Q: What ethnicity are you?
A: I am Indian, originally from India.
Q: How do you think your ethnicity has affected the way you grew up?
A: My family is super culture-oriented, so I was in a lot of heritage organizations and they have been a pretty big part of my life. I would say I’m pretty connected—we celebrate all the holidays, and I do the whole thing where I’m vegetarian on certain days. It’s affected my life a lot, and it has really affected what values I hold and my actions too.
Q: Did you develop a certain mindset about your race and about other races based on the way you were brought up or based on the culture you were supposed to adopt when you were younger?
A: Until I was around five, I pretty much thought everybody was Indian because when I was little, we lived in a very Indian apartment complex. Everyone I knew was Indian, and when I went out and found out that not everybody speaks the same languages I do, it was a little weird. But it also opened my mindset. However, when I went to school, I was exposed to a lot of stereotypes, and I realized a lot of people had these stereotypes about Indians. One girl in first grade asked me, “You’re Indian right? So you don’t take baths?” She thought Indian people didn’t take baths, and I was like, “What?!” It was really crazy.
Q: Do you notice anything happening with race in high school at the moment?
A: What I’ve noticed is that a lot of Indian people try not to be Indian. They don’t think of it as a good thing, and they want to be more like everyone else. For example, when the Bollywood Club dances, some Indian people will straight up talk about them in a negative way. You don’t see people doing that to Korean Club. People in Korean Club are proud to be in the club, and they have a lot of supporters. People don’t really support Bollywood Club. They’re like, “Oh, look at them, they’re so Indian.”
Q: Do you think this is a trait unique to Indian heritage and culture here?
A: No, I feel like it’s pretty common everywhere because a lot of people have grown up trying to be, I don’t want to say this, but, “whitewashed.” They want to fit in and the only way they can fit in is by being someone else. You hear a lot of people say, “You smell like curry,” or, “Does your house smell like curry?” and, “Why is your hair so oily?” It’s just that when people hear that, they feel attacked. So they try to exemplify someone else or some other race so they don’t hear those kinds of things.
Q: You’re really proud of being Indian and so how does this affect your daily life? Do you do anything in specific to reaffirm yourself that you should be proud of your culture?
A: Yes, I’m Indian, and I make Indian jokes about myself. Because honestly, it’s not something that should be thought of in a negative way, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of it. I bring Indian food to school everyday—-that’s how I’ve been raised, to be proud of who I am. Indian culture is really rich. We go back thousands of years, and a lot of the things we see today come from India. Here’s an example: when I talk to my Indian friends, they’ll be like, “Indian food is so gross. It has too much spice,” etc. But when you go out and talk to everyone else and ask if they want Indian food, they respond with, “YES, I want Indian food so bad.” It’s something that you should be proud of and I just tell myself that, as an Indian, sometimes people say negative things to you, but you shouldn’t let other people change who you are.
Q: Are there any other obstacles that you face in life, maybe instances of minor racism?
A: Not too much. You could take something like dressing. Usually Indian people are considered more conservative and coming from a more conservative Indian family, you won’t see me walking around in short shorts ever. Pretty much everything I wear isn’t above the knee. That’s just my family, and sometimes I do wish I could wear short shorts, but this is who I am. Sometimes, I feel I might not fit in with the fashion trends, but it’s honestly okay because I’m comfortable in what I’m wearing. If people don’t like me because of what I wear, I honestly don’t want to be friends with them.
Q: If you had the ability to, what would you tell your younger self, if anything at all?
A: When I was younger, yes I didn’t know that not everyone was Indian, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s because I went out and I learned that, “Whoa, not everyone is Indian and there are different ethnicities.” I think I learned it at the right time. It’s really important to feel relatable and safe when you’re young and if that meant I thought everyone was Indian, so be it.
Q: If you could change one thing about our community, what would it be?
A: I just want people to be proud of who they are, because it makes me really sad to see that, most of the time, people that are talking badly about Indian people are Indian themselves. It’s like, “Why are you trying to hide it?” You can't change the color of your skin and you can’t change your heritage. If you are Indian and people say bad things about you, just brush it off and be proud of who you are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.