Know Your Rights: Training Elders on their Immigration Rights

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A Know Your Rights poster from IDP (Immigrant Defense Project) that we used in our trainings

What do you when officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) come to your home? If you are stopped in the street by police and asked for your immigration status? What are your rights as an immigrant in these perilous times? These and other questions were part of a series of KYR (Know Your Rights) trainings that India Home conducted with our elders, almost all of whom are immigrants to the country. Most of our seniors are citizens, or, having immigrated here on family quotas, hold green cards.

However, after the change in federal administration, they have heard rumors about ICE raids and have questions about immigration status. There is much rumor and conjecture and fear. India Home staff have in the past few months undergone KYR Immigration Information Training and were prepared to pass on the knowledge. We also brought in Cyrus Mehta, a well known lawyer, and Professor Alina Das from NYU Law School on different occasions  to inform and reassure our elders of their rights as immigrants.

The message we wanted to get across was simple enough: 1. Everyone has rights under the constitution of the United States and it’s important . 2. You have the right to remain silent 3. You have the right to an attorney and to see a warrant and so on.

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Cyrus Mehta, an immigration lawyer, speaks to our elders at the Desi Senior Center about their immigration rights

At Sunnyside Community Center, India Home staff who had training, chose to create a skit of sorts where some volunteers enacted an ICE Raid. Some were ICE officers and some were immigrants and when “officers” asked the “residents” to open up, they practiced saying things like “I choose to remain silent,” and “I would like to talk to my attorney.”

Cyrus Mehta, an immigration lawyer distributed flyers at the Desi Senior Center emphasized his message that all people in the United States, even the undocumented have rights and patiently answered the many questions from our seniors.

Alina Das is an Associate Professor of Clinical Law at NYU School of Law, where she co-teaches and co-directs the Immigrant Rights Clinic. She and her clinic students represent immigrants and community organizations in litigation and advocacy to advance immigrant rights locally and across the country. Professor Das visited our Desi Senior Center in February, and her students demonstrated an ICE raid and the correct responses in such situations.

At our Richmond Hill location, we invited the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) to come in and discuss rights for immigrant New Yorkers and reassure everything that the city is committed to being a sanctuary city for all. MOIA representatives further stressed the need for IDNYC and how beneficial it is for immigrants.

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Alina Das and her clinic students came to Desi Senior Center to talk to elders about their rights as immigrants

To evaluate the learning, India Home staff asked the elders to repeat what had been taught, a few days later, and they repeated the main points of the teaching. A lesson well learned, perhaps and an useful one at that!

 

 

Age no Bar: SALGA and India Home host a SAGE Table

Written with contributions from Anita Konaje and Meeta Patel

A group of eight LGBTQ South Asians gathered around platters of mushroom kababs and Chicken Methi Malai at Sahib restaurant in Manhattan, NY, one evening in May, and worried that they would have nothing to say to each other. sahibOkay, so they didn’t actually know each other, but it’s not as if strangers don’t get together at dinner all the time. What made this dinner different was that they were were all of wildly varying ages. Anita was 29, Meeta was 40ish, Per was 70, Pradip was in his 80s, Babu was in his 60’s, and then there was the baby of the group, 23 year old Rahim. The age difference was…shall we say, pretty wide, hence the worry. Still, they had been brought together to try a SAGE Table, and so here they were. Created by SAGE (Services &Advocacy for GLBT Elders) with support from AARP, the SAGE Table was a one day event that brought together different generations of LGBTQ+ people across America to share a meal. This particular SAGE Table was brought together by SALGA NYC, New York City’s community organization for LGBTQ+ South Asians.

SAGE had built the concept around a simple idea – namely, the generation gap. In America, older people are usually segregated from young people. Interests, music, spaces, trends, a relentless focus on youth – all tend to keep us stolidly fixed in our silos. For LGBTQ+ people the gap can sometimes be a chasm. Many older gay people are afraid to reveal their sexual orientation. Some LGBTQ+ people don’t have kids or a family that supports their choices. Hence the SAGE Table wanted LGBTQ+ people of all ages to get together. Share their experiences. Find out what it felt like to care for each other if age didn’t matter. Break bread (or in this case, naan).

It sounded great in theory, but Pradip was skeptical. He didn’t really like going to group events he confessed. They were always crowded with young people and no one talked to them. Often they were left to their own devices and after a while it got boring to hang around, he said. But his friend, Babu, had persuaded him to come to this particular SAGE Table, which was hosted by SALGA NYC. Anita, who was representing SALGA, had worried about the exact same thing. What would they talk about?sagetable

Over the tomato soup and pakoras, someone started talking about the resistance. Not the one now, but the one that had started in the ’60s and the ’70s, another time in history when social justice issues were boiling up. Pradip and Babu had both come to America at that time of fervent. They had participated in the movement for equal rights as college students. Meeta, who is also from SALGA, was intrigued by the fact that  Pradip had arrived in America, even before the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that brought so many South Asians to the US. But the ’60s were also a time when Westerners were going to India to find themselves. Per, another diner, had gone to Varanasi, lived in India for a while, and that had been another kind of revolution altogether.

The conversation moved on to books.

Pradip was a writer and had published a book of short stories in Bengali. Per had published a self-help book called “Gay Money,” that tells aging gay men how to organize their finances better. On Amazon, the description promises to tell gays and lesbians, among other nuggets of wisdom, “What insurance we absolutely need to protect our legacy, our lovers – or our independence.”

sahibfoodThe food kept coming: Gutti Venkaya Kura, a delicacy from Andhra Pradesh, then, Alu Gobi, a dry potato and cauliflower dish.

Like the inveterate New Yorkers they were, the diners kept circling back to marvel at the life they led here. Everyone at the table felt lucky to be living in the city and lucky to be in a place that allowed LGBTQ+ communities, like the one gathered around the table, to have events like the one they were at.

The mango mousse arrived.

As the night wound on, everyone kept talking. Pradip said he was glad Babu had pushed him to come tonight; it was nice to talk to people for hours without thinking about age at all. Then it was time to leave. Where they would meet next time, they wondered. Would it be easier to meet in someone’s apartment? Or how about a picnic in Central Park.

This SAGE Table was organized by SALGA NYC on May 18th, 2017. You can click here to visit their website. Funds for the meal was generously provided by India Home, Inc.

Valentine’s Day and fighting stereotypes about love and aging

The Stereotypes of Love 

You’ve seen the advertisements around Valentine’s Day—the media and your timeline are probably filled with them. These images invariably feature young people—beautiful, tan, fit young people with perfect hair and dazzling teeth celebrating their love. These images are also rampantly ageist. You may not realize it, but this is the culture subtly telling you that everything associated with Valentine’s Day—love, beauty, passion, physical intimacy—all the beautiful human experiences somehow only belong to the young.Nayyars-2

By reinforcing these stereotypical ideas of love, the media writes older adults out of the national consciousness, diminishes their real experiences of love and dehumanizes them. Perhaps, as Ashton Applewhite, author and anti-ageism advocate says, the time has come to “think critically about what age means in this society, and the forces at work behind depictions of older people as useless and pathetic. Shame can damage self-esteem and quality of life as much as externally imposed stereotyping.”

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Love Transcends Age

Many of the seniors at India Home find themselves at a point where they are in a position to enjoy the companionship they have achieved over a lifetime spent together.

As Geeta put it, “Even today, after 45 years of marriage, we go everywhere, for walks, shopping and so on, together. He [her spouse, Shantilal] likes being with me.” 

Sudha, said of her partner of 52 years, “We’ve learned to live together over the years. When one is angry, the other keeps quiet. Then when we cool down we talk about it, express our opinions.”Narulas-2

Listening to these veteran couples would help anyone who has ever been in a relationship identify and empathize with them and undo, what Applewhite calls, “the “otherness” that powers ageism…”

The truth is that love transcends age. This doesn’t need to be said, but older adults, whether they are 60 or 80 years old, feel love, longing, tenderness, friendship, passion–all the emotions that make us fully and gloriously human.

Giridhar, a quiet senior at our center, expressed his feelings about his relationship eloquently when he said, “Like the left leg and the right leg is needed to keep the body upright, my wife and I worked together to make our marriage work.”

Patels-2Disrupting Notions of Love

So to celebrate this Valentine’s Day, we decided to disrupt the stereotypes that exclude older adults from this national celebration of love. Our Twitter campaign features vibrant, loving couples talking candidly about their long partnerships.

After all, love is love, no matter what age you feel you are.

Another Valentine

by Wendy Cope

Today we are obliged to be romantic
And think of yet another valentine.
We know the rules and we are both pedantic:
Today’s the day we have to be romantic.

Our love is old and sure, not new and frantic.
You know I’m yours and I know you are mine.
And saying that has made me feel romantic,
My dearest love, my darling valentine. – 

 

India Home’s seniors take the lead for Diwali celebrations

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The Gujarati Samaj Hall decorated by our members

Every year, India Home plans a celebration for Diwali, one of the most important holidays for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. This year, however, a group of seniors, spearheaded by our members Dinesh Parmar and Bharat Patel, took the lead to plan, execute and carry out the Diwali event. The celebration was held at the Gujarati Samaj Hall on the Horace Harding Expressway in Queens, a spacious venue with an excellent stage and sound system. The women’s committee donated traditional lamps and runners and “showed up early in the morning at 7 a.m.,” to decorate the place, Niruben Hansoty said.

Movers and shakers were seniors 

Dinesh Parmar and Bharat Patel, the movers and shakers behind the event, welcomed the audience with a traditional lamp lighting ceremony or deep pragatya. Then the members honored India Home’s Executive Director, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, Deputy Director, Lakshman Kalasapudi and other staff of India Home, the President of the Gujarati Sama (who donated the space) and Mukesh Mehta, a Board Member of India Home.

The band played on

After the speeches, it was time for fun. Well known New Jersey-based singer Varsha Joshi and her band sang Bollywood hits and Gujarati traditional songs. Our seniors got down on the dance floor, dancing the garba and other folk dances with vigor, breaking only for a fabulous lunch from Usha Foods.

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Our members love to dance the vigorous Garba

Celebrating Guru Nanak Gurpurab

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Mr. Batti with a photo of Guru Nanak on the table

India Home members come from all different faiths and religions and we celebrate a lot of religious and cultural holidays. We celebrated Sikhism by holding an event for Guru Nanak Gurpurub on Monday, November 21st. Gurpurub generally falls in Autumn and is considered a most sacred festival by Sikhs because it honors the birthday of Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak is the first of the 10 Sikh gurus or spiritual teachers.

Mr. Raghubir Bhatti, our active and jovial member, took the lead to present a short informative program on Gurpurub. He spoke about the major principles of the Sikh faith and emphasized its inclusiveness. Sikhs make no distinctions among people based on caste, class or gender. Its tenets are firmly rooted in the belief that all people are equal and preach that people of different races, religions, or sex are all the same in the eyes of God. The religion believes in the full equality of men and women. Women can participate in any religious event or perform any Sikh ceremony or lead the congregation in prayer. And since no birthday celebration is complete without something sweet, our seniors shared fruit and ladoos, an Indian sweet.

India Home Honored by Scott Stringer, New York City Comptroller

India Home was honored with a Commendation by Scott Stringer, New York City Comptroller for outstanding services to the city of New York. In his speech on the occasion, Comptroller Stringer, congratulated us for the “culturally sensitive social, nutritional, psychological, recreational” programs we provide to South Asian seniors, as well as the opportunities we give our elders to develop “leadership and engage in self-advocacy.” We were honored alongside two sister organizations providing crucial services to South Asian communities: Indo-Caribbean Alliance and The Sikh Coalition. The event was also a Diwali celebration and was attended by 200-300 movers and shakers from New York City’s South Asian community. We were thrilled to have so many of our members join us and dressed in their traditional best to show their support and joy! You can see more photos by clicking here.

Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, our Executive Director receives the commendation for services to NYC from Comptroller Scott Stringer

Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, our Executive Director receives the commendation for outstanding services to NYC from Comptroller Scott Stringer

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Columbia University’s Aging Center profiles our member Chandrakant Sheth

Starting in 2015, the people behind Exceeding Expectations, a project from Columbia University’s Aging Center, searched far and wide for 20 New Yorkers from all different circumstances and backgrounds who have both exceeded life expectancy and who are disrupting commonly-held expectations of what it means to grow old. “The project, through writing, photography and video, explores how people find purpose in later life and how their environment and circumstances make it easier or more challenging to do so. Their stories are filled with mystery, drama, wisdom and search for meaning,” according to the website.

The Exceeding Expectations project, Chandrakant Sheth and India Home was also given a two page spread in India Abroad, the oldest newspaper in North America catering to the South Asian diaspora.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-1-13-35-am

The project’s goal is to challenge people’s expectations of growing old and to present different possibilities beyond the extreme images of frailty and skydiving, as we like to say.  – Heather Clayton Colangelo

 
Heather Clayton Colangelo found India Home’s very own Chandrakant Sheth and shadowed him for a year, going to his home, meeting his family and friends, and visiting us and his friends at India Home’s Sunnyside Center. We interviewed her about the project and what sparked her interest in Chandrakant Sheth:

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What made you choose Chandrakant Sheth as a subject?

We spent several months trying to find 20 people all in their 80s that represented the diversity of New York City. We wanted people in all different living situations, with different interests, from different socioeconomic backgrounds and from different neighborhoods. The key piece was that each person needed to be seeking purpose in some way, to have a goal that they were trying to accomplish. The project’s goal is to challenge people’s expectations of growing old and to present different possibilities beyond the extreme images of frailty and skydiving, as we like to say.

I heard about India Home because of the opening of the Desi Senior Center right around the time we were looking for participants for the project, and were intrigued. As a then-resident of Astoria, I was also hoping to find someone suitable to follow in Queens as I wanted to represent the borough I dearly love. I contacted Lakshman at India Home and he recommended Chandrakant to me. He described Chandrakant as someone warm and genuine, with a thirst for learning, which made him a perfect fit for our project. Asking someone to be vulnerable and open their life up to a stranger is not an easy task, but from the beginning Chandrakant was willing to go outside of his comfort zone and share his life and thoughts with me.

You’ve been shadowing him for a year. How did your relationship develop?
The very first time I sat down with Chandrakant he was incredibly candid and genuine. He expressed enthusiasm for the goals of Exceeding Expectations and wanted to share his story as a way to help other people facing aging with limited models. I believe we talked for more than 3 hours that first day. Throughout the project he continued to graciously open up his heart and life to me, sharing his poetry, introducing me to family members, bringing me along on trips to India Home, and feeding me delicious food at his home. I feel grateful to have learned so much both professionally and personally from him.

What has the reaction to Exceeding Expectations been?
The reaction has been wonderful and is ongoing. We have heard from people young and old that they are inspired and see growing old in a more nuanced light. We have had pieces published in a variety of publications to reach new audiences, as well as on our website. We have more stories coming soon and hope people will follow along and share them with their friends! Best of all, we received funding from the New York Community Trust for a second year, so that we are able to follow these 20 inspiring people even longer and share their stories more widely.

Can you share a little of what you learned over the course of this project with Chandrakant Sheth and India Home.

India Home is an inspiring place. The people who attend demonstrate the diversity within the experience of older immigrants in New York, especially depending on what age a person has come to the U.S. and with what resources and knowledge. India Home is an example of the importance of culturally appropriate services and the need for meeting places in a city made of micro neighborhoods and cultural communities.

From Chandrakant, I have learned so much. I have learned how much having a positive outlook can aid resiliency and how it is a basic human need to have a sense of community. I have seen with Chandrakant, as with others that we are following, the challenges of building a new life and finding new connections when one’s partner passes. And I am also inspired by his desire to widen his community beyond only people with his same background. And finally, I have been so impressed by Chandrakant’s thirst for knowledge and how adept at technology he is! Chandrakant certainly challenges anyone’s belief that learning technology in old age is not possible.

We still have another part of Chandrakant’s story to come, so stay tuned!

Learning and loving computers at 60+

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India Home’s seniors are learning computer skills, many for the first time

India Home’s Desi Senior Center is now offering computer classes to senior men and women who want to learn to handle technology. Mr. Palash Piplu, a volunteer, teaches the class on Thursdays. For now, Palash is familiarizing our seniors, many of whom  have never touched a computer, with basic computer skills, such as how to open a file and save it, or how to browse the internet.

A. Mahbubul Latif is happy that he is learning something new and wants to learn all about the computer. “I can do my own work, take care of my own things,” he said.

India Home started these classes because there is a strong desire among our seniors to get in touch with the world.  As Latif said,  “Everything is on computers now…but when I ask at home to teach me computers, nobody helps me.”

Learning the unfamiliar technology don’t come not easy for these elders, but they persist. They are determined to learn the intricacies of computer use,  even though, as Latif acknowledged, “We didn’t practice computers in our time.”

It has been heartening to see how the women at the center have been at the forefront of the classes, encouraging each other to participate.

Rabeya Khanom is 67 years old but wants to be always learning. At the beginning of the class, she said, “It was difficult to catch up,” and wished there was a “shortcut.” But she says she’s  “learning this from my own interest. It is better to be learning something than sitting at home doing nothing,” she said. She also doesn’t want to be left behind.  “Everybody has computer in our home, internet too. I want to use email and the internet,” she said.

While many of the seniors have never used a computer, several others have worked and retired in the US.  They are taking to classes to update their skills. Farida Talukdar worked for 23 years in the Social Services department in New York City and says she has a basic knowledge of computers. But now, she said, she “was getting interested in Word, Excel and the Internet. ” With the instructor Palash’s teaching, these programs, were “becoming much easier now,” she said.

It is a well known fact that students learn better with support from their families. Our adult learners are being encouraged by their children. For Ms. Khanum, there’s an additional incentive to master computers: “My daughter said if I learn computers, she will buy a computer for me,” she said, smiling from ear to ear.

Funding for the 14 unit computer lab was generously provided by Department for the Aging and Commissioner Dr. Donna Corrado.

(With additional reporting from Shah Afroditi Panna)

 

India Home and NYU celebrate advances in the health of NYC’s Bangladeshi community

New York University’s Center for the Study of Asian American Health (CSAAH) held a community health forum at our Desi Senior Center on Tuesday, September 26th. The forum celebrated the advances in the health of our seniors thanks to our partnership with CSAAH. MD Taher is the Project Coordinator for NYU’s Department of Population Health and a Community Health Worker with CSAAH. He has, for the past several months, helped to coordinate impactful health projects at the Desi Senior Center in Jamaica. “We wanted to share our results with the community, celebrate their health,” he said.  Also being celebrated was our successful partnership with New York University’s Center for the Study of Asian American Health (CSAAH), which is the leading institute in the US set up to study Asian American health. Our collaboration with the institute has helped facilitate and advance several health projects.

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We wanted to tell the community what our findings were, and thank the seniors from India Home, MD Taher, Project Coordinator, NYU Department of Population Health, said.

These projects fill a necessary void in care because as MD Taher said: “There are serious health concerns in the community.” One in four Bangladeshis have diabetes. One in five suffer from hypertension.

One of these projects, titled Keep On Track / Reach Far trained 26 volunteers at India Home to monitor blood pressure as part of a Community Health Assessment. Over 80 seniors from Desi Senior Center participated in the project.

Other projects too have had a direct impact on the health of our seniors. One helped to disseminate nutrition information with culturally and linguistically adapted brochures in Bengali and Hindi. “They came many, many times to the center to teach our seniors about nutrition. They gave them a cup and a spoon, taught them how to measure their food portions, ” Nargis Ahmed, the Site Director for Desi Senior Center said. Nargis worked closely with the NYU team to get seniors to try these new nutrition strategies.

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The team from CSAAH shared the finding from various projects with the seniors at India Home’s Desi Senior Center.

Another important innovation has been CSAAH’s partnership with five area pharmacies to create linguistically adapted health materials in Hindi and Bengali, the languages spoken by our seniors. CSAAH also launched a nutrition strategy by working with area restaurants like Star Kabab in Jamaica to replace ingredients in common dishes so as to make them healthier. For example, switching white rice with brown in kitchurie ( a Bengali rice and lentil dish) increased its nutrition content. CSAAH has also partnered with local mosques to serve healthier foods for the iftar meal that breaks the Ramadan fast.

Other CSAAH projects like the DREAM (Diabetes Research, Education, and Action for Minorities) project, a five-year community based participatory research study, have also had success in improving attitudes toward health in the Bangladeshi community. The DREAM project aims to develop, implement, and test a Community Health Worker (CHW) Program designed to improve diabetes control and diabetes-related health complications in the Bangladeshi community in New York City. As a result of this effort at diabetes management, over 400 patients who participated across the city lost weight, became more active physically, managed their medications better and saw their doctors regularly.

The community health forum was held in the spirit of transparency and partnership and sought to update the seniors who participated in the projects and create ongoing dialogue.  “We wanted to tell the community what our findings were,” MD Taher said. “And thank them.”  The forum was well attended by community leaders, partners, local businesses, policy makers, and media partners.

Dr. Nadia Islam, PhD, the Deputy Director and co-investigator of the Center for the Study of Asian American Health presents findings on the DREAM Project.

Dr. Nadia Islam, PhD, the Deputy Director and co-investigator of the Center for the Study of Asian American Health presents findings on the DREAM Project.

The response from the community of seniors has been excellent. Even with all the barriers like work, taking care of grandchildren and busy lives, participants have been able to maintain the lifestyle changes they made as a result of the projects. India Home is happy to have done its part in improving the lives of our seniors. In the face of the rapidly growing older adult population of Bengali seniors in New York City, India Home’s vision is to continue to be a leading resource to our seniors and agencies and institutions that are working to respond to their changing and emerging needs. “Our seniors were very happy that they learned new things and I plan to continue to remind them,” Nargis Ahmed said.

 

 

India Home’s Fall Fundraiser: Music, dancing and future plans

India Home held its annual Fall Luncheon and Fundraiser at Five Star Banquet Hall in Long Island City, Queens on Saturday October 1st. We were celebrating a year of steady growth and expansion, of course, but the well-attended event was also a huge thank you to all our friends, supporters and partners.

The celebration opened with a Hindustani classical music recital by performers from the Chhandayan Center for Indian Music. Our wonderful members from India Home performed a vibrant garba dance and we screened a short video about our Desi Senior Center. India Home was lauded for its work by both Councilmembers, Barry Grodenchik and Rory Lancman who attended. India Home honored Councilmember Rory I. Lancman, who has been a steadfast friend and supporter of our efforts. He was recognized as “a distinguish leader for South Asian older adults”. In his speech he said that India Home was providing vital culturally competent services to a growing community of seniors and the trust and experience we have in the community is an integral part of our organization.

Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi urged the elected officials and community leaders to work with her on trying to get a permanent facility for our seniors. “India Home needs a home,” she said, to cheers from the audience. A silent auction was held for painting donated by artists including the late Hario Sajnani. We were also happy to introduce two new board members to the attendees, namely, Ali Najmi, a prominent lawyer who ran for New York City Council and was endorsed by the New York Times in 2015, and Mukund Mehta, a former Senior Tax Attorney with Caltex and a Moot Court Judge with NYU Law.

The fundraiser was a successful event allowing us to raise critically needed funds for India Home. This support helps India Home tremendously as we begin to expand into new program areas and activities. Here’s to another successful year for India Home!

Please stay tuned for more photos in the coming weeks.

India Home's Board & Staff welcoming our new Board Members

India Home’s Board & Staff welcoming our new Board Members

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