By Mark Hallum
Members of the Jackson Heights’ South Asian community spoke out about concerns following the presidential election on Saturday at a Chhaya CDC town hall meeting and were joined by state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst). Chhaya is an organization dedicated to advocating for South Asian immigrant centers in the city to build economically stable, sustainable, and thriving communities. The town hall meeting took place at Renaissance Charter School, 35-59 81st St., with more than 200 people in attendance.
“It’s all about working together and ensuring that not only does the city of New York remain a sanctuary city, but we have each other’s back,” Peralta said.
Naheed Bahram from the Women for Afghan Women told the audience her organization has been working with immigrant communities for the past 15 years. The current level of fear is unprecedented following the victory of President-elect Donald Trump. Zaiban Akberzai, 15, from the organization’s girls leadership program said her mother was harassed for wearing her head scarf.
“In the previous years, this has never occurred. But now with the recent election that has taken place with President -elect Donald J. Trump, hate crimes have accummulated,”Zaiban said. “But I’m very confident that we as New Yorkers will fight against harassment and stand united as one.”
Zarmina Zadran, a 13-year-old with the leadership program, said the recent weeks have been a difficult time for her because she has experienced bullying from peers at school.
A paralegal who did not give her name described how she felt the morning her husband told her Trump had won the election and the experience of clients where she works offering legal aid to immigrants.
“Of course, if you haven’t lived immigration, if you haven’t been touched by it, you really can’t relate to it,” she said. “But hearing the stories of these people each day who have been persecuted, who have fled their counties and have come to the U.S. for a different life. Trying to fight for that person, and then having others tell them otherwise, that they don’t belong. That’s heartbreaking.”
Another person at the microphone spoke in place of a Pakistani woman who had lived in Jamaica for 11 years and was the victim of a hate crime, but too scared to report the incident to authorities. The woman was walking through the streets of southeast Queens and was verbally harassed as well as having her hijab tugged at.
“I said to her, ‘You’ve got to report this,” she said. “But I’m not so sure she’s comfortable doing this.”
The woman said the narrative for the Pakistani woman in Jamaica is different from the experience she has heard from Muslim women in places such as College Point. She speculated that the safety and comfort varied from community to community.
On the panel at the town hall meeting were Alina Das, associate professor of Clinical Law at NYU; NYU law student Sarika Arya; Nishan Bhaumik, an attorney at Anti-Violence Project; and Queens Borough Director for the Office of MayorNick Gulotta.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall