To view all posts made to date, please go home to Live from Allied Drive. Otherwise, all posts have been categorized into the topics below for your convenience. Enjoy your visit, and please share your thoughts. The beauty of blogging is that all of us can engage in dialogue about issues that concern us. Please let us know what you think!

Topics of Discussion

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Art of Listening

One of the responsibilities that accompany being a city commissioner for the City of Madison involves reviewing requests for funding and contributing to a voting process which determines if an applying agency is granted all or part of the funding they request. With any grant application, there is a need to identify a problem and articulate a solution that is associated with a dollar amount. As a group, we determine if the agency’s proposal is a viable and sound response to a valid issue, and if the majority is in agreement, the funding moves forward.

One aspect of this process that strikes me is how many agencies develop solutions without incorporating the contributions of the communities affected by the issue. Individuals affected by social ailments are not incapable of contributing or producing a solution.

I seem to have a slightly different prospective because in addition to being on two city commissions, I also work for an agency and serve on a board that responds to needs within the community that I live in. Through all this, I interact with a lot of agencies and a lot of providers, and overall, I have often witnessed people being told what their problem is and then subsequently being told what their solution is. As a resident of Allied Drive, I have often been told what to do to solve my problems. Go to the food pantry or fill out these forms for some other kind of assistance. As one resident, I am saying that is not the long-term solution. No one seems to ask me what I want. Partly because it is assumed that they already know.

You ever see the kung-fu movies where in the midst of a fight scene, two fighters jump kick at each other, but completely miss one another? That is the problem and solution here. As I see it, many community and government agencies, and many people, often fail to listen. When we are in a position of power and responsible for providing solutions, we often forget that we have a responsibility to listen. Really listen. Listen with the purpose of learning and understanding without any preconceived thoughts that you already know what is going on. What you may learn is that the real problem is not what you thought and therefore, the solution was not what you envisioned. This applies to all the leaders in Madison. There are never any waivers to listening and understanding. In other words, just because you are of the same race as those you are trying to serve, or speak the same language, or just because you know someone’s mother, or just because you have known the person since they were a child, does not automatically mean that you fully understand each other.

There are a lot of people out here that want to contribute to better lives for all residents. There are also a lot of people here who want better lives. I don’t know exactly what the path looks like to get there, however I know there can not be just one voice guiding all of us which way to go. Please listen, and allow everyone to have a voice in our efforts to move forward.

This column was originally published in Madison Voices, Allied Drive's community newspaper. Visit their Web site at:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Community Services, For Us, By Us

Recently, Madison Voices reprinted an article that I wrote for India Tribune about my take on Community Services as it affects us on Allied Drive, coming from a multi-cultural prospective of an Allied Drive resident. My main point in the article is how I wish more agencies would listen to residents, and I wish more residents would take a more proactive role in the area of social services. We may not always be able to help ourselves, however we should always have a stake in it. My biggest pet peeve involves agencies that hand-hold residents to the point of paralysis. For example, if I had a driver who took me everywhere I wanted to go, after years and years of being chauffeured around, driving is going to be a very big deal for me. I am very proud to be on the board of the Wellness Center, an organization that offers a great example of how an organization that serves a neighborhood should function. About a third of our board consists of neighborhood residents, and I think it makes a big difference in how our organization functions. It may be frustrating for the rest of the board at times to have to deal with Allied Drama time to time, however the personal touches of our board members add the neighborhood flavor that I often see missing in community efforts that our driven by those outside of our community. Here is the article that was printed in the last Madison Voices:

Working for a non-profit that focuses on ethnic minorities, as well as serving as the minority representative for the Community Services Commission in my city of residence, I tend to view pretty much everything through a lens that identifies differences based on race, ethnicity and culture.

Perhaps Chicago has spoiled me. I am accustomed to our community taking initiative to address the needs of our people. Needless to say, it is annoying to me when I see outsiders of a culture attempting to address a need without fully understanding the cultural dynamics of a community. For example, I live in a small pocket on the outskirts of a capital city, and it seems as no coincidence that my entire neighborhood of about 8 blocks consists predominantly of African Americans, Latinos, Asians and low-income whites. I did not choose to live in this neighborhood. Various circumstances seemed to lead me here, as if the arm of our city’s capital ushered me to this neighborhood because this was where I belonged.

This small roughly 8-block community is fully saturated with a plethora of community organizations. Considering the lens I see things through, it is hard not to notice that most of the organizations are led and executed by middle-class white folks who have said, “I will not be afraid.” Despite the inflated rumors of fights, thugs, and prostitutes and gangs and whatever else the imagination can muster up, they decide “I want to save those people.” Yes, we really are often referred to as “those people.” Without really understanding our backgrounds and our various cultures, the journey to end social ailments proceeds.

They identify what we need. More disability checks. More food pantries. More vouchers for this and that. Can anyone say “crutch”? The Desi-scene in Chicago is not like that. There are still tons of services for our people. Apna Ghar, Indo American Center, and so many others are run by us, for us. If anyone unfamiliar with our culture wants to contribute, they are welcomed, but they have to conform to our culture. Not the other way around.

There needs to be a consciousness of the constant pressure placed upon us all to assimilate into one with some influences being stronger than others. Be conscious of the way you look at things and make conscious decisions that reflect our cultural values. Sometimes that may mean we have to stand up and be the oddball to say “This is how it is. Deal with it.” This voice is so important. We are in the first, second and third generation of Indians here. Our decisions will base how tenth, eleventh and twelfth generation Indians reflect our culture.

I recently visited an Asian-run organization that serves after-school programs for East Asian middle school girls in an effort to address self-esteem and foster self-image consciousness. They were addressing some performance that the girls recently made that was considered provocative. Maybe it was, I don’t know, I was not there. However, I wanted to know whose standard the girls’ performance was being based on? Nearly every Bollywood movie features a sexy, enticing dance scene, and we encourage our six-year old daughters to replicate those dance scenes on stage at our events. Those unfamiliar with our culture may very likely think we are exploiting our children. Were the young Hmong girls interpreting a cultural dance influenced by MTV and hip hop? I don’t know, but that question needs to be asked. Who knows, maybe Asian girls are a little more self-assured than they are given credit for. Is low-self esteem really an issue among Asian girls? Or are we attempting to treat another more predominant culture’s ailment without fully examining its existence within our own?

I live in a community that attempts to convene to address the needs of our neighbors, however our efforts are often seen by others as inefficient and ineffective, and it is often thought that all we do is argue and fight and we don’t get anything done. When you have a dozen or so people representing two generations and cultures encompassing four continents attempting to resolve a problem as something like, oh I don’t know, poverty? Disagreements are bound to occur. However looking at the results of our actions through a different lens, you may see that we all love one another and we do make things happen. We may not hold meetings that are called to order via motions and Roberts Rules. However, is that the only way to make an impact and serve needs? They say Rome was not built by having meetings. Maybe, just maybe, there is some truth to that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Dog Ate My Rent, I Swear

So we were getting ready to go pay some bills and as we were getting everything together to walk out of the house with our puppy Max, I told her to go lay down for a minute. Well she did go lay down ... with our check! After having a dog for just a short amount of time, you get to know their facial expressions, and this is the face that my dog makes when she KNOWS she did something she was not supposed to do. I could not believe it! Thankfully, Dane County Credit Union still let us deposit the check because getting a new check from our employer would have likely taken another pay period. For the record, as long as the pertinent information is still intact on the check, it could still be cashed. I wonder if Meyer Management would accept that as a valid excuse for not paying the rent on time?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kids Playing Football In Courtyard

This was a picture I took after allowing the kids playing football in our courtyard entertain me for a bit. As you can see, there was a variety of ages and both boys and girls playing together, and what I found amusing is how the girls would hug each other after scoring any points. How is that for totally feminizing a testosterone fueled sport? The two oldest looking boys looked like they were so desperate to play, they got anyone and everyone together who was willing to play in order to make a full team. They were calling all the plays and trying to explain to the younger kids exactly what to do in order to execute a play - it was fun watching, especially knowing snow is going to hit any day now ... better enjoy these nice days while they last!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Halloween on Allied Drive vs. State Street

I found Halloween to be unbelievably quiet out here - I remember it was like that last year too. There were a few costumes here and there, not a lot of people out on the streets, and all around, the aura was not consistent with children's frenzy and excitement. It was fine for me because I was not all that up for going out or dressing up this year anyway. An interesting conversation I had with a neighbor who was going out to State Street for the first time ever, revealed that she was actually scared to go out to State Street. She said that she is petite, and she has heard it was crazy out there and she just does not know about the whole plan. Ironic, because I hear that all the time about people being scared to come out to Allied Drive.

Last holiday season, I was was selling really heavy on eBay where all my spare time in November and December involved making my share of 4th quarter retail profits. During those two months, it made sense to hire someone to do some light housekeeping for eight weeks, once a week for one or two hours. Would you believe that I had three different businesses tell me no, they will not come out here? One of them I remember after telling them my address starting asking me a LOT of personal questions about my living situation, why I need a maid, and I was thinking, aren't I the one that is doing the hiring and supposed to be the one asking the questions? One of them said they needed a deposit because of the "risk" involved in cleaning my house, and since I was an eBay pimp that month, I had the cash flow, so I agreed, maybe a little too fast because he called me back to tell me he can't do it because of some other lame reason. Then there was one woman who had an ad in the State Journal classifieds who finally said she would do it for $14 an hour and a two hour minimum. Fine. eBay was consuming all my time and the two extra hours to help me sustain all my other responsibilities would have helped me not kill myself from sleep deprivation.

The day she was supposed to come out, she called early in the morning to ask me if my apartment building is safe. She said her boyfriend told her Allied Drive was a bad neighborhood, so she wanted to make sure. I told her that I have never had a problem here. Then she asked me how dirty my place was. "I mean, is it really grungy?" Ok, now I was getting irritated, but I maintained my composure and said, no, not really. She said her boyfriend was going to come with because she just did not feel safe. Again, I am a little irritated because I really was not wanting all these people in my house snooping around and lifting my valuable eBay secrets. So she comes out, I hear a knock on the door, by the time I get to the door, I see a woman practically running out to the parking lot. The naive part of me thought, oh, maybe she forgot something and she's coming back. About 15 minutes later, the phone rings, and it was her. She said she can't come out here. She was here and she just did not feel comfortable. There was a car in our lot with a broken window and she could not afford to allow her things to be stolen. You know, whatever.

Let me tell you about things getting stolen from here. I had accidentally dropped a Visa gift card that fell out of my lap while I was getting out of my car in the parking lot. The next day, one of my Latino neighbors approached me and gave me the card saying they found it next to my car. Now this was a gift card that anyone could have just used without getting in any kind of trouble. I thought the card was lost and I really didn't care because it only had about $8 left on it, so it was no big loss. However the card was returned to me by one of my neighbors who saw it next to my car and assumed it was mine. I really didn't want to hear about this lady thinking that everyone on Allied Drive was out to steal the junk in her run-down car.

Anyway, back to this lady who looked so raggedy herself, I really don't know if she could've cleaned all that well anyway. First of all, if she would have taken the time to really look at what was in my parking lot, instead of just seeing what she wanted to see, she would have noticed a lot of really nice pimped out rides. I have a lot of Latino neighbors who work on their cars all summer and you can tell that they really love their cars - and they hook their cars up - there are some really sweet rides in our lot! We had a memo from Meyer Management telling us that we can only have a certain number of cars parked in the lot, likely because some of the cars that my neighbors work on are extra cars over and above what we are allowed to park. She said she was scared, what was she really scared of?

I don't know - it is probably the same thing that my neighbor heading out to State Street was scared of ...