(3/8) From Colaba to Carteret: Bullying Rooted in the First-Generation Experience and the Unexpected Redemption that Ensued

Graphic3It is the course of actions that precede us that ultimately define our future. My life’s path was paved well before I was born. In fact, it was paved almost two decades prior in 1965, with the passing of The Immigration and Nationality Act.

Through my mother’s foresight, my parents and two sisters left Bombay (or what is present day Mumbai) for the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” trading in mangos and fresh coconut juice for pizza and coffee. They landed in Carteret, NJ, a humble, industrial, working class town in the central part of the State.

But as the third South Asian family to move into Carteret, my family was greeted by a petition to bar them from purchasing a house and racial epitaphs viciously spray-painted across the front entrance.  For the sin of our ethnicity, my sisters and I were targeted and attacked in school — frequently physically and sometimes violently.

Taunts and bullying began well before I even understood their meaning and progressed in their viciousness from verbal assaults to physical abuse. There was the eighth grade boy who broke a glass bottle on my head to the sixth grade teacher who announced in front of the whole class that I should “go back to where I came from.” The consistent thread weaving everything together was the herd-like mentality among my peers. I was never just bullied by one person – it was always done with a leader followed by those cheering the bully along while I was tormented.

But this isn’t a story about the impact of being a first generation American. It is a redemption story. A story that illustrates life doing a full circle and bringing closure – closure you thought you’d already taken care of.

A little over a year ago, I reacquainted with a bully from my formative years. He did not remember me or the past that we shared, having been more of an engaged participant than a lead tormentor of my childhood. As often is the case for the bullied and oppressed, I had to let bygones be bygones in order to move forward with my life with a positive attitude. Our similar professions led our lives to intersect regularly, and our interactions were always very pleasant. We even worked together a project for the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, securing funding to directly impact the nutrition and health of over 300 children in Newark.

It was astonishing that an individual who had held such a painful place in my mind had – without even knowing it – completely redeemed himself. The type of proactive kindness he’d demonstrated is not a trait of a racist bully, but of one who cares about the welfare of others. The unexpectedness and unusualness of my experience with this individual left me wondering…

Is it fair to judge a person on the worst of experiences? Would I want to be evaluated when I am not my best self? Is redemption possible if the person being redeemed is unaware of it?

As I continue to reflect on this deeply felt experience, I see so many lessons within it. Lessons in redemption’s timetable, in letting go and moving on, and the many layers to forgiveness. Lessons in what time is capable of doing. Lessons that only the pain of adversity can deliver.

And that there is the American way. Overcoming adversity. When the American way is going on as intended, it’s something we’re all doing together — bully and bullied, forgiver and forgiven, redeemer and redeemed, arm in arm. Aware or unaware. But overcoming.


Kavita Mehra is the Chief Transformation Officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, the first and only individual to occupy this title out of 4,200 Boys & Girls Clubs across the Country. In her role, Kavita works directly with the Chief Executive Officer to grow and manage all aspect of the organization. Kavita has blogged for the Huffington Post, and has been featured in leading media outlets including NY1 and Meet the Leaders. In 2015, Kavita was featured in “Roshni: Emerging Indian Global Leaders” for her work in the not-for-profit sector. Kavita completed her Bachelor of Arts from New York University with a double major in both History and Gender Studies. She also holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, with a concentration in South Asian Studies, from Columbia University.


Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.



One Sikh Girl’s Struggle to be Accepted as American

My earliest memories of Louisiana are clouded by accents I barely could decipher and confusing Cajun dishes I had never seen before in my life. Even though I was born in the United States, moving from New York to the Deep South was a culture shock for both me and my classmates who were not used to seeing a Sikh girl walk into class with a thick braid past her hips every day. My classmates had never heard of Sikhi, and I was bullied for my faith and race. A girl in my sixth-grade class threatened to cut my hair off, and the other girls refused to talk to me during recess. I became reserved and quiet, convinced that my otherness meant I didn’t deserve their friendship; that I was in some way not an American.


UPDATEDAt age thirteen, I cracked. Cutting my hair for the first time and watching my poor mother cry as I, in her eyes, lost an important part of my identity and upbringing in a matter of seconds. But upon my return to middle school, my classmates marveled at my shoulder-length curls. One girl claimed, “Wow, maybe guys will actually like you now!” Others finally made an effort to talk to me at lunch.

Still, the difference in their behavior stung and it took me six years to fully accept my identity and move past what happened to me.  Even though I escaped by going to boarding school where I made friends who were genuinely interested in my Sikhi culture, I battled bitter memories and depression throughout my teen years, recalling the words of those who harassed me.

These seemingly “un-harmful” instances are sometimes considered a part of growing up, but they can have a long-lasting effect on how kids view the world around them and how they socialize with others. Bullying can cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety. As an Asian-American, I know about the culture of shame that surrounds mental health. Trying to uphold the “model minority” myth, it can be difficult for Asian-Americans to seek help and even harder to cope when one lacks a close religious or ethnic community.

Often times I hear desi aunties say, “This is not our country. We are seen as immigrants no matter what, and we have to deal with discrimination if we want to live here.” This is alarming because the community has accepted the discrimination and internalized it like how I did when I was little. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken in the Asian-American community. We deserve our place in American society. We are important. We are Americans. We are worthy.


Ravleen Kaur is a student at The Ohio State University studying public affairs and public health. Her hobbies include drinking over-sweetened coffee and doing Bhangra in public spaces. She is currently planning to run away from her home state in the Deep South and eventually work in the public health field.


Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

Moving Through the Storm: An Entrepreneur on Overcoming Bullying

Nobody should have to deal with bullying. It sucks.

My cycle started at home with an angry and abusive dad. It continued to church, with an abusive and frustrated older youth, and continued into school in a post-9/11 world when nobody was really educated on Indians in America. I got all the normal stuff – Osama, Apu, Terrorist, got a bomb?, plus a few extra because I wasn’t just Indian; I was fat and Indian.


In high school, I turned to football and ice hockey as a means to release some of my frustration. It gave me a shared sense of team and identity, and I found leadership where I could serve other people. I found a lot of happiness in that.

I wish I could tell you that bullying is a thing of the past. It’s not. That it stops when you “grow up.”  It doesn’t.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t change the trajectory of how it affects your life. I wish I had grown up with the stories of those like me. Of those who had struggled and overcome. So let me tell you how I did it:

  1. Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts: Build confidence.
  2. Choose people who make you happy: Build joy/trust/
  3. Find courage: Let yourself love. Do what you love.
  4. Read: Learn new things. Find new hobbies.
  5. Change the world: Execute on something you want to see different in the world.
  6. Serve: Find yourself in service to others. The joys of giving are unparalleled.

The truth is falling into any minority group carries with it burdens that never seem to disappear.  In my world of startups, it could mean more challenges in raising capital, securing partnerships, or gaining respect/credibility for the same or more work of people around you who don’t look like you (read what’s happening to Asian Americans in Silicon Valley.) It won’t change unless we tackle them at an institutional level involving the C-Suite and ranking political office.

I strive to meet people who have more experiences and stories in effectively dealing with these adversities so that I can learn. I seek out and listen to the stories of people who deal with similar challenges or understand the struggle through a context of their own.

I hope to be that resource for others too. We’re all people. The key to humanity is remembering your humanity and recognizing theirs. Nothing and nobody is binary.

Your challenges are important and the resilience they form within you will support you for a lifetime. Choose to see difficulties as opportunities and find communities of people, individuals or small groups, whom you align and can confide with. Find ways to support them. Start by helping them and watch how you evolve past your situation. Every struggle is an opportunity, but there’s no need to tackle life alone.



Marvin Mathew supports innovation/entrepreneurship full time as the founder of MIG, supporting early stage entrepreneurs by building their products, marketing, and sales. Eager to support solutions at scale, he’s coauthored Innovation, Technology, and Youth, a United Nations publication released during UN General Assembly 2016 looking at how the UN, Industry, and Government can support Youth Entrepreneurs as they solve the challenges outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals. Find him at marvinmathew.com or @MarvinJMathew.

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

Act To Change Group Photo

Engaging Artists, Community Leaders, and Youth to #ActToChange Against Bullying in Los Angeles

by Maulik Pancholy
Cross-posted from the White House on AAPIs Blog
On November 21, I had the honor of joining nearly 200 participants at a live event in Los Angeles as part of the #ActToChange campaign against bullying. #ActToChange, led by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the Sikh Coalition, and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, aims to bring attention to bullying prevention and provide resources for youth empowerment, with an emphasis on the unique challenges faced by those in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Alongside those who were able to join us in person, many also tuned in and participated virtually on Periscope, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook using the hashtag #ActToChange. Their pictures and insightful comments have been captured on Storify.

The event included distinguished guests spanning a wide range of professions. Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General and Co-Chair of the Initiative, provided a candid and thoughtful keynote on his own experiences with bullying, highlighting the need to both advocate for and empathize with those who are victims of bullying, and to also understand and provide interventions to those who are perpetrators of bullying.

Building upon Dr. Murthy’s remarks, our first panel consisted of Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri, actress Kelly Hu, rapper Jason Chu, and moderator Christine Minji Chang, the Executive Director of Kollaboration. All panelists shared their various experiences with bullying – either as victims or as having bullied themselves.

They emphasized that no one should feel harassed or unsafe due to their differences. Nina Davuluri shared, “Absolutely no one should be discriminated against for their race or religion.”

Congresswoman Judy Chu of California’s 27th Congressional District provided further remarks, saying “As CAPAC chair, I pledge to you that we in CAPAC, our Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, will be an ally in this fight to ensure that our AAPI youth feel safe in their schools and communities because no American should fear being singled out, or bullied simply because of the way they look, talk, whom they love or the faith they practice.”

Our second panel, moderated by filmmaker and Jubilee Project creator Jason Y. Lee, included Blogilates fitness entrepreneur Cassey Ho, actor Parvesh Cheena, and musician Raaginder “Violinder” Singh. All continued the dialogue and shared stories of personal perseverance and growing up as AAPI in America.

In addition to the wonderful speakers and panelists, the live event included invigorating performances that further celebrated the spirit of our communities: Bhangra dance troupe Apni Sardari Apni Pehchaan, singer-songwriter Brooke Taylor, rapper Jason Chu, musician Raaginder “Violinder,” and DJ Richie “Traktivist” Menchavez.

The discussions and performances created an atmosphere of celebrating each other’s uniqueness while building community across all cultural lines. As the afternoon drew to a close, numerous participants both in person at the event and via social media were moved to share their own difficult stories with myself and staff members from the Initiative.  The common theme was gratitude for addressing a deep need, and a desire to help as we continue this work – reinforcing the idea that together we can #ActToChange.

Join the #ActToChange movement and take the pledge to stand up against bullying at www.ActToChange.org.

Maulik Pancholy is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.


New Supporters Join “Act To Change” Public Awareness Campaign to Prevent Bullying Among Asian American and Pacific Islander Youth

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is pleased to announce new supporters and commitments to its “Act To Change” campaign.



Every day, kids of all ages suffer from being bullied in schools across the country. In the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, this problem is often compounded by cultural, religious, and linguistic barriers that can keep AAPI youth from seeking and receiving help.  On October 15, 2015, the White House Initiative on AAPIs, in partnership with the Sikh Coalition and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, launched “Act To Change,” a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the AAPI community.


New “Act To Change” supporters and commitments include:


Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 12.48.26 PM

AdCouncil: As part of its “I Am A Witness” Bullying Prevention, AdCouncil is teaming up with #ActToChange to address youth bullying and encourage peer empowerment in the social and digital media space.  AdCouncil will be capturing photos and videos of the event via their Snapchat account “ISeeBullying” on November 21 to document the Live Event in Los Angeles and share the #ActToChange message with its Snapchat followers. In addition, AdCouncil is sharing #ActToChange multi-language infographics and resources on its “I Am a Witness” website and cross-posting #ActToChange on their social media platforms.


Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 12.50.23 PMAmazin LeThi Foundation: In support of #ActToChange, the Amazin LeThi Foundation will host an event in 2016 focusing on anti-bullying and LGBT athletic equality, and will support the campaign on its social media platforms. Bodybuilder, HIV advocate, and Athlete Ally Global Ambassador Amazin LeThi will provide video content sharing her personal experiences about bullying.


Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 1.00.27 PMAsian Cinevision: Asian Cinevision will support the campaign on its social media platforms as well as their weekly e-bulletin the week of the live event.


Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 1.01.58 PMmydiveo: mydiveo created a video vignette featuring popular artists including YouTube stars AJ Rafael, Timothy DeLaGhetto, MC Jin, Dia Frampton from The Voice, Andrew Garcia, and Travis Atreo pledging to #ActToChange. The video is featured at mydiveo.com/acttochange.


Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 1.03.15 PMTeach For America: Teach For America will develop a blog campaign to elevate the voices of both teachers and former educators who have dealt with bullying, including bullying of AAPI students, in their classrooms.


Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 1.04.33 PMTyler Clementi Foundation: In continuing its effort to address cyber-bullying and the suicide of LGBT youth, the Tyler Clementi Foundation will support #ActToChange on its various social media platforms.  The Foundation, in collaboration with New York Law School, recently launched the Tyler Clementi Institute for Internet Safety, a first-of-its-kind direct service litigation clinic to help victims of cyberbullying and harassment for free.  In addition to being a pro bono clinic, the Institute will hold conferences, workshops, and host a hotline where victims can learn about their rights and seek justice.


Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 1.07.12 PMYMCA of the USA: YMCA of the USA will provide “Act To Change” content to Ys across the United States to build awareness and encourage participation in the campaign. In addition, YMCA of the USA will develop a blog campaign to identify youth who may be interested in sharing their bullying experiences.


For more information on the campaign, visit ActToChange.org


The White House Initiative on AAPIs, co-chaired by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Vivek Murthy, is housed within the U.S. Department of Education.


Finding My Voice

By Joya Dass

Growing up I was taught that a girl or a woman could not have an opinion, a dream, or a voice.

Instead, in my Indian household, with a “traditional man-woman dynamic,” pushing the ugly under the rug and pretending life is rainbows and unicorns was the prevailing norm. Expressing any other opinion had consequences. Physical ones.

My struggle to raise my voice started when I was four, coaxed by the dream of one day being a television anchor. All attempts by my parents to bully it out of me nearly broke me. But I held on to my dreams, and I followed my voice.

I broke ranks with my parents when I turned 18. I paid for college myself, went on to graduate school, and paid for every move from Pennsylvania, to Washington, DC, to Boston, to New York to Wyoming, and back again to make my journalism dreams come true.

Today, I helm a robust women’s networking initiative in New York City called LadyDrinks. It works to champion the South Asian female entrepreneur or professional. Each day, I highlight one member or attendee of my events, and I encourage all of them to share their stories. I remind them to believe in their voice and to speak it loud and speak it proud. To have an opinion, even if it’s not a popular one. Our stories can be shared experiences or unique ones, but they are all of value. Women have shared about parents who have attempted to take their own lives when the immigrant life got to be too much; of taking on extra jobs to support a child who is challenged or handicapped; of taking trips abroad – alone – when the recession claimed their last job.

Next May, a contingent of my ladies head to India to speak at the Women’s Economic Forum in Delhi. Our voices will speak to the growing population of women in India who are working, and about how we have stood up as women and realized our dreams of becoming entrepreneurs, sports medicine doctors, and Chief Transformation Officers at nonprofits.

There is a demographic of women that have been held underfoot by the expectations of in-laws, parents, and society. No more. This exchange of dialogue is needed now more than ever. LadyDrinks aims to pay it forward and pave the way for the next generation of South Asian girls to stand up.


Joya Dass was one of the first South Asian females to be seen on mainstream television in the US. She’s been a business anchor for major networks for the last 15 years, including CNN, ABC and Bloomberg. She can currently be seen delivering live hourly reports from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for NY1 News and CBS. Since December 2002, she has also been the host of the weekend morning entertainment show AVS, catering to the first and second generation Indian living in the US and wanting their Saturday morning Bollywood Fix.
Joya also helms a robust women’s networking initiative in New York City called LadyDrinks, which hosts monthly events to connect South Asian female entrepreneurs and professionals.


Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.


Join the conversation!
Pledge to end bullying at acttochange.org/#takethepledge
Tune in to our LIVE EVENT on Saturday, November 21, 2015, in Los Angeles, CA. We will be live-tweeting (@WhiteHouseAAPI) and live broadcasting through Persicope (@WhiteHouseAAPI) and Snapchat (@ISeeBullying).


The program is booked for our #ActToChange Live Event on Saturday, November 21, 2015!
Join us, OCA, Sikh Coalition, CAPE, and 200 of your nearest, dearest, and newest friends for thoughtful discussions, lively performances, and shared stories around the important topic of bullying prevention – with an emphasis on AAPI communities and cultures.

Twitter Safety

#ActToChange with Twitter to Prevent Bullying

#ActToChange with Twitter to Prevent Bullying

By Patricia Cartes

At Twitter we work hard to create a safe, secure and an enjoyable environment for our users.

This October, during National Bullying Prevention Month, we are excited to promote the bullying prevention campaign #ActToChange. Visit ActToChange.org to take the #ActToChange pledge against bullying, find resources in multiple languages, and check out empowerment video and music playlists.  And follow the organizations behind #ActToChange; @WhiteHouseAAPI, @sikh_coalition, and @CAPEUSA.

As social media and internet technology continues to evolve, we have taken the insight shared by Twitter users and safety experts on a regular basis to develop innovations to better serve our users.  Over the last few months, we changed our reporting mechanisms, overhauled how we review user reports, and improved our block feature. We have also created a new Safety Center portal consisting of resources for anyone who wants to learn about online safety. The portal includes sections specifically targeted for teens, parents, and educators.

Bullying prevention initiatives are important but they can’t be successful without the involvement of all of us and our communities. Recently, we hosted a Q&A with the Diana Awards Anti-Bullying Campaign to​ combat cyberbullying​, which featured popular YouTuber Marcus Butler who offered advice to young people about how to deal with bullying and cyber-bullying when going back to school. We also recently partnered with STOMP Out Bullying, a nonprofit based in New York, and the New York Jets to create STOMP Out Bullying Educators’ Prevention Toolkits. Other programs we have contributed to include the NO BULL Challenge, an initiative that uses the power of social media and filmmaking to combat bullying, and Vodafone’s #BeStrong campaign.

Bullying prevention efforts are key to stop online harassment and to promote a safe environment for all of our Twitter users. To learn more about Twitter’s stance against bullying and online safety, follow @Safety and check out our list of partners in the Safety Center.

Lastly, join us in using the hashtag #ActToChange to share your story and your suggestions for promoting good digital citizenship!

Patricia Cartes is Head of Global Trust and Safety Outreach, Public Policy at Twitter.