Month: September 2016

‘Once Upon a Time’ Has Found Its Princess Jasmine

Monica Luhar for NBC Asian America, July 27, 2016

“Once Upon a Time” fans, meet the newly-cast Princess Jasmine.

Actress and singer/songwriter Karen David confirmed to NBC News she will be joining the “Once Upon a Time” cast this fall as Jasmine.

“Every young girl dreams of being a Disney Princess,” David said. “Growing up, I looked up to Jasmine — she was strong, grounded, true to herself, intelligent and of course, a Princess. To be playing such an iconic and beloved character, is an incredible honor.”

David’s casting in the ABC drama was announced shortly after the executive producers of “Once Upon a Time” revealed new storylines for the show’s sixth season, which premieres in September, during a panel at San Diego Comic-Con, which will also include the addition of Aladdin (portrayed by Deniz Akdeniz) and Jafar (Oded Fehr).

Born in Shillong, India, and raised in Canada, David is best-known in the U.S. to fans from her role as Princess Isabella Maria Lucia Elizabetta of Valencia in the ABC series “Galavant.” Last year, on a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread, David expressed interest in auditioning for “Once Upon a Time” some day.

“Would you audition for a role on that show if it was offered to you?” a fan asked. “You would be perfect IMO.”

David responded, “I would love to be on the show! If they ever want Esmeralda, or Pocahontas or Jasmine from Aladdin to come on, I’d LOVE to do it!”

A year later, that dream has come true. “I can’t thank the fans enough for their support and for their continued faith in me,” David told NBC News.

Prutha S. Patel, an editor at the entertainment blog watchtivist and a “Once Upon a Time” fan, told NBC News she was equally excited about the casting decision.

“I’ve been hoping to see the ‘Aladdin’ storyline featured on the show since it began, the storyline has always been there in the back of my mind because I think of it as a great opportunity for perhaps an Indian actor/actress to join the cast of such a magical show,” Patel said.


Documentary About Twin Korean Adoptees Gets Attention From ABC

Monica Luhar for NBC Asian America, Sept. 15, 2016

ABC is developing a new comedy loosely inspired by the documentary“Twinsters,” a spokesperson for ABC told NBC News Wednesday.

“Twinsters,” which was released in 2015, tells the journey of Los Angeles-based actress Samantha Futerman and Anaïs Bordier, two identical twins and Korean adoptees who were separated at birth. Bordier, who was raised by French parents and was then living in London, first became aware of Futerman after a friend spotted Futerman in a YouTube video in 2012. Bordier finally contacted Futerman in February 2013 after spotting her in a trailer for the film “21 & Over” and learning her name.

Sam Futerman and Anais Bordier in London at their first reunion, May 2013
Sam Futerman and Anais Bordier in London at their first reunion, May 2013 Ryan Miyamoto, Small Package Films

A spokesperson for ABC confirmed with NBC News the comedy series is in its early development stages, but was not able to discuss specific details of the project or deal.

According to Deadline, ABC’s take on “Twinsters” will be written and co-produced by Juliet Seniff and David Caspe and is described as “a completely fresh twist on an odd couple show that explores and celebrates the complex meaning of family and forming your own identity.”

RELATED: Twin Adoptees Reunite in ‘Twinsters’ Documentary, Debuting this Summer

The “Twinsters” documentary, which Futerman co-directed with Ryan Miyamoto, made its world premiere at SXSW 2015. (Futerman had launched a successfulKickstarter campaign to support the documentary in 2013, and Futerman and Bordier released a book in 2014 chronicling their journey.)

Since its world premiere, “Twinsters” has been screened at various film festivals and movie theaters across the nation, as well as been made available on Netflix. “Twinsters” also aired on Freeform, which is owned by ABC Family Worldwide, this past May.

Attempts to reach Futerman and Bordier for comment were unsuccessful.

Sam Futerman & Anais Bordier in front of the London Eye, May 2013
Sam Futerman & Anais Bordier in front of the London Eye, May 2013 Ryan Miyamoto, Small Package Films


🙂 🙂 check it out!!! 

Photo published for ABC Buys Comedy Based On ‘Twinsters’ Documentary From David Caspe

ABC Buys Comedy Based On ‘Twinsters’ Documentary From David Caspe

ABC has put in development single-camera comedy Twinsters, from writer Juliet Seniff.

California Recognizes August as Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month

Monica Luhar for NBC Asian America, August 2, 2016

The California State Assembly voted Monday to pass a resolution that officially recognizes August 2016 as Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month.

The resolution comes at a time of increased anti-Muslim rhetoric, according to arecent civil rights report compiled by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

HR-59, introduced by California Assemblymember Bill Quirk in June after Quirk was approached by a community activist on the issue, was officially passed Aug. 1 with bipartisan support.

“Muslim Americans have made contributions to education, science, entertainment and medicine both nationally and globally,” Quirk told NBC News in an email. “Unfortunately, the Muslim community has been, and continues to be, the target of harassment, discrimination and assaults.”

He added, “It is appropriate to acknowledge and promote awareness of the myriad invaluable contributions of Muslim Americans in California and across the country, and extend to them the respect and camaraderie every American deserves.”

RELATED: Mosque Attacks, Apparent Anti-Islam Spending Up: Report

CAIR-Sacramento Valley Executive Director Basim Elkarra told NBC News that the passing of the resolution represented a day of hope for the Muslim-American community. He explained that Muslims contribute greatly to the diversity of the nation and the state, carrying various key roles throughout the state of California as engineers, doctors, law enforcement officials, and more.

“Muslims participate in every facet of life in California and for them to be appreciated for their contributions … it’s very hopeful for the community when the community is under siege in this election cycle,” Elkarra said.

Earlier this week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested that Ghazala Khan, the mother of a U.S. Army captain who was killed in Iraq, did not speak on stage at the Democratic National Convention because “maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.” In response, Muslim-American women on Twitter began using the hashtag #CanYouHearUsNow to challenge stereotypes and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

RELATED: On Twitter, Muslim-American Women Ask Trump: #CanYouHearUsNow?

Trump has since responded, posting to Twitter on Monday, “Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same – Nice!”

At the Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month Celebration in Sacramento, California, on Monday, Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR – San Francisco Bay Area (CAIR-SFBA), emphasized the resolution’s timeliness given recent events on the 2016 campaign trail.

“It’s particularly important for me as a Muslim woman to be speaking out and to be joined by my colleagues here … to send a strong message that we are speaking out for ourselves, that we are proud residents of this state, and that we are stronger when we stand together,” Billoo said.

This is not the first time California has designated a month to recognize the contributions of the Muslim-American community. In 2014, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a resolution declaring July 2014 as Muslim American Heritage Month.

Community Marketplace Breaks Ground in America’s Only Thai Town

Monica Luhar for NBC Asian America, September 23, 2016

Los Angeles’ Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) broke ground on a project they hope will revitalize East Hollywood and introduce Thai Town to the rest of the city Thursday.

Ten years in the making, the organization’s $2.95 million Thai Town Marketplace, which plans to help incubate small business vendors and be a “one-stop destination for food, culture, and resources,” according to the organization, is scheduled to officially open its doors to the public July 2017.

Thai CDC staffers celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony of the Thai Town Marketplace scheduled to open in 2017. The ceremony took place on Thursday, Sept. 22, in East Hollywood. Photo by

“This is going to be an anchor for economic development and revitalization, and it’s going to be a creative project space for all the ethnic communities in the area and that will promote social integration,” Chanchanit “Chancee” Martorell, founder and executive director of Thai CDC, told NBC News.

“We’ll have a more livable, walkable community, and more enhanced public space,” she added.

Martorell said the marketplace will not only enhance public space, but also circulate dollars in the community and create and sustain jobs for economically disadvantaged residents in East Hollywood and Los Angeles.

The marketplace, which is located in the first officially designated Thai Town in the nation, also falls in the L.A. Promise Zone, an area designated by President Obama as part of an anti-poverty initiative.

According to Thai CDC, an estimated 237,639 Thai Americans live in the U.S. The population of Thai Americans living in the Los Angeles region is an estimated 12,506, according to U.S. Census data.

RELATED: America’s Only Thai Town Celebrates 15 Years in Los Angeles

Thai CDC chose the location of the Thai Town Marketplace from eight possible sites.

“When we saw it was doable, we did a site search in the East Hollywood neighborhood and determined one site to be the best,” Martorell said. “We thought public markets could also be a site for immigrant entrepreneurship because that would be a low-cost entry for immigrants to start their own business and be incubated in the process.”

Chanchanit “Chancee” Martorell, executive director and founder of Thai CDC, presenting a rendering of the Thai Town Marketplace. Photo by

The marketplace will also provide training from Thai CDC’s Asian Pacific Islander Small Business program in hopes to help low-income residents on the road to becoming economically self-sufficient.

All of the vendors in the marketplace have gone through entrepreneurship training and will continue to be incubated and receive ongoing technical assistance and mentorship, among other resources, Martorell added.


The marketplace will “create 26 entrepreneurship, management, and service jobs for economically disadvantaged residents of East Hollywood and Los Angeles,” according to the organization. The 5,000-square foot space is designed to include 12 indoor food stalls, six kiosks, and enhance the visibility of an existing farmer’s market that has been in operation for the past five years, as well as a “Health and Wealth Zone” to help connect low-income residents with resources.

Two of the vendors in the marketplace are trafficking survivors and Thai CDC clients who were assisted in two different landmark cases, according to Martorell.

“Through our advocacy and services, they were able to seek justice and get restitution and compensation. And now having gone from slavery and being trafficked victims, they now will have a new chance in life to become economically empowered,” she said.

The marketplace initiative was also designed to encourage cultural tourism and the use of public transit, promote health and wellness, and celebrate cultural diversity.

The “transit-oriented” marketplace is located near the Hollywood/Western Metro Red Line subway station — the western gateway to Thai Town, Curtis McElhinney, communications director for Thai CDC, told NBC News.

How Rahaf Khatib Became the First Hijabi Runner on the Cover of a U.S. Fitness Magazine

Monica Luhar for NBC News Asian America, September 26, 2016

Rahaf Khatib, a 32 year old from Farmington Hills, Michigan, is being celebrated as the first hijabi runner prominently featured on the cover of a fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle magazine in the United States, according to Women’s Running magazine.

The decision to feature the six-time marathoner and mother of three on the cover of the October 2016 issue of Women’s Running came after Khatib reached out to the editorial team and introduced the magazine to her blog and Instagram,@runlikeahijabi, two platforms that highlight her fitness and running journey and work to inspire other hijabi women.

A picture of Rahaf Khatib, founder of Run Like a Hijabim from the October 2016 issue of Women’s Running Magazine. James Farrell / Women’s Running magazine

Khatib acknowledged the magazine’s great strides in featuring women of all backgrounds, but pointed out the lack of media representation of Muslim Hijabi runners, according to the publication.

RELATED: This H&M Model is on a Mission to Wear Her Hijab in Style

After realizing the gaps in its coverage, Women’s Running took Khatib’s suggestion and featured her on the cover of their “#LikeAGirl: 20 Incredible Stories of Women Who Are Changing the Game” spread.

“We really strive to show women of all backgrounds, abilities, and shapes and sizes front and center,” Jessica Sebor, editor-in-chief of the publication, told NBC News. “As soon as she pointed that out, we said, ‘oh my gosh, she’s right.’ We were planning on featuring her, so we decided to put her in the cover.”

During a behind-the-scenes photoshoot, Khatib told Women’s Running what the cover means for her and the larger Muslim American community.

“For this stay-at-home mom of three, and an average (but persistent!) runner with goals, it means the world to me,” Khatib said. “It’s something I can show to my kids in the future, my community and most importantly my parents. It means that my sweat, tears and training are worth it.”

RELATED: ‘Hijabi Chic’: Blogger Mixes Modesty with Style

In 2015, Khatib — who was born in Damascus, Syria, and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s — made headlines when she was a cover search finalist for Runner’s World.

Many applauded the magazine’s efforts of inclusion and media diversity.

On her blog, Khatib shared her running journey and how connecting with the larger running community not only helped get out of her comfort zone, but also eased her hesitation of running while covered.

A photo of Rahaf Khatib from the October 2016 issue of Women’s Running James Farrell / Women’s Running magazine

“I hope to inspire other Hijabi and stay at home moms to get out there. I hope to see major fitness retailers (Hello Nike!) represent us covered sisters in their ads and cater to our modest fitness needs. Wearing hijab means I’m guarding my modesty and respecting my body out of deep devotion to my Faith,” Khatib wrote.

For Khatib, running offers a sense of catharsis and the ability to dispel myths about hijabi runners and Muslim Americans. “Through running I am hoping to change some opinions about hijabis, to dispel stereotypes, shed light on Muslim Americans who cover like me,” she wrote. “And to most importantly, rid the negative image the media has portrayed about covered American Muslims.”

In 2015, 23-year-old Mariah Idrissi became the first hijabi model to be featured in an H&M campaign ad. She spoke about fusing fashion and modesty in an earlier interview with NBC News. “I want people to accept that you can be fashionable and you can be modest,” she said.

In New Library, South Asian Community Finds ‘Powerful Community Project’


Monica Luhar for NBC News Asian America, Sept. 12, 2016. 

When Ramzan Virani was a child in Karachi, Pakistan, he was a bookworm, using all of his spare time to read, he said. But when he reached the 10th grade, he stopped his education to enter the manufacturing industry so he could help support his family.

It’s because of this experience that Virani — who immigrated to Georgia with his family in 2001 and is now in his late 40s — founded the South Asian Public Library (SAPL) in Norcross, Georgia, which opened on Sept. 12, 2016, in an effort to give something that he didn’t have to his community.

“I started this library because I’m missing a lot of studies in my life,” Virani told NBC News. “Anything I’m missing in my life, I’m trying to cover just for the community so they can get all the kinds of benefit.”

RELATED: One Woman’s Quest to Record the History of the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan

The opening of the library, one of the first major inclusive efforts to offer a variety of South Asian language books, has been a three-year journey for Virani — the project’s founder — and advocates who have pushed for its creation in Gwinnett County, a majority-minority county that, according to the U.S. Census, saw its Indian-American population grow 83 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The library, under the nonprofit Guiding Force of Atlanta, will offer free computer classes for seniors, yoga classes, and language classes in Hindu, Urdu, and Gujarati, according to Virani. He hopes that in the future, the library will expand and provide free health clinics and community events and activities for all ages.

The 7,000 square foot space currently holds a collection of more than 1,000 books in 17 different languages, including Gujarati, Urdu, Hindi, Bangla, and Telugu, Virani said, with hopes that the collection will grow to include 20,000 books as Virani continues to partner with local residents and community organizations.

The SAPL ribbon cutting and inauguration ceremony led by Indian Consulate Head of Chancery D.V. Singh; Dr. Acharya Lokesh Muni, and other community representatives on Aug. 25, 2016, in Norcross, Georgia. Courtesy of Ramzan Virani

While the libraries’ collection initially included only a few language books in Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu, it quickly expanded to incorporate more languages as communities began to inquire about its offerings, Virani said.

The SAPL is possibly the first library in the nation and the state to carry specific South Asian language-based collections all under one roof, Virani said, though he acknowledges the presence of large university collections and cultural centers with similar collections.

“We are talking about dozens of countries together under one roof and 18 to 20 languages in one roof, so that’s why we believe it is the first [South Asian public library] in the whole nation,” Virani said.

Ramzan Virani meets with community leaders and government officials to discuss the South Asian Public Library. Courtesy of Ramzan Virani

Adnan Malik, curator and cataloger for the South Asia Collection at University of California, Berkeley, said he views the SAPL as a powerful community project and a continuation of efforts post-1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, when the South Asian community slowly started establishing itself through community centers, places of worship, and the creation of cultural organizations.

“[…] In the larger American context, this perhaps is part of the immigrant experience,” Mailk told NBC News. “Maybe the South Asian community is just starting out.”

While there have been similar language book donation collection efforts in the past, SAPL is the first large, unified effort of its kind in the South Asian community, according to Aparna Bhattacharyya, executive director of Raksha, Inc., a nonprofit organization that addresses social issues within the South Asian community.

Growing up, Bhattacharyya recalls the difficulty in navigating South Asian resources at a traditional public library, particularly historic or religious texts or folktales.

“It was really unusual to get books that represented our community — our stories. Just having a place where we can access resources from our community and culture is important,” Bhattacharyya told NBC News.

Bhattacharyya added that it is not always easy to navigate specific language books that are easily found internationally, but not often in local libraries.

“Those are not as easy to find unless people can go back home. And not everyone can go back home and get those books. [The SAPL] is a great way to stay connected to culture and for kids to learn more about their community,” she added.

The South Asian Public Library will offer free computer classes for seniors, language classes, and more. Courtesy of Ramzan Virani

Bhattacharyya cites similar literary community efforts like the Seba Bangla Library founded in 2003 by Mohammed Harun Roshid in Atlanta, Georgia. The collection has since grown to include over 3,300 Bangla books and CDs, Roshid told NBC News. The collection is largely from Bangladesh and West Bengal, and 10 percent of the books have been donated from local members, according to Roshid, who initially launched the library because he said he found it difficult to find one place where he could go and buy Bangla books.

“Having Bengali books is kind of hard to have. We don’t have any library where you can go and buy books so I decided having one place to have lots of books where people can access,” Roshid said.

Places like SAPL are important because the South Asian community hasn’t always had its stories and histories included in traditional libraries or large-scaled archives, according to Samip Mallick, co-founder and executive director of the South Asian American Digital Archive.

Mallick notes a similar thread that exists when he first launched SAADA in 2008 after noticing that the South Asian experience wasn’t being systematically preserved by any major archives or heritage institutions.

“What really struck me in some ways is how it is a similar impetus to SAADA: Recognizing that the South Asian community has a rich and diverse history and that hasn’t necessarily always been reflected in libraries and museums,” Mallick said.