by Melissa Cardenas-Dow
To find out more about SAADA (South Asian American Digital Archive), I conducted a phone interview with Samip Mallick, SAADA’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, on August 21, 2013. SAADA is an independent nonprofit organization working toward a more inclusive society by giving voice to South Asian Americans through documenting, preserving and sharing stories that reflect their unique and diverse experiences. SAADA focuses on digital information and is primarily an online entity but is physically based in Philadelphia. The following article is excerpted from our conversation.
Melissa Cardenas-Dow (MICD): Tell me a little bit about the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) as an organization. How did it come about?
Samip Mallick (SM): SAADA was founded in 2008 by me and Michelle Caswell. At that time, we were both working at University of Chicago in different capacities. Michelle is now an Assistant Professor of Archival Studies at UCLA. Michelle and I realized that materials related to South Asian American communities were not being systematically documented and collected by any traditional repositories. We felt that these histories were being overlooked, and over time, in danger of being lost. My background is in computer science and Michelle’s is in archival studies, so we also realized that we could combine our backgrounds and create a powerful model for documenting South Asian American history. Out of these conversations, SAADA was born. SAADA is a way for us to make a contribution to documenting, preserving and sharing the stories of South Asians in the United States.
MICD: Are you affiliated with any other institution? Tell me a little bit more about how SAADA provides access to its digital objects.
SM: SAADA is an independent, nonprofit organization, but we definitely work very closely with institutions around the country. Our archive uses a post-custodial, digital-only model. This means that we don’t take physical custody of any archival materials. Instead we work closely with community members, organizations, and institutions to digitize and provide access to materials relevant to the South Asian American community. The physical materials, however, stay with the individuals, organizations or institutions from which they originate. One of the great strengths of this model is that it allows us to work collaboratively with many different groups around the country that may have relevant materials in their collections. We are then able to provide access to these disparate materials and create awareness about them in one online location. All the materials we collect are freely accessible through our website. In addition to the digital objects made available for web browsing and viewing, we also have high resolution objects that are meant for long-term digital preservation, which are not available for public web access. These two types of digital objects that we house represent the two parts of what we do: provide access and preserve histories for the long-term.
MICD: What do potentials users need to do if they require the higher resolution objects?
SM: For those who are interested in using our digital objects from our public access website, they certainly can do that. Materials from the archive have been used for individual scholarship, documentary films, lesson plans, research, blogging, creative works and many other formats. For those who require higher resolution and higher quality digital objects, we encourage them to contact us directly. Should we not have the permissions necessary for the use of the high resolution files, we direct users to the institutions or groups who hold copyright. Once permission has been granted, we grant access to the higher resolution files. One such instance like this happened recently. A documentary filmmaker wanted to use higher resolution files of images he found in SAADA. We put him in touch with the rights holder of the images, who was a descendant of the creator of the images. The rights holder granted permission and we released the high-resolution files to the filmmaker, which were then used in the documentary film.
MICD: SAADA’s mission, then, really, seems to be two-fold: First is the more technical aspect of working with digital objects: provide access and preserve materials that serve to document South Asian American history. Second is to help educators, researchers, writers, journalists and South Asian American community members to become more aware of individuals, groups, organizations and institutions that may have these materials or knowledge of the community’s history and stories. Do I have that right?
SM: Yes, that’s right. Besides providing access to materials, we also aim to raise awareness to the stories of South Asians in the United States–to make them relevant today, to both members of the South Asian American community and to the general public. We do this not just through the SAADA website, but also through events, through media, through outreach and educational programming. We attempt to use a variety of ways to raise awareness of the stories and contributions of South Asians in the United States; how they are an integral part of the American historical narrative. In many ways, we have gone far beyond just archiving and documenting materials. We’ve moved toward thinking about the usefulness and relevance of SAADA to various communities today.
There are many of us in the South Asian American community who are not aware of these stories, so raising awareness is not just a matter of academic interest. For me, it’s a very real problem that the community itself doesn’t have access to its own stories. As an organization, SAADA can play a role in connecting people with their own history. What’s amazing and fascinating is that interest comes not just within the South Asian American community, but from across the world. We’ve had nearly 150,000 unique visitors within the last year alone. And more than half of this traffic comes from outside of the U.S. Much of it comes from South Asia–countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Most there do not know much about the diaspora communities in the United States and are learning about these histories for the first time.
MICD: Speaking of outreach and educational programming, are there particular outreach or educational projects that SAADA would highlight in particular?
SM: One recent project that we’re really excited about is SAADA’s First Days Project, where we ask community members to submit their stories about their first day in the United States. What inspired this project was realizing how often I would hear from an individual about their first impressions of life in the United States, remembering a time in their life that was maybe 30 or 40 years ago. Somehow these memories from many years prior were crystal clear for them. So we wanted to create a way to capture these stories, and through the snapshot of one day capture the intimate details of arrival that are otherwise lost in the grand sweep of history. We have had more than 80 stories submitted to us already and more coming in every day. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to capture and document an incredibly poignant moment in a person’s life.
As an organization we will continue to think creatively about how we can document, preserve and share stories from South Asian Americans and ensure that these communities are included in the narrative of what it means to be American.
Many thanks to APALA Board-Member-At-Large 2013-2015 Anna Coats for paving the way to making this article possible.
Editorial assistance provided by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood.
Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda has devastated the Philippines and left thousands dead and many more affected. People want to know how to help the survivors of the storm. The linked spreadsheet is a list of resources of places to send donations and how to help.
The Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association’s (APALA) Scholarships and Awards Committee is proud to announce Ariana Hussain as the 2014 Emerging Leader for the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. APALA will provide funding to support her attendance and participation in the Emerging Leaders program at the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference.
“I congratulate Ariana on being selected as APALA’s 2014 Emerging Leader,” says 2013-2014 APALA President Eugenia Beh. “Ariana joins a long list of participants from APALA, and very deservedly so. I am pleased that we are able to continue our support of the Emerging Leaders program, which has benefited so many of our members.”
Ariana has a long history of community, civic and public services ranging from involvements in grass roots groups to feed the hungry of the greater Los Angeles areas to participation in literacy programs such as The Talk Story Program, which reaches out to the Asian Pacific American and American Indian/Alaska Native children and their families. Her current position as a children’s librarian at the District of Columbia Public Library in Washington DC, includes many different kinds of civic engagements such as collaborations with the local Housing Authority/The office of Resident Services in outreach, programming and library awareness to at-risk youth.
Ariana writes, “I am an Indonesian-Japanese Muslim American public librarian, in a headscarf, working in a primarily African-American neighborhood branch library. Though I know that I do not represent the entire spectrum of diversity in the field, I do know that in appearance I am a bit of an anomaly… I entered the library field because of my interest and belief in the power of libraries, as well as to provide information and dispel misinformation. I thought that it would be empowering for the public to see a person who looks like me at their local level, that I may provide them an important service but also engage in casual interaction.”
According to Ariana, effective leadership is established through needs assessment, vision, planning, commitment, communication and accountability. She states, “Of these principles of leadership, I believe that effective leadership begins with needs assessment. There are the needs of the community, first and foremost, and the needs of those who are serving the community. As an effective leader, one needs to take into consideration both sets of needs in order to excel as a team and to receive buy-in from its stakeholders. Needs assessment also ensures that the community feels involved in the planning process and can voice their opinions.”
Ariana believes that every librarian working with the public has the opportunity to serve the community as a leader. She states, “It had not occurred to me that the role of leadership takes on many forms and that different roles are constantly being added to my work. I lead daily, whether it’s providing a book club or talking to our young adults and tweens, providing a space for them to become involved with the community and in their development. I encourage parents and caregivers to actively engage with their children to develop literacy skills.”
Ariana holds a BA in Political Science/History and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of California, Los Angeles.
This theme of a nomad is so apt, now that I live and work in the Middle East as the Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services at the American University in Cairo. It was a long journey from being born in Phitsanulok, Thailand, then having to uproot to Chiangmai, Thailand after my father moved to our current family home. There, I attended Chiangmai University, where I got my undergraduate degree. After graduation, I got a scholarship to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and continued my journey on to Madison, WI, where I got my MLS. After graduation, I got a one year visa for practical training and got a job as an LC Cataloger at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. After the training, I went back to Chiangmai briefly to try out a teaching job, before deciding to return to Ithaca to marry and spend my life with Ernie, my husband. From Ithaca, education and the (travel) pulses in my feet (a Thai expression, equivalent to ‘wanderlust’) took my family back to Madison, WI for graduate school, then Atlanta, GA, where Ernie got his first professional librarian position and my daughter, Alyssa, was born. I took my family back to Madison, WI to continue my study in the doctoral program at UW-Madison-SLIS. My dissertation research took us back to Thailand to do fieldwork research in a Northern Thai valley district with a weavers’ cooperative. Due to the difficulty of village life on my family, we decided to return to Madison, even though my fieldwork was not completed. While I was working on my dissertation, I got a teaching position in London, Ontario, Canada, where I taught organization of information, diversity in librarianship, social science resources and scholarly communication for three years. After having difficulties completing my dissertation while teaching full-time in Canada, I took my family back to the U.S. and changed my career track to become a professional librarian and accepted the Catalog Librarian position at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. My last position prior to relocating to Egypt was in Lincoln, NE as a Metadata and Multicultural Services Librarian and Women’s and Gender Studies Library Liaison.
I see my life’s “itinerary” literally recorded on my mother’s wall calendar with one big page filled with my addresses and phone numbers over the years. This record on her wall calendar is a testament to my nomadic life. Although I hardly planned for my life to turn out like this, deep down in my psyche, I know this must have to do with my curiosity about the world, my yearning for adventure and new experiences in life. I love to learn and explore new things, ideas, peoples and places. I am not one who stays still, obviously. To travel around like I have done, however, requires one to love adventure and embrace differences. One has to be willing to learn and adjust to some drastic cultural differences, languages and general disruption of life routines. It is not too far off to say that it requires one to be both brave and bold. This is not something for the faint of heart. One needs to be resilient since there is much difficulty to overcome in living in a new culture. But the positive experience one will gain is far greater and worthy of all the troubles one may have to go through. I won’t trade this for anything else.
I am fortunate to have love and aptitude for learning languages. My native tongue is in Thai, but I have learned English, Japanese, French and German, although I do not retain much of these language skills. However, these learning experiences trained me in new language acquisition, which is very handy now that I am learning Arabic. Like learning any new language, you have to be dedicated and willing to give it time and effort. I told my Egyptian staff to give me a year to master the Egyptian Arabic language. I’d better keep my word.
Beyond overcoming the language barrier, one also has to manage cultural differences. Basically, though, if you engage with others with respect, dignity and compassion, and expend the effort to learn their cultures, you will overcome the differences over time and will learn how much in common we all have. We all share the basic human experiences of love, losses and joy in our lives. And I have applied the above principles in my new life in Cairo, Egypt, as well. I will be at AUC for the next couple of years. And I would like to share a bit of my experience of living and working in Egypt.
So what’s my normal in Cairo?
I came to Egypt at a time of uncertainty, after the Arab Spring that toppled Mubarak, and subsequently the revolution that toppled the Former President Morsi. The protests still continue, mostly after the Friday prayers at various squares throughout the governorates of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Fayoum and so on. Maadi, the suburb of Cairo where we rent an apartment, has seen some protest marches pass through, but we have not seen the violent clashes depicted in the media. In some way, we live in a bubble, not much affected by the unrest, so far.
Normally, my day starts with a bus ride provided by AUC, from a square in Maadi to the American University in Cairo, located in New Cairo. My ride starts at 8 a.m. and lasts for an hour on a good-traffic day. I get on my return trip at 5:15 p.m., arriving in Maadi between 6:30 to 7 p.m. or later, depending on the traffic. With free WiFi on the bus, I usually get some work done on the way to work. I enjoy working with my 8.5 FTE Egyptian staff very much. However, I do have some personnel issues to work through; most recently is the death of a new staff member who was so promising with his multilingual skills and a master’s degree. His death is a great loss for the whole library. As for other issues, we also have a tighter budget. It is a direct impact of the current political unrest in Egypt that hurt the economy and businesses. Other issues are the need for training, the documentation of cataloging procedures, quality control and efficiency in our process, to name a few. In many ways, we face similar issues other university libraries in North America and elsewhere are wrestling with; from e-books and e-videos, patron-driven acquisition, tightening budgets, the need to repurpose library space, redesign the liaisons’ responsibilities, and so on. In all, it has been a busy time since I started my current position at AUC on September 1st this year.
Although I’m no newbie to adjusting to a new culture, I still found myself being surprised by the differences. For example, I found learning Arabic, especially learning how to write from right to left, to be a huge strain. It goes against my writing habit as a right-handed person accustomed to writing from left to right to switch to reading and writing in Arabic from right to left. I also try to accommodate staff’s praying and fasting schedule especially during Islamic holidays, from Ramadan to the Eid al-Adha. I also had to learn about Islamic funeral rites due to the loss of a member of my staff in a tragic car accident. Another surprise is how the numbering of floors of buildings start with the ground floor, as in the British system. Or a work week starts from Sunday and ends on Thursday. TGIF no longer works as an expression for the joy of resting from the work week! And oh, the Cairo traffic! I dread crossing the streets here with the fast and unruly driving, certainly not suitable for a faint of heart. I also found the communication style to be more personal and face-to-face, with less emphasis on work e-mails.
I have to say that I love my new job and the great opportunities to practice my leadership skills. I hope my experiences at AUC will pave the road of my career toward library administration. The University also provides great benefits, from a furnished apartment owned by AUC (I do pay rent), free bus services from Maadi to New Cairo, and generous salary and benefits. The Faculty Services also organizes weekend trips around Cairo and outside of Cairo. Our recent trip was to the Red Sea at Ain Sokhna, a resort town, with visits to the Coptic monasteries dating back to more than a thousand years old. Next week, we will go to Islamic Cairo, a well-known historic area of central Cairo, and I will post the photos from the trips on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/joyjanjao
Last but not least, I hope to visit with you all at the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas in 2014. See you again soon, insha’ Allah (in God’s will, a very common expression in Arabic language).
Anchalee (Joy) Panigabutra-Roberts
Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services
American University in Cairo
New Cairo, Egypt
Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera and Melissa Cardenas-Dow.
American University in Cairo http://www.aucegypt.edu
American University in Cairo Libraries http://library.aucegypt.edu/
American University in Cairo Press http://www.aucpress.com/
AMICAL (our consortium) http://www.amicalnet.org/
Lisa Lim was born and raised in Queens, New York, where she grew up listening to magical storytellers like her Chinese grandmother and her Puerto Rican stepmother. She is the writer and illustrator of self-published graphic memoirs such as “Pots and Pans,” “My Egyptian Fortune Cookie,” and “Mi Madre.” Since then, her comics have been featured in Guernica magazine, Nashville Review, PANK magazine, and are available in the Museum of Chinese in America bookstore.
Of her art, Lim says, “Since I was a child, I’ve tried to capture their [my grandmother’s and my stepmother’s] colorful tales by writing short stories, novellas, and poems, but they always seemed to be missing that special something. That’s when I discovered comics.”
Ms. Lim just finished illustrating “Soma So Strange,” a children’s book by Carrie Rosten that came out this summer. In addition, Lim illustrated for a hip T-shirt company. While searching for her next creative adventure, Lim will continue to tell the funny and strange tales of her family. The Queens native generously took time out of her busy schedule to share her thoughts with APALA on being inspired by her family’s stories, the future of the comics industry and the importance of libraries/archives in the creative process. The article below is an excerpt from an interview I conducted in July 2013.
Dawn Wing (DW): What were your favorite books to read as a kid? What about as an adult?
Lisa Lim (LL): As a child, I was fascinated with “Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” I was spellbound by the gripping storylines and vivid imagery; how the stories blended innocence, violence, humor and imagination. The stories always elicited a strange mix of emotions in me. It was confusing yet exhilarating.
As an adult, I fell in love with Faulkner for the same reasons. Like Grimms’, Faulkner’s stories were dark, funny, unexpected, and always very visual. What I also loved about Faulkner was the musicality in his language and his use of stream of consciousness. I remember feeling I was almost in a state of meditation when reading his books. Like I was being hypnotized.
DW: How did these books and/or authors influence the work you do today?
LL: As a storyteller, they reinforced my own tales as a child. They made me feel okay about having grown up differently. Many parts of my childhood were grotesque, but beautiful and often hilarious. I found the same qualities in their tales. In my art, these authors also inspired me to think more visually and musically.
DW: What drew you to comics and writing?
LL: I was always writing stories, ever since I was a child. After college, I became a writer in advertising. During which I went to grad school for creative writing at City College. I was immersed in the reading and writing of words for so long. Eventually, words became the last thing I wanted to create. So began my creative Renaissance. I started taking every class from African dance to salsa to painting to improv theater to comics. I remember my first comics class. It was taught by Matt Madden and Tom Hart, two awesome professors at the School of Visual Arts. All of a sudden, I found myself combining stories with pictures, as I imagined them. Sometimes, words alone were not enough to fully evoke the imagery I wanted to express. Now, I had a completely new form of storytelling – comics – through which to tell my tales. This medium was liberating and so much fun.
DW: What are your hopes for the comics industry?
LL: My wish is for the comics industry to continue to thrive; that unique and experimental voices have a space in literature. While I appreciate traditional superhero tales, it is wonderful to see “alternative” comics flourishing on bookshelves. I especially hope that it continues to embrace memoir graphic novels such as “Persepolis,” “Blankets,” “Fun Home,” etc. One day, I hope to complete my own graphic novel about my family to share with readers everywhere.
DW: How does your diversity (cultural, educational, racial, gender, etc.) influence your work ethic?
LL: My melting pot family is a constant source of inspiration. My father and mother separated when I was young. My father, who is Chinese, married my stepmother, who is Puerto Rican. My mother, who is also Chinese, married my stepfather, who is Egyptian. I grew up in a family where English was drowned out by loud Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. Rituals of many cultures surrounded me: my stepmother making rose baths to cleanse evil spirits; my grandmother telling me tales of her youth in China; my father taking us to the Cypress Cemetery to burn origami money so our ancestors would have money to spend in heaven; my mother teaching me how to feed the moon gods during Mooncake Festival. My stepfather cooking fried kofta in the kitchen and all the smells of Middle Eastern food.
Since the age of 4, I lived with my father, his mother and my stepmother. My grandmother assumed the “tiger mom” role, wanting me always to do better and work harder. My Puerto Rican stepmother was the nurturing maternal force, full of love and warmth, always encouraging me to pursue my passions. So, between the cultures, I became a nice blend of practicality and creativity.
DW: Can you describe an instance when libraries and/or archives played a beneficial role in your work?
LL: Since my grandmother outlawed the air conditioner in our home, because she thought it caused arthritis, I spent most of my summers as a child in the Queens Public Library. It was an air-conditioned sanctuary for me. It was where I worked as an assistant in the Adult Learning Center for many years. It was also where I escaped to vastly different worlds from mine by reading and watching movies. One of my fondest memories as a child is watching Rocky IV in the basement library. Every week in the basement of the library, they would feature free movies. I also borrowed tons of movies from the library and became a student of film in this way. Immersing myself in cinema really helped me think visually, and it would later help me create comics because I thought of story as cinematic scenes versus pure narrative.
DW: What message would you give to librarians/archivists/writers/artists regarding their value in the field you work in?
LL: For writers and artists, the message I would give is inspired by a recent Robert McKee lecture I attended. When asked what to do in the face of the daunting creative block, he answered unequivocally, “the library.” He said to go to the library and you research your story from top to bottom. I couldn’t agree more. No matter how well you know your subject, digging into it deeper, learning details that no one else knows about your subject, that kind of curiosity is what makes your story authentic. You must know the world you create inside and out. And the library in all its resources can help you discover this world.
For librarians and archivists, thank you for being the nurturing bridge to this information. Without you, our stories would be less, in every way.
DW: What advice would you give young professionals, especially those from diverse backgrounds, who are interested in a career in comics/illustration?
LL: My biggest advice is to find multicultural authors whose works inspire you. Take a trip to your local library and research works that spark your imagination and interest. Then turn to your family for their own stories. Ask your grandparents, father, mother, aunts, uncles, sisters–anyone and everyone–about their lives. Their stories will surprise and inspire you. Remember that your cultural perspective is what can make your story unique. Through narrative and illustration, you can give readers a glimpse into your own world. Be part of the growing number of voices that represent multicultural storytelling. Be brave, curious, and always have fun.
To see more of Lisa Lim’s work, visit http://chineseladybug.carbonmade.com/
Her illustrations in the new book “Soma So Strange” can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Soma-So-Strange-ebook/dp/B00ENNU8PM
Editing assistance provided by Melissa Cardenas-Dow and Jeremiah Paschke-Wood.