DRUM Majors Youth working with Desis Rising Up and Moving creatively and legally empower post-9/11 immigrants.
September 17, 2007
For the Muslim youth of Desis Rising Up and Moving, a South Asian community organization nestled on the fourth floor of a building above two glittering sari shops and an Islamic book store in Jackson Heights, Queens, these six years since 9/11 easily constitute a third of their lives. They were school kids of 10 or 12 years of age when the planes hit the towers, instantly changing what it means to be Muslim and an immigrant in this country. Now, entering college and starting their adult lives, they share one common goal in coming to DRUM, regardless of their background or immigration status–exercising citizenship through political engagement.
Asking questions, getting answers
Romy Chowdhury was born in Bangladesh and has been living in New York for seven years. He has been a member of DRUM for a year. He just started college this fall at Hunter College and hopes to pursue a career in medicine. Before coming to DRUM, he said, “I didn’t care about anything. I took things for granted.” He heard about Youth Program through his brother, and it was an appealing option because it beat “sitting at home.” The two-week internship curriculum is designed to acquaint youth with topics such as their rights as immigrants, media advocacy skills and current events in South Asia and the Middle East, and for Chowdhury it was an introduction to the plight of his community.
“All of a sudden, my mind opened up a lot more. I could see how other people were being treated badly. I felt responsible to do something about it if I could,” Chowdhury said. In particular, Chowdhury, who became an American citizen earlier this year, realized the everyday challenges facing fellow DRUM members who lacked status or had family members in precarious immigration positions.
Then, he began to see how some of the changes that were taking place at school were connected to the policies he was learning about through DRUM. For example, Chowdhury became concerned about the atmosphere of fear that was introduced with scanners and metal detectors, the type used at airports, which security guards would use on the students before permitting them to enter the building.
“At first I was scared. What is this, is this a high school? What’s the point of all this security?” he asked. He said he became convinced that the security measures were designed to create a culture of fear rather than to deter any real crime. Chowdhury’s experience in the New York City school system is typical for DRUM youth.
Another DRUM youth member, Shazia, said that “terrorism drills” had been commonplace at her high school. These drills took place two or three times a month. When she asked her principal what the purpose was of so many drills, she said she was told, “To protect students from terrorists.”