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Asian Americans Respond to Tsunami Disaster

Radish Kadian is typical of the Asian immigrants to the United States who are working to provide money and assistance to families and friends affected by the devastating tsunamis that struck southern Asia. “I think most of us woke up on Christmas Day with this shocking news of the disaster,” says Dr. Kadian, a physician and local activist in Washington, D.C.’s Indian American community. “It certainly dampened the festive spirit of Christmas."

Dr. Kadian says the community mobilized to take action immediately after hearing news of the tragedy. But the timing of the disaster has complicated the relief effort. “A lot of people are on vacation and are not easily available,” he says. “And this is also the time when many of them travel to India with their children and others because schools and colleges are closed. So it has been somewhat more difficult than normal."

Many Bangladeshi Americans have also been traveling during the holiday season. Muhammad Omar Farouq, an economics professor at Iowa State University, says collecting donations from the Bangladeshi American community has been a tough mission. But he credits the Internet with making it easier than ever to contact loved ones and get accurate information from the affected region. “Now, there is at least good communications, and people can find information and try to get connected with their local people, whether in India, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh,” says Mr. Farouq. “We have now good communication through the Internet, through [web] chat, through telephones.This is providing people with the basis at least to cope with it a lot better [than they could] five or 10 years ago."

Although Iowa’s Bangladeshi community is relatively small, Mr. Farouq says people have found many ways to help. "There are some independent efforts to work with international organizations such as the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent,” he says. “There are also several Bangladeshi relief organizations that are working with the Bangladeshi communities in Iowa and elsewhere to make this effort a meaningful one and an urgent one."

Relief efforts are also underway at the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple in Silver Spring, Maryland, where more than 4,000 Asian Americans, mostly Thais, go to worship and socialize. "The Temple is trying to get organized and at least say a prayer for the victims,” says Temple Chairman Sahaschai Musi Kabumma. “We are trying to send some donations to help. We are also trying to get in touch with some organizations like the Southern Thai Organization."

Even community members who do not have relatives or friends among the disaster victims feel they need to give whatever they can afford. "We always consider everybody like a brother or a sister, an uncle, someone like a relative,” says Mr. Kabumma. “So when we have any big tragedy like this, we always pray for them, make some donations for them. Thai people are very close to each other when we have a disaster like this, and everybody tries to help everybody as much as they can, even though they are not that prosperous or rich people."

Indian American activist Dr. Radish Kadian agrees that assisting people back home is the least that his fellow Asian immigrants can do. In January of 2001, he says, his community was active in providing medical aid, money and clothing to the victims of a huge earthquake that hit India's Gujarat province. They hope to show again that they can be helpful even though they are thousands of kilometers away.