As a Desi girl.. I’m frustrated.
I watched the show iZombie the other day. You see, I was so excited because I saw a Desi guy in the commercial and I thought to myself, ‘Yes! We got representation.’ I had to check it out, so last night that’s what I did, only to be sadly heartbroken minutes later.
When the Desi guy came on, I saw that he worked in a lab. I understand that many Desi people work in the medical field, but that’s not all we do. Yet, that’s all I see. Heros, Big Bang Theory, the Mindy Project. I just wish there was wider variety of roles for us in U.S. media representation, but I’m not crying in a corner about it. It was when he spoke, and that thick U.K. English accent came out that I really felt like crying. It’s seems like a dramatic response, but it’s not; every time there is a Desi character on an American TV Show, that person is usually in the scientific/medical field, and he almost never has an American accent. And yes, Mindy Kaling’s character on The Mindy Project is the exception to that rule.
Why doesn’t the American media want us? Why don’t they want our nuances, our differences, our more varied Desi selves? Why do they only see the South Asian-American community in stereotypes? I fought these stereotypes my whole life. And it was hard. I made mistakes. I yelled, I threw things, I screamed and I cried a lot, but I don’t regret for one moment going in a different direction than what this country and my family had assigned for me since birth. But, sometimes I just want to curl into a ball and give up. Because what’s the point? No matter how hard I try, I will always be forced to come to terms with how the United States still thinks of my fam. We are forever the foreigners, the other.
We perpetually live in this state where we are still put in ‘ESL’ classes strictly because of our skin color and ethnic features. We are beaten to death for simply living and somehow this country’s justice system finds that to be ok. We are constantly asked whether or not we celebrate Thanksgiving even though we were just talking about the latest Drake mixtape. We are asked daily ‘What are you?’ as if we’re all these aliens that landed on U.S. soil in a spaceship, even though we speak with strong American accents. We are not allowed to have a heritage, it seems. We are told ‘In this country we do…’ because the moment we show a hint of being un-American, it’s as if we just swam across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived at Plymouth Rock. And even if we did, why does that matter? This country is founded on so many immigrant narratives, but because our features and our skin color are marked as exceptionally un-American, we are forever seen as the outsider.
So many Desi kids, like myself, pushed away from our heritage, from our homeland, from our motherland, because this country cannot see its people to hold both American and non-American cultural ties, but that’s who we are. We have dual identities. This country doesn’t see that. It doesn’t want that. Or perhaps, it just doesn’t understand it. And so growing up, I tried to move away from my heritage. I thought doing so would allow me to be seen as fully American.
I grew up watching Sonic the Hedgehog, Saved by the Bell and Fresh Prince. I wore choker necklaces and neon colored shorts. I talked like my friends did. I stopped wearing bindis with American dresses. I stopped watching South Indian movies with my parents. I stopped listening to South Indian music, and for a long time I made a strong effort to not learn my mother tongue. I thought distancing myself from my culture was the best way to be accepted by my peers. I couldn’t be more assimilated and somehow it still wasn’t good enough. I could not turn off my brown skin, my melanin. I could not turn off my experiences, my upbringing. I couldn’t do so without hurting my family, my heritage.
And I think that’s the story of a lot of Desi people. We are seen for how we look and how we look is un-American, so although it broke my heart to see this British Desi character, it had me all but surprised. The American media doesn’t really see our nuances, our complexities or our intricacies. To them we will forever be foreign. Different. Other.
The real question: when will that change?