This awesome band is creating inclusive concert spaces for Muslims and other music fans.

After more than a decade of performing, the Kominas were getting tired.

They weren't tired of playing music, though — that remained the best part of their days. Instead, the punk rock band was exhausted by always having to explain, identify, and defend themselves as Americans of South Asian descent in a mostly white punk rock scene.

"In our early days, we definitely coexisted with a lot of local, very white punk bands. But even then, I felt like we were some kind of fetish," said guitarist Shahjehan Khan, in a band interview with Spencer Shannon. According to Khan, even bands that they were friends with still couldn't tell the members of the Kominas apart sometimes.


Basim Usmani, Karna Ray, Sunny Ali, and Shahjehan Khan. Photo by Eva Wo/the Kominas, used with permission.

They released a new record in 2015, appropriately titled "Stereotype," and they wanted to go on tour to promote it. But as brown-skinned dudes in America, they didn't feel very safe.

Somehow, things for South Asian Americans — including Pakistanis, Muslims, Sikhs, and many other groups — were looking even worse than when the band first formed a few years after 9/11.

"The climate in America right now, with all the shit going on politically and with the election ... every day is like there’s new shit happening and it’s so hard to keep up. You get kind of numb to it and not really dealing with it," said guitarist/vocalist Sunny Ali.

"But our shows have been getting more and more [people-of-color] majority ... and it’s just cool to have a place that everybody can get together in that way, and just potentially be like moshing with each other, then picking each other up if someone fell," he added. "Even just physically being that close to like-minded people can be therapeutic."

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

In the summer of 2016, the band decided to pack up their gear and embark on a "Rock Therapy" tour across the United States.

They'd play music on the tour, of course. The 10,000-mile, monthlong tour would take them to 20 cities, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Houston, to Olympia, Washington. But most importantly, it would be all about inclusiveness.

This trek might sound scary at a time when the cringeworthy xenophobia of "Ban Muslims!" is so central to the zeitgeist. But that's why the Kominas are making an effort to perform at inclusive cultural centers and music venues with other like-minded artists and musicians.

"It’s not just a rock therapy tour. It’s like a 'Magic School Bus' education," explained vocalist/bassist Basim Usmani. "It's us going through the USA and saying, 'What is this place?' Then being able to look around and say, 'Honey, you’re home' and ... get that positive feeling of, 'Yeah, I was born in this country, and I love it.'"

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Their tour kicked off at the Lilypad in Cambridge in July.

100 eager fans crammed into the small gallery space that night. Gutter punks and hipsters danced alongside dolled-up young professionals. There were even a few older parents who showed up ready to rock. Most of the crowd had brown skin, and some wore dastaars or kameez or saris. At one point in the evening, the audience let out a collective chuckle when the opening band's Bengali-American singer joked that the drummer could pronounce Sanskrit better than she could.

The show was easily one of the warmest and most inviting rock 'n' roll shows I'd ever been a part of, and I was immediately struck by the bonds that were apparent even between strangers — just because they all felt comfortable in the space.

One fan, Sara Hussain, said she felt right at home watching the Kominas. "I'm a South Asian girl, and it’s the first time I’ve seen artists that have made their name that are South Asian artists," she told Upworthy. "They wear our clothing, they say the words that we understand, they share our languages. That’s how we connect to them. You really can’t see yourself represented in the world unless you actually see yourself up there, or people like you, right?"

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Every band that played that night had some kind of South Asian influence bleeding through their sound. But at the same time, the bands were just your average American indie rock bands, too.

"Rock Therapy might be kind of healing those wounds that are created by people who are prejudiced against those Pakistani Americans or Muslim Americans or Desi," said Levi Ali, a musician and longtime Kominas fan who was in the audience that night, in an interview with Upworthy. "You have to go and support everyone who’s doing that because that’s how you start a movement. ... It’s showing that we are something in this country, we’re here too, and we’re doing cool stuff."

"When you try to represent your culture which is largely ignored, any kind of symbol becomes huge."

Photo by SUNDAYS/cool/the Kominas, used with permission.

All too often, minorities in America are saddled with the responsibility of being the spokespeople for their entire group.

There is obviously a vibrant South Asian rock music community in America, as evidenced by the Kominas tour. But even in the earliest days of their success, they were forced to act both in press and at concerts as some kind of monolithic archetypal stand-in for all South Asian Americans who like rock music, which has been incredibly difficult.

"A large portion of our fanbase is people of color," drummer Karna Ray explained to Shannon. "Hopefully with this [new tour], we can create small spaces where people are alleviated of having that responsibility" of always having to explain and identify themselves.

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Case in point: The Kominas are frequently referred to as a "Muslim punk band" even though they're not all Muslim.

But they are all Americans.

Sure, they embrace and poke fun at their experiences as South Asian Americans in songs like "See Something, Say Something," the "Friends"-inspired "4 White Guys," and "Sharia Law in the USA." But it's not the only thing that defines them.

"Our songs critique the world around us, but a lot of people can read whatever paternal, like, 'They’re trying to reform their savage culture!' bullcrap they want," said Usmani. "That makes what we’re doing feel really gross. We’re not, like, 'one of the good ones.'"

"It’s difficult because a lot of other bands, they’re just going through it. They’re not even saddled with an identity," he added. "No one’s like, 'Wow, a white band’s playing tonight!'"

Photo by Eddie Austin/the Kominas, used with permission.

That's why it's so important that bands like the Kominas are using the power of community to create safe spaces for all types of Americans.

If you ask the Kominas directly about what they want audiences to take away from their music and performances, they probably won't talk to you about inclusiveness alone. No, instead they'd all tell you the exact same thing in unison: "Buy our T-shirts!"

It's a silly and moving reminder that they're still just another great American rock 'n' roll band trying to make a living by doing what they love — even if that does involve a little rock therapy.

But tours like these still make a huge difference for South Asian Americans in particular, especially at a time when many of them could use the support. But that doesn't mean the rest of us are left out of the fun, either — we can all listen to their music and enjoy their shows (and, yes, laugh at their hilarious music videos), while also reminding ourselves that America's strength lies in diversity, not exclusion.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

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