Shakeel Syed(Above photo, who had recently joined as an Executive Director for the South Asian Network (SAN) gave an exclusive interview to indica the various challenges that South Asians face in the US today and how the organization is planning to tackle these issues.
SAN which was established in the year 1990, provides culturally and linguistically specific services to and advocacy on behalf of South Asians in Southern California, in the areas of healthcare access, gender-based violence, and civil rights/civic engagement.
Syed said that the main objective of SAN is to work on issues that address “health equity and access; emotional and mental health support for the survivors and victims of domestic and other such abuse; providing support to low- or no-income community members with public benefits services and lastly, we help the South Asian community members to apply for U.S. citizenship.”
He added, “SAN has been working in these key areas over the course of the last three decades, and we wish to continue along these lines in the years and decades to come.”
Syed has served on the boards of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Friends Service Community (AFSC), Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), and Death Penalty Focus (DPF) and continues to serve as a volunteer chaplain in the prisons.
Syed joined SAN in early January this year and before this, he has led the Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California as its Executive Director.
For more than two decades Syed has organized minority communities in protecting their civil rights & civil liberties, fostered interfaith solidarity, advocated for the rights of immigrant & low-wage workers, and the political empowerment of the minority communities. Syed continues to speak and write on these and other issues, such as police abuse, mass incarceration, and the human rights of all people.
When asked what makes SAN important and what key learnings have, he gained from it, Syed said that SAN has been a critical entity for the South Asian community across the spectrum of first, second, and third-generation immigrants.
“We live in a complex society, the bureaucratic systems of which cannot be navigated by people alone. SAN, as a critical resource for the South Asian community, helps people realize their rights as residents and citizens, making these very complex bureaucratic systems accessible to them,” said Syed.
He added, “SAN plays an extremely important role in helping folks who are educationally and economically underprivileged. SAN is where they feel represented. In that regard, our services to the community are extremely critical.”
On his learnings, he said, “After joining SAN, he has been witnessing issues and hearing stories of domestic abuse within families, towards women and younger people. The Asian community, particularly the South Asian community, perhaps, has a cultural response to such ills and vices at the communal level – shame, anxiety, cultural taboos etc. As a consequence of this, the victim feels further victimized, which is extremely unfair and inhumane.”
In regards to the challenges faced by the South Asian diaspora in the US, Syed said that South Asians face two different challenges – old and new.
“The old challenges being navigating the system, having this sort of identity crisis that comes with being a hyphenated American that give rise to internal conflicts and questions like, “What pieces of culture, history and legacy of my forefathers do I hang on to and which ones do I need to give up?”, he said.
“The new challenge”, he added, “is the emergence of hate & bigotry particularly toward the people of Asian descent and against all people of color. How we respond to this pervasive hate culture will define the identity of the ‘hyphenated’ Indian-American, South Asian-American community in generations to come.”
When asked about the SAN’s COVID vaccine campaigns and why many South Asians are against vaccination, he said, “Vaccination clinics and our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is an extension of our health equity work. The vaccination clinics we’ve hosted in both Los Angeles & Orange Counties have been very successful. But hesitancy exists across the spectrum.”
He added, “Our healthcare services have attracted audiences of all genders, ages as well as members not exclusively belonging to the South Asian community, which is thrilling because that spirit is exactly what the South Asian Network tries to foster – that we need to transcend our own traditions for the common and greater good of the society.”
As of today, SAN has hosted a total of 5 vaccination camps and has helped vaccinate over 530 people.