Documenting a Diaspora

Thesis I is well underway…so ready or not, it is time to commit to a topic. After much internal debate between two ideas that I’ve thought a lot about since taking Directed Research, one has emerged as the winner. I have decided to work on documenting the Indian diaspora in the U.S. over improving of financial Literacy.

While both ideas were near to my heart, I wanted to work on the one where I could clearly see a design-oriented solution. Ideally, at this stage in thesis, the student is not supposed to be thinking about solutions. But practically speaking, we have a year (actually, less – only two semesters) to research, write and design. I didn’t want to run the risk of having a great paper only to realize that a design-oriented solution is not possible. With that, here is a brief introduction to my thesis idea:

Images, words and physical objects can serve as collective memories for people who share common experiences. With the advent of technology, new opportunities arise to document these shared experiences for future generations.  

One of the most collective experiences in human history is that of migration, or diaspora. The South Asian diaspora from the Indian Subcontinent, which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, refers to the movement of these countries’ people to the United Kingdom, Europe, United States, Canada, Australia and other countries in Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Within this movement, the largest migration has been the Indian diaspora, which is estimated to be around 30 million people in only the last 100 years. Today, the U.S. has the largest population of Indians outside of India – almost 3.2 million people.

The experiences of Indian immigrants in the U.S., as those of any immigrant group in any country, have been shaped by struggles to survive, assimilate and succeed in a new place, while attempting to maintain a connection to their Indian identity. As the diaspora generation in the U.S. ages, it becomes evident that their experiences were unique to their lifetimes. A comprehensive archive of their history does not exist and so, it runs the risk of becoming diluted with time.

For future descendants, such an archive would provide a rich insight into their ancestors’ changing experiences as time went by. Ideally, it would spark a dialogue on the role of history in the creation of  Indian American identities and communities in the U.S. And most importantly, it would ensure that the stories of the Indian diaspora are preserved for future generations. Today, a significant opportunity exists to harness digital and social media to create a participatory archive using text, images and multimedia.

Hello again

The beginning of summer was quite hectic for me. The day after spring semester classes ended, my shoulder decided to wage war on me. A surgery, two summer classes, starting rehab and a much needed R&R vacation in Cabo, Mexico later, I’m back. Oh, and the fall semester is halfway done. My biggest projects this semester have been design a personal portfolio site and coming up with a toursim campaign for the country, Laos.

I am no where closer to figuring out what I want to do for my thesis, which officially starts with Thesis I class next semester. Here’s hoping winter break will spark inspiration.

Financial Literacy

Jeff Parker, Florida Today

I missed this New York Times article by Paul Sullivan on money camps for kids, but my classmate Kelly was thoughtful enough to share it with me in class today. Thanks Kelly! I’ve been toying with a few ideas for my thesis. At the moment, my most well-thought out topic is documenting the South Asian diaspora, but I’m not fully committed to it yet. I realize I have commitment issues (hah), but articles like this make my mind spin in a different direction…

According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, most teachers do not feel equipped to teach students about personal finance, even when states require it. A study published in 2009 by two researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, called “Teachers’ Background and Capacity to Teach Personal Finance,” found that 80 percent of states had some sort of requirement for personal financial education, but that most teachers did not feel qualified to teach a financial literacy course. [Paul Sullivan, NYT)

The 2008 credit crisis occurred for many reasons. Many mistakes were made, ones that shouldn’t be repeated. Scarily enough, I’ve come across many people, who to this day, can’t articulate what went wrong, just that it ended badly.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Enough said.

You could argue that my background makes it easier for me to understand, but the concepts involved aren’t exactly rocket science. The problem lies in our schools and universities – they don’t offer any sort of financial education other than to those majoring in finance. And even then, it’s a lot of market theory, not practical, real-life sense.

I’ve seen college students bounce checks and rack up huge credit card bills. I’ve worked with people who contribute to their 401(k)s without any understanding of what a stock is. Subsequently, they were the ones hurt the most when credit card rates went through the roof and retirement portfolios took a nosedive.

I believe that learning about the ancient Romans, making sentence diagrams and understanding molecular biology are an important of education. But so is financial literacy. Yet, it isn’t being taught. Thousands of Americans were taken in by dishonest brokers and banks in the lead up to the crisis. I strongly believe that not as many would have taken on risky mortgages if they had basic financial knowledge.

I think design can play a role in teaching people of all ages basic financial concepts. It’s something I’m interested in exploring more, even if it’s not for my thesis…