South Asian Activism and Organizing in Orlando

Originally published at Desis for Progress
By Usha Tewari

Desis for Progress is proud to provide a space for community voices and members to write about various issues affecting the South Asian community. The opinions expressed in these original pieces belong to the author.

What does activism mean to first generation Indian Americans? I am a first generation Indian American who has been deeply entrenched in my community for over twenty years. Activism to me is sweat, tears and doing what you feel is necessary for your community as a whole. There are many Indians who feel that simply writing a check or hosting a fundraiser means they are involved. There is nothing wrong with that; however, one needs to realize that rapport in the community must be further developed and nurtured.

For as long as I can remember, I have chosen a grassroots level of activism to remain engaged in my community. I acknowledge my privileged childhood, but my parents felt it necessary that I be exposed to the other perspectives. This was achieved by canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on doors for candidates. Given the Florida heat, and the potential of dog attacks, it was a grueling experience. I remember an elderly man slamming his door in my face, an experience that frightened me, but my father reminded me that everyone has an opinion, and the man was simply expressing it. This type of activism, which I have taken part of since being a teenager, has left a big impact on me. It not only gave me confidence as an individual, but made me realize I was truly making a difference by volunteering for a cause such as this. This piqued my interest further, and I become more involved in volunteering and working on political campaigns. The fact that I was the only South Asian face dedicated non-stop to making a difference was disheartening. It was this dedication on my part that enlisted the trust and respect of non-South Asians. Fast forward 15 years, I am very fortunate to have a voice in our community because I have a strong network to mobilize leaders when needed. Currently, outside of my full-time job, I am an issue advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. This “purple” disease affects over 500,000 Floridians, and as a caregiver to my mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is my responsibility to utilize and navigate my political knowledge to make a difference and create an awareness. Recently, I hosted an Alzheimer’s Awareness evening bringing my personal friends, and friends in the political world together to have a frank discussion and educate one individual at a time.

Now that elections are over, I hope to take some time off before I resume again in 2020. I encourage and challenge each one of you to remain engaged and advocate for an issue you are passionate about. Write letters to editors or simply apply for a local city government Board. I had the honor to be nominated by Orlando’s Mayor to serve on a City Board.

Yog Melwani, the current Indian American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) President, is successful in his current tenure because he serves on both a City and County Board, having been nominated by Orange County Commissioners and the City of Orlando Mayor. This success is crucial to our South Asian community because he has worked hard to gain the trust of the movers and shakers in our community. Due to his strong presence, IACC is one of the top twenty chambers in Central Florida, and this year during their 9th Annual Awards Gala garnered the attention of more elected officials, compared to previous years.

In Orlando, the tide is slowly turning and a small number of South Asians are becoming more involved in our community. This is a refreshing and positive lifeline to those who have been engaged over the years. Our voices are slowly multiplying, and we hope to create a tidal wave in our region.

Usha is a first generation Indian American and native Floridian born in Orlando . She has over ten years experience working for the United States Senate and in local government. ​​Usha is a caregiver for her mother and remains active in her community as part of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Orlando and the Orlando Chapter, New Leaders Council (NLC).