Desi Talk – that’s all you need to know 5 COVER STORY May 26, 2023 CITY VIEWS Along The Highways, Indian Restaurants Serve America’s Truckers “If we want to get out of this, we have to take the risk,” the family thought, accord- ing to Arjot, who said her parents up- rooted their lives in California to move the family to Texas. “All we had was a pickup truck and our stuff, and then we came straight to Texas.” In 2018, the Sandhus started a truck stop in Vega. At first they stocked the convenience store with typical American snack fare: potato chips, soft drinks and candy. But they soon discovered that the trucking demographic is “actually more Indian,” said Arjot, than the family had initially thought, and a friend told them about the concept of dhabas along major U.S. highways. As they began to see more Indian customers come in, they started asking them what they’d like to see in the store. The family began importing groceries from India. “[The dhaba] started growing from word to word, mouth-to-mouth,” said Arjot, who helps her family out at the dhaba, sometimes driving five hours from the Dallas-FortWorth area on weekends after finishing her classes for the week. The Vega dhaba is now combed into neat rows of Indian snacks, sweets and spices: Punjabi biscuits flecked with carom seeds, packets of whole cardamom and cloves, and bright blue bags of India’s Magic Masala-flavored, crinkle-cut Lay’s potato chips abound. The convenience store also sells truck ornaments with im- ages of Guru Nanak, Sikhism’s founder, among other items. In February, the Vega Truck Stop seldom saw a dull moment, with truck- ers trickling through in a steady stream beginning in late morning into the night- time. The drivers rolled out of their trucks in comfortable clothing. Jovneek Smith, one of few women in the industry, wore a tracksuit with slippers, and Mohamed Muhudin wore shorts and a T-shirt. Muhudin is part of a growing population of Somali truckers who also patronize the dhaba because Punjabi food has similari- ties to Somali food, they say. When the coronavirus pandemic erupted in 2020, the Sandhus, who had previously commuted between the Dallas area and Vega, moved to Vega full time to run the dhaba. Arjot’s younger sisters en- rolled in the local schools while she took online classes during her last semester of college. The family adjusted the dhaba’s hours, reducing employees’ schedules and limiting the menu to popular items. Still, they feared their reduced staff couldn’t keep up with demand and that the dhaba wouldn’t make it. “There were days where we cried so much because there’s orders of like 50 or 60 roti and we have zero made,” Arjot said. “There were days where we’d get so burned out.” Despite the challenges of the pan- demic, business has improved, and the family is hopeful about the dhaba’s future, although they are mindful that their busi- ness relies heavily on the conditions of seasonal highway traffic and the trucking industry. “Whatever they go through, we go through,” Arjot said. “Right now, Punjabi truckers are suffering as they’re not get- ting the rates they desire or actually need.” Indeed, members of the North American trucking industry have recently threat- ened strikes over tense contract negotia- tions. The family plans to renovate their dhaba this summer, adding showers and gas pumps. These improvements, Arjot said, will help develop the dhaba into a full-service travel center for not only truckers, but also for interstate travelers and local residents. The Sandhus hope that their renovated dhaba will serve as a model for others, slowly and collectively becoming a staple of the American highway. For her part, Arjot can already envision Punjabi dhabas joining the ranks of big-box truck stops and travel centers peppering motorways. “It’s just like how you’d go to a Pilot,” she said, “but it’ll be the Punjabi dhaba.” -TheWashington Post - Continued From Page 4 O rganizations in the R.E.A.C.H. (Representing and Empowering AANHPI Community History) Coalition assembled at the New York State Capitol in Albany, NY, May 22, 2023, for their first-ever Advocacy Day. Throughout the day, community advo- cates are speaking to their elected officials in celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month and also in support of Senate Bill 5963/Assembly Bill A06579, a measure that would require public K-12 schools in NewYork State to include mate- rial in their curricula that reflects AANHPI history. A press release from organizers who include the Sikh Coalition, said advocates from a range of affected communities and coalition groups joined a press confer- ence with NY State Senator John Liu and Assembly Member Grace Lee (the spon- sors of S5963 and A06579), followed by a celebration of AANHPI Heritage Month with Senators Iwen Chu, Jeremy Cooney, an Indian-American, John Liu, and Kevin Thomas, another Indian American,,along with the NewYork State Assembly Asian Pacific American Task Force. Volunteers then met with elected officials in the New York legislature to urge support for S5963 and A06579. This Advocacy Day is the first of its kind for the R.E.A.C.H. Coalition, which was formed in January 2023 to fight for inclusive AANHPI education measures, including bills like S5963 and A06579. The statewide coalition includes more than 170 students, parents, educators, and advocates, as well as more than 60 community-based organizations fighting for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander history. The Coalition in- tends to continue hosting Advocacy Days on an annual basis moving forward, the press release said. “The AAPI community has been steadily growing in NewYork State, it is time school curriculums truly reflect our state’s diversity. It will be invaluable for the next generation of AAPI NewYorkers to see themselves in textbooks, and ben- eficial for all students to learn and better understand the contributions of the AAPI community here in NewYork and nation- ally. I thank Senator Liu for his continued advocacy, and proudly support S5963,” Senator Cooney is quoted saying in the press release. Senator Kevin Thomas said, “By em- bracing the teaching of Asian American history in NewYork public schools, we can empower our students with a deeper understanding of the rich contributions and experiences of the AAPI community. Teaching these stories will foster inclusiv- ity and cultural appreciation for future generations.” KulsoomTapal, Education Policy Coordinator, CACF and Co-Lead of the R.E.A.C.H. Coalition noted that, “Throughout history, AANHPI communi- ties have stood alongside other histori- cally marginalized groups in the pursuit of justice and equality. Yet, these stories of alliance and shared struggle often go untold. AANHPI curriculum dismantles the model minority myth by challenging the prevailing stereotypes and misconcep- tions and recognizing the vast diversity and complexity within AANHPI commu- nities. The integration of AANHPI cur- riculum is not a mere academic exercise; it is an act of justice and recognition. It is an affirmation that AANHPI history is American history, and our stories deserve to be told.” Education Director of the Sikh Coali- tion Harman Singh, a member of the R.E.A.C.H Steering Committee, called it “heartwarming to see community advocates, volunteers, coalition groups, and elected members mobilize and come together for a full day of action. While AANHPI month comes only once per year, our advocacy and fight for our commu- nity’s inclusion in the education system must be a sustained effort.” Mohamed Q. Amin, founder and Executive Director of Caribbean Equality Project, said, “Indo-Caribbean history is Asian American history. NewYork State is home to the largest Indo-Caribbean foreign-born population in the United States, many of whom live in immigrant communities like Schenectady, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park in Queens, and Castle Hill andWakefield in the Bronx. In the US diaspora, “Indo-Caribbean” is also used to speak to community-defined terms that produce local notions of iden- tity, ethnicity, history, and memory. Teach- ing Indo-Caribbean history is critical in honoring the legacy, struggles, and resil- ience of thousands of indentured laborers and their descendant’s cultural contribu- tion to the diversity of NY, which fosters cross-racial solidarity, building political power, and electoral representation.” Several South Asian Community Groups, Lawmakers Assemble In Albany For Advocacy Day By a StaffWriter Photo:courtesySikh Coalition Asian American activists in Albany, NY, lobbying for legislation favorable to their communities.