As Women’s History Month comes to an end, we bring you 15 women of color who we should all take pride in and learn from. Each author listed below—South Asian or not—fought with society’s standards, stigma and sexism to carve her voice on paper, and that takes guts. We applaud them for being our safe haven, and for giving us great works of literature that resonate with the time, speak to the future and others that simply bring us outside of our imaginations.
She is a classic voice in the literary canon for women. Lahiri is an Indian-American author best known for her works “The Interpreter of Maladies” and “The Namesake.” The former is a collection of short stories that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000 while the latter was adapted into a popular motion picture starring Kal Penn. She graduated from Barnard College and Boston University and now teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University. She was appointed as a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities by President Barack Obama in 2010. Her memoir, “In Other Words” released in February 2016.
Speaking of classic literary voices, Allende, a Chilean-American author, is another must-read author in the literary tradition of women of color. Her style has been said to be parallel to that of Gabriel García Márquez in terms of magical realism, and she is most famous for her novels “The House of Spirits” and “City of the Beasts,” which were both commercial successes. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Allende’s work, notably, focus on both her personal experiences and on the female experience at large.
Divakaruni is an Indian-American author of fiction and poetry. Her collection of short stories “Arranged Marriage” won the American Book Award in 1995 and two of her novels, “The Mistress of Spices” and “Sister of My Heart” were adapted into films. Her writing focuses on female existential themes and is generally set in India and the United States. She graduated with various degrees in English studies from the University of Calcutta, Wright State University, and the University of California, Berkeley. She now teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
Angela. Yvonne. Davis. Her words will leave you looking at the world in a completely different way once you lift your eyes from the book in front of you. An American political activist, academic scholar, and author, Davis’ work is essential for anyone seeking to engage with complex, and important, theories of social consciousness and social justice. Her latest work “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of Movement” was released in February 2016.
Chang is Chinese-British author residing in London. Her bestselling autobiography “Wild Swans” was a commercial success, selling over ten million copies worldwide, but is banned in China. It focuses on the lives of three generations of Chinese women while telling a larger story about culture and resistance. She graduated with a degree in linguistics at the University of York in 1982 and became the first Chinese person to ever receive a degree from a British university.
Indian-Canadian poet Rupi Kaur is a literary force to be reckoned with. She began her writing career by posting poetry on platforms like Instagram and Tumblr and later published her collective works in October 2015 in the book “Milk and Honey.” Common themes found in her works include femininity, abuse, love, and healing. Her photo essay on menstrual taboos also received wide recognition after it went viral in March 2015.
The woman who speaks in flowers. Waheed, much like Kaur, first introduced her poetry to the world via social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr. Her poetry focuses on themes of femininity, love, relationships, race, and oppression. Her collections, “Nejma” and “Salt,” are both self-published successes.
Cisneros is an American writer of Mexican descent whose work deals with themes of cultural hybridity and economic inequality. She is most famous for her books “The House on Mango Street” and “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories,” with the former currently taught in American schools as a coming-of-age novel. In addition to writing, Cisneros has also worked as a teacher, counselor, and college recruiter.
Ali is a Bangladeshi-British author whose novel, “Brick Lane,” has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It was later adapted into a film in 2007. She graduated from the University of Oxford where she studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Her writing focuses on the experiences of womanhood and diaspora, particularly as related to the Bangladeshi immigration experience.
Adichie is a Nigerian author of both nonfiction essays and fictional short stories. Her works focus on themes of womanhood, diaspora, race, oppression, and decolonization. Her most famous titles include “Purple Hibiscus,” “Half of a Yellow Sun”, “Americanah,” and “The Thing Around Your Neck.” A self-proclaimed feminist, Adichie gave an inspiring TED talk titled “We Should All Be Feminists,” which published as a modified short essay.
Begui is an Indo-Caribbean author whose work focuses on the feminine experience, resilience, and healing. Her memoir, “Eighteen Brothers and Sisters,” details the powerful story of her struggles and successes—from childhood to womanhood. She also hosts her own radio show, Seeta and Friends, on which she discusses everything from politics to community building efforts.
Lebanese author Hanan al-Shaykh is a powerful voice in the canon of contemporary Arab women writers. Her works highlight and challenge the roles of women in traditional, patriarchal social constructions. She has engaged with issues like abortion, sexual promiscuity, and mental health throughout her works, the most popular of which include “Beirut Blues,” “The Story of Zahra”, and “The Locust and the Bird”. She has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and England, and attended the American College for Girls in Cairo, Egypt.
Truong is a Vietnamese-American author who writes about sexuality, diaspora, and race. She is most famous for her bestselling novel “The Book of Salt.” Born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1968, Truong moved to the United States in 1975. She attended Yale University, where she studied English Literature and graduated in 1990.
“In the Time of the Butterflies”—Just run to the bookstore and give them all of your money! Alvarez is a Dominican-American author whose work highlights experiences of political resistance, diaspora, and womanhood. She is most famous for her novels “In the Time of the Butterflies”, “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents,” and “Before We Were Free.” In addition to writing, Alvarez is also the writer-in-residence at Middlebury College.
Law Professor and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander recently disrupted the status quo with her bestselling book “The New Jim Crow.” Her writing engages with issues of race and social justice as related to the African-American community in the United States. She graduated from Vanderbilt University and Stanford University Law School, and now teaches at Ohio State University. Her work is poignant, especially during election cycles in the U.S., for all those interested in how various state policies affect communities of color, and in how to dismantle complex systems of oppression.
Elizabeth Jaikaran is a freelance writer based in New York. She graduated from The City College of New York with her B.A. in 2012, and from New York University School of Law in 2016. She is interested in theories of gender politics and enjoys exploring the intersection of international law and social consciousness. When she’s not writing, she enjoys celebrating all of life’s small joys with her friends and binge watching juicy serial dramas with her husband. Her first book, “Trauma” will be published by Shanti Arts in 2017.
In July 2022, Sania Khan’s life was ruthlessly taken from her by her ex-husband. Sania was a young, vibrant South Asian woman – a creator and photographer who had the courage to step out of an abusive marriage, even in the face of community norms that discourage women from speaking out. While this tragedy seemed to stir a consciousness in the South Asian diaspora that we can no longer justify the status quo, it is far from the only such incident. Just months later in December of 2022, Harpreet Kaur Gill was stabbed to death by her husband in Vancouver. While the most extreme cases like those of Sania Khan and Harpreet Kaur Gill are highlighted by mainstream media, a small body of research provides evidence that intimate partner violence experiences are equally, if not more, prevalent in South Asian communities than the general population in the US or Canada. That’s why we need to do more as a community and throw light South Asians and intimate partner violence.
Despite the identification and investigation of these norms in South Asia, there’s so much we still don’t know about diaspora communities, especially in relation to South Asians and intimate partner violence. In the US, South Asians have become one of the fastest-growing populations, but we remain unaware of how the stresses of raising a family in a different culture, and the weight of growing up between two worlds, affect these norms, expectations, and experiences among South Asian immigrants, the second generation and beyond.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how these norms are enacted to influence intimate relationship dynamics, discuss the recent rise in intimate partner violence, and explore the work that researchers, policymakers, and program implementers can do to address violence in South Asian diaspora communities.
Social Norms and Violence in South Asian Diaspora Communities
Why does it take catastrophic events to serve as a call to action? For one, the “model minority myth” continues to portray South Asians in America (who originate from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) as a healthy and wealthy group. As a child of Indian immigrants, I always thought this was just a frustrating trope that lived rent-free in my head next to the eternal question, “Log kya kahenge?” (What will people say?) However, I have realized that this constant worry is not just an innocent preoccupation. It’s the result of a dangerous spiral beginning with the portrayal of South Asians as a model minority and the need to maintain that well-to-do image. This only reinforces the traditional gender norms that overlook men’s perpetration of violence and encourage women’s silence, crippling any efforts to understand the scope of the problem and draw attention and resources to address it.
The Impacts of COVID-19 on Intimate Partner Violence
Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequently-uttered phrase among researchers, practitioners, and advocates alike was “one in three” — one in three women ages 15-49 experiences physical and/or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic however, rates of violence against women rose dramatically, prompting UN Women to call for recognition of this “Shadow Pandemic.” During the height of the pandemic, the social isolation that came with lockdowns and quarantine procedures to curb the spread of disease made home a more dangerous place for an increasing number of women. As communities seek to rebuild, the inequities in access to and use of potentially lifesaving services have deepened. Now more than ever, it is critical that we shine a light on the many intersections of our society to prevent South Asian women’s experiences of intimate partner violence from being pushed even further into the shadows.
First and foremost, to better understand South Asians and intimate partner violence, we need better data disaggregated by racial/ethnic group. Since the 1980 Census, only those of Indian origin have had a fill-in bubble.All other South Asian groups have to write something in, decreasing their participation. South Asian communities in the US are not a monolith and they are certainly not all of Indian origin. This perception, fed by our lack of data, likely privileges the Indian community in America and limits the visibility of other South Asian communities.
More accurate information will help us better understand where the need is greatest. We can make a stronger case for more equitable resource allocation, improve South Asian language materials for survivors, and enhance provider training programs, accounting for the specific cultural implications of disclosing and seeking treatment for violence in South Asian communities. Public health researchers should increase efforts to understand the prevalence of experiences of violence, the environmental factors that make South Asian women in America vulnerable to experiences of intimate partner violence, and how it impacts their health.
While outstanding organizations such as Narika in California and Sakhi in New York are leading the charge in raising awareness, running active helplines, and providing support, they cannot be the sole safe space for survivors. While the system’s failure to protect Sania is not an isolated incident, it has served as a wake-up call.
All South Asian women in America should be able to be healthy and safe and lead lives free from violence, coercion, or abandonment. To achieve this, we need better data, more research, culturally-tailored resources, and appropriate legislative action that will allow for prevention, screening, and treatment efforts to finally take root.
These days, the phrase, “love knows no bounds” doesn’t seem to hold true. For many couples, specifically, those in long-distance relationships, the lengthy and complicated immigration process can keep lovers apart for six to 24 months. Well, aside from the thousands and thousands of miles of the deep ocean in between. I’ve been there; I have been an immigration attorney for 10 years and I found love abroad (my wife was living in the UK when we met).
I was flying across the Atlantic every few months so, as you can imagine, dating was quite expensive (though she quite liked the fact that for our first intentional visit, I paid several thousand pounds for a global migration conference as an excuse for flying over).
Marriage immigration is complex and costly. The eligibility and procedural requirements are confusing and require multiple long and complicated application forms over the course of six to eight years: from fiancé(e) or spouse visa through adjustment of status process, the Removal of Conditions Application, and thereafter applying for U.S. citizenship.
To put it in perspective, many immigration applications end up being 200-300 pages long. For you to know exactly what you need can be either extremely expensive — using an attorney, who typically charges $2,000-$12,000 per application (not including government-filing fees) — or time-consuming learning how to DIY. If you opt for the latter, it is quite scary to have to figure out the requirements and procedures and follow up with case status checks in hopes of finally getting some peace of mind that your case is progressing as it should.
The worst part? The grueling wait. Waiting while not knowing how long until you can bring love home; waiting to start a family — the next chapter of your life. You keep hearing people say, “life is short!” and you thought that you finally found a partner you want to spend it with. Unfortunately, life (bureaucratic procedures) get in the way.
The combination of distance and long immigration processing times puts our next chapter ‘on pause’ while we do everything we can to bridge the gap — the gap that effectively challenges our ability to build a ‘real’ relationship. Or did it? Is there a test for this kind of thing? I mean, apparently, the U.S. Immigration Service (USCIS) seems to know what a “real” relationship is and tests ours against some “standard” to determine if it is genuine enough to grant a fiancé(e) visa or spousal green card. What makes a strong Fiancé(e) or Spouse visa application? I’ve experienced love; I am human. What do they want from me to bring my partner home?
I have been a U.S. immigration lawyer for over 10 years and I myself found love abroad and firsthand had to go through the process of bringing my spouse home to the United States. My wife is an NRI who grew up in the Philippines and lived in London where we met (more on how our meddlesome Indian families instigated our “meet-cute” in a future article). Having recently gone through this journey, and having helped hundreds of immigrant couples over the years, it became obvious that there had to be a better way. It should not be expensive, unaffordable, or overly complicated for you to bring your loved one home to become a family.
When we were apart, we did everything from waking each other up in the middle of our respective nights, with the time difference, to one partner falling asleep with the other on the phone. We watched movies together on Netflix. We made travel plans and talked about what the future would look like. We craved each other and expressed our love daily, maybe even hourly.
The future can be uncertain for any couple, but perhaps even more so for those in a long-distance relationship. When one partner is waiting for a spousal visa or fiancé visa, there can be a lot of anxiety and stress about the process and wait times. Even one mistake can set the whole process back months or even years and, if you are not familiar with the process, there’s always the overhanging uncertainty of whether or not the visa will be approved altogether.
In today’s globalized world where borders are becoming less relevant than ever before, largely thanks to technological advances which allow individuals across countries via Facetime, WhatsApp, and Skype chats without having left home, there is more of a need for a streamlined immigration tech platform that helps “modern” couples who are dating long-distance with the help of technology.
The number one reason Fiancé(e) visa or Spouse visa applications are denied is lack of documentation evidencing your relationship/intent to marry. This article shows what evidence you can provide USCIS to prove you have a genuine relationship and thereby strengthen your visa application. OurLoveVisa.com is an immigration attorney-designed platform that provides free tools and features to help couples going through the U.S. K-1 or marriage visa process plan, manage, and track their immigration journey. Many couples going through the K-1 fiancé visa process, or CR-1/IR-1 spouse visa process, have found its relationship timeline tool, which is as easy to use as Instagram, helpful in building their application. The best part: it’s free to use. The OurLoveVisa.com platform was built so you can focus on what is truly important, your relationship!
The long, unreasonable immigration processing/wait times are definitely another topic for discussion and, as time goes on, I will continue to share and elaborate on my and my wife’s joint and individual journeys through marriage, immigration, and closing the gap from our long-distance relationship. In the meantime, I hope the information provided will bring value to you and your journey.
This story was published as a collaboration between Brown Girl Magazine and Reckon, a national news organization that covers the people powering change, the challenges shaping our time, and what it means for all of us.
This is a special year for Ramadan. For the first time in three years my mosque will fill to capacity, giving my community a chance to rebuild lost connections and overcome heartache. It reminds me of a simple truth: healing comes not when you expect it but when you need it.
For Muslims, Ramadan symbolizes the time of the year in which Islam’s prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Quran. Since Islam follows a calendar based on the monthly cycles of the moon, the start of the holy month of Ramadan is determined when a crescent moon is sighted in Saudi Arabia.
The Quran is said to have been received throughout the life of the prophet Muhammad, and Ramadan marks the days it took for him to receive its first verses. When Muhammad received this revelation, it is said that he isolated himself in a cave to reflect and devoted himself to endless worship. In the same way that Muhammad secluded himself to focus on gratitude and prayer, Muslims around the world use the time to distance themselves from daily distractions and focus on spiritual growth through a month of fasting.
Siyam in community
The Arabic word for fasting is siyam which translates to ‘be at rest.’ Abstaining from eating and drinking allows us to take the rest our body and soul so deeply crave and ground ourselves and one another in a physical, mental and spiritual reset.
When I was a child, Ramadan symbolized the one time it was normal to spend your entire weekend in the Mosque. It was my first experience of a sleepover, with pajamas hidden under my abaya and Pakistani kurtas. Beyond the gender divide of the prayer halls, children would take naps on parents laps as the community prayed throughout the night. The Mosque was a beautiful gathering space open to anyone who needed a meal, whether or not they were fasting.
During the pandemic, Ramadan was different. Endless nights in the Mosque filled with prayer and community were scaled down to Zoom hangouts. Programs that were once filled with intimate in-person conversations on the floor of the Mosque, were now faceless squares on a screen, their names barely visible.
The Jummah or Friday prayers that were once so packed with people that the crowd spilled out onto the surrounding grass and sidewalks were conducted in parked cars. The mosque decorated the parking lot for drive-through visitors for the Eid Namaz, and community members waved from a distance to others with the same time slot.
I still remember when a friend’s mother died of COVID-19. What would have been a Janaza or funeral that surrounded the grieving family with community and prayer, turned into a Zoom call. Watching the tears of my friend’s family during the burial services, unable to visit her home and read the Quran together was heartbreaking.
Even before the pandemic, the world was not always a safe place for me and my community. From my family and I being yelled at to “go back to our country” when we were on vacation, to the looks my mother received when she wore her hijab in public, I understood even as a young child the ways in which Muslims were perceived as outsiders in our own country.
In many ways the pandemic compounded the islamophobia that my community began experiencing at heightened levels after 9/11. During Trump’s time in office, the Muslim community—which in the US mostly consists of people who identify as Asian and Black—faced heightened racism and incidents of violence, in part due to misinformation about the coronavirus. In the racial justice uprisings of 2020, Black Muslims—which make up more than 20% of all Muslims in the US—were not only targeted for their race but their religious background. Mosques across the country were vandalized, and continue to experience increased threats to this day.
Ramadan as a space to heal
These last few years made me realize how badly I craved the sanctuary of my Mosque, and to physically return to a space where I felt safe. I feel relieved and at peace to return back to nights where I am surrounded by familiar faces praying together side by side and breaking our fast without any fear of judgment.