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Speech by Shikha Bhatnagar,
Executive Director,
South Asian Network
in Diversity Gala
October 1, 2017 | Los Angeles, CA

Good evening, everyone! Namaste. Satsriakaal. Assalam alaikum. Welcome to the SAN Unity in Diversity Gala.
I’m going to start my remarks off tonight with some raw honesty. It has been a REALLY tough year. Our small team has been running on all cylinders every single day. Like much of the country, we’re constantly battling and being blind-sided by new Executive Orders, congressional bills, and yes, Presidential tweets.
The South Asian Network isn’t a political organization – we’re a nonprofit that simply adheres to the values of equality and justice for all Americans – and urges our leaders to do the same. Regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum – the facts are the facts. The most vulnerable parts of the South Asian American community here in Southern California have been impacted and continue to be impacted by the hate and violence that has permeated our entire nation. We know this, because unfortunately, we are seeing the effects every day.
For example, our DACA clients are no longer coming in to renew their health insurance due to fear that their personal information will put them and their families in jeopardy.
We’re seeing an increasing number of immigrants who had been living in this country for than 15 years, perfectly fine as legal permanent residents, now rushing to apply for US Citizenship.
We have clients who are too afraid to apply for public benefits lest they’re seen as a burden to the Government and be deported. This includes mothers who won’t apply for food stamps so they can feed their young US-born children.
Last year – in all of 2016, we assisted 91 adults and children who experienced domestic violence and sexual assault. This year already, that number has risen to 194. That’s a 113% increase from the previous year. This includes clients who are being abused, but are undocumented, so they refuse to seek medical help or report their cases to the police for fear of being deported. Two of these domestic violence clients, btw, are pregnant.
We had one case where the spouse of an h1B visa holder was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for months and wasn’t even permitted to receive a change of clothes from his wife so he could return to India with some dignity.
It doesn’t matter what your political leanings are. The fears are real. The consequences are real.
I might be exhausted as I stand on this podium, but here is the other thing – I am so deeply proud of the organization I represent and the team that, despite the increased workload – has met the challenges head on, more committed than ever to ensuring that our community is protected and empowered.
This past year, we assisted thousands of South Asian Americans across the greater Los Angeles area through our communications, public events, workshops, and one-on-one counseling.
We continue to expand our reach, with a goal to have more programming and services in Orange County, the Inland Empire, and the Valley. As another election year approaches, we plan to increase our efforts around voter registration, voter engagement, and language access – to ensure that South Asians participate more fully in our democracy and do not face barriers while they do so.
But, here’s the challenge. Our work at the South Asian Network cannot continue, nor can our programs grow, without the financial contributions of every single person in this room, and our community as a whole. While I understand the need for supporting organizations doing important work in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, I urge you to look homeward now – and by home, I mean, here – Los Angeles. Southern California. Your community needs you now. More than ever.
You will see donation cards at your tables. Please take a moment to show your commitment to SAN and those we serve through our work.
I know that your time is limited – your commitments many – but, I urge you and invite you to come visit our office in Artesia, come to our community events, and if you have any time to spare, consider volunteering with us.
Tonight just like last year, I encourage you to speak to the SAN staff and listen to their stories. They are seated around the room tonight and I’d like to introduce them to you now:
Saima Husain, Nina Sharmin, Nutan Kafle, Asha Gandhi, and Bilal Kazmi.
Our theme tonight is Unity in Diversity. At SAN, we celebrate the amazing diversity of the South Asian community. We believe it’s our greatest strength, and when we unite, nothing and no one can stop us from achieving our vision of an equitable and inclusive America. Our organization does not turn anyone away because of their faith, country of origin, gender, socio-economic status, immigration status or sexual orientation. Our doors are open to everyone who needs assistance. These are values that have defined SAN for the past 27 years and continue to guide us as we move forward.
Tonight, I’m so excited that we’ll be honoring Surina Khan, a leader in our community who exemplifies these very values. Surina, thank you for using your position and influence for creating a more just America and world. And, thank you for being a trailblazer for women of color, like me.
Tomorrow is Gandhi Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the nonviolent resistance movement in the Indian subcontinent. I’d like to close with a quote of his, which has always comforted me in times of uncertainty, and I often look towards now:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Thank you all for your continued support of SAN. Enjoy the rest of the fabulous evening we have planned for you – I look forward to working with all of you in the coming year.
And, please do not forget to fill out those donation cards!
Thank you.

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