For the ISAASE Be Inspired project, I interviewed Vishal Vaidya, who you might know from his recent run as Larry the Cameraman on Broadway’s Groundhog Day (or from #Rifftober). I’ve also known Vishal for over 20 years (we even performed a duet version of Christina Aguilera’s I Turn To You in our middle school talent show together, and acted in plays together in middle and high school)! In the interview, he chatted about how he got into performing on Broadway, what it was like for him growing up in Burtonsville (my home town), what’s next in his career (and the need for stability in performers’ careers), and the importance of diversity and representation for South Asians in performance spaces. ALSO, he chatted about why he hopes Monsoon Wedding the Musical or Bend it Like Beckham the Musical become big hits.
My friend and colleague Ruchika Tulshyan (a speaker, journalist, and the author of The Diversity Advantage) and I co-wrote a piece about how workplace discrimination against South Asian Americans can be traced back to the classroom, especially in light of the model minority myth, published this past week in The Aerogram.
Here are some of the takeaways from our article:
- Starting in the classroom, belief in the model minority myth can lead to difficulties for students
- …this can be traced back to pervasive and systemic discrimination that starts in K-12 environments, and impacts social beliefs
- …which then ends up in the workplace
- The model minority myth can sometimes help South Asian Americans get their foot in the door in certain workplaces (the myth can lead hiring managers to check off the diversity box in an apparently ‘nonthreatening’ way — which perpetuates its own problems)… BUT
- …It can then create “a whole new ceiling,” since the same stereotypes that seem to make them appealing hires can work against them when it comes to advancement
- Also, re: previous point, South Asian Americans (especially South Asian American women) are noticeably absent from leadership roles
- Ultimately, discrimination against South Asian Americans exists from the K-12 level into the career space
If you’re interested, you can read the whole thing here.
P.S. – You can follow Ruchika on Twitter at @rtulshyan, or visit her website here. And if we’re not already Twitter friends, add me at @punitarice.
Also, in case you missed it, here’s a piece for Education Week Teacher on the importance of pronouncing students’ names correctly.
Did you see the “First Time I Saw Me” campaign on Twitter a few months ago? Black Girl Nerds and Netflix collaborated earlier this year and started a campaign centered around diversity and representation in the media, and pushed the use of the hashtag #FirstTimeISawMe to collect stories from people sharing the first time they saw themselves. (Two of the most popular videos/stories came from Ava DuVernay and Spike Lee. Also, here are some great videos.) It got me thinking about my own experience with the “first time I saw me” on television or in pop culture. And I realized that the first time I saw me… hasn’t happened yet.
The Simpsons is a great show. But Apu sucks. For a variety of reasons — including the fact that there’s so little representation of South Asians on tv in the first place, and that the depiction of Apu as simultaneously the perfect model minority and immigrant, and the depiction of him as a joke that encompassed all stereotypes about South Asians popular in the early 90s — I have problems with the creation of Apu. With Hari Kondabolu’s new documentary The Problem With Apu coming out, I found myself thinking about my own personal problems with Apu, and wrote a bit about some of these problems for The Establishment. Some (paraphrased) snippets from my piece for The Establishment are below, (or you can read the whole thing here) if you’re interested…
I wrote an essay for Education Week Teacher about why pronouncing students’ names correctly is — and should be — a big deal. In the piece, I spoke about why mispronouncing students’ names is problematic (and can be a kind of microaggression), what my own experience has been with my own name, information about the ISAASE Name Pronunciation Guide, and actionable tips for teachers to improve their name pronunciation.
A brief excerpt from the piece (about how many South Asian Americans — myself included — already simplify our own names for the benefit of others, thus emphasizing the importance of teachers making the extra effort to get it right!)
I am South Asian American and spent over a decade mispronouncing my name for my own teachers to make it easier for them to say. My name is pronounced Pu-nee-tha; but for years, I said “Puh-nee-da.” I’m not alone in doing this; a lot of South Asian Americans I know offer an Americanized pronunciation of their names (Unn-jal-ee goes by “Anne-julie”), if not another name entirely (Sanket goes by “Prasad”). In spite of offering teachers what I imagined was an easier version of my name, most still pronounced it wrong (“Poo-needa?” “Paw-needa?”).
In fact, my own frustrating experiences informed the work I’m doing now: I founded an outreach organization to improve South Asian American students’ experiences in schools. When I spoke with South Asian American students about their experiences, many indicated in interviews that they didn’t feel teachers understood them or their cultures or knew how to say their names. And the importance of pronunciation goes beyond any one background or culture—it’s important for all students, no matter where they’re from.
(Excerpt from article that first appeared in Education Week Teacher on November 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission.)
If you’re interested, you can read the whole thing here.
P.S. – Segments of this piece were first published in a blog post for ISAASE, which you can read more about here if you’d like.
Pavana Reddy (who you may already be following on Instagram — she’s also known as @mazadohta!), is an amazing, beautiful, inspiring poet. You can sample her lovely poetry on her Instagram page (here), hear it on Anoushka Shankar’s album Land of Gold, or read it in her first book, Rangoli.
I got to connect with and interview Pavana for ISAASE’s Be Inspired project. We had a touching, earnest conversation about her experience of internalizing a sense of otherness growing up Brown in Canada, and about how the pain of losing her sister to suicide changed her writing. She also shared why she feels it’s so important for young people to share their feelings.
The English teacher in me is happy to have connected with such a talented rising poet, and the human being in me is so grateful I had the opportunity to connect with this beautiful soul; this was one of the most personal interviews I had a chance to do for the project, and I’m honored she was willing to share her story with me.
I hope you’ll check out the full interview if you’re interested. Below is an excerpt.
“…I wish I had the language I have now to have been able to save my sister from the pain she silently carried for years. After her death, I didn’t have anyone to talk to. My teachers were not as accessible as they should have been, and coming from such a small town also kept me from speaking to my peers; so I turned to books for company. I would read so much that the characters would become my friends, and that helped me deal with my sense of disconnect. I realized I wasn’t in alone if how I felt, and that brought me a lot of comfort.”
If you’d like to read, the full interview is here.
Have you come across the sentiment: “your parents didn’t immigrate just for you to mispronounce your own name?”
One variation of this sentiment appeared from Twitter user @Zablizzle (as seen on the Instagram account for @the_indian_feminist):
“Your parents didn’t immigrate across an ocean for you to mispronounce your own name so it fits better in someone else’s mouth. #stop” (1/2)
“I’m talking abt how ppl adjust their names when they’re meeting new ppl in school, work etc settings so it will be ‘easier'” (2/2)Twitter user @Zablizzle (as seen on the Instagram account for @the_indian_feminist)
And a follow-up appeared on my Instagram feed from @the_indian_feminist (an account that I love, by the way), which screenshotted those Tweets and added:
I know it’s hard to stop, I kept letting people mispronounce my name for so long until I realised I started INTRODUCING myself in the mispronounced version. That got me fucked up. Ever since I just tell people if they’re saying it wrong, and it’s been great.From a post shared by The Indian Feminist (@the_indian_feminist) on Oct 23, 2017 at 9:53pm PDT)
I can relate so much to this, because even now, I often mispronounce my name and have been doing so on and off for literally over a decade.
Yes, I pronounced my own name “wrong” (and still often do).
I know how absurd that is given that I speak and write regularly about name pronunciation in the classroom. I literally have an academic book coming out about South Asian American students’ experiences in schools (more information about the book available here).
And yet, I have to argue that mispronouncing your own name isn’t inherently always “wrong.”
if I’d heard this sentiment while growing up, I think it’s possible that it might have impacted me in a way that maybe could have resulted in my saying my own name right. So hearing this kind of advice might be important for a lot of people.
But I hate that the way it’s framed seems to shame South Asian (and other) kids who engage in this behavior.
A lot of kids adjust their own name pronunciation in an effort to make their own experiences growing up easier (especially for those kids who are growing up in areas that are less-than-diverse).
Cultural identity and acceptance is a journey.
And for a lot of South Asian American kids (and other kids too!), they may just not be ready, or “far along” enough on that cultural identity journey to embrace pronouncing their own names the way their parents might say it.
Or, they might have any other number of reasons for not saying their name correctly.
I think rather than shaming kids for mispronouncing their own names, we should encourage them to embrace their identities and cultures and roots — but not at the cost of shaming them for where they’re at now.
The Name Pronunciation Guide for K-12 teachers is an example of a resource that’s meant to help improve teachers’ pronunciation, and in so doing, maybe remove one of the factors that might influence/lead some kids to mispronounce their own names. Tools like this can help equip educators to do their best with pronouncing “difficult” (ok, foreign) names correctly.
At the same time, it’s critical to remember that kids all have different reasons for wanting to pronounce their names the way that they pronounce them.
If you can relate to this post, please consider sharing your own experience in the comments section below. And if you’re interested, you can learn more about my book here or look at the listing for it on Amazon.
Do you, or have you ever mispronounced your own name? Why?
Have you heard of Lady Pista? Sumangala Narendrakumar (aka Lady Pista) is a recording artist and DJ whose music is a blend of dancehall, electro-house, and world music. A couple months ago, I reached out to Lady Pista to connect about the ISAASE Be Inspired project, which aims to inspire young South Asian Americans by sharing diverse profiles and stories of success (especially success that doesn’t fit stereotypes of South Asian achievement!). She shared some lessons she’s learned along her journey navigating the entertainment industry as a South Asian woman. Here are two of my favorite pieces of advice she shared…
“You have to remember that you are the biggest vehicle to your own success.”
On following your passion and carving out your own destiny:
“We are all told that the arts isn’t a career and we need to find a suitable role in society and fit the mold. What if your mission wasn’t to follow the pack? What if it was to break boundaries so our communities can evolve?”
I loved getting to know Lady Pista, and chatting about her experience of pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, challenges she’s faced along the way, and her advice for young people pursuing a similar path. If you’re interested, you can read the full interview here, and you can hear some of her music at her website.
P.S. – Her 5-track EP “Imma Pista” releases next month!
Have you seen the instagram account Gundi Studios? In Hindi, “gundi” means female thug — and since outspoken South Asian women aren’t typically appreciated in South Asian communities, Natasha Sumant (the artist behind Gundi Studios) started the project as a way to celebrate courageous women, and reclaim the term gundi. The art and fashion coming out of Gundi Studios is fantastic, but Natasha’s work is way more than just art — it’s a platform for elevating outspoken South Asian women who have the courage to buck patriarchy, subvert norms, and reclaim their own narratives.
Natasha’s success in creating art that celebrates outspoken South Asian women goes against expectations of South Asian women — so a couple months ago, I reached out to Natasha for an interview for ISAASE’s Be Inspired project. We got to chat about how her art allows her to engage with race, feminism, and empowering South Asian women, about the challenges of having to fight for a career in the arts while growing up in India (and the challenges of working as an artist in the U.S.), what has helped her succeed, and what she wants young South Asian Americans should know. Here are some of my favorite things from our interview…
Earlier this year I mentioned my outreach organization ISAASE‘s “Be Inspired” project. (In case you missed the post, it’s here). For the project, I connected with journalist Jashvina Shah about navigating the world of sports journalism (which isn’t exactly known for its welcoming attitude towards women), establishing a subscription service to a private sports reporting site, and why she loves working in journalism. She also said something that really stood out:
“There is a chance it might not work, but you’re going to regret not trying to do it.”
The comment was made in context of what she’d tell young aspiring journalists, but I thought it was valuable advice for anyone pursuing a passion.
Jashvina is such an inspiration – not only to young South Asian Americans, or to aspiring journalists, but to all women. You can read the full interview here.