South Asians seek unity at conference

The South Asian Students Alliance held a conference Friday and Saturday to highlight South Asian issues at GW.

The underlying theme of the conference is to promote South Asian awareness and unity, said Nina Ahuja, secretary of the South Asian Society. That theme pervades all the discussions and speakers.

The conference kicked off Friday night with opening speaker Reggie Aggarwal, co-founder and co-president of the Indian CEO High Tech Council and the chairman and CEO of Cvent, a newly formed Internet business.

Immediately following the opening speaker, the conference focused on Indian involvement in the arts. Several independent films made by Indians were shown, including Junky Punky Girlz and excerpts from Chutney Popcorn, both of which were made by Indian-American movie artist, Nisha Ganatra. A film preview was shown for the film, American Born Confused Desi, written and produced by Piyush Dinker Pandya. Each of these films deal with issues concerning Asian assimilation in American culture.

Friday night, the Hindu holiday Navaratri was celebrated at the Hilton Crystal City at National Airport in Arlington, Va. The event drew about 200 attendees, including members of the Indian communities in Northern Virginia and Maryland, Ahuja said.

The keynote speaker at the conference Saturday was Shamina Singh, executive director of the White House Office on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Later that afternoon, small group sessions were held with topics ranging from South Asians and Film to Commercialization of South Asian Culture.

The closing speakers Saturday were part of a three-speaker panel that discussed South Asian issues, such as the recent coup in Pakistan. The speakers on the panel were Thomas Thornton, an adjunct professor of Asian studies at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins universities, Selig Harrison, an adjunct professor of Asian studies at GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and Ambassador Dennis Kux, a retired State Department specialist in South Asian affairs who also served three tours in India and Pakistan.

The conference was the regional conference for the Mid-Atlantic area. Conference Chair Ami Shah said the main reason for the regional conference was because this year there was a waiting list to enter the national SASA.

Shah said the idea for a regional SASA conference was conceived in January at the national SASA conference in Chicago. GW was selected as the location of the conference in January, she said. But actual planning for the conference at GW did not start until August, said Sajit Gandhi, events chairman for the SASA conference.

Organizers said about 200 people were expected to attend the conference originally, but only 40 students actually registered for the conference.

I would definitely like to see a greater interest by the community, Shah said. I think I was really disappointed by the GW turnout, because the people here are absolutely amazing and nationally known (for their political involvement).

Shah said the low turnout was because it was the first conference of its type ever held.

It would be great if people were educated enough to know what an opportunity this was, she said.

Shah said there were some benefits to having a small conference.

As the conference has gone on we have seen that it is actually quite nice because it has been a lot more interactive, Shah said. People are getting a lot more individual questions answered; the intimate nature of it is also good.

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