It’s fresh out, and a full moon hides behind the clouds as Ivon Shiva Naicker, Bollywood Hopeful and up and coming model, starts walking over the Cambie street Bridge in Vancouver. He’s finished a shift at his day job, crossing t’s and dotting I’s, working as corporate security personnel. He’s still in work mode though, and as his day happened to end near the Cambie bridge he asks me if we can walk it. It’s a nice way to put the day behind you.
As we start to cross onto the bridge, Ivan starts taking photos looking up at the sky and down at the inlet and cars and buildings below. “Vancouver Police!” He calls out and points at the VPD’s parking lot filled with Their stealth looking Dodge chargers.
“You wanna be a cop Ivon? VPD?” I ask. At 22 years of age he also happens to be a black belt in Karate and Kick Boxing, and studies criminology. “How awesome would it be…” he says. But just as quickly as he builds excitement Shiva seems to calm himself and pauses to reflect. “You never know…” he says.
That pause speaks volumes to his maturity and it shades the tricky corners and curves of this editorial. For you see Ivon is sure of himself but he remains humble and mentality prepared for challenges.
I guess that makes sense, he’s currently a model and has just finished acting in his first independent film. He really is at in inflection point in his life.
I’ve known Ivon for 10 years, or should I say he’s known me. He used to see me, unbeknownst to me, as every so often I would make arrests and conduct plain clothes surveillance’s as a Corporate Investigator, in a previous life not so long ago.
We happened to cross paths one day as he was working in the field and began to discuss the arts and he recounted some highlights he observed of my early days work. Pretty flattering, that is sure.
So like any good investigator I started asking him questions. It’s only good form for the veteran to test out the new boot. Well, what he shared, I believe, sets him apart…if not now, most certainly in the years he has to come.
Which is greater for you Modelling or Acting?
“Acting is greater for me, however confidence in acting has emerged from modelling. I owe a lot to modelling when it comes to expression delivery…….whenever we wear different types of outfits, we need to help the designer carry out their vision through their designs. Modelling also gives you an opportunity to network and also develop confidence.”
When did you start Modelling?
I started modelling in 2016 and my first opportunity was to walk for a Indian fashion show for a magazine platform called “Darpan”. It was my first taste of modelling on runway. The most notable memory of modelling for me would be when I got to walk for south Asian fashion week, it was an amazing experience modelling in a suit for the first time.
When did you start acting?
“Grade 9 Drama was where I started realizing acting is something that I can do from the heart. The school group I was part of, mostly did comedy skits and we did film some small short films. This film takes a sharp turn for me. I am now cast in a film called “Monster”, (Directed by Inderveer Sodhi) which has elevated my acting skills, as I got my first taste of acting as a character that I am not really familiar with. I feel like Acting is something that I can make my passion.”
Ok I need to pause there. You see, in speaking with Ivon I kept seeing and hearing flashes of excitement in his voice and yet his body language was muted. Genuinely excited, but calm.
I also knew from speaking to his mom, that there was more to Ivon than he might say….shout out to moms everywhere…holding onto the secrets of our lives we might later gloss over, modestly or conveniently, forget to bring up as the canon of our personality makeup. And so, the next question…
When is the first time you realized you wanted to act?
“Going through cancer in grade 3 and 9 gave me a lot of time to sit at home and watch tons of movies, listen to music, essentially carve out things that I wanted to do in the future and where I wanted to see myself. Pain and Recovery gave sometime to contemplate amazing and fruitful thoughts about the way I will be living one day. These movies would be mainly Harry Potter and Bollywood movies. I also developed an interest in singing through watching Bollywood movies as well.”
How did you handle going through it twice?
“Going through cancer for the second time was rough, despite not resulting in chemo. The first time I had it I had to go through chemo therapy, which is painful. The feeling you get when the IV liquid enters your body transmit a “freeze-like” chemical that numbs your arm. Strange enough it affected me more when cancer had occurred in grade 9. I had to miss out on activities in the summer time and also was worried that I was going to go through it in an older age. Grade 9, I mean, we worry about which video games to play and where to eat with your friends.”
How has your family supported you?
“They have supported me in every way imaginable. These rough times in grade 3 and 9 got us closer and closer; pain essentially brought us together.”
And your community?
“The Community that I worked with has always appreciated me, they know who they are. Love you guys for always being there and giving me a chance to work with you!”
Do you have hopes for a family as part of your future?
“I go wherever my family goes, that’s the motto. My hopes are to stick with them forever.”
Ivon you have 2 Black Belts…What did you learn from your your training in martial arts?
“Martial arts…if martial arts hadn’t came into my life I wouldn’t be able to recover my physical and mental self. Martial arts taught me discipline and self belief. I can’t thank my sensei enough for always being there and guiding us in the art. I feel terrible that I usually have to skip classes due to school. However training is something that I do time to time till this day. Martial arts is a big reason I am not a drug user or someone who consumes alcohol. My stimulant is the way of a martial artist, I enjoy training and this is my high.”
How do you see yourself as a young man in your community and your country?
“I see myself as someone who can lend a hand. If anyone wants to talk and share their pain with me I will accept them open hands. I see myself as someone they can count on and I love this leadership quality, the dependability people have on me makes me proud of who I am.”
Although I don’t go into further details in this article, when I probed Ivon on the influence his Father and Mother have had on him and how he much he cared for his sister, He was beaming with Pride and smiled ear to ear as he related story after story. For another day and another interview.
Nowadays, trials and difficulties affect us all. Media becomes ever more prolific at documenting the human story and rallies behind causes and churns up just about every sort of thing we’ve ever said and done. It’s for that reason, I was especially proud and felt fortunate to run into an artist and role model in the making, such as 22 year old, Ivon Shiva Naicker.
His story thus far, is reminder of the great opportunities that are available for young men and women in Canada, but that none of us are immune to adversity. It can shape us, it can make us better, if we want it too, if we let it.
As we prepared to part ways, Ivon and I chatted about my personal transition into a full time role as a Photojournalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He then dropped me a line of motivation and support that made me smile. He said: “Des, you have to be a…Tiger…be the Tiger!”
Well said Shiva, well said.
Sher Vancouver releases “Queersome Desi Resources.”
Surrey, British Columbia – Sher Vancouver is proud to release “Queersome Desi Resources” which is a specially curated list of Queer South Asian Resources from around the world. The resource was created to celebrate, liberate, and validate our queer South Asian community.
We have created an extensive list including inspiring reads, podcasts, movies, creative projects and have featured around 20 noteworthy Queers in our community. This resource highlights global queer organizations to build an inclusive community by supporting each other. Let us come together and celebrate our South Asian queer community who are living their truths unapologetically. We are so grateful for your representation!
The resource was created by Sher Vancouver Women’s Coordinators Sharon and Anoushka. “I am grateful to help create this resource collection for Sher Vancouver, as it has been my saviour in my own self-healing, and acceptance journey. I quickly dismantled the belief of me being the only queer Punjabi person in the community working on this collection.
Instead, what I found was a plethora of queer South Asian platforms! All it took was determined searching of the Internet. I hope you too find comfort, hope, empowerment, and pride in these resources. Desi queers are here. Desi queers exist. and Desi queers are thriving” states Sharon.”
“Being a part of this project makes me incredibly proud as it presented an opportunity to give back to the Desi queer community. For someone who has relatively recently accepted their own identity and was on a journey to find resources, people to rely on and organizations to be a part of, a list like this would have been a great place to start.
The lack of queer representation growing up made me feel isolated and unsure but through this project I have learnt that acceptance and empowerment is present no matter who you are and where you are from. Among these resources and people, I hope you find what I was able to. Embrace who you are,” states Anoushka.
“I feel Sharon and Anoushka did an exceptional job with curating the Queersome Desi Resources for Sher Vancouver. This project creates awareness and visibility of the global South Asian queer community. South Asian queers are not alone in this world,” states Sher Vancouver Founder Alex Sangha.
Queersome was designed by one of Metro Vancouver’s most talented graphic designers Jag Nagra of https://www.jagnagra.com/
The Queersome Desi Resources is part of a three-part series designed to provide information to the LGBTQ + community. This three-part series project consists of:
1. Legal Resources Kit which consists of three documents:
a. LGBTQ+ Friendly Lawyer Referrals
b. Information Regarding Human Rights
c. Safe Countries for LGBTQ+ Travellers
2. Queersome Desi Resources (South Asian Queer Resources from around the world)
3. Sher’s Pink Directory which will list organizations that fund the LGBTQ + community in Metro Vancouver (coming soon)
The resources are available for free download for everyone on the Sher Vancouver website under RESOURCES at the following link: https://www.shervancouver.com/resources.html
Love at First Sight: A Mother’s Journey to Adoption
Raj Arneja’s new book evokes powerful emotions of becoming a mother
Raj Arneja’s joy to motherhood is her most fulfilling life experience. Her journey is filled with emotions and strife, after traveling thousands of miles from Canada to India which led her to a happiness beyond her own expectations.
Raj, the Director of Corporate Engagement and Philanthropy at Nanak Foods, recently announced the launch of her extremely personal and thought-provoking book, Love at First Sight – A Mother’s Journey to Adoption, which chronicles her journey to adopting her two beautiful children Kabir and Kirti. The book promises to inspire you to never give up hope, no matter what life throws at you.
In her book, Raj describes the challenges she faced in the 1990’s while trying to adopt her now grown up children. The stigma surrounding adoption in the South Asian community gave Raj a reason to pen her story, share her experiences and inspire people to take a chance on life and parenthood.
“Like most people, I have faced many challenges in life. Not being able to conceive was heartbreaking at first and I longed to feel the love and joy of a baby. While I felt the sadness, I was also not ready to give up,” says Raj. “I knew I would love and experience it all through adoption. With a strong will and stronger love for children, I adopted my two kids. Every day since then has been a blessing. It has been the best decision of my life.”
Raj has always believed that giving birth to a child is not the only thing that makes a woman a mother. It is the unconditional love you have for your child that makes you one. Love at First Sight – A Mother’s Journey to Adoption will inspire young mothers and aspiring parents exploring the option to adopt a child.
Raj loves her children more than anyone in the world and she hopes that her book will inspire more people to adopt, or diminish the stigma surrounding adoption. People who have read Raj’s book have found it to be of wise council.
“I hope my chosen path and my struggles can help someone find their way to undying love, just as I have with my children,” she says.
Rajiee M Shinde, CEO, ShowBox Channel of IN10 Media Pvt Ltd. A Dada Saheb Phalke Film Foundation award winner was enamored by her story. Rajiee says, “With powerful words, and wonderfully exhibited emotions, Raj gives you an insight into how her struggles and accomplishments shape her as a mother. Her journey to date is evidence of what a complete and beautiful human being she is – a remarkable example for society!”
Dr. Bal Pawa, Co-Founder Westcoast Women’s Clinic, Author of The Mind-Body Cure and TedX Speaker, found the book ‘compelling’. “This book highlights the power of love: unconditional, expansive, and infinite. Raj’s incredible perseverance and unwavering faith in a higher purpose fuel her maternal instinct to never give up.
Heart-wrenching emotions are illustrated in the trials and tribulations of IVF treatments, cultural expectations, and navigating unknown waters of overseas adoptions. I especially loved her explanation of adoption to her child, “you came from my heart.” This unforgettable reframing of biology should certainly inspire more couples to adopt.”
“A remarkable story of perseverance, love and family. Raj’s life story is an inspiration. Her journey to motherhood reminds us all of the power of intention and manifesting the life we wish to have. This book is a must read for anyone looking for an uplifting and refreshing take on finding purpose and meaning through all of life’s adventures and challenges.” – Bal Brach, CBC Journalist, Documentary Filmmaker, Reporter CBC Vancouver
The book is available on Amazon:
About Raj Arneja
Born into an immigrant family and raised in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, Raj’s childhood memories are full of colourful stories of supporting family and friends as they settled into their new country and adjusted to new customs and traditions. Raj works hard at building relationships within the community through her work at Nanak Foods.
She directs the company’s philanthropic initiatives, including strategy, programming, and partnership development, and the day-to-day operation of all corporate contributions. Raj also sits on various boards, where she adds value through her skills and experience. She is a well-known entity in the South Asian community in the Vancouver area.
Raj enjoys supporting various charitable, non-profit community organizations, including the Seva Thrift Society, VISAFF, and two girls’ orphanages in Punjab. Raj strongly feels that humanity has no borders and we should reach out and help wherever we are able to, regardless of race, gender or nationality. Raj lives in Surrey, British Columbia, with her husband and 2 children. She is an avid traveler and has travelled to over 60 countries, many times with her children and to some as a volunteer.
The Case for Mixed Relationships
What is race? That four letter word that has plagued American culture since its inception, as it turns out, may not even be real, but rather a political and financial ruse used to manipulate and separate people. According to a 2018 National Geographic article titled, There’s No Scientific Basis for Race – It’s a Made Up Label, “Over the past few decades, genetic research has revealed two deep truths about people. The first is that all humans are closely related—more closely related than all chimps even though there are many more humans around today. Everyone has the same collection of genes.”
A 2017 article put out by Harvard University asks the question, “[Is] race a myth – a mere social construct – and biologically meaningless?” It goes on to state, “today, scientists prefer to use the term ‘ancestry‘ to describe human diversity. ‘Ancestry’ reflects the fact that human variations do have a connection to the geographical origins of our ancestors. With enough
information about a person’s DNA, scientists can make a reasonable guess about their ancestry. However, unlike the term ‘race,’ it focuses on understanding how a person’s history unfolded, not how they fit into one category and not another.”
On an anecdotal level, if you were to crack open a current day middle school history textbook (just in case you need a refresher), a pretty grim portrait is painted of Europeans scouting lands on other continents that were rich in natural resources, conquering those lands and indigenous people, and claiming ownership based on little more than feelings of self-entitlement and self-proclaimed superiority.
It seems what we are looking at are artificially constructed concepts of racial designation based on financial gain and the acquisition of global turf that has remained with us over centuries, as propaganda and myth were accepted as fact. This is not about pointing fingers as to whose ancestors did what to whom, but to point out the dysfunctional origins of race designation, that in my opinion, have negatively impacted all people.
Although older generations may sit you down for the old Bird and Fish conversation (a bird and a fish can fall in love… but where will they build their nest…?) when it comes to the presumed perils of dating or marrying outside one’s race or ethnicity, another 2017 article, this one written by Psychology Today, concludes, “if we compare mixed-race and same-race
couples who enjoy the same quality of life, we find no difference in divorce rates. In this sense, there’s no evidence for the received wisdom that biracial marriages are more likely to fail.”
In fact, in 2020, mixed couples are more likely to experience pushback from well-meaning members of their own respective inner circles than they will from society at large, causing many mixed-race couples to say, “Mom, dad, you are the ones discriminating against us. Society is busy with its own problems.”
As we explore the disturbing hot button issues of white privilege, police brutality and hate crimes, yes, society’s problems can spill over into mixed couplings and mixed families, though in a most curious way. A Caucasian person may be worried about his/her Black partner when that partner is out and about without them, thereby removing the veil of white privilege they provide when the couple is together.
Mixed race children that are half Caucasian and half Black also tend to benefit from the veil of white privilege extended to them when they are in the presence of the white parent. This may lead to a false sense of security if lessons about racial discrimination and violence against Black Americans are not taught by both parents.
The bottom line is that this is an issue that impacts the Black members of that family when the Caucasian partner is not around; a problem that would have effected them as Black Americans with or without their mixed relationship or mixed family dynamic.
For their part, Caucasian people with Black life partners and Black children have a considerable responsibility to be educated, empathetic and approachable about this issue, but they must know that they cannot “rescue” their partner and children or “fix” the problem. Only changed public policy and a changed mass consciousness can eventually do
that. This is a substantial lesson for the Caucasian partner in humility, compassion, understanding and providing support without condescension or attempting to control the situation. Accept that you don’t know what it feels like, nor can you give advice based on experiences that you have never had.
In terms of integrating cultural differences, the Psychology Today article does go on to highlight potential marital pitfalls, stating, “What’s most important in determining whether a marriage will succeed or fail is the amount of long-term stress the couple experiences. This stress can come from outside the marriage, for example from financial problems or work-related issues.
It can also arise within the marriage, for instance from difficulties in child-rearing or health issues—whether physical or psychological. Lack of support for the marriage from society in general or from extended family, in particular, can also tip the scale towards dysfunction and divorce.” The article goes on to say, “When two people from different cultures marry, an important key to making the union a success is respect for each other’s cultural heritage.
When spouses look down on their partner’s culture as inferior to their own, or when they feel it’s not worthwhile getting to know their partner’s people or their ways and traditions, there’s little chance for long-term happiness in the marriage.” In other words, interracial or mixed relationships and marriages are made or broken by one simple word: respect. And respect is universal to all relationships, mixed or not. Only the details are different.
All relationships, marriages and long-term romantic partnerships endure major stressors throughout a shared lifetime. In the case of mixed-race couplings, you could simply be swapping one potential stressor for another, but that does not mean that the challenges of blending two races or cultures has to spell trouble.
On the contrary, some of the major purposes of long-term relationships are emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth. Partnering with someone from another race or ethnicity is fertile ground for this worthy human pursuit. There is great opportunity to learn empathy, to expand oneself to allow for the acceptance of cultural and social ideals outside of one’s upbringing, to learn to see the world through someone else’s eyes and experiences, and to gain the valuable gift of knowing that romantic love and family love transcends race and culture. In short, you
will learn a lot and perhaps be better for it. There is also something to be said for the freedom of expression that comes from being one half of a mixed relationship. When marrying within one’s own race, religion and ethnic background there are a lot of “should” that both parties have grown up with in terms of what is expected by their families and social circles.
You may find little to no sympathy in your partner since they were raised within the same exact cultural construct as you, and likely see and accept that construct as what is expected. Mixed couples have broken out of that mold through the sheer existence of their coupling, creating more of a “let’s make our own rules” or “us against the world” dynamic, which is not without its challenges but can also be a proverbial relationship superglue, strengthening the bond between a couple.
A 2016 Ebony article titled Culture Clash: Why You Should Date Outside Your Comfort Zone expresses the freedom factor that mixed couples tend to experience, stating, “The cool part about blending two different backgrounds is the ability to create and share new traditions.”
If racial constructs are indeed a myth with no scientific precedent, the very act of coupling interracially or interculturally makes you two more people in the world courageous enough to dispel this long held destructive racial myth that has caused insurmountable pain and suffering in the United States and around the world.
Apart from expanding your horizons in search of Mr. or Ms. Right, you are saying no to the race myth and yes to love, and possibly creating something that will contribute to changing the world.
Top 15 South Asian Role Models
Surrey, British Columbia – Sher Vancouver is pleased to announce the Top 15 South Asian Role Models for 2020.
The Top 15 South Asian Role Models was a list first compiled by Sher Vancouver Founder and award-winning social worker and documentary film producer, Alex Sangha, in January 2011 and was published in the Vancouver Observer. A new list was compiled in June 2015 and published in the Georgia Straight, Huffington Post, Darpan Magazine, and Surrey604.
The Top 15 South Asian Role Models is now released for publication approximately every five years.
The purpose of the list is threefold:
- To educate the broader public about the contributions that South Asian people make to the world.
- To provide South Asian youth with positive role models so they can feel proud of their culture, heritage, and accomplishments as a community.
- To showcase the ethnocultural diversity of South Asia as a subcontinent and its people. For the purposes of this list, South Asia includes people from the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and The Maldives and their diaspora worldwide. People from Afghanistan, Burma, and Tibet may also be considered at the discretion of the jury.
- SELECTION COMMITTEE – People from South Asia or the South Asian diaspora who are inspirational, influential, and impactful especially within the last five years are shortlisted. A selection committee from Sher Vancouver research and come up with the shortlist.
- CORE MEMBERSHIP – This shortlist is then sent to the core Sher Vancouver membership for final recommendations, review, and feedback.
- PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT – Sher Vancouver Founder Alex Sangha then gathers all the feedback, information, and recommendations and announces the Top 15 list in a news release to the general public and the media, as well as various social media platforms.
The world cannot stop talking about immigration. It is an eminent topic that spurs political debates and sensationalizes headlines, creates conflict and opportunity, and affects the world over. People from South Asia and their diaspora around the world make up a remarkably diverse demographic.
If you look at the largest country in South Asia for example, India, you will discover that over 31 million people of Indian birth or descent are part of the Indian diaspora spread around the globe. Their social and cultural diversity is represented in 33 major languages and some 1500 minor ones, seven major religions, and a mélange of six major ethnic groups.
Furthermore, Professor Nirvikar Singh, co-author of a book on the Indian diaspora, “The Other One Percent: Indians in America,” notes that 8% of the founders of high-tech companies in the US are Indians. Indians are one of the richest and most educated ethnic groups in one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world. These numbers tell only half of the story.
From their collective experiences abet with separating from their homeland, they continue to find ways to embrace the best the world has to offer, while maintaining their cultural roots and identities as Indians. They have integrated themselves into a pluralistic western society, which values competitiveness, egalitarianism, and objective individualism to achieve success and contribute effectively to a larger society.
TOP 15 SOUTH ASIAN ROLE MODELS FOR 2020
The Top 15 is made up of seven women and eight men with origins from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Canada, USA, and the United Kingdom from Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Sikh families. We also have five wonderful Honourable Mentions for you to check out!
“The opportunity to create a list of the Top 15 South Asian Role Models for 2020 has been an eye-opening experience. The impact South Asians have had through multiple fields and professions is utterly amazing. I am proud to help showcase some of these wonderful people and give recognition to deserving members of our distinct and varied communities,” states Sher Vancouver Youth Group Member Karn Sahota.
“It was very difficult to shortlist the Top 15 as the world is full of wonderful South Asians and people of South Asian origin doing amazing and incredible things. I felt so proud of being an immigrant from Punjab, India and South Asia after researching and learning about all the amazing achievements and community service and success of our global community,” states Sher Vancouver Vice President Kayden Bhangu.
Here are some amazing South Asians that are making tremendous strides in the present times in random alphabetical order by last name:
1. RIZ AHMED – Actor, rapper, and activist. As an activist, he is known for his political rap music. As an actor, he has won an Emmy Award and has received nominations for a Golden Globe and three British Independent Film Awards.
2. SHAHIDUL ALAM – Photojournalist, teacher, and social activist. He was Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018.
3. EDUARDO BHATIA – Attorney and politician. He is the former 15th President of the Senate of Puerto Rico and former executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. Bhatia has worked to eradicate the injustices of inequality and lift Puerto Rico from the ruins, fight poverty and rebuild the middle class to through the transformation of the country’s public schools.
4. JAMEELA JAMIL – Actress, radio presenter, model, and writer. Jamil was one of fifteen women selected to appear on the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue Forces for Change.
5. SAL KHAN – Founder of non-profit Khan Academy, one of the most popular online learning sites. He has been profiled by CBS’s 60 Minutes, featured on the cover of Forbes and recognized as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
6. HASAN MINAJ – Comedian, actor, and writer. He was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world of 2019 and was awarded Peabody and Webby award for his Netflix show in 2019.
7. SATYA N. NADELLA – Business executive. He is an Indian American CEO and Director of Microsoft since 2014. In 2019, Nadella was named the Financial Times Person of the Year.
8. VIKRAM H. PATEL – Internationally renowned researcher, psychiatrist. He was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world.
9. NAOMI SCOTT – Actress. She has made her mark in both the British and the American entertainment industries as a singer and an actress. She is best known for her role as Princess Jasmine in Disney’s musical Aladdin released in 2019.
10. HANNAH SIMONE – Actress, television host, and fashion model. She is best known for portraying Cece on the Fox sitcom New Girl. Besides her career in the show business, she has also done research on the rights of children and women for a book under former Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada Lloyd Axworthy.
11. LILLY SINGH – Actress, comedian, author, and television host. She has received a People’s Choice Award and was listed by Forbes as one of the 40 most powerful people in comedy in 2019.
12. RAVI SINGH – Humanitarian. He is the Founder of Khalsa Aid which is a UK-based humanitarian relief charity providing support around the world to victims of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, earthquakes, famine, and war.
13. JAYSHREE ULLAL- Businesswoman. The current president and CEO of Arista Networks, Ullal is credited with the deployment of a transformational ethernet networking program. She is now one of America’s wealthiest female executives. Forbes named Ullal as one of the top five most influential people in the networking industry today.
14. INDIRA VARMA- Actress. Indira is best known for her role as Niobe of the Voreni in HBO’s Rome. Her first major role was in Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love – an Indian historical romance film by Deepa Mehta. In the UK, she is better known as a versatile television artist and has appeared in several television serials including the all-time favourites Torchwood, Bones, and Game of Thrones.
15. MALALA YOUSAFZAI – Advocate for female education and the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate.
- TAN FRANCE – Fashion designer, television personality, and author. Tan is most famous for being the fashion expert for the Netflix series Queer Eye. He became one of the very first openly gay South Asian men on a major show, and one of the first out gay Muslim men on western television.
- ARUNDHATI KATJU – Lawyer and MENAKA GURUSWAMY – Senior Advocate. Arundhati and Menaka have helped take a giant step for LGBTQ+ rights in the world’s largest democracy by winning a fight against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that decriminalized homosexuality.
- ALOK VAID MENON – Writer, performance artist, and media personality. Alok is gender non-conforming and transfeminine and uses singular they pronouns. As a mixed-media artist Alok uses poetry, prose, comedy, performance, lecture, fashion design, and portraiture to explore themes of gender, race, trauma, belonging, and the human condition. They have presented their work at 500 venues in more than 40 countries.
- DANNY PUDI – Actor, comedian, writer, producer, and director. Danny is best known for portraying the pop culture-obsessed Abed on NBC’s show Community. He has received three nominations for the Critics’ Choice Television Award.
- RAGHURAM RAJAN – Economist. Raghuram is very widely respected and acknowledged in the field of economics. He is amongst the Top 10 Economists of the World, especially due to his foresight of the 2008 economic recession. He was named by Time in its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
DETAILED BIOGRAPHIES OF THE TOP 15
RIZ AHMED is an actor, rapper, and activist (born December 1, 1982, in London, UK to a British Pakistani family). Riz was initially known for his work in independent films such as The Road to Guantanamo (2006), Shifty (2008), Four Lions (2010), and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013), as well as television series such as Britz (2007) and Dead Set (2008), before his breakout role in the film Nightcrawler (2014).
He then went on act as a lead in HBO miniseries The Night of and Girls for which he became the first Asian and first Muslim to win an acting Emmy. As an activist, he is known for his political rap music. As an actor, he has won an Emmy Award and has received nominations for a Golden Globe and three British Independent Film Awards.
Ahmed has spoken about the lack of accurate representation of Muslims in the arts, and often expresses these views on social media and has inspired to developing the Riz Test which aims to identify the nature of Muslim representation in film and TV.
SHAHIDUL ALAM is a photojournalist, teacher, and social activist (born 1955 in Dhaka, Bangladesh to a Muslim family). Shahidul was Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018. Alam is synonymous with photography in South Asia.
In a career spanning more than three decades, he has chronicled his country’s tumultuous history, photographing natural disasters, political upheaval, human rights abuses and, recently, the conditions facing Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar. He has also covered stories elsewhere in the region, including places rarely visited by journalists, such as the Maldives.
EDUARDO BHATIA is an attorney, and politician (born May 16, 1964, in San Salvador, El Salvador to an Indian father) He is the former 15th President of the Senate of Puerto Rico and former executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.
Bhatia has worked to eradicate the injustices of the inequality and lift Puerto Rico from the ruins, fight poverty and rebuild the middle class through the transformation of the country’s public schools. He is the author of the most comprehensive energy reform law in Puerto Rico’s history (Law 57 of 2014).
JAMEELA JAMIL is an actress, radio presenter, model, and writer. (born February 25, 1986, in London, England, UK to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother). Jameela has become a bona fide star, thanks to her role in NBC’s The Good Place, and is considered as a star on the rise in the entertainment industry. Jameela openly identifies as queer.
Jamil was the first solo female presenter of the BBC Radio 1 chart show. Jamil was one of fifteen women selected to appear on the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue Forces for Change. She is set to appear as a judge on HBO ballroom competition show Legendary.
SAL KHAN is an educator (born October 11, 1976 in Louisiana, US to a Bengali family). Sal is the founder of the non-profit Khan Academy, one of the most popular online learning sites. Khan, 43, has spent the last 12 years developing hundreds of free classes, from math and science to history. His goal is to make learning accessible for everyone, everywhere.
Khan is revolutionizing education and helping millions of people by making it interactive and accessible so that anyone in the world can learn and prosper. Khan has been profiled by CBS’s 60 Minutes, featured on the cover of Forbes, and recognized as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. He holds three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
HASAN MINAJ is a comedian, actor, and writer (born September 23, 1985, in California, US to a Muslim family). Until recently, he was a correspondent on the Emmy and Peabody award-winning program The Daily Show.
Hasan has been a featured speaker at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, has hosted one-man show, Homecoming King which debuted Off-Broadway and landed his own show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj on Netflix. Minaj was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world of 2019 and was awarded Peabody and Webby award for his Netflix show in 2019.
SATYA N. NADELLA is a business executive (born August 19, 1967, in Hyderabad, India to a Hindu Telugu family). Satya is the CEO and Director of Microsoft since 2014. When Mr. Nadella took over, Microsoft was in danger of having missed almost every important new technology trend since the turn of the century.
Mr. Nadella responded by taking Microsoft back to its roots, looking to a period before Windows when its software tools were used by other companies to build their own technology. Microsoft’s stock price has more than quadrupled since Satya Nadella took over as CEO six years ago.
In 2019, Nadella was named the Financial Times Person of the Year.
VIKRAM H. PATEL is an internationally renowned researcher and psychiatrist (born May 5, 1964, in Mumbai, India to a Hindu family). He co-founded the Centre for Global Mental Health in 2008. Dr. Patel leads research that plays a central role in the emergence and development of the field of global mental health and that has galvanized policy, civil society, and donor action to address the large unmet need for care for people with mental disorders in low-and middle-income countries.
Patel outlines a highly promising approach — training members of communities to give mental health interventions, empowering ordinary people to care for others. He was listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world and was recipient of Canada Gairdner Global Health Award in 2019.
NAOMI SCOTT is an actress and singer (born May 6, 1993, in London, UK to an Indian Gujarati mother). She has made her mark in both the British and the American entertainment industries as a singer and an actress. She is best known for her role as Princess Jasmine in Disney’s musical Aladdin released in 2019.
Subsequently, Scott went on to star as one of the three leads in the action comedy film Charlie’s Angels. She has also released the EPs Invisible Division and Promises.
HANNAH SIMONE is an actress, television host, and fashion model (born August 3, 1980 in London, UK to an Indian father). Hannah is best known for portraying Cece on the Fox sitcom New Girl. Her effortless performance and enthralling personality are the main reasons behind her growing popularity in the show business.
She began her journey in the entertainment industry as a TV host and VJ before exploring other avenues such as acting. Besides her career in the show business, she has also done research on the rights of children and women for a book under former Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada Lloyd Axworthy.
LILLY SINGH is an actress, comedian, author, and television host (born September 26, 1988, in Scarborough, Ontario to a Punjabi Sikh family). Lilly Singh has amassed nearly 15 million subscribers and more than 3 billion views since launching her popular channel of YouTube videos under the name “Superwoman” in 2010. She has since appeared as an actor in films and TV series and published a book that topped the New York Times Business Best Sellers list.
Singh is currently the host of a new late-night talk show, “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” on NBC. She is the only openly LGBTQ person as well as the first person of Indian descent who is hosting a talk show on a major broadcast network. Singh has received a People’s Choice Award and was listed by Forbes as one of the 40 most powerful people in comedy in 2019.
RAVI SINGH is a humanitarian (born in Singapore and of British Sikh origin). He is the Founder of Khalsa Aid which is a UK-based humanitarian relief charity providing support around the world to victims of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, earthquakes, famine, and war. The Khalsa Aid team is often one of the first on the scene to help distribute food, water, clothing, medical and sanitation supplies.
They fund and build semi-permanent shelters, if needed – anything that’s required in those early days to save lives, reduce people’s immediate suffering, and help maintain their dignity. Ravi saw the footage of the Kosovan refugees on the news and was inspired by one Sikhi ideology in particular – “Sarbat da Bhalla” meaning “well-being for all” – recognizing the humanity in us all and reaching out to those in need, regardless of race, religion, borders.
JAYSHREE ULLAL is a businesswoman (born March 27, 1961 in London, UK to an Indian family). Jayashree spent her formative years in New Delhi, India. The current president and CEO of Arista Networks, Ullal is credited with the deployment of a transformational ethernet networking program. She is now one of America’s wealthiest female executives. Forbes named Ullal as one of the top five most influential people in the networking industry today.
INDIRA VARMA is an actress (born May 14, 1973, in Somerset, UK to an Indian father). Indira is best known for her role as Niobe of the Voreni in HBO’s Rome. Her first major role was in Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love – an Indian historical romance film by Deepa Mehta. In the UK, she is better known as a versatile television artist and has appeared in several television serials including the all-time favourites Torchwood, Bones, and Game of Thrones that consist of comedy, horror, and drama to cater to a wide spectrum of audience.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI is an advocate for female education (born July 12, 1997, in the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Malala is a Pashtun Muslim). She is the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate and a former blogger for BBC Urdu. She is currently a student at Oxford University studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Lady Margaret Hall.
DETAILED BIOGRAPHIES OF THE HONOURABLE MENTIONS
TAN FRANCE is a fashion designer, television personality, and author (born April 20, 1983, in South Yorkshire, UK to Muslim Pakistani parents). Tan is most famous for being the fashion expert for the Netflix series Queer Eye. He became one of the very first openly gay South Asian men on a major show, and one of the first out gay Muslim men on western television.
France has gone on to co-host a Netflix series Next in Fashion with Alexa Chung and released his memoir, Naturally Tan in 2019.
ARUNDHATI KATJU is a lawyer (born August 19, 1982, in Allahabad, India and MENAKA GURUSWAMY is a Senior Advocate (born November 27, 1974, in Hyderabad, India). Arundhati and Menaka became beacons of hope for the Indian LGBTQ+ community. Their perseverance and commitment led an entire community to a historic win by humanizing their struggles and giving them the freedom to love.
Arundhati and Menaka have helped take a giant step for LGBTQ+ rights in the world’s largest democracy by winning a fight against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that decriminalized homosexuality.
ALOK VAID MENON is a writer, performance artist, and media personality (born July 1, 1991, in Texas, US to Malayali and Punjabi family). Alok is gender non-conforming and transfeminine and uses singular they pronouns. As a mixed-media artist Alok uses poetry, prose, comedy, performance, lecture, fashion design, and portraiture to explore themes of gender, race, trauma, belonging, and the human condition.
They are the author of Femme in Public (2017) and Beyond the Gender Binary (2020). In 2019 they were honored as one of NBC’s Pride 50 and Out Magazine’s OUT 100. They have presented their work at 500 venues in more than 40 countries.
DANNY PUDI is an actor, comedian, writer, producer, and director (born March 10, 1979, in Chicago, US to an Indian father). Danny is best known for portraying the pop culture-obsessed Abed on NBC’s show Community. He has received three nominations for the Critics’ Choice Television Award. Danny made his debut as a director with a short film called Untucked about Marquette’s legendary basketball uniforms for the ESPN 30 for 30 series.
RAGHURAM RAJAN is a widely respected economist (born February 3, 1963, in Bhopal, India to a Hindu family). He is amongst the Top 10 Economists of the World, especially due to his foresight of the 2008 economic recession. He was named by Time in its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
“Seeing the Light” – Reflections for Pride 2020 by Alex Sangha
I’m gay and I’m a person of colour, from a South Asian community. I am a Punjabi Sikh male. I belong to a cultural community where most people do not accept homosexuality. But over the years I’ve found ways to overcome my challenges and focus on my strengths. I was a closeted young man. I was very sad about being gay—was suicidal throughout my teens.
I felt like a sick person for having sexual thoughts about men. I didn’t want to be different and was afraid of being rejected by my family—there’s a lot of pressure in the South Asian community to get married and have children. When I was 13 I secretly found my way to a counsellor, hoping to become straight. His approach was to support me in whatever I decided, and he did walk me through the process of coming out as part of exploring my options.
When I was 18, I had a brief but positive relationship with a man. I knew then that I couldn’t change my sexuality. But I wanted to escape to another country, where very few people knew me, to live a gay life. So in 1991, at 19, I went to live with my grandfather in Gravesend, Kent, England, to attend college. I felt lonely and missed my family in Canada.
Within a few months of arriving in Kent, my emotions started going up and down. I hated myself for being gay. I had “internalized homophobia.” A cousin who lived nearby visited and was shocked by my appearance. I was not taking care of myself. He took me to his house and tried to get me to eat and sleep. I couldn’t eat or drink much, but I did lie down, cover myself with a blanket and fall into a deep sleep on his bed.
All of a sudden I remember feeling a type of strange energy coming from deep within me. Then it felt like it was leaving me. The top part of my body lifted up, the blanket fell off my face and I saw this light right in front of me. It’s hard to describe it, but it was magnificent. Then I got scared, so covered myself again with the blanket. And when I took another peek, the light was gone.
I think the Creator was trying to send me a message in my dream.I didn’t know what to make of the light and struggled until into my 30s to understand what it was. I wasn’t a spiritual person at the time it happened. I’d say I was open to the idea of a Creator but didn’t think about it much. But somehow, through seeing the light, I had a sense of the Creator wanting me to pursue work in the helping professions.
I returned to Canada and decided to study social work. When I was in England, I did go to the hospital for help after seeing the light. There they thought I just needed food and sleep. In this period, my mother asked me if I was gay. I lied and said I was bisexual.
Later, when I was at the University of British Columbia, I volunteered with a student LGBTQ+ organization. I wanted to make gay friends, and I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. We did presentations to the campus community on homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination. We also organized a fun-filled “coming out” week when LGBTQ+ students could feel good about themselves and come out of the closet if they wished to. I was later elected Co-Chair of this queer campus organization.
I have since completed two master’s degrees. An MSc in Public Administration and Public Policy from the Department of Government at the London School of Economics where I received a partial entrance scholarship and a Master of Social Work from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In addition, I managed to obtain my clinical social work designation and I have my own counselling practice currently where I help many South Asian LGBTQ+ people in crisis or distress. I also worked as a team leader, clinician, social worker, youth counsellor, and instructor.
I am most proud, however, of being the Founder of Sher Vancouver which is a growing and dynamic non-profit organization for LGBTQ+ South Asians and their friends and families.
Sher Vancouver produced a short documentary film, My Name Was January, about our late social coordinator, January Marie Lapuz, who was tragically murdered in September 2012. The film also touches on other transgender women of colour issues. The film has won 14 awards and garnered 63 official selections at film festivals around the world. It has screened in 11 countries and entered the Canadian Screen Awards for Best Short Documentary in 2020.
As Founder of Sher Vancouver, I received the Meritorious Service Medal from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada. I almost cried at the ceremony. I could not believe that after such a long struggle coming to terms with my sexuality and being excluded and marginalized for much of my life, I was actually being recognized for my efforts in the LGBTQ+ community at the highest level.
Support of family and friends is very important when you’re a young gay kid trying to come out. Their support can help reduce stress, depression, and suicidal ideation. My mother has always been supportive. My father, who I felt anger at for abandoning me when I was younger, is now in my life. He doesn’t agree with my gay activism. But I’m grateful that my father supports me the best he can.
The other healing thing I have is my light experience. I’m now convinced that seeing the light was a spiritual experience. It took a long time for me to accept that because in North American society we’re not socialized to acknowledge spirituality. The western world is based on science and facts. I believe it was spiritual energy that everyone has within them; that the Creator is within everyone and is everywhere.
All that really matters is what I believe to be honest, and how it has impacted my life. When I think about the light, it feels like the Creator telling me it’s okay to be gay. It brings me peace and makes me feel like I am not alone in this journey of life.
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