Prime Minister of India, Narenda Modi, arrived in my hometown of San Jose, California at the SAP Center as part of his two-day long visit to Silicon Valley’s most famous technology corporate leaders, such as Facebook, Google, and Apple.
Much of the Indian-American community in the South Bay showed up on this day to support and celebrate Modi’s visit to the Silicon Valley, where in his speech he expressed praise for the large participation of Indian-Americans in technology as changing the American perception of India.
There is a large Indian and wider South Asian community in the South Bay Area, comprised of both first and second generation populations. Though I aim to defy racialized, Model Minority influenced stereotypes about South Asians as monolithically growing up to become doctors and engineers, I have to admit that a large chunk of the community very much adheres to the stereotype and work for engineering and technology corporations.
I am a second generation Pakistani and Muslim American, born and raised in San Jose. I grew up with an immigrant father who attempted to instill in me a drive for exceptional education achievement and economic success. Growing up, he consistently told me that I had to be better than everyone else in school, and as I started college he encouraged me to pursue an engineering career just like him.
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However, being the queer, feminine, artistic, diasporic kid that I was, I felt so much toxicity within heavily gendered Muslim spaces, culturally confined in comparison to a seemingly free and individualistic American culture, and my dreams of art and music were not valued under my parent’s’ engineering career expectations. Even before I knew what the Model Minority was, at a young age I picked up on it and actively seeked to resist it because it felt so controlling to me. I never felt any connection, nor sense of belonging, toward the other South Asians and Muslims I saw around me who were cisgender, heterosexual, and Model Minority prototypes. To this day, I’m a Sociology student who writes, sings, and participates in activism in my free time.
As a young, queer Desi Muslim activist, I have connected with many radical-minded South Asian activists in the Bay Area who organized the “Unwelcome Modi” action in opposition to Modi’s presence in San Jose. On that day, I told my mother I was attending a protest against Modi and explained the human rights injustices he has committed. My mother then asked me,
“Are your black friends going?”
She asked this in reference to my participation in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and anti-police terror actions both in the South Bay as well as throughout the wider Bay Area. My mother seemed to present a hierarchy of importance in social justice concerns, and suggested that African-American communities would never take part in an Indian social justice action. Overall, implying that their focus on black justice issues is ‘selfish’.
At the time, I was too stunned and saddened to give an informed response, but it jump-started many internal dialogues of intersectionality.
I start thinking about Modi’s statement in his speech about Indian-Americans in tech. At the action, many Modi supporters were holding signs stating “Techies Support Digital India.” There is an eerie relationship between the increasing presence of Indian-Americans in Silicon Valley tech and Modi’s leadership in India, and how they work together to raise capital value of both Silicon Valley and Modi’s economic interests, which both heavily promote unjust economic and social inequity.
I think about how the alliance of Silicon Valley and Modi ultimately centers on and profits off of anti-blackness. Increasingly, the booming of the tech industry contributes to overwhelming economic inequality and processes of gentrification that impact many working class black and brown communities, and many Indian-Americans in Silicon Valley are participating within that system. As well, Modi continues to build alliances with Israel, and has recently developed plans to buy Israeli drones onto the occupied state of Kashmir. India and Israel are working together to not only subjugate specific populations in India, but to also reinforce Palestinian apartheid, which then connects back to Israel’s alliance with the United States as the very same gas bombs that were used by the Israeli Defense Force have also been used by the U.S. police state onto many Black protesters fighting against police brutality.
There is a deep and dark correlation between Modi, Indian-American presence in Silicon Valley, U.S. imperialism, and anti-blackness. The growth of Silicon Valley promotes anti-blackness and supports U.S. militarism and imperialism, while its alliance with Modi contributes to his Hindu supremacist human rights crimes as well as ties with Israel to furthermore support the U.S. anti-black police state.
Now I revisit my mother’s question. Where are black folks in our movements?
They’ve always been active in our movements.
The most inspiring piece of this history to me is the work and influence of Bayard Rustin, who was a prominent gay African-American civil rights activist who organized the famous 1963 March on Washington. An overlooked part of his work was that he supported South Asian movements, and founded the Free India committee back when India was under British rule.
As a queer South Asian who proudly supports Black justice movements, it’s heartwarming to know that Black folks, and especially queer Black folks, have always reciprocated solidarity. This is especially important to note that in today’s growing Desi Model Minority, we still do not honor the Black community as holistically as they deserve – in fact, many of us participate in the very systems that are oppressing them in many ways, not only politically when our communities support Modi and his injustices, but economically through Model Minority assimilation that is increasingly contributing to gentrification, as well as socially through the presence of anti-black biases in our families and discrimination against dark skin.
So, yes, mother, my black friends are ‘going,’ as they always have been showing up for you and I.
This queer, femme, Desi, Muslim, artist and activist will continue to resist Model Minority, fight against Modi, and advocate for #BlackLivesMatter – it’s a part of our collective legacy towards justice.
Zain Ahmed (@brownboilovely) is a queer, Pakistani, Muslim American individual who has experienced the intersection of racism, gender dysphoria, homophobia, and intra-religious adversity. They are a college student, artist, writer, and activist in San Jose. You can find their work on Kajal Magazine and the MOSAIC Cross-Cultural Center student blog.
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