LSA junior Gaurav Budhrani was wowed by the famous speakers,
writers and others who traveled to the University from as far as
London to speak at the second annual South Asian Awareness Network
conference this weekend, attended by more than 300 people.

Budhrani said the conference encouraged participants to get
politically involved in their community.

“I learned something pretty local,” he said.
“On the University campus itself there are many opportunities
for people to get involved in either activism or community service
in the South Asian community, either here or in India
itself.”

The conference, “SAAN: 2004: Envision the Future,”
featured more than 25 speakers and included workshops designed to
educate and empower participants. The awareness, initiative and
activism workshops addressed issues such as hate crimes, women and
religion, health and hunger and the Patriot Act.

The three categories of workshops invited participants to learn
about the issues, showed them what they could do to effect change,
and then asked them to imagine the future and how the South Asian
community could grow together, said event organizer Dhara Naik.

Naik, an LSA junior, said she heard about the conference last
year and wanted to be a part of it. She said she felt that while
the conference focused on South Asian issues, its messages were for
everybody.

“We put it on to educate people about South Asian culture
and to make people aware of what topics are pertinent to South
Asians both here and in South Asia,” she said.

Naik added that she hoped the conference inspired people to make
the world a better place and to achieve their dreams, to not be
limited by stereotypes and to be willing to “break the
mold.”

“I just hope people left feeling inspired that they can do
whatever they choose to do, it goes along with the theme,
‘Envision the Future’ — envision the future as
something different, don’t be afraid of doing whatever you
want, envision your future for yourself and do whatever pleases
you,” she said.

Keynote speaker Vijay Prashad, who wrote a book called
“Karma of Brown Folk,” spoke about the South Asian
community and how it has been used as a tool against other minority
communities, said conference co-chair Rahul Saksena.

This has been possible “because of the ‘model
minority’ myth, which states that our community is inherently
smarter and harder working than other communities, because there
are certain people in our community that are successful doctors and
engineers,” said Saksena, an LSA senior.

“But the truth is that our community isn’t
inherently smarter than any other community for a couple of
reasons. One is because the immigration policies of this country
really only let in the smartest and most well-educated people in
our community.”

He added that Prashad discussed how as a result of only the
“smartest and best-educated people being allowed into this
country,” the South Asian community is used as an excuse
against such policies as affirmative action and welfare.

“The general perception that people get is that
we’re hardworking and we’re inherently smarter than
others, but that’s not true and it causes a lot of problems,
because it pits minority communities against each other instead of
allowing them to work together on issues that affect all of us and
striving toward social justice,” Saksena said.

Other speakers included Shazia Mirza, a Muslim stand-up
comedian, and S. Mitra Kalita, an education reporter at The
Washington Post and president of the South Asian Journalists
Association.

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