Civil Rights Activist Deepa Iyer Receives 2016 American Book Award



Deepa Iyer, a civil and immigrants’ rights advocate for over a decade, has been named one of the recipients of the 2016 American Book Award for her book “We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future” published in the U.S. in November last year.

Iyer, founder and former executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together – an activist organization for South Asians, received the award along with 13 other writer/authors from the U.S. during the 37th annual American Book Awards ceremony at Jazz Center in San Francisco Oct. 30. The award each year is given by the Before Columbus Foundation.

In her first book, Iyer chronicles the experiences of U.S. Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and South Asians after 9/11 and weighs in on how the ISIS massacre in Paris will reverberate in this country, much of which, by her own admission, is drawn from her experience of interaction with the community when she was with SAALT.

The book awards were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community. The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions. There are no categories, no nominees, and therefore no losers. The award winners range from well-known and established writers to under-recognized authors and first works.

“There are no quotas for diversity; the winners list simply reflects it as a natural process. The Before Columbus Foundation views American culture as inclusive and has always considered the term “multicultural” to be not a description of various categories, groups, or “special interests,” but rather as the definition of all of American literature,” according to the foundation.

The book, which chronicles the individual stories of hate crime and violence suffered by South Asians, including Muslims and Sikhs, as well as Arab Americans, since 9/11, notes that in the wake of the heinous attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, one has “witnessed the drumbeat of dangerous political rhetoric” and a spate of attacks targeting Muslim, Arab and South Asian community members on streets and on campuses, and at stores and places of worship.

It looks at the impact of backlash, Islamophobia, hate violence on Sikhs and Muslins and South Asian and Arab immigrant communities since 9/11. “The book also looks at the role of government policies, like surveillance, and racial profiling of these communities and looks at the political rhetoric
across the aisle because political leaders at many levels often use language in debates and public speeches that are harmful,” Iyer said in an interview with this correspondent earlier this year.

“So, we talk about the total impact of all those on the communities – the individual backlash, the government policies, and the political and media rhetoric. The book explores the impact of all of these forces on our community, and it looks at it from the lens of young people from communities around the country,” Iyer said in the interview.

The book awards are not bestowed by an industry organization, but rather are a writers’ award given by other writers.