ARTESIA, CA - Did you know that a gay undocumented man who is struggling to get asylum will be killed by his family and community if he is sent back to Kenya? Did you know that an elderly woman was trafficked to the U.S. by an L.A. area doctor, never allowed to leave home and forced to work more than 20 hours a day...
If you were one of these victims or managed to survive any of these, who do think would have helped you?
Did you know that 12% of South Asians in L.A. live in poverty, 10% speak little or no English and 20% are linguistically isolated? 18% are uninsured and 16% rely on public health insurance? 10% have less than a high school education and 14% have only a high school education?
The South Asian Network (SAN) located in an unassuming office on Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia is one such community-based organization that is dedicated to enhancing the lives of South Asians in Southern California through health, civil rights and voices against violence. The journey started with humble beginnings in the year 1990 and the road to growth has been full of victories some with external forces and some with enlightening the minds of people to seek a better quality of life.
Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of SAN started out with volunteering in 1996. “We believe in the use of Innovative strategies that will not only help others but also help us in understanding and knowing the community better,” she quips. Her passion for her work is evident as she explains the impact of Congressional Rulings on the ADA or the American with Disabilities Act in 1990 that made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin and other characteristics illegal. This gave SAN the platform to fight against racial profiling and racial slurs by people who had not yet understood the community.
SAN began work on Civil Rights in 1996 followed by health related work in 1998 and domestic violence in 2001. “We spend all the time preparing for the wedding but not the marriage,” says Kulkarni of South Asians marriages which has seen a spate of cases of domestic violence, marital rape and about 5% of men too reporting abuse at the hands of extended families and those that control financial resources.
Post 9/11 SAN saw a lot of South Asians come under the radar. The FBI registered about 17,000 men and they found zero terrorists; the issues of hate incidences and crimes were on the rise too. As this ebbed, SAN opened their first satellite office in Korea Town and even one in Orange County! The affluence of OC did not justify their presence and now SAN serves people within L.A. It is interesting to note that the population of South Asians in L.A. is 113,651 as per the US Census Data of 2006-2010.
Of these, 10,974 South Asians live below the poverty line in L.A. County. And contrary to what we all like to believe, only 45-66% hold a Bachelor’s degree and that South Asian Americans have limited levels of English proficiency.
In 2011 Kulkarni was invited to the White House to receive an award and for a meeting with President Obama for the stupendous community based work that SAN had done. Once again in 2014, Kulkarni received an award from the White House for work on the Affordable Care Act that SAN had undertaken and succeeded in doing. She also met the Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and discussed language access for the non-English speaking Asian Americans.
One of the highlights of SAN as we all see is Hindi on the ballot. So, voting now has become accessible to the Hindi-speaking people. In 2015 SAN was also invited to meetings with the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell and Surgeon General Murthy and Kathleen Sebelius, the HHS Secretary in 2014.
In 2006, SAN launched the ‘Coming Out Day March’ for the LGBTQ Community.
An issue that has been taboo within the community is now up for discussion and SAN is there to facilitate dialogs in this area for anyone who chooses to approach them.
A monthly Citizenship Clinic has been on since 2012 and this free workshop towards a path for citizenship has been very popular amongst South Asians. The future for SAN as Kulkarni says is “to overcome the dearth of women leaders in areas of politics and social arenas. We see men running for office and I would like to encourage women to do so.”
SAN has a staff with diverse backgrounds from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. They have therapists, case managers’ policy advocates who can speak Hindi, Gujarati, Bangla and Nepalese. SAN is also very active with the seniors in the community and has a Seniors Walking Club, which has a large seniors gathering that talk on various issues and get great tasting Indian Food!
For more enquiries or to avail of the services offered by SAN visit www.southasiannetwrok.org or call 562-403-0488.