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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.


Charles J Gervasi said...

It's interesting that you describe Allied as a pocket on the outskirts. I know it is, but I don't think of it that way. I ride through it every day on my bicycle going to work. I commute from University and Segoe through Allied, a block south on Seminole, through the neighborhoods of starter mansions to my job in Fitchburg.

I am always struck how people say Allied is unsafe. How can this be? If you go a mile north on Southwest Path, your between Odana Golf Course and expensive homes. If you go a mile south east, you're in the starter mansions. To me Allied in just a short stretch of my commute.

One thing I notice there, though, is that passers-by appear less cheerful than people I see elsewhere. The children of Allied still have excitement for life in their eyes, but the adults look like they've given up on life. It's amazing how in ten minutes on the bike I pass through neighborhoods that seem so different.