This Saturday I took a walk, a 3 hour walk through the heart of South Asian Radical History in Berkeley. Something I would recommend every South Asian in Bay Area to have attended at least once. I was amazed that I never knew about it till now…
And if you are just visiting the area you should do this more importantly than the Facebook selfie in your list because this walk will take you deep into yourself so you can discover something that has never been so obvious…
The Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour is hosted by the community historians Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee. In 3 hours and 2 miles they take you through the stories of the South Asians movements in the Berkeley area. Going as early as the first decade of the last century, these are stories that every South Asian should know.
The fact is that not many of the South Asians know these stories that goes beyond the ‘screen and keyboard’ success stories that is told and retold to wide eyed audience young and old every day and every event.
There is more than what the screen can show and that is where this tour becomes very important and significant to complete one’s understanding of the South Asian Community. Yes it is focused on Berkeley but it opens a door for you, through which you can enter and explore South Asian history and contribution in other parts of the world as well.
The Tour starts with a story of the South Asian Queer Movement. And then the history of how Bay Area political scene garnered young Indians to support, rise up and contribute to the Indian Freedom Struggle and then we take a look at how the south Asian students in Berkeley responded to the 1975 emergency in India.
We also look at the involvement of various South Asian activist groups who have fought against human rights violations within our community and the way we as adults have to learn from our Teens and be awed by the way they stood up against the post 9/11 racial profiling.
There is a South Asia in Bay Area that is not just programmed to code, but also be an activist. This tour also tells you that how important it is for people to balance the life of a professional and that of an activist. How people uncover stories that reflect into the future so we know where we are heading and how better we can contribute.
Starting at the footsteps of the Pacific Center for Human Growth, which is the oldest LGBTQ center in the Bay Area, the hosts introduce us first to the story of the Activist and tech entrepreneur Ali ‘Tinku’ Ishtiaq who was born in Bangladesh, and moved to Berkeley in 1982. He was an early founding member of Trikone (the world’s first South Asian LGBTQ organization), a co-founder of the Bangladesh Support Network, a co-chair of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
From there we go to the Café Mediterranean where the likes of Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg used to hang out and then we walk into the Berkeley campus to see how the students in Berkeley raised their voice against the Indian emergency and we get to know what was at stake for this students when they had to raise voice against the Indian Government when they were here on Government Aid.
One of the major stops in the Campus also takes you through the life of Kartar Singh Sarabha the young energetic Berkeley student and Freedom fighter who went to india and fought the British rule and was arrested and executed (he died at the age 19) by the British Raj. Shaheed Bhagat Singh had his inspiration from Kartar Singh and his Gadar Movement. Here is a poem of Shaheed Kartar Singh
If anyone asks who we are
Tell him our name is rebel
Our duty is to end the tyranny
Our profession is to launch revolution
That is our namaz, this is our sandhya
Our puja, our worship
This is our religion
This is our only Khuda, our only Rama.
We also learn about the work done by the human rights group that worked towards exposing one of the biggest South Asian sex traffickers and getting him behind bars and the ongoing work they do in the community. This story tells you how the ‘high rise power’ of the wrong succumbs to ‘grass root might’ of the correct.
These are stories of south Asians that should not be buried in millions of lines of code we collectively generate. There is more than these codes that define us when we look at ourselves as a South Asian.
We end the walk at the Berkeley high school where we take a look at the tension that was there Immediately after the September 9/11. We look at what the Teens in the school did to both be safe and in the process create a story of courage, collaboration and support. In the process teaching us and inspiring us all about unity and togetherness.
I want to thank Barnali and Anirvan our hosts who were that day doing one of their 80+ tours and they have it going every month. The passion with which they introduce you to the stories will leave you wanting to know more and learn more about the South Asian History, not just in Berkeley but also where ever you are.
This is something I would recommend you go along with your family and share your experiences so more people can visit and learn..
Here are some links for you to learn more and also book for the Tour