By Prem Calvin Prashad
Two weeks ago, South Asian and Indo-Caribbean activists met in South Ozone Park to discuss a wide range of topics pertinent to the Indo-Caribbean community at the first Indo-Caribbean Convene, a space provided for activists and community leaders from Queens to discuss matters of faith, culture, justice and community.
The event was held June 23 at the Al-Ihsan Academy, at 130-08 Rockaway Blvd. I spoke with the event’s organizer, Shabana Sharif, on the objectives of the convene, as well as issues facing Indo-Caribbean and South Asian communities in Queens.
The convene was primarily a space to share ideas and strengthen relationships among community advocacy groups in Queens. Sharif notes that many of these groups work in separate spaces, a fact that is not surprising, given the geographic distribution and demographics of South Asian communities in Queens.
What made the convene unique was that it was the first attempt at encouraging those involved in their communities to meet, foster partnerships for the future and perhaps find both gaps and overlaps in their efforts.
Both the necessity and the effectiveness of partnerships forged at the ICC were demonstrated when an LGBT activist was attacked at a local bar hours after the event. The activists and the groups involved in the event organized social media outreach and a swift response rally in support of the victim.
Though immigrant communities across the city have a number of common issues, a few issues take priority in Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. Safety for the Sikh community remains an issue more than a decade after Sept. 11, particularly due to ignorance about their beards, turbans and clothing.
Sharif also identified the ongoing surveillance of the Muslim community by the NYPD as an issue that affects the community.
The closure of the Aqueduct flea market and subsequent construction of the Resorts World Casino is also a sore point, as it has brought pawnshops and other related businesses into the community. These problems, combined with a rapidly growing population and a new generation facing domestic violence and substance abuse, presented the need for greater community engagement and outreach.
The convene consisted of three sessions, with two simultaneous workshops, panels and discussions. Various community and activist groups presented each, with topics ranging from financial literacy to gender justice and intercultural understanding.
At the interpersonal understandings seminar, three Indo-Caribbean activists reflected on acceptance and cultural differences between the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities. The Indo-Caribbean community, by virtue of generations of separation from the Indian subcontinent, varies significantly in culture, food, accents and language, which can lead to a sense of alienation between those of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities.
The hopeful spirit of participants was reflected in the event’s tagline: “Being the Change.” It is the hope of Sharif and other participants that events like the ICC empower those involved in their communities to have the support they need to work for positive change.