DMV Masala

Flickr: Josep Tomas

Black and brown.

I walked outside yesterday and felt abnormally grateful for the traffic clogging Irving Street at lunch time. I needed a cab and there were several, stranded in front of me.

The middle one had a female driver, so I chose her. Once I slammed the door, I was surprised; the interior smelled like auto parts, dust and WD-40– a combination which immediately transported me three decades in to the past, to my father’s garage, a place where I learned the difference between a flat and Phillips screwdriver before I figured out the alphabet. I checked my sexism immediately and felt bad for the dissonance I was experiencing at the shock of such a scent combined with a female driver. I knew better than that.

“Thanks for picking me.” She smiled wryly. She was middle-aged and African American, with thick, bouncy curls. Some of her facial expressions reminded me of Loretta Devine, which secretly delighted me. Devine was the best part of one of my favorite seasonal guilty pleasures: “This Christmas“. Stop judging me. I liked it before Chris Brown did that. Oh, you’re judging me because it’s a mediocre film which over-relies on holiday cliches to make its point…sure, I deserve that. Carry on!

“I’m not going to lie,” I began. “I thought it was cool that you were a female cab driver. I don’t usually get those.”

“Yeah, we’re rare.” She studied me in her rear view mirror.

“Are you Indian?”, she asked.

“My parents are–”

“And so are you!”, she declared, emphatically.

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A Vigil in Brookland for Raj Patel


Last Saturday, Raj Patel was murdered when he chanced upon a robbery happening in the corner store he managed, in Brookland. Last night, the community which appreciated him held a vigil in his memory. We Love DC was there, and unimpressed with MPD’s excuse for its absence:

Mr. Patel’s son, nephew and brother were present, and have asked that any further donations not be made to the family, but rather to Brookland causes, businesses and churches. Mr. Patel’s nephew explained that while the donations were generous and welcome, that the family knew that Mr. Patel would have wanted that money to go to the people who would need it this holiday season within the Brookland community.

I was disappointed at the lack of representation from MPD, who did not send anyone to the event. I received an email from Commander Greene of the Fifth District last night who said that they had not been made aware of the vigil, and had they known, they would have sent someone to attend and speak to the group, but that they were unaware. Given the large number of posts on area listserves, as well as flyers throughout the neighborhood announcing the event, I find it troubling they were not organically aware of the event, and would have needed an invite.

NBC 4 has more; the murder has not been solved.

D.C. by race, by block

The New York Times has a fascinating interactive feature up where you can browse local data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey by entering a zipcode or city. This allows you to see the racial breakdown of a place, census tract by census tract. Here’s what D.C. looks like– the green dots each represent 100 white people, the blue dots represent 100 Black:

A city divided by green and blue...

You can also choose to “View More Maps” and then select for “Foreign-born population”, “Asian Population”, and more. Were you surprised by the numbers for your block?

Georgetown Pres: DREAM Act will make us stronger

Center for American Progress

Georgetown University President Dr. Jack DeGioia

Now reading: Georgetown University President Jack DeGioia’s thoughts on the DREAM Act:

As a university in the heart of the nation’s capital, working to understand the impacts of globalization and the responsibilities we have in a new global context, it is our job, as educators, to support all of our students, including those who were born abroad, and to encourage passage of this legislation…

At Georgetown, students who meet the DREAM Act criteria are campus leaders and role models for their generation. They are pursuing challenging majors, are actively engaged in campus organization, and regularly participate in community service.

As these students work toward completing their degrees, their drive to give back to this country — using the knowledge gained through an American education — is unparalleled. They have done their part to make America, and our increasingly interconnected world, a better place. We must do ours to support a future for them that is free of fear, constraints and limitations on their success.

Passing the DREAM Act is an essential step toward that end. It will not only help these future leaders, it will enrich our campuses and make our country stronger.

A Free Festival, Tomorrow at the Smithsonian

Robert Burdock

If you’re interested in literature, film or South Asian culture, you would probably enjoy the South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF), which is happening tomorrow — I love it because it’s an event which is unique to D.C. (and it’s FREE):

This year’s festival will feature panel discussions, readings, and film screenings by internationally acclaimed writers and artists. The literary panel will feature poet Pireeni Sundaralingam, editor of the first anthology of contemporary South Asian poetry, Indivisible; award-winning writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of One Amazing Thing; and writer and artist Naeem Mohaiemen, whose work has been featured in galleries around the world. The non-fiction/journalism panel includes Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of the acclaimed Imperial Life in the Emerald City and National Editor at the Washington Post, and writer and activist Canyon Sam, author of The Sky Train.

Date : Saturday, November 13, 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. |
Location : Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW |
Metro : Smithsonian or Federal Triangle

It’s easy to be a critic, when English is your first language.

Santa Fe Nachos, Dos Coyotes, Davis, California

One of the things I miss most about Northern California is the Southwestern restaurant, Dos Coyotes. Please note: I did not say “Mexican” food. I fully admit I want some sort of “inauthentic” dish which contains spicy salsa, black beans and an obscene amount of cheese. That’s a pretty basic want, but it’s difficult to fulfill here in D.C. When I worked near K Street, I’d go to Pedro and Vinnie’s burrito cart and 80% of the time, I’d be satisfied; unfortunately, it’s not open for dinner or on the weekends. So I often end up at…Chipotle. I know. It’s not real, ethnic food. I know.

But it’s spicy and across from my house, so I go. When I do, the staff switches to Spanish while asking for my order. Years ago, I was fluent in it, so my accent is decent and I can bust out these impressive sentences every so often…but I’m much more likely to be left staring at the ceiling, agonizing over a verb I can’t remember. The 14th Street crew doesn’t mind this, in fact they exhort me to keep practicing. I do, because it’s kind of them to help me, but also because it is a potent reminder of how privileged I am.

I speak English.

It’s not my first language, but I speak it as if it were and I don’t take that for granted. When some dolt on the street compliments me by telling me something like, “You’re Indian? You speak good English for an immigrant!”,  I smile a wan smile and reply that I was born to immigrant parents in California, where English is often spoken.
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Supporters of Ali Ahmed Mohammed March, Rally at City Hall


City Hall

After charges were dropped against the five DC9 employees who may have been involved with Ali Ahmed Mohammed’s death, TBD is reporting that over 100 of his family and friends marched to City Hall today, demanding justice:

The amount of anger and frustration among the protesters was at times overwhelming. After addressing the vocal crowd in Amharic, his native language, Mohammed’s father, Ahmed Goltchu Mohammed, became too emotional and had to be escorted away by the family’s attorney. The protest then continued for at least another hour. “We have to work with the system,” the elder Mohammed urged the crowd to remember…

At issue for those gathered was a deep concern that the case might have been dismissed for good. In a statement released Friday accompanying the court filing explaining why the charges had been dropped, however, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen made plain that the investigation is ongoing, and that charges could be re-filed after an autopsy report and any additional evidence becomes available…

While the crowd didn’t hear from any of the three politicians they had hoped to engage (Mayor Adrian Fenty, Mayor-elect Vince Gray or Council member Jim Graham), Mayor-for-life Marion Barry and Council Chairman-elect Kwame Brown addressed Mohammed’s supporters:
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“I think the bike lobby liked Fenty.”


Random cab in D.C. I was too busy typing to photograph mine!

I opened the door and threw my laptop bag and purse down the expansive backseat of a weathered American sedan. “NPR, please”, I said. The driver looked at me in his rear view mirror, eyes crinkling.

“They are building a new building.” His voice was low and lovely. I instantly relaxed, as I often do, when I hear the lilt of an accent.

“NPR? Yes, they are.”

“I hope they tear all the walls. It’s just a warehouse, that thing was old.” He pronounces thing like “ting”. I love it.

“You’re awfully opinionated about a company you don’t even listen to,” I teased. “Isn’t this WTOP I’m hearing?” He decisively punches one button on his radio, and the car is filled with the Diane Rehm Show. “I work for WAMU,” I tell him.

“I switch from time to time. Whole thing is great. Rehm is doing well, Kojo is doing fine. You work with Kojo from time to time?”

I mention that I work on the same floor but that no, I don’t work with him. He changes the subject.

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Soon: Mengestu.

"The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears"

Last week, when I mentioned that I wanted to read something by Georgetown Alum Dinaw Mengestu, DCentric reader Danielle (who–if I have guessed from her profile correctly– is Visual Arts editor of the grassroots publication Liberator Magazine) helpfully pointed me towards the bookstores at Busboys and Poets.

I appreciated Danielle’s suggestion because I prefer the immediacy of walking out of a building with a book in my hands vs. buying online, saving four dollars and waiting a week for a cardboard box to arrive in the mail. And about that cardboard– I’m thrilled my apartment building has started offering more options for recycling, but I still feel guilty, as I break down boxes and dutifully trudge to the trash room to stack them up. That’s a discarded, dead tree…used to convey another dead tree.

Fortunately, I get a kick out of supporting independent Booksellers, so that usually prevents cardboard-induced guilt when it comes to procuring reading material. Last night, I unexpectedly had to run an errand near P Street, so I impulsively ran up to Kramerbooks and asked for some fiction. They had both of Mengestu’s books in stock. Huzzah! I’m excited about starting “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears”, especially because it takes place right here in D.C. I’d tell you what I think of it so far, but I’m finishing this book, first.

Is “Illegal” a dirty word?


From the "Do I look illegal?" campaign.

I’ve seen several tweets today regarding the term “illegal immigrant”. Apparently, so did Nicole at PostBourgie:

In my little (and decidedly liberal) corner of the blogosphere, it has now become inappropriate to use the word “illegal” when referring to immigrants…

“Undocumented”, “unauthorized”, “without papers” — aren’t those all just other ways of saying illegal? Is it just the use of the word “illegals”? Or is it “illegal immigrant” as well?

For the record, I don’t like the term “illegals.” If you’re going to call people “illegals”, let’s be fair and apply it to everyone who has ever done anything illegal. That would include me, you, Lou Dobbs, jaywalkers, underage drinkers, and almost everyone I know over the age of 10.

But “illegal immigrant”? The simple fact is that if one immigrates without a visa, or stays after the visa expires, that is illegal. I’m not saying there aren’t justifiable reasons for doing so, but that doesn’t make it any less against the law.