So where are you really from?

Back in September, I was at a bar in San Francisco for trivia night. While ordering, a man sitting down at the bar turned to me and said, “You have really big hair” (#curlyhairproblems).  Despite this introduction I continued to make polite small talk with him while I waited for my drinks.

Eventually, predictably, he asked where I was from. Despite being born and raised in this country, this is a common question I’ve come to expect when meeting new people. My answer of being from the Bay Area did not satisfy him and so I finally told him I was born in Ohio. He was in complete disbelief and demanded to know what city. When I told him, he didn’t believe me since he hadn’t heard of the tiny town I was born in. (I wish I was kidding.)

The questions didn’t end there: Where in India were my parents from? Was it Kerala? (I think that was the one state in India he knew.) What language did I speak?

I think he would have been thoroughly confused to find out my siblings and nephew live in India.

Finally I was able to escape to sweet freedom and my friends, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed. Sure, this man may have been well-intentioned in his questions but where’s the limit? Is there one?

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Maybe it’s the fact that I have been dealing with these questions for nearly a decade now. Whether it’s from strange people in bars to my Lyft drivers, it’s exhausting. After a certain point it gets tiresome to share your family’s entire background every time you meet someone new or when you simply want to order some food at a bar.

I know I can dismiss these comments with a joke or remark, but I hesitate doing so because I don’t want to be rude or assume what someone’s intentions are. People are curious by nature but there is a time and place for such questions, I think.

The current political climate in this country might also be causing my heightened reaction to  these questions. Every day I read the news and see something targeting women or people of my skin color that make me question my place in this country.

I’ll never forget November 8th, 2016, or how someone yelled “Go Trump” to my friends at 1 AM in San Francisco, or how I tossed and turned the whole night.

America has always been home because, well, it is literally the only home I’ve ever known. But the days after the election and even now have me wondering: am I an American? How can I be if this country elected a leader who wouldn’t think I am an American if he saw me? To him American just means white.

How can I be an American when my rights as a woman are likely in danger? Or when the rights of people who look like me and families similar to mine are in danger?

Being a child of South Asian immigrants, questioning my identity is not something new to me. But it has always been in terms of my Indian-ness. Am I Indian enough? Am I too Indian? Right when I think I have that part of me figured out I am now questioning my American side, something I have never done before.

It could be because I have solid proof (my passport) confirming me of my American identity. Or plainly because it never felt like anything I had to question. I was born in America; I am an American..it’s as simple as that right? Lately, it doesn’t feel that way.

“Where are you from?” went from being an annoying, slightly intrusive question to an uncomfortable one as I figure out my place in this new America that is unfolding itself right before  our very own eyes.

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Gilmore Girls and the Nostalgia of Getting Older

You know how every time your parents say “back in my day” your eyes immediately start rolling? I think I kind of get it why they say that now.

There are a lot of things you don’t expect about getting older. Like how it takes literal days to recover from a night out (aka when you are awake beyond 12 AM), how you can’t solely rely on your metabolism to keep you fit, or how everything reminds you of something else. The nostalgia is all too real.

It makes sense though. The more years you have under your belt the more experiences or stories are packed in those years. Life events like having a nephew welcome nostalgia, from looking through baby pictures to see who he looks like to re-learning nursery rhymes to appease the little guy (my animal noises could use some work).

Some nostalgia is a little more subtle, like listening to a song or visiting a restaurant which includes an uninvited guest of memories from the past.

And yet, nothing gives me greater nostalgia of my adolescence than Gilmore Girls. Despite the fact that I watched a lot of TV growing up (unfortunately I don’t watch as much these days, another thing they don’t tell you about getting older), Gilmore Girls will always remind me of ages fourteen to twenty. I think because this show came out during such a formative time in my life and I saw my life paralleled to Rory’s, it held a close place in my heart.

So when I heard two years ago that Netflix would be posting all of the episodes, I was so excited to Netflix and chill with the Gilmores..and then, the best news of 2016 (not exaggerating), Netflix was going to revive the series!

I watched all four episodes, six hours worth of television, in a thirteen hour span (6 of those hours included sleeping).

Cue the nostalgia! It was so great to be back in the quirky small town of Stars Hollow that I loved so much. I loved seeing what Lorelai and Rory had been up to. Growing older with a fictional character like Rory was a bit strange, but it was nice to know that if overachiever Rory Gilmore doesn’t have her life together then maybe all hope isn’t lost for me.

The episodes brought me right back to my high school days: eating Burger King every Monday night, promptly doing my homework after school, and stressing about college.

Nostalgia is funny like that. It can make you look at moments from your life with sadness or it can make you look back at a point in your life and make you realize how much you’ve grown since then. I miss being able to eat Burger King every week, but I don’t miss stressing about college. I miss the stability and routine that came with being a kid, but I don’t miss the lack of self confidence or sense of self.

As someone who like to write/feels a lot of feels/enjoys analyzing, nostalgia is exactly all that wrapped up into one (sometimes messy) emotion.

All this to say…I can definitely see myself saying “back in my day” once I have kids. So don’t judge me please.

Lines in Lyft Lines

All throughout my life I was a pretty quiet and shy person. I was fairly chatty around my friends and family of course but I always struggled around new people. What do I say? What do I do? Where do I put my hands? (why have we as a society not figured out what to do with our hands?) Conversations with new people inevitably ended as quickly as they began.

As an English major/avid reader/writer, I felt like conversations had to follow a similar outline to my college essays. You start with the basic introduction/small talk, coming to a connection/thesis that would lead us to the body of the essay and a more fluid, in depth, meaningful conversation. The conclusion would be the exchange of information or pleasant good-byes.

Except what I learned was conversations don’t really flow like essays. Exchanging 4–5 lines with someone doesn’t automatically unlock a connection nor does it lead to a more interesting conversation. To get interesting conversations you had to be interesting yourself. (Shocking, I know. I’m suddenly thankful for all of my friends.)

My move to a city coincided with the rise of the ridesharing industry. I only had to deal with annoying and inappropriate cab drivers that never took credit card for a few months. It was great. And then more recently, the major ridesharing companies created carpool like services, such as Lyft Line or Uber Pool. Each ride is around $5 and you get paired up with people that are going in a similar direction to you.

Maybe it was the fact that I would never see these people again, or maybe it was because I rode in Lyft Lines when I was headed out with friends to a bar or dinner and so I was in a good mood or maybe it was the drink I consumed with my roommate while getting ready that made me me stray from the conversation topics I am used to.

After telling a fellow passenger I was meeting someone for Mediterranean food she told me about the Jewish birthright trip her friend went on recently. I lamented on the fact that India has nothing like that and then we got into a conversation about the traditions and little games that happen in an Indian wedding (she was a photographer who was going to shoot an Indian wedding the following weekend).

There was the driver who asked if I was Indian, and then he told me how his parents and him moved to Fremont from India to work at Tesla. Such a small world to meet someone that has my two homes.

There was the guy who made me watch a YouTube video called Meat Glue, connected to his car speakers and everything, after I told him I was vegetarian (I do not recommend watching this).

There was the passenger with whom I discussed sports and how being a sports fan must be so stressful and exhausting.

There was the driver who heard me watching a video of my nephew so then we started talking about his kids and my nephew.

There was the Lyft line that I got into after a date where the driver and passengers wanted to know all the details. I shared how it was a perfectly fine date and maybe perfectly fine is all I can expect or hope for to which I got back a unanimous “nope”. The driver, an older man in his 50s, and I had a good conversation about life, love, and expectations. It’s one thing to hear reassuring comments from your friends but another when you hear the same words from someone who has only known you for 20 minutes. This man didn’t have to tell me not to settle. He could have just said “Girl, you need to lock someone down ASAP” and I would have said “Yes, OK fair point”. His job was to get me home safely; he didn’t owe me kindness and compassion but he so generously offered it.

There was the Lyft driver who asked if I was going to dinner and said I smelled good. Actually that conversation ended there, so maybe it is not the best example.

Many of these conversations were interesting because they skipped small talk. Something about being in a confined, dark vestibule going 60+ miles an hour inspired openness, honesty, and at times, vulnerability. Sometimes it was easy, like talking about Indian traditions. Other times I shared something maybe a bit more personal and close to my heart — like stories about my nephew or dating.

It is not easy to be open and vulnerable. Some people may not react well to what you have to say. It’s scary and hard to take that risk. But I’ve found when it is accepted and reciprocated, it leads to some great conversations and relationships.

Most of the time I don’t even know the name, age, or occupation of the people I was chatting with in the car. That’s kind of crazy to realize because that’s usually one of the first few things you know about someone. But it is ultimately not surprising since I learned those things have little to no bearing on what creates a connection.

What I thought was just me getting from place A to place B actually was a lesson in what it means to form genuine connections with people, fleeting or otherwise. It helped me be more comfortable around new people. I didn’t feel like I had to ask certain questions or follow a certain conversational path. I could just talk about what interested me while the other person did the same and in some crazy cool way we found a commonality.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with my hands though.

I have Indian Friends

As a thirty year old I can finally admit this without feeling embarrassed: I have mostly Indian friends. Phew. That felt good to get off my chest.

So why do I have mainly Indian friends? I grew up in Fremont, California which is not nicknamed Little India for nothing. I had essentially what are “Indian” interests, so I attended Kathak classes and participated in Bollywood dance groups, garba teams, and culture shows in college. I was also pretty seriously part of an Indian community group for the first 20 years of my life. So yeah, a combination of all that and you can see how a majority of my closest friends are Indian like me.

(I feel like I need to add a disclaimer that yes, I do have (token) non-Indian friends!)

When I give a brief synopsis of my upbringing to those that I have just met, I can see them picturing me as “that stereotypical Indian girl”. You know who I mean: the girl who choreographs all the dances for her college’s Indian club, a bit of a drama queen, and very insular/cliquey.

Honestly, I don’t think that was ever me (aside from the loving to choreograph part) and I most certainly don’t think that is me now. I also don’t think I ever knew anyone like that in college either. And if they were dramatic or insular, I don’t think it had to do with their ethnicity or gender. Like, most people of other ethnic groups probably thought the same of their ethnic group.

It is funny: we are 10 years out of college and yet these assumptions are still being made. Many times I can just see it on their faces and a few even vocalize it. A few years ago an Indian guy, after hearing about my upbringing/Indian friend group, asked me if I was “one of those Indian girls”. What does that even mean?  Is this an appropriate time to quote Mindy Kaling and say “there are literally billions of us”? Or does being able to quote The Mindy Project just add to my Indian girl stereotype?

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Identity is such a personal thing and how one relates to their background/ancestry is entirely up to the individual. I do have to wonder why the judgement is okay one way, but not the other.

Most recently someone told me they don’t speak their mother tongue, felt like they were a “bad Indian”, and opened up about their insecurity regarding all of this. I listened and told them that they weren’t a bad Indian because there is no such thing and that there’s no one way to be Indian. A few days later I brought up that I had started a Meetup group based on South Asian literature and the person asked, “Do you mainly hang out with Indian people?”

Oh boy, here we go, I thought.

“Yee-sss?” I replied, unsure about how this conversation was going to go.

“Oh, well, I like to hang out with all different kinds of people,” they said. Well, I thought, that wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for but I guess this is the conversation we are having now. And so with a sigh, I began listing the reasons I shared above.

Later that night, I thought about that judgmental comment. I would never dream of making someone feel like they are a “bad Indian” nor would I make assumptions or call them “white washed”. I would never say “Oh, well, I think it is important to know your mother tongue” or essentially ask them to justify why they have the friends they have.  And yet that person can make assumptions  or comments about me? It’s ironic that someone who is insecure about their own identity felt secure enough to call me out on mine. Who named you the identity police?

Sure I know that statement says a lot about the other person than it does me. I’m no psychologist but they were probably projecting their insecurities onto me. But it still doesn’t make hearing comments like that any easier. It’s frustrating to feel like you’re being pigeon-holed and stereotyped at the age of 30. Haven’t we interacted with enough people at this point to know there is no stereotypical anything? We’re all special snowflakes in our own right.

Yes, my close friends are all Indian but they are also all kind, empathetic, friendly, welcoming, witty, independent, passionate, and extremely giving people. They’ve all done well for themselves in their careers in law, IT, tech, non-profit, and health fields. If someone were to judge me by my friends I would be worried they would assume I am as amazing and accomplished as they all are. They set the bar really high and I can only hope to have half the good qualities they do. This is why I keep them around. They help me learn and grow as a person. This is what good friends do.

In doing this mental check of all my friends, I thought about whether they would call themselves a “good Indian” or not. Actually I just texted a few of them and none said yes outright. Since they are all so brilliant and thoughtful, it led to a few text discussions about what does good mean anyway? Isn’t it all just subjective? Who sets the standard for good or bad? Society? The individual?  I don’t have any answers but it is interesting to think about.

Am I a good Indian? I’d venture to say probably not or that I am decent at best. At this point the most Indian thing about me is my insistence in making sure my one year old nephew can say foi (aka dad’s sister).

All we can do is try to live the life that we want to live. How I identify with my background may be different than how you identify with yours. That is completely okay. Let us put an end to judgments and assumptions of any kind. We’d all be better for it.

Do you feel like you are judged on how you identify with your Indian-ness? How do you react?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Milk and Honey

I first discovered Rupi Kaur and her poetry through Instagram (#millennial). Her words and aesthetic stuck out to me and I found myself double tapping her posts pretty consistently.

While Rupi was gaining popularity via social media, she became headline news when she posted a photo series based on menstruation which Instagram then censored. Naturally this caused quite a bit of a controversy. I can understand how it made some people uncomfortable but I thought it was nice to see the stigma around periods challenged. But that’s another blog post for another day.

Shortly after, Rupi published her first book of poems titled Milk and Honey. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this might be the first book of poems I’ve read since I graduated college and studied English lit. So I was a bit nervous. Would I like it?

Rupi’s book is divided into four parts – the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing. There is a bit of a trigger warning as Rupi discusses issues that are raw and intense like sexual assault.

I really liked the progression of the book. Rupi pours her heart out into her poems. It is really refreshing and inspiring to read something so vulnerable and best of all, to see yourself reflected in it as well.

My favorite section was the last one, of healing and of ultimately overcoming. The poems are empowering and bound to make you feel like you can do anything. It was the best thing to read after a rough day or while taking the bus into work in the morning.

As I mentioned it is so rare to see myself and the themes of my life reflected well.. anywhere, that it took some getting used to. This book was made for women like myself who don’t see accurate representations of their lives and their struggles in the media anywhere, so I loved that.

I definitely recommend Milk and Honey to anyone, but particularly young women of color. If you’re interested in feminism, gender roles, growing up in an immigrant household, then you will enjoy these poems. The poems are short (generally page long) and they are sometimes accompanied with all too apt illustrations.

Have you read Milk and Honey? What are your thoughts? If you have any recommendations of books similar, I’d love to hear!

A few of my favorite poems:

if you were born with

the weakness to fall

you were born with

the strength to rise

*

you tell me

i am not like most girls

and learn to kiss me with your eyes closed

something about the phrase – something about

how i have to unlike the women

i call sisters in order to be wanted

makes me want to spit your tongue out

like i am supposed to be proud you picked me

as if i should be relieved you think

i am better than them

*

our backs

tell stories

no books have

the spine to

carry

 

Book review: I am Malala

Better late than never, I finally read I am Malala and I am finally blogging about it!

I am Malala

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way to school in 2012. The Taliban did not approve of Malala encouraging girls to go to school to get an education. Thankfully she survived and now resides in the UK. She still campaigns for women’s rights and girls’ education. Her work earned her a Nobel Prize in 2014.

Reading Malala’s own words was fascinating to me. I was surprised to realize that Malala has not been back to her hometown of Swat Valley and her house since the day she got shot. Logically it was something I assumed happened but only by reading her words did I realize the magnitude of how her life changed on that fateful day. Even now, 4 years later, it is not safe for her to return to her country, her home. I can’t imagine what that must feel like.

I don’t know if others are like this, but if you are let me know! When I get into something, I must learn everything about it. Once I finished I am Malala I was on Wikipedia researching Swat Valley, the Taliban’s invasion of Swat, watching videos of Malala, reading articles of hers, and so on. I was fascinated and needed to know everything there was to know. Do any of you guys do this too?

Autobiographies aren’t usually my favorite things to read, but I really enjoyed I am Malala. The cause of women’s rights and education is something that I am passionate about. It was eye-opening to read in Malala’s words the things she went through just to be able to go to school. It makes me very thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given. There’s so much in my life I’ve just been given and didn’t even have to ask for that I realize how much of a blessing that is. Growing up education always felt like a chore, but now I realize that to many it is a privilege. It shouldn’t be that way. Everyone should have the opportunity to go to school regardless of their gender, where they live, their skin color, etc.

It was really nice to see interviews of Malala where she comes across like a normal teenager who makes fun of her brothers, get stressed about school, and what not. It made me respect her even more, to read what she has gone through and how she doesn’t let it change her in a negative way.

If anyone is interested, The Malala Fund is doing great work and is a worthy cause to donate to.

Have you read I am Malala? What did you think?

The Mindy Project and Authenticity

My love for Mindy Kaling is pretty obvious to those that know me. My brother, a recent parent, emailed me this article which discusses how The Mindy Project has been handling parenthood this season. While it was a good read, I did not find myself agreeing with the author. It made me think about the way women and parenthood are depicted on television.

Though there has been a recent trend of authentic shows, The Mindy Project strives to be anything but real. Mindy Lahiri has always been a little bit ridiculous and just out there. If Mindy and TMP wanted to portray parenthood accurately, it wouldn’t be authentic to the show itself. For a real take on parenthood, the author should be looking at dramas like Parenthood. Don’t look to a comedy show about a woman who is trying to find the Kanye to her Kim to be authentic about a lot.

Personally I found TMP’s take on parenthood to be refreshing. As someone who isn’t a mother, it was quite nice to see a woman become a parent but not let it change or consume her. Mindy is still the same person she was before she had Leo, just that she has a little human she is responsible for.

Ultimately at the end of the day people turn to television as form of escapism. I know I don’t want to watch a show about a woman that goes to work and watches Netflix at night. That is the life I live so when I turn to TV, I want something that takes me to another world.

This season of The Mindy Project has been my favorite by far. I’ve loved to see the way Mindy, who wants nothing more than to find her happily ever after, is handling her new role as a single parent. Her life has taken turns she has never imagined and while she is struggling and hurting, she is learning to overcome and come to terms with her new life. It’s still a comedy show, but there have been a few heavier moments which the show has handled impeccably.

Have you been watching The Mindy Project? What do you think about TMP’s take on parenthood?