Help us launch a landmark series with Indian-Americans

DIWALI, the Indian Festival of Lights, is celebrated in many American communities, now. Here, family members kindle a carefully arranged array of Diwali lightsWELCOME Joe Grimm, known nationally as a columnist for the Poynter Institute, an author and part of the Journalism School faculty at Michigan State University. Joe’s previous collaboration between MSU and ReadTheSpirit was The New Bullying, the experimental book that made headlines for its production last year in only 101 days.

TODAY, Joe is inviting all of our readers to pitch in and help us with a new landmark series …

Help Us
Create a
New Generation of Cultural Guides

JOE GRIMM writes …

QUESTIONS—like roads—can connect or they can divide. 

Where are you from?
How did you get here?
Why did you come here?

We can ask those questions to draw people closer or to push them away.

Journalism students at Michigan State University are using questions just like these to understand people better. They are asking 100 questions to better understand Indian-Americans. No one in the class is Indian. These are talented young journalists full of questions and they understand that they are asking these questions on behalf of all Americans who are curious about the answers.

Their goal is to publish a guide of 100 questions and answers that will represent a simple step toward greater understanding. They plan to ask some of the big questions about demography and religion and language and some of the little questions that we just don’t know how to ask politely.

The national emblem of India reminds Indians of the beloved ancient ruler Ashoka. The four lions face in four directions with smaller symbolic animals beneath them. Overall, they symbolize power, courage and confidence. The lotus blossoms symbolize creative inspiration and the renewal of life. The motto translates: “Truth alone triumphs.”A LANDMARK SERIES: This guide will be the first in a series of guides on cultural competence, each one focused on a particular nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. The project is a joint undertaking by Read the Spirit and the MSU School of Journalism. And we’d like you to help. More about that soon.

Working across cultures can be awkward. It can be embarrassing. We don’t want to seem stupid and we don’t want to bruise people’s feelings. But many of us wonder:

What does the dot on someone’s forehead mean?
Is it related to religion?
Why are so many Indians in IT and engineering?
Or medicine?
And what do Indian-Americans want the rest of us to know about them?

Finding the right questions, reporting through the answers and then disseminating them is classic, brass-tacks journalism. We think we can use our journalism skills to help close some gaps.

This is what student Hayley Shannon wrote said after completing her first assignment, which was to sit down with someone who is Indian and ask about the biases, misconceptions and questions they encounter: “After speaking with an Indian colleague of mine, it became clear that she faces biases constantly in regard to her race and culture. While it mostly comes from ignorance and is in no way malicious, the extremity of misunderstanding often becomes offensive. This guide will provide an easy, all-in-one resource to gain a broad understanding of Indian culture so that fewer Indian people are offended by outlandish questions and assumptions made by others. I am proud of this project because it provides people with the means to take responsibility in understanding other cultures besides their own, and will hopefully help create a more welcoming community for Indians.

It’s funny how the words “community” and “communication” are branches from the same root. And here’s how the Read the Spirit community can help …


YOU CAN HELP: We already have a lot of questions, but we want to have the right questions. We need all the help we can get. If you are Indian-American or Indian or South Asian, send us the questions you wish someone would answer for general readers. If you are not Indian, tell us what you want us to ask. These Michigan State journalism students will get some answers. We will publish the guide by mid-2013. We’ll follow up with you on Read the Spirit, of course.

SEND SUGGESTIONS TO: Email [email protected]

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