Voice of America on India Home: “Aging New York Immigrants Confront Shortage of ‘Culturally Appropriate’ Services”

For 75 years the Voice of America – VOA has been the the official news source of the United States government and provides news and information in 47 languages to a weekly audience of more than 236.6 million people on 5 continents around the world. Last week they did a multi-media segment on India Home.

They explored the problems our seniors face…

“Among New York City residents over the age of 65, the immigrant population accounts for 49.5 percent, up from 38 percent in 2000, and growing. Facing language and cultural barriers, increased isolation, and higher levels of poverty than their native-born counterparts, the rapid expansion has taken its toll on both immigrants and the small, cash-strapped organizations that serve them….

Interviewed Lakshman Kalasapudi, India Home’s Deputy Director : 

“But Lakshman Kalasapudi, deputy director of India Home, says there is a misconception that South Asian immigrants who arrive as older adults are “fully taken care of” when they live with their children.

“This financial dependency kind of creates family tensions, especially when the seniors are living in overcrowded situations,” Kalasapudi says. “There becomes a real breakdown in the family structure and it really profoundly negatively affects the seniors’ mental health.”

And talked about India Home’s services:

“India Home is a secular organization that depends heavily on community donations and discretionary funding from local council members. It confronts social isolation and loneliness among South Asian elders. But it does so by partnering with existing centers, including Jamaica Muslim Center.”

To read more click here: https://www.voanews.com/a/aging-new-york-immigrants-confront-shortage-of-culturally-appropriate-services/3959423.html

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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Prof. 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, a few days later, what had been taught. They repeated the main points of the teaching. A lesson well learned, perhaps, and an useful one at that!

 

 

Our members star in AARP-AAPI Community’s Valentine’s Day video and campaign

Immigrant love stories that go beyond romance

A fit older man in a dapper suit suit turns to his wife and sings a few lines from a romantic song in Hindi, ” Life is nothing but your story and mine,” he croons. She laughs, almost shy, as he puts his arms around her. As he continues to speak of his love and their life together, they both begin to cry.

The couple in the video are Dinesh and Kusumben Parmar, active members of India Home. They are the stars in a video campaign created for AARP by Next Day Better, a media company that specializes in telling stories about Asian American communities.

His goal is two-fold says Ryan Letada, CEO and Co-Founder. On the one hand they want to bring immigrant Asian American and Pacific Islander stories and histories into the mainstream; on the other they want to “build intergenerational/inter-relationship understanding and empathy to strengthen and unify families.”

Video featured by AARP

AARP partnered with Next Day Better and features the storytelling campaign capturing Asian American Pacific Islander love stories on unconditional love on its various outlets. 

Next Day Better asked Dinesh and Kusumben to share their “love origin story” as a way to highlight their family’s history in America, a history that is shared by so many other immigrants to this country. Immigrants like Dinesh and Kusumben know that their stories go beyond mere romance to encompass an unconditional love that is expressed through courage, long struggle and sacrifice for the sake of family. Dinesh poignantly sums up the stories of so many new comers to America when he describes the couple’s life together as a ” journey of sacrifice, sorrow and happiness. ”

Watch the video for more on Dinesh and Kusumben’s poignant love story.

Maganbhai and Kamuben Chavda: 63 years together, for poorer, or richer!

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Maganbhai Chavda is tall and thin, a white-haired gentleman who towers over his wife Kamuben’s tiny bird-like figure.  Kamuben,  in turn, is the one you will see dancing the vigorous garba at every opportunity. The husband and wife, both 82, are unmistakable fixtures at India Home’s Sunnyside Community Center location.  They were born in 1935 and have been married for 63 years, sharing a long, eventful life–one that has seen them journeying from abject poverty in a tiny village in Gujarat in India to a life in New York that is filled with success and generosity. The couple spoke to India Home together one afternoon, trading stories, completing each others sentences, refreshing each other’s memory.

Growing up during India’s Independence struggle: 

Kamuben says: “I was 13 years old when India became free and we would stay up night after night because the government said they would announce India’s Independence. Finally, we were told that India was free. All the kids ran out into the street cheering. We had steel plates and we began banging on them with sticks and shouting –we went around the city in a big parade.” Her husband, Maganbhai, has his own memories, although less dramatic: “I remember that there was a building in my village that was built after Mahatma Gandhi-ji visited in 1932. He came through our village on his way to the Salt March in 1932. We children would talk about him all the time.”

“Every day was a crisis of poverty.”

 Maganbhai’s parents were field hands. They were illiterate and worked the land, doing hard physical labor. “We children could only eat if our parents worked with their bodies,” he explains.  As a result of his family’s difficulties his education suffered. ” When I was in the 7th grade I left school. I was an excellent student, first class first, but I had to get a job because we had no money. I couldn’t afford to go to college or pay the boarding fees to stay in town. I became a teacher  and worked for two years. I didn’t like being a teacher, so I joined the postal service in the village. I had six people working for me. I stayed on in that job for 30 years, and only left it to come to the United States. 

Even in 1953, her father-in-law was a feminist

Kamuben studied up to SSC in Baroda and then trained as a teacher. After marriage she moved with Maganbhai to his tiny village of Borsad in Gujarat where they started living with his parents and siblings. “I became a teacher and taught primary school from 1-7th grade. I liked teaching the small children in 1st grade. The kids loved me and everyone gave me a lot of respect. Some parents would come to the school and insist that they wanted their child to be in my class.” Kamuben at one point had 14 assistants working under her and she retired as the Principal of the school after teaching for 30 years.

 Yet it’s the family that she married into that she reminisces about the most. Her father-in-law was illiterate and a farm worker, but she says, the way she was treated was unusual for the era. “My father-in-law was a gem. When I got married I was very delicate and my father-in-law wouldn’t let me go to get water from the public tap. He would come to help.  There were so many restrictions for women in those days. They were to be veiled, they couldn’t laugh or talk in front of their inlaws or even wear shoes.  My father -in-law said, “Wear your shoes.” He was an enlightened person, his attitude was so modern. He always said, “do something new, leave these outdated, ancient rituals.”  We used to play with my father-in-law, a game with cowrie-shells. He didn’t want us to be veiled — he put an end to all that. People in the village used to laugh at us say mean things. They’d tease my in-laws and say that they were letting me do whatever I wanted because I was educated. After a while, though, following our family’s ideas,  even villagers also changed their attitude towards women.”

“My father died without a good doctor, so I vowed to make my sons into doctors”

 Maganbhai and Kamuben are sorrowful when they recall the day his father died. “We had no money to treat him or take him to a hospital in Ahmedabad city. So he died in the village. Maganbhai was changed by his father’s death. “That day I decided I will make at least one son a doctor,” he said said. “Fortunately,  I had three sons and they were all intelligent and they had our support,” he says. Today, not one, but all three of the couple’s sons are medical doctors–one is a radiologist, the others practice ER-Medicine and pulmonary medicine. The couple are justifiably proud of their sons and daughter. “They sent us on a tour of Europe, they sent us to South East Asia,” they said, each one talking over the other in their excitement.

Coming to America

Kamuben’s sister immigrated first to the U.S. and then sponsored the couple. Their children were grown and had done MBA’s in India, but with typical drive and enterprise, they studied further and became doctors. Their only daughter is an accountant. Maganbhai, even after spending his entire career in the post office, decided to continue working in the US and operated a Lotto machine in his brother-in-law’s store. “I started at $3.50 an hour in 1985,” he says. “When I finally listened to my children and stopped working, I was making $7.00 an hour.”

The Goddess of Charity

Kamuben and Maganbhai have been in the US for 30 years. They are comfortably off and their children are doing well. Yet they have never forgotten the days when they weren’t so fortunate. “Everyday was a crisis without enough money,” Kamuben says. Now they sponsor kids who are smart but may not have the means to go to college or  get graduate degrees.  They sent a friend’s young son to London to study. If someone wants money, we give it to them.  “Because we have seen what happens when you have no money, we help anyone who needs it.  We’ve helped so many families, helped their kids come up in the world. Even though I was in the village, I would cook for poor kids who didn’t have anything to eat. I’d feel sad for them.”  Maganbhai teases his wife: ” When we go to India, all our relatives call her the “Goddess of Charity.”

So what’s the secret of their happiness? 

The couple is remarkably active even though they are both 82 years old. Maganbhai waves his hand: “Don’t worry, be happy. Worrying too much makes you sick,” he says. Kamuben nods: “We don’t have any illnesses. I say, eat, drink, be happy, help others and don’t be selfish with your money. If you have enough to eat, feed others. Everyday I pray that god gives me the means to help others.”

On India Home 

“We come here, we see our friends, our brother-in-law is here – we have a good time.”

Indian Independence Day in tricolor

Seniors wave the India tricolor flag in celebration

Seniors wave the India tricolor flag in celebration (Photo credit: C.K. Lalita)

Many of our programs are developed in consultation with our seniors and often the seniors themselves take the lead in planning and executing them. Our seniors decided to celebrate Indian Independence Day in style this year. They brought in the decorations planned the activities, dressed up in the orange, white and green of the India flag, brought friends and relatives, and then threw themselves enthusiastically into the celebration. Manik Malhotra, an entertainer from Sa Re Ga Ma Desi Beats played the keyboard and sang popular Bollywood and patriotic songs. Inspired by this nostalgia and ready to show their Indian national pride, our seniors marched around the senior center proudly waving the Indian flag and Perhaps it was nostalgia or perhaps it was just to have some fun — but at one point all our seniors waved flags and marched to the strains of patriotic songs.