The North American South Asian Law Students Association (NASALSA) is an 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to representing the interests of South Asian law students and legal professionals throughout the United States and Canada.
Meet Zakir Mir – 3L at Drexel Law:
As an Indian/Kashmiri Canadian citizen, who has spent a good portion of my life living in the Middle East, I have experienced life as a minority in more diverse settings than most. Growing up in the Middle East as someone of Indian origin was a challenge, because the ethnicity I was born into automatically designated me as a second class resident (not citizen) of the country I was living in (Bahrain). Another challenge I faced was that the local population struggled to grasp my North American identity (handed down to me from my mother who grew up in Canada and other family in North America, as well as my own time there), and I was constantly derided for even referencing this part of my social make up. After moving back to Canada, I felt a sense of liberation at being able to comfortably refer to myself and nationality without interrogation in public. However, I soon realized that being a minority in this part of the world brought its own challenges. The legal identity of many immigrants and minorities in North America is unquestioned, however their social status is still unclear. As things began to change for South Asians in Bahrain, as more people from different parts of the world began to move there for work in the last five to ten years, minorities and the poor in North America still face considerable social challenges. For example, Philadelphia, where I am currently in law school, is an extremely diverse city, with a large number of African American, Black, Hispanic, Vietnamese and South Asian people living here. However, it is also one of the poorest cities in North America. Crime, inadequate access to health care, education, legal services and housing are all common issues for Philadelphia’s population. Living in Bahrain, where the majority of the population in my “social” and “racial” class were laborers, living in housing camps, earning as little as USD 150 a month, and having very few legal rights against exploitation, I was conditioned to be especially sensitive to these issues when I saw them here in the United States (and Canada).
That is one of the reasons studying law in Philadelphia has been so interesting, despite the depressed state of North and West Philadelphia. This sensitivity has prompted me to pursue public interest work during my time in school. I worked with CAIR Philadelphia for the first part of the summer, on Civil Rights cases and employment discrimination/religious accommodation research and representation, as this is an area where many minorities face barriers. I then worked at the Medical Legal Community Partnership, which offers free legal services to patients and visitors at Health Center 3 in West Philadelphia. The practice area of the MLCP is extremely broad, and the population we serve is incredibly diverse. Examples of cases we have seen involve illegal immigrants afraid to return home because of the danger of female genital mutilation, new immigrants threatened with death by their family because of personal issues, a cancer survivor facing an electricity shutoff, and a client whose loved one had been killed in a robbery (which led to a depreciation in the value of her property). The cases we have seen have been intensely emotional and challenging, but intensely rewarding as well.
I sincerely hope that other students from ethnic minorities keep the public interest sector in mind while they pursue their JD and future employment. Perhaps it may be difficult to find a sustainable career in this field straight out of law school, and many of us will be filtered into businesses or small/medium/large private firms, however, having experienced work in this sector, I hope that an ethic of wanting to help others is instilled in me, so that I carry this attitude forward in any work I pursue in the future. Hopefully this kind of work will help keep my moral compass alive and healthy, so that when I do (if I do) go into private practice, I will always keep the larger social issues in mind when making decisions which may have adverse external consequences for others.
2015 NASALSA Conference
We are pleased to announce that our 17th Annual Conference will be held on February 20-21st, 2015 in the San Francisco Bay Area at Stanford Law School. Please check back here or on our Facebook page for updates. If you would like to join our mailing list for updates, please sign up for individual membership in our membership tab.