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Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

Martina Manicastri
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May marks the start of AAPI Heritage Month, a time for us all to reflect on and celebrate the various contributions and cultures of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In the labor movement, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the impact of AAPI labor leaders like Larry Itliong, who would go on to create the United Farm Workers alongside Cesar Chavez, or Ai-jen Poo who helped found Domestic Workers United, the group primarily responsible for the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in NY, which recently also passed in NJ. 

It would also be remiss not to acknowledge the contributions of our own AAPI members across the state, like Sanjay Shah (DEP) and Jaydeep Nanavaty (DOH). Sanjay has worked in the public sector for 20 years and is currently an Environmental Specialist 3 who oversees sustainable waste management, landfill operations, and impacts on human health and the environment from issues like methane gas and groundwater contamination. His dedication to public service was borne out of an experience he had in India where he witnessed the juxtaposition of tremendous affluence alongside farm workers using contaminated water on their crops; when given the chance to support a clean environment for all at the DEP, he took it. 

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Like Sanjay, Jaydeep has also been in the public sector for 20 years and is currently a Research Scientist 1 where he manages DOH’s online database from both a technical perspective and for accuracy in data reporting like lab results. He got his start in 2003 working for the bioterrorism unit before transitioning to his current unit in direct service of public health. 

When we spoke to them about their support for our union, both mentioned the power of unity, citing lessons learned through Indian resistance to British colonialism, with Jaydeep saying “I grew up under my grandfather’s influence, who was an avid follower of Gandhi, and always sought to fight injustice. CWA too, is fighting a good fight.” Jaydeep’s contributions to our union, especially since becoming a steward in 2018, are a testament to his commitment to worker power and collective strength. Sanjay echoed his sentiments, saying “Everybody’s voice needs to be heard and everyone needs to stand together. I’m there for everybody and the union is there for me.” Sanjay, apart from being an active 1036 member, is also part of the DEP AAPI Employee Resource Group which fosters cultural celebration and education in the workplace. 

Happy AAPI Heritage Month to all Asian-American and Pacific Islander members across the state!