angry reader of the week: tanzila ahmed

Hooray! It's time for another Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's reader is activist/organizer/blogger Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed.

Who are you?
I am Tanzila Ahmed. But all my friends call me Taz. You can call me Taz, too.

What are you?
I am an American, a voting American, a marginalized, history-hidden, "other" American, a second gen Muslim Bangladeshi, Bangla speaking American. I am a Desi, a South Asian American, an Asian American, a Person of Color. I am a community organizer, civic engagement advocate, policy wonk, voting researcher, racial justice activist, political campaigner, and an organizing trainer. I am a blogger, a writer, a poet, and a former punk rocker.

Where are you?
I am home. After traveling the nation as a national trainer for a youth organization, and living in DC for a couple of years, I realized the importance of organizing for the people, by the people from the people. I had been a community organizer without a community. So after what feels like a long time, I have now returned back to the neighborhood I was raised in, in the Inland Empire of Southern California. I have been blessed to find a job where I can organize the community that I grew up in, with a way that is powerful and meaningful. And it feels good to build a community in the community I came from.

Where are you from?
I used to hate this question as a kid, because I'd usually say, "Southern California," and people would respond with a, "No, where are you really from," in that condescending tone as if I was trying to be a smart ass with my answer. If you know what I'm talking about, go ahead, raise your hand. I see you. So, to answer the question, I'm from Southern California, born and raised (for the most part). The end.

Academically, I'm from the University of Southern California for my undergrad years, and received my Master in Public Policy from UCLA.

Virtually, I am from the South Asian American blog, Sepia Mutiny.

What do you do?
On the clock, I am the Policy Manager for a local non-profit called the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA) based in the heart of Orange County -- Garden Grove. Our organization does a variety of things for the local APIA community, from providing direct mental health service and afterschool programs for at-risk youth, educating the community on health issues to conducting research and developing publications on the APIA local community. My job in particular was to manage Project API Vote, which was our 2008 electoral non-partisan multilingual campaign where we educated and mobilized the community around the three elections in 2008.

Off the clock, I write. I find writing is just as important of a component to building community power as voting is. I am involved with the online youth journal WireTap Magazine and most of my articles can be found there. I am a blogger for the South Asian American blog, Sepia Mutiny, where we blog about anything with a brown tint. I write poetry and will go to local open mics, though I would hardly call it performing spoken word -- I just read out loud from my chapbook. I'm also working on writing a 'non-fiction memoir meets oral history of my history' type book.

Finally, I'm a trainer for Campus Camp Wellstone -- I get to go all across the country to train young people on how to organize strategically and efficiently using the Wellstone way.

What are you all about?

I realized early on that I didn't have any and was angry by how this was driven by things I had little control over -- such as my race, class, or gender. I had been living in DC for three months, fresh faced out of college, when 9/11 happened. All of sudden, my identity of being a brown Muslim was put on blast -- I couldn't fly anymore without a "special call" needing to be made at the airport. Homeland security was knocking on my parents' door, and sitting in unmarked vehicles in front of their place. There were scary stories of people attacking my community, and yet I didn't see anyone building a political voice for these people -- the South Asian Americans that looked like me. I knew that the people in power were politicians and they only paid attention to two things: the power money and the power of vote. I was too broke to be a donor, but I knew how register people to vote. So I started an organization called South Asian American Voting Youth -- we ran campaigns all across the nation around the 2004 Presidential Election mobilizing 18-24 year old Desi Americans to get out and vote. I have now been working to mobilize voters for eleven years. Though my values may have changed slightly over the years, essentially, this is still the core to what I'm all about.

What makes you angry?
  • People that have really lame reasons to not vote. I mean, really, really lame reasons. For instance, "I forgot" is a really lame reason.
  • Long agenda-less conference calls.
  • Electeds who don't know how to budget, and don't know how to manage risk.
  • Folks doing APIA work that doesn't include South Asian or Pacific Islander groups, but still claiming they are pan-APIA.
  • Waiting for responses to text messaged questions.
  • That CA will likely spend about $66 million to hold a Special Election for a bunch of budget related propositions.
  • Obama boycotting the UN Conference Against Racism.
  • Anti-Muslim trolls in the comment threads at Sepia Mutiny.
  • The horrible injustices and killing going on in Gaza right now. STILL.
  • People that take every facebook quiz that exists and clutters my news feed.
  • When people think South Asian, APIA and People of Color are mutually exclusive terms for identity.
  • Bad spoken word performances where people hog the mic and just rant.
  • Hummers.
  • People that ask me "where are you from -- no, where are you really from?"
This list can go on and on and on... ;-)

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