Sikh American graffiti artist Nisha Sembi defies stereotypes

AsAm News/NBC News:

How can one person challenge racial and gender stereotypes with one quick spray of paint? Through her participation in graffiti street art, Nisha Sembi, a Sikh American, can not only counter stereotypes, but also build bridges among communities as disparate as first-generation immigrants and hip-hop aficionados, according to NBC.

I grew up with the typical model minority expectations, but I wasn’t interested in being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. My family always labeled me as the ‘odd, creative one’,” Sembi said.
In Berkeley, CA, she honed her skills, learning her craft under veteran U.S. and Indian artists. Now her  work, grounded in hip-hop culture, can be seen across the globe. Sembi says that her art is more than just a visual medium; her work also tells stories and gives voice to her community.
First generation Asian Americans have a very unique story to tell, and if we do not take ownership of it and document it, who will?” Sembi said.
To see Sembi’s graffiti art, click here.

9 Asian American coming-of-age movies that aren’t The Joy Luck Club



Last week, Colorlines published a list of 9 coming-of-age movies starring (and focusing on) people of color. While I usually enjoy most articles that Colorlines puts out, I was frankly a little disappointed in the Asian American representation in the list: our sole entry was Wayne Wang’s adaptation of the Joy Luck Club, also the second oldest (behind Boys ‘N Tha Hood) on the list.

Don’t get me twisted: I appreciate the effort to include Asian Americans on this list of POC coming-of-age films, and Joy Luck Club deserves respect as one of the first, and most mainstream, of Asian American films. But, Joy Luck Club is also more than 22 years old, ambiguous in its navigation of the line between exploration and exoticization of Chinese history, culture and tropes, and highly controversial within the community with regard to its portrayal of Asian and Asian American men. And, I say that as a fan who grew up on Joy Luck Club.

Asian American film has flourished in the last 22 years since the release of the Joy Luck Club film adaptation; there are so many more films in this genre than Wayne Wang’s (clearly important) familial and feminist epic.

Here are 9 Asian American coming-of-age films (in no particular order) that aren’t the Joy Luck Club. How many have you seen?


1. The Debut (2001)

Directed and co-written by Gene Cajayon, and starring Dante Basco (“Rufio! Rufio! Rufio!”), The Debut explores the relationship between young Filipino American aspiring artist, Ben Mercado, and his immigrant father Roland (Tirso Cruz III); the conflict threatens to ruin sister Rose’s (Bernadette Balagtas) eighteenth birthday party.


2. The Namesake (2006)

Starring actor turned Obama staffer Kal PennThe Namesake explores questions of identity and family between immigrant parents Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli (Irrfan Khan and Tabu), and their American-born children including older son, Gogol (Penn), whose rejection of his name symbolizes his attempts to disconnect from his Indian American history and heritage.

Based on a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri and directed by Mira Nair, this film is easily the best in Kal Penn’s filmography, and worth renting.


3. Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

The first film acquired by MTV Films, Better Luck Tomorrow was a debut movie for director Justin Lin (who was recently tapped to direct Star Trek 3) and also first introduced the world to the character of Han (played by Sung Kang), whom many speculate is the same Han to appear in the Fast And Furious franchise.

The film focuses on Ben Manibag (Parry Shen), a typical high-achieving Asian American high school student whose small acts of rebellion in the form of petty theft escalate out of control to murder.


4. The Motel (2006)

Directed by Michael Kang and starring Sung Kang with young actor Jeffrey Chayau, the film explores adolescence and sexuality through the eyes of 13-year-old Ernest Chin (Chayau), whose life is turned upside down when he meets and befriends the motel’s newest guest, the jaded and angry Sam Kim (Kang).


5. The People I’ve Slept With (2009)

This film is loosely a coming-of-age story, since it is an exploration of a woman’s shifting relationship with her sexuality and her femininity. Asian American films that explore questions of sexuality are a distinct sub-genre within Asian American film, and inclusion of The People I’ve Slept With is in some ways a placeholder for this entire category of movie; others of note include Charlotte Sometimes (by Eric Byler) and Yes, We’re OpenThe People I’ve Slept With is a comedy directed by Quentin Lee and starring Karina Anna Cheung as young Angela Yang, who enjoys sex but discovers she is pregnant and so must revisit her sexual partners to figure out who the father is.


6. Saving Face (2004)

In this film written and directed by Alice Wu, Wilhelmina struggles to reestablish a relationship with her 48-year-old mother Hwei-Lan Gao (Joan Chen), after Hwei-Lan is kicked out of her father’s house for being pregnant out-of-wedlock; over the course of the film, both Wil and her mother struggle with Wil’s closeted homosexuality and her budding romance with the daughter of one of Hwei-Lan’s friends, Vivian (Lynn Chen). Both Wil and Hwei-Lan grapple with their place in Flushing’s Chinese American community, while still trying to “save face”.


7. Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (1999)

Written, produced, directed by and starring Chi Muoi LoCatfish in Black Bean Sauce focuses on the identities of a Vietnamese American brother and sister who are adopted by an African American family in the South, and the resulting familial and interracial tensions. Those who are interested in films positioned at the intersection of Asian and Black interrelationships might also be interested in checking out Mississippi Marsala, which tells the story of star-crossed lovers Mina (Sarita Choudhury) and Demetrius (an incredibly young Denzel Washington).

Below is a clip from Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, because the trailer on YouTube is of such poor quality, it’s practically unwatchable.


8. Ocean of Pearls (2008)

Co-written by and directed by Sarab Singh Neelam, the film focuses on the story of Dr. Amrit Singh (Omid Abtahi), a young Sikh Canadian surgeon who moves to Detroit from Toronto. The move, which forces Amrit to leave behind his family and his Indian Canadian girlfriend, prompts him to face deeply personal questions regarding racism and assimilation, his Sikh heritage, as well as the unfairness of the American medical system.


9. Strawberry Fields (1997)

A low-budget independent film co-written and directed by Rea Tajiri, the film stars Suzy Nakamura as Irene Kawai, a young teenager growing up in the midst of anti-war protests in the 1970’s. Haunted by the sudden death of her sister, Irene discovers a picture of her grandfather growing up in a Japanese American internment camp, and embarks on a  road trip to Arizona to find the spot at Poston War Relocation Camp where the photo was taken. Sadly, the trailer for Strawberry Fields doesn’t exist on YouTube.



Asian American history on display at 2015 Rose Parade, including the first-ever Sikh float

NBC News: 

The morning of January first ushers in new year, and with it, the 126th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade, a New Year’s morning tradition dating back to 1890 and reaching 50 million viewers, including many who have camped out all night along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California, and many more across the country who will watch on their television sets. This year’s theme is “Inspiring Stories,” and several groups have looked to Asian-American history and cultures for stories and inspiration.

  • The City of Alhambra’s “Go for Broke” float honors the second generation (Nisei) Japanese Americans who fought in WWII, while many of their families were incarcerated. The 41-foot float replicates the black granite monument in downtown Los Angeles and will feature several veterans riding on the float.
  • The United Sikh Mission float, “A Sikh American Journey,” marks the first time that Sikh Americans and their 130 year history in America have been represented in a Rose Parade float. Organizers hope it will help educateand dispel harmful stereotypes. The float depicts the Stockton gurdwara, the first Sikh temple built in America in 1912.
  • The American Honda Motor Co.’s float, “Building Dreams of Friendship,” features two bridges connecting iconic imagery from America and Japan, and will feature Tomodachi leadership exchange students from Japan’s Tohoku region, the area hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
  • China Airlines‘s float, “Inspiring Grace of Cloud Gate,” celebrates internationally renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, and the Cloud Gate which is the oldest known dance in China.
  • Singpoli Group‘s “A Bright Future” depicts a fifty-five foot phoenix, representing hope, optimism, and rebirth. The bird will turn its head, flap its wings, and breathe fire. The Chinese phoenix is often coupled with a dragon, which also appears.
  • The City of South Pasadena’s float, “Still Winning!” shows two Chinese dragon boats racing against each other, shadowed by a giant pink ribbon, representing The Los Angeles Pink Dragons (whose members will also be riding on this float), the first dragon boat team comprised solely of breast cancer survivors.
  • Dole Packaged Foods’ Float, “Rhythm of Hawaii,” celebrates the natural and cultural wonders of Hawaii with two twelve-foot outrigger canoes, jumping dolphins, pahu drums, hula dancers, a waterfall, and two active volcanoes, which will actually erupt with flames and smoke.

In addition, the parade featured the Hawaii Pa’u Riders, the Maui High School Saber Marching Band and Color Guard, and the Koriyama Honor Green Band from Japan.

Coming Soon: Sikh Captain America documentary “Red, White, and Beard”

Angry Asian Man:

By now, you know of the legend of Sikh Captain America. So check out this trailer.

The short documentary Red, White, and Beard is a quirky, lighthearted glance into Sikh Captain America and the man behind this growing phenomenon. The more he brings the character to the people, the more he hopes they recognize their own prejudices toward Sikhs and other religious, ethnic, and cultural groups. But is the public only respecting the superhero figure, or do they truly realize what the artist is saying?

Take a look:


The first-ever Sikh prayer at the Pentagon



The following remarks were delivered by Valarie Kaur at the Pentagon’s first-ever event to commemorate the Sikh faith on April 25, 2014. Hosted by the Pentagon Chaplain, the program was organized by Major Kalsi, Captain Rattan, Corporal Lamba, and the Sikh Coalition, an organization leading the campaign for turbaned Sikhs and other people of faith to be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.

Thank you to the Pentagon Chaplain and Chaplain corps for gathering us here to celebrate Vaisakhi, the founding of the Sikh community as the Khalsa, a spiritual sister and brotherhood.

This is the first-ever Sikh event at the Pentagon in the history of the United States. Today is a milestone for the Sikh community, who has made America home for more than a century, and also for our nation, a nation devoted to a vision of equality where our institutions reflect the resplendent diversity of the American people.

Today we have heard the sacred music, poetry, and stories of the Sikh faith, concluding with decorated American hero Major Kamaljit Singh Kalsi‘s recitation of Ardas, the foundational Sikh prayer recited in all of our worship. Ardas resounds at every wedding and holiday, upon the naming of a child and the death of a loved one, and on every Sunday morning at gurdwaras (Sikh houses of worship) across the nation and around the world.

Ardas is a prayer and petition to God, but it is also a story of who we are as a people.

The prayer begins with the words Ik Onkar. One Reality Is. God is One. All paths lead to One.

This vision of Oneness was the divine revelation of a humble herdsman named Nanak born in the year 1469 in Punjab. It was a time of turmoil: Hindus and Muslims in conflict, women oppressed, and the poor outcaste. Then, the story goes, Nanak disappeared by the river for three days. He was thought a dead man, a drowned man, but on the third day, he emerged with a vision of unity: Ik Onkar.

Guru Nanak passed his light to nine successive teachers who led the Sikh community through the centuries, and in Ardas, we invoke each of these gurus by name. The tenth teacher Guru Gobind Singh declared that our final and everlasting teacher would be the Guru Granth Sahib, a compilation of our sacred poetry, and so we also invoke the wisdom contained in its pages. Throughout the prayer, we cry together in one voice: “Waheguru!” Wahe – an exultation of wonder. Guru – the Enlightener. We express our wonderment of God who enlightens us and shows us the Truth of Oneness.

Truth is higher than everything, Guru Nanak taught, but higher than truth is the living out of truth. After lifted up in ecstatic worship, we must not remain on the mountaintop; we are called to return to the earth to serve humanity in seva, spiritually grounded service. When we see injustice, we are never to hide. We are to stand for equality, fight for dignity, and serve others as ourselves – even when it becomes dangerous, even in the face of death.

If you desire to play the game of love with Me,” Guru Nanak calls to us, “then step forward with your head on your palm.”

In Ardas, we can hear the echoes of a people who have lived and died walking that path of revolutionary love, starting with early battles for survival against invading Mughal armies. We invoke the Panj Pyare, the five Beloved Ones who were willing to give their lives for God when the tenth teacher called for sacrifice on Vaisakhi Day in 1699. We invoke the Char Sahibzade, his four martyred sons, the elder two fighting on a blood-soaked battlefield, the younger two bricked alive for refusing to renounce their faith.

We invoke the Chali Mukte, forty soldiers who abandoned their post during the siege of Anandpur but were led back by the woman warrior Mai Bhago. Donning a turban and mounting a horse with sword in her hand, she has become the Sikh model of a saint-soldier – one who loves God ever-devoted to fighting for justice on earth, who becomes the one she is waiting for.

In fact, we invoke all those who have lived with God’s Name in their hearts, shared what they have with others, forgiven freely, and fought injustice. We invoke all “those Lions and Lionesses who have given their heads for their religion: who were cut limb by limb, scalped, crushed on the wheel and sawn in pieces, who sacrificed in service of our gurdwaras, who did not relinquish their faith and served with every hair and breath.”

As we recite Ardas, we remember even the sacrifices of the last century. We remember the soldiers who marched to fight Hitler’s armies, soldiers like my grandfather who bravely served wearing his turban, just as seven generations of fathers before him, saving a portion of his water canteen in the deserts of Egypt and Libya to wash his long hair.

We remember those who fought for India’s independence and died in the massacres of the 1947 Partition, which carved Pakistan out of India and separated Sikhs from holy sites where we still pray to return. And we remember the men, women, and children murdered in 1984, thirty years ago this year, when the blood of three thousand Sikhs flowed in the streets of India’s capitol in pogroms. In these moments of terror, Sikhs were identified by their turbans but would rather face death than give up who they were.

We are a people that have lived and suffered and struggled and still lift our heads high, Ardas reminds us.

And so we pray. We pray for the consciousness of the divine to enter all of our people, and for this remembrance to bring us joy. We pray for the sword and the serving bowl to triumph, so that the people will always overcome darkness. We pray for our religion to last through the ages with the gifts of discipline and discernment, truth and faith, and above all, the gift of God’s presence in our hearts.

Finally, we pray for humanity.

“Nanak nam chardi kala, tere bhaanai sarbat da bhala.”

“In the Name of God, we find everlasting optimism. Within Your Will, may there be grace for all of humanity.”

The prayer of Ardas is the song of our people, our living guide and moral compass, echoing around the globe and on American soil. Like a river flowing through the centuries, Ardas pours the spirit of our people into our being and breathe, so that we are ever-nourished and ever-sustained. As a living document, it leaves open space at the end for us to offer our particular prayers as a congregation and silently in our own hearts.

Today, we hear Ardas on a day of celebration but we also hear this prayer in our darkest hours.

Just a year and a half ago, many of us in this room stood in the gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a house of worship that a few days before had been the site of a mass shooting – the largest act of violence on a faith community in America since the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham that took four little girls. In the days after that shooting, I watched the community tear out the blood-soaked carpets, pick up the shattered glass, and paint over the bullet holes in the walls, all to the sound of prayer.

The next Sunday, they gathered in worship and recited Ardas. I heard the names of each of the Sikhs who had been killed and wounded in the gunfire, and we prayed for them. I heard the name of Lt Brian Murphy, who took seventeen bullets protecting our community, and we prayed for his recovery. And then I heard a name that shook me to my core. Together, the congregation prayed for the soul of the gunman.

Ardas gives us moral courage to endure in hardship, whether in the face of hate on city streets or blood in the prayer hall, and respond with love and compassion. But Ardas also reminds us that we are meant to face these struggles as sant-sipahi, saint-soldiers.

Once, the story goes, our tenth teacher Guru Gobind Singh was asked by a Mughal emperor to show him a miracle. The guru presented his sword or kirpan, one of our articles of faith. “This sword is my miracle,” he said. “But there is a difference between my sword and yours. Behind your sword lurks anger. Behind my kirpan, only compassion. Yours only doles out death. Mine rejuvenates life. Yours deprives people of their dignity, while mine saves their honor.”

The sword is a central symbol in the Sikh faith. The sword is made holy only when the soul has cultivated moral courage to wield it. Today, a new generation of Sikhs is learning to wield many kinds of swords – the pen, the film camera, the microphone, the doctor’s scalpel, the lawsuit. Many in this room – Sapreet Kaur, Amardeep Singh, Rajdeep Singh, Gurjot Kaur, Satjeet Kaur, Amandeep Singh, Major Kamaljit Singh Kalsi, Lt. Colonel Ravi Chaudhary to name a few – are using their swords to fight for an America where all people may live, work, worship, and serve their country as equals.

So today, as we commemorate Vaisakhi at the Pentagon, let us also celebrate that we are still writing our story. Let our uniform of faith – this long hair, these proud turbans, this silver karra – show that we fight for the equality, freedom, and selfless service at the heart of the American ethic. And let us go forth in the spirit of Chardi Kala, the sense of boundless optimism that our children and our children’s children will walk even these halls of power with the wisdom and strength of our faith, helping make this world a more just and loving place for sarbat da bhala — for all of humanity.

Check out this link:

Check out this link:

The first-ever Sikh prayer at the Pentagon


More than half of Asian American teens are bullied in school…

Angry Asian Man:


Saw this infographic posted on the Giant Robot‘s Twitter last week… We’ve seen this statistic shared before, but it’s worth repeating and reinforcing. And seriously, it hasn’t become any less upsetting.

According to survey data released in 2011 by the US Justice Department and Education Department, Asian Americans endure far more bullying in U.S. schools than any other ethnic group, and compared to other teens, Asian American teens are three times as likely to face bullying on the internet.

A report released last year by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and The Sikh Coalition revealed that half of all Asian American students surveyed in New York City have been the target of bias-bullying and harassment, mirroring national statistics.

And according to a report released earlier this month, more than half of Sikh school children are bullied.

Throw in the scores of stories I’ve posted the years about young Asian Americans who have taken their lives after enduring bullying, violence and harassment in school, and it’s all a stark, powerful reminder that we need continued efforts to confront and combat this issue.

Stand up and speak out!


Check out this link:

More than half of Asian American teens are bullied in school…


Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles) presents “Sikh Captain America” February 8

Angry Asian Man:


If you’re in Los Angeles, you are invited to meet the one and only Sikh Captain America. This Saturday, come to the Japanese American National Museum to meet cartoonist Vishavjit Singh, the guy who dressed up as Sikh Captain America — complete with his blue turban — and was photographed around New York City.

Vishavjit will share about his adventures. It’s happening February 8 at JANM in Little Tokyo. Here are some more details:

The Adventures of Sikh Captain America

Saturday, February 8, 2014
2:00 PM


In June 2013, cartoonist Vishavjit Singh dressed up as Sikh Captain America and was photographed around New York City. He will share the reactions – both positive and negative – that he received on his adventure, followed by a cartoon workshop.

This event is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986. For further information, head over to the JANM website.

Check out this link:

Japanese American National Museum presents “Sikh Captain America”


GAP’s ad with Sikh model Waris Ahluwalia defaced with racist graffiti, drawing incredible response from company

The Huffington Post: This is how the Internet is supposed to work.

Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor at The Islamic Monthly and founder of, posted a picture to his Twitter and Facebook wall of a defaced subway advertisement for Gap featuring Sikh actor and jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia. The caption had been changed from “Make Love” to “Make Bombs,” and the writer had also scrawled “Please stop driving TAXIS” onto the poster.

He told The Huffington Post, “When I first saw my Facebook friend’s photo of this GAP subway advertisement defaced by vandals with racist messages, I wanted the world to see how millions of brown people are viewed in America today.”

gap sikh ad

The next day, Gap tweeted back at Iftikhar to find out the location of the ad, which is part of its holiday “#MakeLove” campaign featuring a wide variety of diverse models.


But that wasn’t all. The company proceeded to change its Twitter background to the picture of Ahluwalia, to show solidarity and support.


Their action was applauded by Sikhs and Muslims alike, as Iftikhar shared their incredible and speedy response.


Some members of the Sikh community have started a “Thank you, Gap” campaign in order to show their appreciation for the inclusion of a Sikh model.

A letter to the company says, “By placing a Sikh model in prominent locations on billboards, direct mail advertising and digital channels, you have raised the profile of Sikhs in ways the community couldn’t have accomplished with its limited resources. The community has tremendously benefitted from the attention it has received through Gap’s marketing campaign.

Ahluwalia is certainly an inspiration to Sikhs and non-Sikhs of all ages, as one can see in this adorable picture that he shared on his Facebook page. The importance of relatable role models in media can’t be underestimated.

Waris Ahluwalia has landed on multiple best-dressed lists and is a regular in art and fashion circles.

waris ahluwalia

Iftikhar told The Daily Mail, “This whole story just proves that we do not live in a post-racial America yet when South Asians and those perceived to be Muslims cannot even grace fashion advertisements without racial epithets being directed their way.”

Check out this link:

GAP’s ad with Sikh model Waris Ahluwalia defaced with racist graffiti, drawing incredible response from company


Sikh contribution to the Army honoured in Sandhurst event


BBC: The historic contribution made by Sikh soldiers who fought for Britain has been marked by the Army at an event at the Royal Military Academy in Camberley, Surrey. Many thousands of Sikhs died fighting for the British Indian Army during both world wars.

Today is really about commemorating the Sikh contribution to the armed forces both today and in the past,” said Lt Col John Kendall, who organised the event at the Indian War Memorial room at Sandhurst. “It is a story of loyalty, courage and selfless commitment,” he said.

During the days of the British Empire, Sikh soldiers were highly regarded by British officers for their martial prowess, according to Dr Anthony Morton, curator of the Sandhurst collection.

Sikhs have played an important role in the British Army for 150 years,” he said. “In both world wars Sikh regiments fought for the British all over the world, even on the western front in the First World War and they distinguished themselves very well.

He said Sikh soldiers had won Victoria Crosses. However, it is a contribution which many Sikhs in the UK believe is largely unrecognised, which is why author Jay Singh Sohal believes events like this are important.

British Sikhs, third generation, fourth generation can take inspiration from the fact that their forebears fought for Great Britain,” he said.

Despite this long and distinguished martial tradition, there are only 265 Sikhs currently serving in the British Armed Services Army leaders hope by celebrating the military contribution of their ancestors, more will be encouraged to serve.

Lt Jagjit Singh Mahwara shares that view. He completed his officer training at Sandhurst three years ago and currently serves with the Royal Artillery. He thinks Sikhs may have misconceptions about the armed services.

Parents and children alike see the army as a war fighting machine,” he said. “But there is more – all work we do supporting civilian communities. People need to go out there and look at what we do in more depth.

Check out this link:


The adventures of Sikh Captain America


Vishavjit Singh is a Sikh New Yorker. By day, he’s the editorial cartoonist behind Sikhtoons, documenting the experiences of real-life Sikhs in the aftermath of 9/11. By night, (well, for one day, actually) he’s a superhero.

He’s Captain America.

Don’t think Captain America can rock a turban? Vishavjit recently teamed up with photographer Fiona Aboud, who followed his adventures for a day on the streets of New York City dressed as Captain America, complete with an adamantium shield and a patriotic blue turban.

Check out this link:

The adventures of Sikh Captain America