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SAPP Guest Post: Samip Mallick on over 100 years of South Asian American philanthropy

January 20, 2012

Last week, we shared info about an upcoming event on digital archiving of South Asian American history. We are pleased to welcome this guest post from SAADA’s Samip Mallick.

Samip Mallick, MLIS, is President and Co-founder of the South Asian American Digital Archive  (SAADA).  He is also Director of the Ranganathan Center for Digital Information at the University of Chicago Library.

There is a long history of philanthropy in the South Asian American community, dating back to when South Asians first began immigrating to the United States in the early 1900s.  In those days, those who came to the U.S. were primarily either laborers who were here to work in lumberyards and mills in towns along the Pacific Coast or students at colleges and universities across the U.S. with plans to return to India after completing their degrees.  These early immigrants from South Asia saw the value in pooling their resources to help support each other and inaugurate religious, cultural and political institutions of various kinds. A number of scholarship programs were created in order to encourage others to come from India to study in the United States.  One such effort was that of the Guru Govind Singh scholarship started in 1912 by Jawala Singh, a prosperous potato farmer and agricultural entrepreneur near Stockton, California.  The scholarship was intended to help “deserving Indian students of both sexes to receive liberal and professional education in foreign countries” (original emphasis) and included free board, lodging, expenses and a small amount of pocket money for three years.  All the scholars were to reside at a hostel to be called the “Guru Nanak Deva Vidyarthi Ashram” in Berkeley, and lead a “simple and abstemious” life. 

The South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) documents, preserves and provides access to the history of the South Asian American community through a digital archive, available online.  My hope is that SAADA’s work will help to explain the history and context that helped to shape the South Asian American community of today.  Philanthropy is no exception.  Understanding what our community’s philanthropic priorities have been historically might just help us think about what we want our community’s priorities to be for today and for the future.

SAADA is 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Chicago.  It is the only archive of its kind that focuses solely on the history of the South Asian American community.  In just over one year, SAADA’s archive has grown to include over 350 unique items, dating from the late 1800s all the way to the present day, and has helped to uncover hidden narratives of the long, diverse and important history of South Asians in the United States.  Through photographs, correspondence, newsletters, pamphlets, documents, audio, video and oral history interviews, SAADA is building a comprehensive archive of South Asian American history that will be available without cost to everyone.

The Guru Govind Singh scholarship is merely one example of how South Asians in the United States, even those with meager resources themselves, felt it important to support others in the community.  The philanthropic impulse has deep roots in our community’s history and we hope to be able to continue to uncover and share these stories through the South Asian American Digital Archive.

Do you have a story to share?

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