Shanti Elise P.





My family comes from India, Mexico, and the Philippines and have faced struggles of poverty in their respective native countries and injustice here in their new home in California where they all settled. I am proud of my mixed racial and cultural identities, and the values I have that stem from the resistance and resilience of both my maternal and paternal family.

My dad, the oldest of the ten children who made it to adulthood (there were fifteen siblings total), grew up in Varanasi, India (he continued to call it Benares, its colonial name). He has been a fierce advocate for human rights since he was a child, advocating for his sisters to have the same education that he did and the clothing and materials to enable them to do so, despite his family’s very limited funds with so many children and only his father’s middle income salary. Normally, only the boys would be educated, but partly because of my dad’s advocacy, all four of his sisters completed college, two have a masters, and one a PhD in political science.

My dad’s dedication for equality and justice for all people extended outside of his family and seemed to be intrinsic. One example explains why he and I are the only people in my family with Prasad as their last name. I came to learn this story when I was four years old, when my dad helped one of his brothers move to San Francisco from India, and I asked why he had a different last name than us. When my dad was 14, he invited a classmate home for dinner. Later, right after his friend left, his mom told him to never bring an “untouchable” home again. My dad was shocked that his mother, who regularly fed houseless people, adhered to the discriminatory and brutal caste system. One can often recognize another’s caste by their last name, or even their mannerisms or speech. My dad told his mother that he wanted nothing to do with the caste system and soon after legally relinquished his last name, one that was of a respected caste, and used the middle name that he and his five brothers carry. I proudly carry my name, now the only Prasad in my family, as a legacy of my dad’s resistance against the caste system and his lifelong fight for human rights.

I also treasure these photos of my dad. One is of him in March 1965 at the age of 29, the night before he left India for America. Accustomed to being around a large family, my dad endured many years of loneliness to make his way in the U.S. He didn’t speak much about the discrimination he faced, but he did tell me about the professor who asked him if his family in India still lived in trees. His analysis of that interaction to me was, “A person with a Ph.D. is not necessarily wiser than one without a formal education.” 🙂

The other photo is of him in the summer of 1967 meeting the first Asian UN Secretary General U Thant while he had a summer internship at the United Nations in New York City. My dad went on to earn his J.S.D. in international human rights law, and rather than take a position offered in London at Amnesty International, he stayed in the SF Bay Area and did what he loved most: teaching and helping people one on one. He helped dozens of Latino construction workers get the payouts denied to them after they became disabled on the job and, along with the five siblings and one nephew he sponsored to move to California, he helped dozens more with their immigration issues pro bono, including getting asylum for a family of four. The lesson my dad imparted to me most often was this: people often search for the meaning of life. There isn’t one, except to help others.

The last photo is of my maternal grandparents. My grandpa was born in northern Luzon in the Philippines and immigrated as part of the Manong generation, the wave of mostly single men who arrived to perform farm labor. My grandma immigrated from Mexico to California as a baby with her family. Because of anti-miscegenation laws, it was illegal for a Filipino to marry. Many remained single throughout their life. But apparently at the time, it was legal in Arizona and so my grandparents were one of the lucky few to marry. My grandpa also could not buy land because of the California Alien Land Law. To be honest, I don’t fully know the story of how they came to buy their home in Fresno, CA because they did not talk much about their hardships and I was too young to ask. But despite these laws, they worked as farm laborers in California, raising a family of four, and buying three plots of land with small houses on them. I fondly remember playing with my cousins in the backyard under the most giant fig tree I’ve ever seen and among the orange, peach, kumquat, almond, and apricot trees, and searching for eggs every Easter.

This is just a taste of why I love my mixed Indian-Filipinx-Chicanx (aka Desipinacanx) ethnic background. Despite all the discrimination my family has faced on top of navigating a new country and navigating a second language, they prevailed, while also finding joy and love. I hold the legacy of their grit with me as I move through life’s joys and woes, and especially in my career as an advocate for strong state and federal anti-poverty policies and programs, and most recently, as the manager of Stop AAPI Hate and Chinese for Affirmative Action’s Stop The Blame ( campaign, which fights anti-Asian scapegoating rhetoric and policies, like the current rise in land ban laws targeting Chinese and other immigrants.