JULY 2002
Web Resources

• Immigration and Naturalization Service

• The New York City Mayor's Office Of Immigrant Affairs and Language Services

• Citizenship NYC

• New York Immigration Hotline

• National Immigration Forum

• Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolitan Area

International

• The Migration Information Force

National

• ACLU Immigrants Rights Project

• America Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Law Foundation

• Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force

• Glossary

Local: General

• Archdiocese of New York Immigrant and Refugee Services

• Asian American Federation of New York

• Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

• New York Alliance for New Americans

• The New York Immigration Coalition

Local: Specific

• Alianza Dominicana

• American-Bangladeshi Friendship Association

• Asian Americans for Equality

• Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund

• CARECEN-N.Y.

• Chinese Progressive Association

• Emerald Isle Immigration Center of New York

• Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York

• National Association of Korean Americans

• National Coalition for Haitian Rights

PAST ISSUES

• August 2001
• December 2001
• January 2002
• February 2002
• March 2002
• April 2002
• May 2002
• June 2002

 

 

The Role of Ethnic Press

Born in Tokyo to South Asian parents, Sreenath Sreenivasan spent his childhood in many parts of the world, attending primary school in New York and high school in the Fiji Islands. He now lives in Manhattan. A journalist, teacher and self professed "tech guru," Sree speaks about technology issues every Thursday morning on WABC-7, and often hosts Asian America, a nationally syndicated PBS show about Asian American affairs. He is a co-founder of the South Asian Journalists Association and a Columbia University journalism professor.

Sreenivasan spoke last month at the Ethnic Media of Queens Conference at LaGuardia Community College. Here is an excerpt:

I love New York and am excited to be in the shadow of the 7 train as a proud immigrant to New York City. I’m also a proud journalist who works in both the mainstream and the ethnic press. What I thought I’d do today is talk a little bit about lessons that we who work with the ethnic press have learned since September 11th and what we are doing to look ahead.

I’m from an organization called the South Asian Journalist Association and another called the Asian American Journalist Association. We have been very adamant over the last eight years in asking for more coverage of Asians and South Asians. Of all the things we have learned [after Sept. 11], the one that stands out is to be careful what you wish for.

Minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, a Sikh gentleman stopped while he was walking towards the World Trade Center. Suddenly a group of young men started chasing him. He ran into the subway, down to a barbershop, took off his turban, tied his hair in a ponytail and got into the subway. He still didn’t know why he was running and no one told him. Once he was in the subway he was able to learn what had happened. That’s when the backlash first started against the South Asians and Middle Eastern and Arab looking people.

As a result, we started reaching out to journalists and various publications saying, "Look, this is going on. The backlash has started." An editor would say to us, " There are much bigger things going on. 6,000 people are missing." We would sort of back off, because that was our concern as well--the people who had died.

Things changed when another Sikh gentleman in Mesa, Arizona was shot to death. What we were able to do then was call editors and say, "This death has happened, we need to cover it." Most of the press still didn’t care. Editors would say to us, " You know, that’s not our priority. So, okay, one person has died." Our response was, "Give us the number, what is the right number with which you would call me back? Is it 20 dead, 50 dead, 100 dead?" Of course that would shake up the editors, and suddenly attention started being paid to that.

There was another phenomenon that was happening at the same time, known as ‘flying while Arab.’ People who looked like me were being kicked off airplanes. This story, as with a lot of stories, was given the most attention by the ethnic press. Not just ethnic newspapers that cover South Asia, or ethnic newspapers that cover Asian or the Arab communities, but ethnic newspapers who could see what this would lead to. The first story that came out mentioning that a few Middle Eastern men were kicked off a Northwest Airlines flight out in Minneapolis didn’t get much attention.

So, how did this story go from a tiny one line story in the wires, to something that was covered on the Today Show and on Hard Ball with Chris Mathews? One man, Esra Kahn (who was flying out of San Antonio), couldn’t be at his brother’s wedding in Pakistan because the pilot came up to him and said, "I’d like you to leave, I’m uncomfortable with you sitting in this plane with me." He had to leave the flight. The irony of it was that he had a third brother who wasn’t going to the wedding because the family, which owns a cell phone business in San Antonio, was donating 10,000 dollars to the World Trade Center relief that day.

Kahn spoke out, and that made such a difference for the coverage of the event. Again, that coverage was led by the ethnic press, and everybody else followed. It made a difference that one man was able to speak and give courage to a lot of other people. We believe it really affected the number of people that were actually kicked off airplanes.

Another thing we did after September 11th was to go to newsrooms explaining what Islam is. It was a funny sight to see a Hindu explaining what Islam is to a bunch of journalists, but that’s what we needed to do. So a couple of Muslim journalists and someone like me became like a passport, going from newsroom to newsroom explaining to people what Islam is, and explaining some of the geopolitical backgrounds.

I am sorry to say that so many journalists working in the main stream press had no idea. They didn’t know or follow any of this stuff partly because their coverage doesn’t focus on it. That’s where the ethnic press made such a difference. You are covering the story as the American mainstream press will pick it up the next day.

I’d like to leave you with a couple of thoughts. As a journalist, I focus on technology to a great extent. In this city, I see the digital divide as a real problem, especially in our communities. Many people are just trying to do their jobs. They are in professions where they don’t use the computer all day, and they don’t have the time or the ability to get to a computer. However, an increasing number of things are online which weren’t before. This is great for folks like us who have access, but what about people in our communities that don’t? I appeal to those who have access to computers in our communities to reach out to those who do not. It is up to the press to focus on this issue.

Also, please get involved with the various community groups, get involved with the press.

Back to The Citizen page!

This website is brought to you by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by grants from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Independence Community Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, the New York Times Foundation and visitors like you.