What’s going on? We’d love to hear how your internship is going! I’m interning with the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) in Philadelphia. SAADA is the only independent nonprofit organization giving voice to South Asian Americans through documenting, preserving, and sharing stories that reflect their diverse experiences. My responsibilities include preparing short articles on materials in the archive, digitizing materials, writing grant proposals, co-managing SAADA’s social media for our 3,500+ followers, helping out at events, representing SAADA at citywide and regional government-sponsored focus groups uplifting Asian American immigrants and refugees, and conducting research on potential donors and key influencers in order to expand SAADA’s impact.
I never anticipated that archiving would be so similar to community organizing, but in many ways, it is. We can’t spend all our time collecting and cataloguing materials; that’s pointless. We need to disseminate information about the materials in ways that will engage diverse audiences and get people excited about South Asian American history. We have to know what’s going on in the community in order for our work to be meaningful and relevant. I love working with the materials in the archive and find that aspect of my job very interesting, but there’s another, more complex dimension to my work that I love, too.
How I heard about my internship: I read an interview with Samip Mallick, SAADA’s Executive Director, in The Aerogram and was thoroughly impressed by him and the work he was doing. I sent him an email with my resume attached, more or less gushing about how great I thought the organization was and expressing my interest in interning for the summer. The next week Samip and I met over coffee. Everything “clicked”. I left the meeting with a strong gut feeling that SAADA was where I wanted to be.
Why I applied for my internship: When I was looking for summer internships, I knew I wanted to do something that involved South Asian political and social issues and that combined writing with activism. SAADA met all my criteria. Prior to learning about SAADA, however, I never pictured myself doing archival work. I thought, “Archiving? That’s boring.” Boy was I wrong! At SAADA, we view history as a tool for empowerment. South Asian Americans are an integral part of American history, and yet their contributions have gone largely unrecognized. How many people have heard of Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian American elected to Congress, or Anandabai Joshee, the first South Asian woman to become a doctor trained in Western medicine? As Jeannette Bastian once said, “A community without its records is a community under siege, defending itself, its identity, and its version of history without a firm foundation on which to stand.” We archive so that others may know the truth. We archive so that South Asian Americans may define themselves, and not be defined by others. We archive in order to keep those in power accountable. Archiving is 100% a matter of social justice.