Meet Indian Filmmaker Rucha Humnabadkar

Posted on 06/23/2015

On Thursday, the FWD.us Silicon Valley chapter will screen For Here Or To Go? in collaboration with Immigrant Heritage Month. The film’s director, Rucha Humnabadkar, filled us in on what inspired her to make the film and how her own heritage influences her work as a filmmaker. RSVP for the screening of For Here Or To Go? here!

FWD.us: What is your film For Here Or To Go? about and what influenced you to make the film?

Humnabadkar: For Here Or To Go? is a contemporary comedy/drama about the trials and tribulations of an Indian technology entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, California. It centers on Vivek Pandit, the protagonist, as he attempts to navigate the U.S. immigration system. Ultimately, he experiences what it means to assimilate into a new culture and make a home away from home. Vivek and his roommates, Amit and Lakshmi, show us the lives of ambitious young Indian immigrants as they attempt to establish themselves both professionally and personally while adjusting to a different culture. We see their comical and endearing behaviors as the film examines life from the immigrant perspective and explores sensitive issues with a light-hearted touch.

When I met writer Rishi Bhilawadikar, I realized we both share a passion for storytelling and believe in the promise of technology disrupting the status quo. I felt an instant connection to the script and knew this was not a story told on film before. Indian immigrants have helped shape Silicon Valley and are a big influence on its culture. The Indian community has also developed many idiosyncrasies in an attempt to hold on to its heritage, and so it is a narrative very close to my heart as the protagonist’s struggles reflect many of my personal experiences as well as those of my friends and family. Prior to shooting this film, we also spent time interviewing a number of Bay Area Indian immigrant families, young professionals, and students to capture the stories of our diaspora.

For Here Or To Go? follows protagonist Vivek Pandit (Ali Fazal), pictured above.

FWD.us: How has your own family heritage shaped you personally or professionally?

Humnabadkar: I’ve inherited a passion for learning and an insatiable curiosity from my parents, which has served me well in my professional and personal endeavors. Both of my parents are voracious readers and my mother tried to inculcate reading habits in me early on. Motivated by curiosity of how to tell a good story, I began to write and direct plays at a young age. When I was nineteen I staged my first play, which received positive reviews. I was given remarkable freedom at a young age, uncommon for a girl growing up in India.

My father is an entrepreneur and I learned from him to be independent and self-motivated. My parents supported my dream of attending graduate school in the U.S. After my first semester, I had doubts about continuing, because I was unsure of the field of study I had picked. But my father made me see that I would only gain from this experience. Graduate school opened a world of opportunity and also exposed me to diversity in thought, values and people, which I cherish to this day.

I am the first generation in the U.S. in my family and recently became a U.S. citizen. I have strong roots in Indian culture and visit home every year. It’s important to recognize who you are and where you come from. It’s what makes you unique and special and that’s why you have to tell stories and talk about your culture – it truly shapes who you are.

FWD.us: What do you hope audiences will take away from For Here Or To Go? What are your plans for the film?

Humnabadkar: I am highly motivated to tell this story to the world, not just for audiences in the U.S. but also to share with Indians back home. People in India always perceive Indians living in the U.S. as having an affluent lifestyle free of troubles. My experience has shown me otherwise. The reality of leaving home, assimilating into a new culture, and finding success in a distant land is an arduous yet rewarding journey. The film has received terrific audience response at film festivals, and I’ve had stimulating Q&A sessions with audiences after screenings. This leads me to believe that the film will resonate with a global audience and trigger conversations around some of the most hotly debated topics of our time.

The plan is to globally distribute the film and reach a worldwide audience. We are also holding private screenings of the film with key organizations to raise awareness. One recent event at which we screened the film was called Indiaspora, a gathering of Indian Americans from various fields. This viewing led to an invite by the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C to host a special screening.

FWD.us: We’re celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month throughout June – if you could celebrate your heritage in one way, what would it be?

Humnabadkar: I would invite my close friends and family to eat my favorite dessert Gulab Jamun and, of course, watch For Here Or To Go?


Join the Silicon Valley chapter on Thursday, June 25th for a special screen of For Here Or To Go? Click here to RSVP.

"Trotter" Will Help Immigrants, Transplants Find Housing

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 06/10/2015

Ernesto Humpierres spent the last year developing Trotter, a startup service that helps immigrants and transplants find places to live in major American metropolitan areas. The service, which has accrued over 500 customers in just 3 months, asks users to provide basic information about the kind of housing they are seeking and their budget. Then, Trotter sources the user’s information to real estate agents, who contact the user directly with housing offers.

Ernesto met his co-founder Clara Arroyave at a FWD.us event in Boston, and they immediately hit it off. Clara and Ernesto are both immigrants from Colombia and Venezuela, respectively. In Trotter’s short lifespan, the team has expanded to include two engineers who work remotely in Colombia. “I have a dream that at some point we will all be reunited in the same city,” explains Ernesto, but getting visas for the engineers will be tough. Ernesto could sponsor H-1b visa applications through Trotter, but the cost of the H-1b application is high and often challenging for startups to manage, especially considering that the likelihood of winning the H-1b visa lottery is slim.

Trotter is currently in public beta, and the team continues to make tweaks to the platform. Ernesto believes that users will find Trotter especially helpful because it takes a holistic approach to finding housing and other moving resources for transplants in new cities. “Housing is a major pain point for immigrants when they move,” Ernesto said, “Landlords don’t want to rent to you because you don’t have a credit history or background check.”

Trotter seeks to solve these problems with a fresh new perspective on the renting marketplace. For now, you can find Trotter in New York, Boston, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

For more information on Trotter, visit www.gotrotter.com.

To join your FWD.us chapter and meet innovative tech leaders in your area, visit your chapter page here.

Installation Artist Explores History of Chinese Immigration

Posted on 06/09/2015

FWD.us met with Rene Yung, a Bay Area artist who immigrated from Hong Kong at age 14. Her work seamlessly ties together question of identity and culture, while challenging the public to engage directly with the work and contemplate their relationship with the story the work tells.

See Yung’s work in person at The Art of Immigration, a celebration of Bay Area artists as part of Immigrant Heritage Month.

FWD.us: Your work includes many different mediums. How do you describe your art?

Yung: My work has evolved over the years. The way I’m working now is really across different platforms. It includes installation art, which uses space and materials and concepts, and also social practice, which includes a significant amount of social engagement that brings people into the work as part of the process.

I began the installation work in the early 90’s. I’m interested in getting across a concept or an idea, as well as invoking emotion and creating a sense of awe and mystery. I found that working spatially allows me to do that – and my work increasingly became more culturally specific as I became more concerned about issues of culture and belonging.


Image: reneyung.com

I do very large drawings, and I was doing a number of drawing installations that have a central metaphor. A specific work is called “mountainriver.” It uses this idea of a seed both as a seed for new beginnings, and also the Greek meaning for diaspora – the scattering of seeds. I took fruit pits – we call them fruit stones – and I drew that at about 300 times their scale, and used the visual language of Chinese landscape painting, but rendering the topography of these seeds as landscapes. So, you see these worlds inside of the seeds.

FWD.us: How has your Chinese heritage been incorporated into your work?

brick wall
Image: reneyung.com

I did another project about the Chinese who worked in the Boise Basin in Idaho, on the railroads and mines there. I had no idea there were Chinese in Idaho in the 19th century! At the time, Chinese made up more than 45% of the population in the Boise Basin. What happened to these people? Where did they go?


Image: reneyung.com

I created an installation of a brick wall made of soap, and each bar of soap is stamped with the word “REMEMBER.” The installation was built on a platform that was made from historic barn wood in the Boise Basin. So, who knows, maybe that barn wood had been part of the lives of these early Chinese immigrants who live there and then moved on. What I also came to realize as well is that as anti-Chinese sentiment became really virulent, Chinese were literally driven out of all parts of the country. So the “REMEMBER” part is ironic because these are bars of soap. The installation includes a washbasin, a stool, and towels with printed words of identity and memory – like “legal” or “illegal,” and “beloved.” So, as you use the towel, of course the word “REMEMBER” gets rubbed away, and the memory word on the towel also gets washed down and worn out.

Last fall, I launched a project called Chinese Whispers: Bay Chronicles, as part of my research about the maritime history of the Chinese. I was fascinated to find that the Chinese had an enormous shrimp fishery enterprise in San Francisco Bay in the late 19th century, and it continued all the way to the late 1950’s. It was completely decimated, for a number of factors, including strong anti-Chinese sentiment. You know, the Chinese Exclusion Act did not end until 1943. I partnered with San Francisco Maritime National Park last September and we did a research and art chronicling sailing expedition and sailed around the San Francisco Bay on a replicate 19th century Chinese junk [a kind of boat for shrimping] to former Chinese shrimp fishing sites. It was six days of sailing, with three public events. We had the junk armed to the teeth with cameras and recorders. We had mics, hydrophones, mics on the sails, GoPros on the masts… I did a very simple sound installation at San Francisco State earlier this year using some of these sounds. It was very exciting!

FWD.us: As you explore so many different parts of the Chinese experience in the Bay Area and beyond, what would you describe the main goal of your work?

Yung: If I pull back the lens and describe my work, I would say I’m interested in making connections. In that regard, maybe I sound more like an entrepreneurs than an artist. My language sounds like design thinking. I’m asking: How can I draw things together, and make connections that other people don’t make? And then, how can I make those connections understandable and palpable for a very broad public?

To find out more about Rene Yung’s work visit her website here, or join us at The Art of Immigration on Thursday, June 11.

Letters to the Editor Help Show Support for Immigration Reform

Posted on 06/09/2015

This blog was written by Jash Sayani, a Silicon Valley chapter member. To find out more about writing your own letter to the editor in support of immigration reform, click here

My name is Jash, and I’m a software engineer living in the Bay Area. After graduating from the University of Utah, I moved to California to be in the heart of technological innovation. But I quickly had a problem – my work authorization was denied because I had applied for it 93 days prior to graduation, instead of applying the required 90 days prior to graduation.

I followed up by filing a petition to reconsider the decision, which was futile. I had to file another work authorization application, which took three months to get approved. Finally, several months after graduation and after paying a few thousand dollars in fees, I could work. This was a very frustrating experience, because bureaucracy was hindering innovation. So, I decided to get more involved with immigration reform and wrote a letter to the editor to the San Jose Mercury News.

Jash-Sayani-Blog-Quote

The content of my letter mainly reflected my background and my perspective on the immigration system. I was born in India and lived there for several years. I have visited and lived in several countries, and I think of myself more as a “global citizen.” I love the diversity in the United States, and that’s why I decided to immigrate here. There are people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and different cultures, living in one place. I find that people from across the world come here to work on the biggest challenges in their fields and make a difference. However, the immigration system becomes a burden and makes it discouraging for bright people to live and work here.

Writing a letter to the editor was a way for me to express my experience and explain why immigration reform is important for me and for the country. Here is my letter to the editor:

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my support for comprehensive immigration reform. The United States is known as the land of opportunity. However, the immigration laws do not reflect that. The best doctors, engineers and scientists leave their countries and come to the United States to work on the biggest challenges in their fields, but have to devote a lot of time to immigration formalities.

The United States is a nation. As a nation, its main goals should be solving unemployment for its people and creating a better nation for its people. This is what dictates the economy. But immigrants have created the United States that we live in today. To receive an entrepreneur visa, it is required that the entrepreneur create 10 American jobs. Is that not solving the unemployment problem for its citizens? While the goal of every nation should be helping its own citizens first, immigration has led this country to where it is today and will keep it moving forward so other nations can learn from the United States.

To find out more about advocating for immigration reform, join your local chapter!