Sociology of Indian-Australians and the Diwali Festival

I’ve been away for work for awhile now, and hope to bring you more on this soon. For now, I thought I’d share with you a post I had planned to  publish weeks ago, but haven’t been able to finish until now. Let’s talk about the sociology of Indian people in Australia, with a case study of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Melbourne.

Indian migration to Australia has a long history, dating back to the 19th Century,  with early records showing the British brought Indian servants (noting this may have included forced servitude). At the time of colonial Australia’s first Census, there were 1,800 Indian people in Australia. Today, Indian-Australians represent our fourth largest migrant group and they are also the biggest growing migrant group next to China, with their population doubling in the past decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In the most recent Census of 2016, over 455,000 Australians were born in India, corresponding to 1.9% of our population, though this does not include the second-generation (their children born in Australia).  Together with Nepalese-Australians, Indian people make up 76% of the Hindu population in Australia (noting that Hindu people make up only 1.9% of our national population).

Indian families gather at Diwali: Indian Festival of Light Oct 2014. Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia
Diwali: Indian Festival of Light, Federation Square

Continue reading Sociology of Indian-Australians and the Diwali Festival

Sociology of the Day of the Dead

Latin girl wears a painted face for Dia De Los Muertos

This video by Eddie G provides an engaging Mexican-American introduction to El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Eddie G captures how one community celebrates the dead, as just one step in the “pyramid of life.” In describing the symbolism of the colours of a symbolic altar, one woman says:

[In Spanish] “The yellow is the beginning of life. The red is the momentum of the blood. Green represents settling down, starting a family, working, and helping the community. Blue represents the sky. The elders reminiscing and talking about their memories. That’s all we have left. The top is white. That’s death. “

The Day of the Dead has grown in popularity in the United States and in other places outside Mexico. Non-Mexicans may be attracted to the colourful costumes, the skulls, face-painting and the “cool” allure of death. Yet the significance of this spiritual festival is more than just about death. It is a symbol of post-colonial struggles and a celebration of life. Continue reading Sociology of the Day of the Dead

Muslim Ban and Visas for Researchers

Given the Trump Administration’s Executive Order that aims to revoke visas to nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations, what is your professional society doing to further support conference travel to the USA?

This is my story as a non-Muslim Australian. I’m sharing it as a minor example of the confusion and possible ramifications of the “Muslim ban” on academics. The broader context is much more perilous for Muslims who have a concrete fear for their lives and future under President Trump.  

I was invited to speak at a conference in honour of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The event, Gender, Science and Sustainable Development: The Impact of Media – From Vision to Action, was held on February 10th, 2017 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, USA. Gender equity in science and academia is a field in which I’ve long worked, researched and volunteered, including in a previous role where I implemented and managed a national program to increase gender equity and diversity in science. I was invited to discuss my public writing on women in science. I was excited.

In preparation for this travel, I applied for the visa waiver program in January, as is my right as an Australian citizen. This program should provide automatic approval for people holding an electronic Australian passport. That’s me. I received an automatic message when I applied that I was not auto approved but that I’d hear an outcome within 72 hours, as is the maximum waiting period for this service. The time came and went and there was no response. I have not been denied a visa, I have simply not been granted one and not given a reason.

Then the Muslim ban was in full effect. Sixty thousand visas were revoked immediately on the first weekend. This had a massive impact on Muslims and their families who were kept from entering the USA, some of whom were locked in detention facilities. At least one woman who died after  being denied entry back into the USA.

Academics were among those affected and thousands of scientists have responded.

stay on the ban has been in effect since 28 January, implemented by U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly. The stay was sustained by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals until Judge Donnelly can fully investigate the case.  

Amidst all this, my visa application was in limbo. This is small potatoes in the broader context, but I share my story because, potentially, this illustrates how systemic issues may be affecting visa processing.  


Given the United Nations conference was imminent, I followed up to see why my visa application was delayed. I first enquired electronically. I received a message saying it would be at least three months before I’d hear back. Then I called the the USA visa office in Australia. I couldn’t see the issue as I’ve travelled to other countries in Europe, Asia and New Zealand. I was told to contact the USA Homeland Security and given a USA phone number.

No thank you.

I was born in South America. I have lived in Australia since I was a young child. There are no Latin nations on the unlawful Muslim ban list, nor have I travelled to these nations; I’ve simply never had the opportunity. Not that it should matter, given the positive contributions Muslims have made to Australia, America and the rest of the world. I am not Muslim—again, this should be inconsequential as it is not a crime to be Muslim. The United Nations sees religious freedom as a basic human right. Moreover, Australian dual national are supposed to be exempt from the ban.

Regardless the stay means the ban should not be enforced. Nevertheless, there have already been reports of cases where students are being denied entry into the USA.

As academic friends have pointed out, President Trump has disbanded key roles that may be affecting how administrative offices are being managed and resourced, perhaps including those overseeing visa processing. In answer to a friend’s question: yes first name is a common Muslim name that is unusual in both my country of birth and in Australia. My second name reflects my Spanish-speaking origins. It should go without saying but names shouldn’t be cause for suspicion.

What other factors may have affected the visa delay? The Trump government is currently conducting an unprecedented campaign to deport undocumented migrants that goes beyond the Obama Administration’s callous tactics. This especially targets Americans of Latin American origin. The Trump Administration continues to promise the building of a new wall between the USA and Mexico. Are Latins suspect short-term visa applicants too?

Though this situation raises painful memories of the life-long discrimination I have suffered as a woman of colour, it is still nothing compared to what Muslims are going through.

So if the waiver program causes an unclear and long delay for a one-day conference to me, a mid-career PhD-holding Latin-Australian sociologist, how might it affect other scholars?

Head to my blog to read more about the Muslim ban, and what sociological and other science associations are doing to address it, as well as what else may need to be considered. 

Images: Zuleyka Zevallos.

  1. A woman holds up sign with the Australian flag visible in the background. Message reads: No hate no fear, everyone is welcome here.
  2. Among a group of protesters at the Women’s March Sydney, a woman holds the sign that reads: Trump Uphold Human Rights for All.

Latin Summer Festival

In the 2011 Australian Census, there were over 107,300 Latin-Australian migrants. The majority were born in South America (almost 87,700 people); the second-biggest groups were born in Central America (14,900 people); and a smaller proportion were born in the Caribbean (4,7000 people).

This was Melbourne’s first Latin Summer Festival! Held at Federation Square it was not an especially sunny today (it rained lightly), but that the random weather made it all the more of an authentic Melbourne summer! The lacklustre weather did not stop the crowds. It was very exciting to have attended the third Latin event in Melbourne in almost as many months. Very happy that more Melbournians will get a little exposure to our cultures! 

This adorable couple is having more fun than everyone here outside the bar area! 

This photo and video are part of my #VibrantLives series, a visual sociology of multiculturalism in Melbourne. Keep up on my Instagram @OtherSociology.

Latinas on Screen

Latina actress Gina Rodriguez, star of Jane the Virgin, has won a Golden Globe for Best TV Series Actress – Comedy or Musical! She said in her speech:

“This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.”

This win is especially important given the research on Latin people on screen which shows that Latins are relegated to unnamed roles, and playing to the stereotypes of criminals, blue collar workers and sex objects.

Continue reading Latinas on Screen

Chileans in Australia: The Other 9/11 and the Legacy of the Pinochet Regime

Steet art portrait  of Salvador Allende. Via Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr
Steet art portrait of Salvador Allende. Via Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

Today is the “Other September 11.” On this day in Chile, 1973, President Salvador Allende was killed in a coup by Augusto Pinochet. My blog post explores the ongoing impact of this event on Chileans living in Australia.

In his historic speech, Allende’s final address to the nation, he talks of his sacrifice against imperial forces and his vision for the future. SBS News has a great website commemorating this event, including the role that the Australian Government played in feeding intelligence to the USA, which eventually led to the rise of the Pinochet regime. When the Australian Labor government came to power in 1972, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is said to have been appalled about Australia’s involvement in the coup and removed his Government’s political support.

Australia began accepting Chilean refugees in the mid-1970s. The Chilean-Australian community grew from 6,000 in 1971 to over 24,000 by 1991. Continue reading Chileans in Australia: The Other 9/11 and the Legacy of the Pinochet Regime

Ashaninca Hallucinations: Challenging Western Concepts of Medicinal Knowledge

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Last year, I read about anthropologist Jeremy Narby’s participant observation field research with the Ashaninca, an indigenous group living in the Peruvian Amazon. His research is detailed in the book, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, as well as the follow up,  Intelligence in NatureI’ve thought a lot about this research since. Narby’s research focuses on the way Western science constructs medical knowledge in ways that do not accommodate mystical experiences from Other cultures. Western medicine has come to adopt the Ashaninca’s knowledge of rare plants, as they have been proven to positively affect health. Nevertheless, Western scientists refuse to take into consideration how the Ashaninca gain this knowledge because it is derived through drug-induced hallucinations. This is in spite of the fact that these hallucinations come from the same plant ecosystem that Western science  is eager to plunder. How do we reconcile this knowledge divide? Narby argues that the Ashaninca’s understanding of plants and ‘alternative medicine’ must be understood in concert with their pathways to this knowledge. This includes the hallucinations which are used to commune with nature.

Ashaninca Hallucinations

Continue reading Ashaninca Hallucinations: Challenging Western Concepts of Medicinal Knowledge