2021-22 SAADA Archival Creators Fellows

With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), we partnered with nine fellows in the 3rd cohort of SAADA's Archival Creators Fellowship Program, creating archival collections that reflect the histories and perspectives marginalized groups within the South Asian American community.

2021-22 SAADA Archival Creators Fellows

Cohort Theme: Documenting Marginalized Communities

Kartik Amarnath (he/him) is an aspiring clinician based in Brooklyn, NY with professional and academic backgrounds in environmental justice and critical urban studies. The 'third culture kid' of an Indo-Malaysian mother and Ilankai (Sri Lankan) Tamil father, he grew up across four countries. He spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Kuala Lumpur studying environmental gentrification in his mother’s childhood neighborhood of Brickfields and is now the Policy Specialist at PUSH Buffalo as well as an MD and MPH candidate – currently on leave – at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. His writing on public health, climate change, and environmental justice has been published in Environmental Health News, The Guardian, Naked Capitalism, The Albany Times Union, and academic journals in law and medicine. His fellowship project will document the multigenerational legacy of Ilankai Tamil feminism in the United States, providing an alternative to dominant narratives that simultaneously stereotype the Tamil diaspora as model minorities and as ethnonationalists on the 'wrong side' of the War on Terror. His project will begin the same year as the 40th anniversary of the burning of the Jaffna Public Library and its archive of Tamil history – a cataclysm which helped spark the Sri Lankan Civil War. By documenting his community’s continuing legacy of feminist resistance, he hopes to reclaim the archive from its traumatic associations, helping Tamils take a step towards collective healing in the afterlife of war.

Michael A. Henry (he/him) is a Jamaican-American financial services professional with a B.A. in International Business & Management from Dickinson College and a Masters of Business Administration from Pepperdine University with a focus on Socially, Environmentally, and Ethically Responsible Business Strategy. Michael is passionate about diversity & inclusion, representation for underrepresented groups, public history, and transnational migration – having studied transnational migration from Mexico to Pennsylvania while at Dickinson College. As a native New Yorker, of Indo-Jamaican heritage, Michael recently relocated to South Florida. He is also passionate about his rich Indo-Jamaican heritage which often goes unmentioned in narratives about the Indo-Caribbean diaspora. Michael’s project will collect migration stories and archival images of items such as food recipes, family photos, musical traditions, and religious affiliations to document the representations of identity, culture, and experiences of Indo-Jamaicans in South Florida. This project hopes to broaden the discourse around the South Asian American diaspora to provide representation for minority subgroups.

Sandhya Jha (she/they) is an organizer, activist, Christian pastor and founder of the Oakland Peace Center in Oakland, CA. Sandhya works as an anti-oppression/Diversity-Equity-Inclusion consultant and is currently working on a book about how connecting with our ancestors can equip us for the work of dismantling white supremacy. Sandhya's father is from West Bengal, India and their mother is from Scotland. Sandhya's engagement with workers' rights led them to their fellowship project with SAADA this year: documenting the stories of South Asian workers who have engaged with labor organizing in the United States. Many young South Asian Americans don't know that there have been South Asian Americans engaged in union organizing from hotels to schools to transit workers; this project will seek to capture those stories in their fullness and complexity.

Sharmeen Mehri (she/her) is a Pakistani international Ph.D. student in the English department at the University at Buffalo. Her research focuses on postcolonial theory and literature with an interdisciplinary focus on archival and visual studies. She completed her Master’s degree at Hunter College, CUNY where she was a dedicated writing tutor and teacher of writing and rhetoric. Her research project will seek to examine and preserve the migration experiences of Zoroastrian South Asians to the United States. With a specific focus on the narrative of assimilation or dissimilation, she will carry out and collect oral interviews to highlight an often-overlooked minority group in the South Asian diaspora. By recording a diverse range of voices, this archive will document how Zoroastrians preserve or adapt their cultural expressions within the context of the broader American immigrant experience.

Zainab Mohsini (she/her) is an Afghan refugee, community organizer, social justice advocate and former Congressional candidate. As a working-class woman, Zainab has held a variety of jobs throughout her life, ranging from being a restaurant server, retail employee, AmeriCorps service member, political canvasser, Dari interpreter, and currently a legal coordinator at a reproductive justice non-profit. Zainab is passionate about centering the voices of those who are the most marginalized. She has organized protests to advocate for oppressed communities including to increase protections for the incoming Afghan refugees. Zainab’s SAADA project focuses on telling the stories of Afghan women in their own perspectives to showcase their diversity, resilience, and humanity. In the popular narrative Afghan women are either fetishized like Sharbat Gula, whose beauty graces the cover of National Geographic, or are objectified as “victims” whose imperialistic rescue justifies a two trillion-dollar, decades long war. The stories of Afghan women are too often told by white people who use them as symbols to justify their own geopolitical agenda. This project will demonstrate that Afghan women are often the breadwinners and leaders in their families and communities with complex lived experiences and stories.

Luna Ranjit (she/her) is an organizer and a writer committed to lifting up silenced stories. She writes across and between boundaries of personal and political, state and society, US and Nepal, poetry and prose. She co-founded and led Adhikaar, a Queens-based organization building power of new immigrant communities, and in 2014, she helped create the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition. The Nepali community in the U.S. has grown exponentially in the past two decades but remains practically invisible in the mainstream, including South Asian spaces. Even when Nepalis are included, it is often caste-privileged Khas individuals who end up representing the entire community. For her SAADA project, Luna will work with Dalit, Janjati, and Madhesi communities in Nepali diaspora to document stories of people who have been marginalized within the Nepali spaces because of their caste and/or ethnicity.

Cohort Theme: Documenting COVID-19 Experiences

Joymala Hajra (she/her) is a New York native with Bangladeshi roots. She has worked in the fashion industry as a textile artist for over two decades. Her passions include vintage textiles, gendered memory, and sartorial studies. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and two shih-tzus. Joymala's project will focus on Bangladeshi women-led mutual aid efforts serving the Bangladeshi community of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021.

Sanjana Nigam (she/her) is a native New Yorker and Indian-American-Canadian journalist. She graduated with Masters from Columbia Journalism School in 2020, and currently works at Business Insider and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. She is passionate​​ about using her reporting skills to document identity-driven stories across the South Asian diaspora. During the pandemic, well-known South Asian restaurants and storefronts, which had long provided refuge and comfort, had to close their doors, and the loss rippled throughout the community. This inspired Sanjana’s project, which will focus on the stories and histories of first-generation South Asian-owned small businesses across New York City’s five boroughs who lost their means of livelihood in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Through archiving and gathering these first-hand narratives, this project hopes to immortalize first-generation immigrant experiences and the significance of the South Asian community in New York City.

Roshni Bhupendra Shah (she/her) is a heart-led community connector & compassion-driven nurse dedicated to empowering others to be a catalyst for change. Her curiosity for the history behind our humanity and passion for authenticity has served as the foundation for community building across Chicago & India, leading her to realize the healing impact of stories. As a Critical Care nurse on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the emotional & physical fatigue of facing death and fear head on has yet to be fully unpacked. Her project will highlight the mental & spiritual impact of the trauma stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic on South Asian American healthcare workers. Her project seeks to understand the unbearingly heavy burden to serve as “heroes”, while suffering from loss, combating stress and striving for survival despite a large gap in mental health & emotional support. She will collect narratives of the humans behind the mask with hopes of providing an opportunity for healing & processing and to illustrate a picture of the impact this will have for generations to come and how these hardships don’t define, but do shape the legacy South Asian Americans will create.