Author, attorney and racial justice activist Deepa Iyer spoke about South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities in post-9/11 America on Monday evening in the IMU.
She also discussed and read part of her book, “We Too Sing America,” to the crowd in the Frangipani room. The IMU bookstore sold copies of her book inside the entrance.
The Asian American Studies Program at IU organized the event because they thought Iyer would be able to communicate her on-the-ground experience with racial justice for these communities to a broader audience, Ellen Wu, associate professor of history and the director of the Asian American Studies Program, said.
“Issues of immigration and xenophobia are at the center of our national political debate,” Wu said. “The Asian American Studies Program feels it’s important to bring Deepa to IU because she has been at the forefront of these issues since 9/11.”
Wu set the background, explaining Iyer’s long history of achievements in the racial justice arena, and she illustrated the importance of having the event a day after the Day of Remembrance.
The day, she said, highlights the injustice of executive order 9066, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed on Feb. 19, 1942, allowing the incarceration of thousands of Japanese American citizens. Then she drew the connection to today, referencing the recent executive order signed by President Trump that banned immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
When Iyer finally approached the podium, she hugged Wu and thanked her for the introduction and the work she has done in the AAS program.
“How do we not make the same mistakes of the past?” she said, referencing Executive Order 9066 and the current political climate.
That question became the theme of her discussion.
She explained her personal story as an emigrant from Kerala, India who moved to Kentucky at the age of 12. She said growing up in Kentucky in the ‘80s was an experience that made her feel like an outsider.
Her call to action, she said, came after 9/11. At the time, she was a 28-year-old attorney. She explained that the attacks gave way to double grieving for members of the Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities.
Members of these groups, she said, were obviously as devastated by the attacks like all other Americans.
“But it was also a grieving because the backlash and scapegoating members of these communities were immediately subjected to,” Iyer said.
She showed pictures of vandalism on Muslim and Sikh places of worship and also the violent attacks against members of these faiths following 9/11. With this background, she brought the conversation back to the current political climate.
She talked about the difference between the one-on-one violence and the state-sanctioned policies. The combination of both is how it happened after 9/11 she said, and how it’s happening after the recent election.
“This idea that history repeats itself is an idea I want you all to remember,” she said.
She showed photos of people protesting registries in the past, surveillance of Muslim communities and policies targeted toward members of the South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities.
She illustrated multiple times that the protests happening now and the policies being pushed through have happened before. However, she said, the themes have become more mainstream now.
“All of this, the domestic war on terror, sends one message — it’s not your country,” she said.
After she read a part from her book, the event shifted to include a discussion between her and two student leaders and then she opened up the conversation to general questions from the crowd. The conclusion of the event had Iyer signing copies of her book.
The event was broadly framed to encompass all of the affected communities, Wu said.
“These are cross-cutting issues that affect a lot of Americans in a lot of different ways,” she said.
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