Than k you s o much to t he amazing te am of e ditors and desig ners t hat made t his proj e c t a re a lit y! DESIGNERS Sneha Gubb a l a Shi lp a R ancho d Saniya Wa l awa l kar Ande B ene dic t EDITORS Mad hu Ko duva l li A loli ka D e Amna Hus ain Sit ara Gnanagur u COVER DESIGN Pr iya Huq b-u-l-a-n-o.tumblr.com
ABOUT THE ISSUE
#re cl aimt hebindi st ar te d in O c to b er 2014 w it h t he go a l of promot ing pr ide in S out h Asi an c u ltura l ident it ies w hi le a ls o f ig ht ing c u ltura l appropr i at ion. This proj e c t comes at t he sug gest ion of an anony mous Tumblr mess age t hat broug ht up t he ide a of hav ing a zine s o t han k you, anon! Your sug gest ion has g iv en me t he chance to work w it h and br ing toget her amazing work f rom s ome wonder f u l S out h Asi ans! Iâ€™m s o t han k f u l for a l l t he p e o ple w ho worke d on t his proj e c t, f rom t he e ditors w ho de a lt w it h my end less emai ls to t he desig n ers w ho de a lt w it h my const ant re quests for up d ates on t heir prog ress. It me ans s o much to me t hat s o many indiv idu a ls donate d t heir t ime and ef for t to ma ke t his zine a re a lit y! And a sp e ci a l t han k you to e ver yone w ho submitte d to t he zine â€“ t houg h we were not able to fe ature e ver y pie ce we re ceive d, we appre ci ate your supp or t and ef for ts end lessly! The pie ces in t his issue are fo c us e d more genera l ly on c u ltura l ident it y w hi le f uture issues w i l l b e fo c us e d on sp e cif ic topics w it hin t he con text of S out h Asi an ident it ies. I hop e you enj oy re ading t his issue as much as I enj oye d s e eing it come toget he r! Sincerely, RTB Fol low t he c amp aig n! Tumblr : @re cl aimt hebindi Inst ag ram: @re cl aimt hebindi Tw itter : @re cl aimt hebindi
THE MESSENGER | 3
One-Half by Nitya I am a divided woman a wide-eyed brown girl from a farmland state someone who calls two countries her home I call myself Indian-American D.C. born, Maryland and Mississippi raised a city girl living in small town Ohio (“lost in middle America” indeed) the daughter of immigrants who left their homeland in search of a better life Although I’m bilingual (trilingual if you count Spanish) my mother tongue is alien to me the words are clumsy and raucous on my lips rather than calm and almost poetic when my parents speak like harps that lull me to sleep I find myself stuck in-between two worlds: both places where a part of me is accepted and the other half rejected tradition and devotion versus dreams and independence it’s an eternal war raging within me My favorite things come from India – jasmine, spices, festivals of lights and colors my thoughts and clothes are made in the grand ol’ USA. I am both Indian and USian An ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) I was spawned from two countries not entirely belonging to one or the other I am half and half waiting to become one.
Untitled, Photoshop, 2016 Priya Huq b-u-l-a-n-o.tumblr.com
THE MESSENGER | 5
Life in Purgatory “G
ood luck! Smile!” As I walked across the passageway to the adjacent wing of the stage, my bells clinked and scraped the already dry, cracked and bruised dorsal surface of my foot. Music filled the auditorium and my hands began to sweat. Bright red alta that had been meticulously applied to my fingertips and in a perfect circle across my palms began running through the fine lines of my hands. I sat in aramundi, a deep plié with feet no more than two inches apart and held my breath for that first word: “Sa…” -- that was my cue. I stamped my right foot, so hard it felt as though I should have broken through the stage, crossed my left foot gently and entered, standing opposite my classmate. The scorching white stage lights blinded me. My family has been Catholic for about two thousand years. Originally we belonged to the Syro-Malabar church; a rite founded by St. Thomas the Apostle when he landed in Kerala, India in 52 A.D. The Syrian church remained linked to the Roman Catholic Church and the differences are mostly cultural. On my father’s side, there are multiple priests, nuns and even a couple bishops. The religious roots run so deep that I’m sure we were considered confirmed Catholics since baptism. For most of my time growing up in Kansas City, I was left with the nagging feeling that I didn’t belong anywhere. I was ethnically different from every one of my school friends and religiously different from most of my Indian dance friends. Through6
out grade school and middle school, I never felt comfortable bringing Indian food to school. The thermos my parents would pack warm lunches in had distinctly Indian artwork plastered across the lid. Each time I took out that olive green thermos, I would screw off the lid as quickly as possible and shove it into my lunch bag so that my friends wouldn’t notice it. Ten years ago, my mother forced my whining five-year-old self to begin Indian classical dance lessons. She was determined to forge a connection between her quickly Americanizing daughter and the culture she had known at my age. I hated the way my knees pulled when I sat in aramundi and how my shoulders felt sore for days after class was finished. I felt awkward and out of place. While my classmates nodded along as my teacher explained that we performed namaskaram to ask the gods’ permission before stamping on the earth, I felt as though I was committing some horrible form of blasphemy. I hated the discomfort of being different, and by default, I hated dance. Two years later my mother assured me that I would not be sent straight to hell for learning dance, and moved me to another dance school; one she felt might be able to mould her still whining daughter into a dancer. I remember wanting to write my biographical essay on Akbar in 6th grade. As we filed up to my English teacher’s desk I was jittery with excitement. I was confident that she would be proud of me for thinking above and beyond when choosing my subject. I handed her my outline sheet. She scanned the title and
a crease appeared between her eyebrows -- “Who is this?” I remember my jaw dropping, and wondering how on earth my teacher didn’t know who Akbar was. She mistook my open mouth as a sign that I was just as clueless as her. She handed me my paper, and told me to select another topic. After nearly 10 years of studying Bhartanatyam I was able to perform a graduation ceremony or Arangetram. I don’t recall much of my dance from the day of my Arangetram. I remember one of my rings flying in a perfect parabola off the index finger of my left hand. I remember praying that no one would have the misfortune of stepping on its jagged edges. I remember missing the first beat of a transition step during the sixth section of our twenty minute centerpiece and not caring. Those two hours of dance were the happiest two hours of my life. The adrenaline that coursed through my body masked any and all pain. Never in my life had I felt so blissfully unaware of my surroundings and so acutely aware of my actions. It has been twelve years since I last saw India. My memories have faded and the boundary between what is real and what is imagined seems to be fraying. Dance has been my continual connection. My Arangetram was not only my transition from student to artist, but a transition in my understanding of my identity. Traditionally, the ceremony was performed at a Hindu temple under the sky in the open air. I danced in the cavernous auditorium of our local Jesuit all-boys high school under scorching spotlights.
Historically, dancers were exceptional members of society; they were plucked from villages and cities and were completely devoted to their art. They danced to grow closer to god, to please Shiva, the god of dance and fire. I danced to find a connection. My dance was nothing like theirs. I danced for me and me alone. I danced to build a bridge between myself and my heritage. When I began studying
Bhartanatyam I had no understanding of Hindu culture and limited knowledge of Indian history. Before becoming immersed in graduation training, dance was just another form of exercise. I had all but touch with my roots. It took me 16 years to finally grow comfortable in my identity, and I know many others who have struggled for just as long, if not longer. The movement against appropri-
ation is a chance for us to stop hiding the bruises from our childhoods. On June twenty-eighth as I ascended the stage, all the conflicting fragments of my identity were pushed into place. I was a Catholic American girl performing the ultimate Indian rite of passage. Somehow on that stage I grew into my hyphenated self: American by birth, Catholic by rite and Indian by dance.
2015 Ananya Kala tumblr: ananyaya.tumblr.com instagram: @unanyaya
THE MESSENGER | 7
what #reclaimthebindi means to me As a kid growing up in London in the 2000s, I didn’t really care about the fact that I’m Indian. I mean, I knew I was and if you challenged me, I would’ve defended my home country proudly – but in allhonesty, I didn’t care. Every person of colour I knew was essentially taught not to care: the more British/Western you were, the cooler you were. Right?
that sparked the (gradual) change in my thinking came in December 2014, when Marina Watanabe of the Youtube channel marinashutup made a video on cultural appropriation, which I had never heard of. After I finished it, I went on her Tumblr to see what else she had said about it. And it was there I discovered #reclaimthebindi.
And, as kids do, I spent my time chasing their definition of “cool”; I used to inwardly groan whenever it was announced that we were going to India for a holiday, as we did almost every year. Why couldn’t I go to cool places like Florida the way my cool peers did? Basically, I was a bratty little ingrate.
I could finally give a name to the annoyance I felt when I saw nonSouth Asian people wearing bindis, sarees, doing the “lightbulb” dance, or even when I saw South Asians, who didn’t give two shits about their heritage normally, doing these things for “bants”. Seeing these things made me angry but I didn’t know how to call the offenders out properly. I remember I once said a BBC Bollywood dance performance (with predominantly white dancers) was racist, which my
Eventually, Hindi cinema became the only link to India that I was (secretly) invested in maintaining. (And, to a lesser extent, food. I LOVE lahsun ki chutney.) The thing 8
(white) stepfather was quick to dismiss. I grudgingly conceded defeat but in no way did I agree with him; he thinks reverse racism exists, so when it comes to these matters, I take his opinion with a large pinch of salt. It was still nagging at me, in the back of my head. And now I had a name for it. So when I started using Twitter in 2015, I started following the #reclaimthebindi account immediately. This was right before Coachella, so naturally my feed was full of Tweets roasting the white girls who thought themselves trendy for wearing bindi(s), and the hashtag #CoachellaShutdown. It made me 100% sure that I was never going to set foot in Coachella, at least not until they cleaned up the mess. I started following other people who also spoke out against this blatant abuse of Indian culture and people
who also spoke about feminism, both topics being of great interest to me. They also shared their love for Desi culture – and this was revolutionary to me. Because even though as a child I’d only really liked Hindi cinema, I grew more interested in India’s history and culture as I grew up: Mughal architecture. Preksha meditation (a form of Jain meditation). The Hindi and Marwari languages that I’d heard being spoken at home my whole life but always disregarded. But even then it had never occurred to me that it was okay to voice such opinions on a platform as public as Twitter. The doctrine that I’d been taught as a person of colour as a child was still in effect without me evenrealising it. These people on Twitter showed no such fear. They declared their Desi heritage proudly. And even the people I followed who weren’t Desi were vocal about their heritage. I started to feel I’d found people who thought as I did and said the things I felt too scared to say. It was so encouraging. And once I started, bit by bit, I realised it was liberating. I feel like I’m unapologetic about my love Indian culture now, but this is just the beginning. I have much more growing and learning to do. I also have yet to be truly tested, given that I’m in India right now. As my childhood proves, it’s a lot easier to feel good about thinking a certain way when everyone around you does too. But it’s a start. This is how discovering #reclaimthebindi led to me reclaiming my heritage. This is the start of me reclaiming me.
“I started to feel I’d found people who thought as I did and said the things I felt too scared to say. It was so encouraging.”
Sarika Sethia yaar, main uske baare main tumhe kaise samjhau? Wo mataki aankhein, wo khushi bhara chehra, wo hasee jo dil ki dhadkan bandh kar te… However, while all those things are true, she’s also FULL of filmy dialogues, so watch out! Born and bred in London, Sarika’s always kept her home country of India close to her heart. A Bollywood addict since bachpan, she’s currently learning kathak and harbours secret dreams of being a performer. But until then she’s attending university (after her gap year) and planning to go into criminal law. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: @sarikasethia
Sarika THE MESSENGER | 9
By: Amara Auguste
Ouijaxbarbiie.tumblr.com @Ouijaxbarbiie on Instagram
THE MESSENGER | 11
Cookie Mami, 2015 instagram: kohinoorgasm
he brown rainbow is my favorite rainbow. Whether you are West Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, a mix of them all, you're beautiful. We are bonded by our similar cultures, and similar histories. Like many colonized regions, a layer of eurocentrism is embedded into our history and our cultures. Within our own ethnicities we face scrutiny for our skin tones. Our women are hypersexualized to the point of being dehumanized. Our cultural attire is used as costumes and outfits at Coachella. I’m grateful for movements like Reclaim the Bindi, we need to speak out against those who expect marginalized people to disregard our own emotions to entertain their shallow expression of our culture. against those who disregard our roots and history. To reclaim the true essence of cultures from those who create a system that intentionally punishes us for deviating
from the “european” standards, and treat us as a commodity. this beautiful brown rainbow needs to flourish, unapologetically. but before we can tackle the outside world, we have to keep our foundation strong. even though we all want the same thing, we are divided in our endeavors to achieve it. Let’s look at some internal events. In many of our communities, standards of beauty favor those who possess European features: lighter skin, lighter eyes, lighter hair. Young women have been taught they are less because the color of the skin holds a higher value than their character and intelligence, which is absolute bullshit. Among the different "brown" countries, conflicting histories create residual tensions and prejudice. For example, the partition of India, the later secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan which should be recognized as a genocide, the earlier separation of
Burma (now known as Myanmar) from the administration of British India, the separation of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), etc. Within countries, socioeconomic and religious statuses create divisions within the culture. Now, I’ll get to the point. I’ve seen so many different groups and movements that seek to educate and unite beautiful brown women, and they are successful but also exclusive. Solidarity. our efforts and agitation toward the dismantling of racial and cultural hierarchies make sense only when we include, legitimize, and strengthen the voices of ALL women of color. Thank you for holding onto your roots.Thank you for recognizing that you are a gem. Thank you for lifting your sisters up. thank you for coming together. thank you beautiful ladies for reclaiming the bindi. With love and respect always, Samiah
Namaste: an integral part of a white girl’s instagram username Is it to prove that they’re culturally aware, or spiritual or have they just smoked enough weed they think it will actually provide a hippie aesthetic Pressing bindis on their foreheads The same way they press like buttons on madonna’s selfies With that fantastic dignity and poise Only a white person could possess Like that grace they have When they try to dance to bollywood songs At their bollywood parties That no Indian people were even invited to And that authority they have When they say “We’re just celebrating your culture” Because liking one song from a movie industry you’ve never actually seen a film from Gives you a full perspective on a culture And that confidence they have when they say “Come on, wearing a bindi doesn’t kill anyone” And that confidence they have when they pretend “Come on, wearing a bindi has never killed anyone” Riya Bhargava
Riya is a San Francisco based bigender, Indian, disabled poet who performs slam poetry and loves petting cats. interlude-holiday
THE MESSENGER | 13
A Comment on:
“To the new culture cops, everything is appropriation,” by Cathy Young W hile I was browsing the internet, I stumbled across an article on The Washington Post by Cathy Young called “To the new culture cops, everything is appropriation,” with the subtitle, “Their protests ignore history, chill artistic expression and hurt diversity.” I know— you may think the title itself sounds ignorant, but I went on reading and the part that really annoyed me was her conclusion: “Can Catholics claim appro priation when religious paint ings of Jesus or the Virgin Mary are exhibited in a secular context, or when movies from “The Sound of Music” to “Sis ter Act” use nuns for enter Hello and thanks for reading this! My name is Shaptarshi (people call me Kristy) and I’m a 21 year old student from Heidelberg, Germany. I’m currently studying Chemistry and English for my teacher’s degree. I love books, photography and ranting about things I hear/read. You can find me on social media and discuss the article with me: insmartgrace insmartgrace
tainment? Appropriation is not a crime. It’s a way to breathe new life into culture. Peo ples have borrowed, adopted, taken, infiltrated and reinvent ed from time. America is the ultimate blended culture. So don’t let anyone tell you that there is art, litera ture or clothing that does not belong to you because of your racial, ethnic or religious identity. In other words: Appropriate away.”
One example of what she thought caused unnecessary rage was that, “Even Selena Gomez, a Latina artist, was assailed a couple of years ago for sporting a Hindu forehead dot, or bindi, in a Bollywood-style performance.” Young states that in some social-justice quarters, the demonization of ‘appropriative’ interests converges with ultra-reactionary ideas about racial and cultural purity. Now, what I got out of this article is that Young seems to know very little about the history of racism in America herself, which may be why she perceives discussions about cultural appropriation as ultra-reactionary. Let me just quickly drop the term “Dotbusters,” so we can all think about why it is wrong to wear a bindi solely as a fashion accessory. Now we can have a look at the paragraph I cited first: Young’s conclusion. Well, why can’t the Catholics claim
appropriation? It’s not that Catholics can’t claim it. Cultural appropriation is a form of discrimination, which seems unlikely for a major religion with worldwide roots.
‘America is NOT “the ultimate blended culture”’ Yes, it is true that people have “borrowed, adopted, taken, infiltrated, and reinvented from time,” but how did people do all that? I’ll just drop the term “Colonialism” here. Also, just because it has been done for a long time does not mean that it is right! Colonizers never gave credit to the people they “borrowed” from and also heavily discriminated against them. This discrimination and ignorance has been carried into our time by people like Young. Furthermore, America is NOT “the ultimate blended culture,” just like all the first-world countries are not. Everyone with a different cultural background knows what I am talking about. For a country to be “the ultimate blended culture,” the citizens have to be educated about people’s heritage and culture. Most importantly, they should be educated about the equality of every single human being, no matter where they come from, and America has clearly failed at that. Examples of this failure can be found everywhere from how people from different cultures and ethnicities are mistreated on regular basis to the ignorant articles pub-
lished in seemingly respectable news outlets like The Washington Post. This may sound like I am overly upset about people wearing bindis and saying that it is not a big deal, and to be honest, I am. I think back to when people cried “F***ING P*KI!” (and what is wrong with being from Pakistan?) when my mum went to an Indian party wearing traditional clothing and, of course, a bindi. And just to name a few more examples: My teacher used to make jokes about me looking like an Indian and that we wear dots on our foreheads. Fellow students
would call me a “Behindu,” which only makes sense if you know the German word for the “r” word, which is behindert. These people are the ones wearing bindis now as a fashion statement. Don’t “appropriate away.” Educate yourself.
Duty Free Critic
Background info: You might find it odd that I’m wearing a bindi here with a tank top, but I often wore it like this when I was little, with Western dresses. It just didn’t seem odd to me because I really was brought up in two cultures: American & Indian. If anything, it was completely natural. It only made sense for me to fuse the two cultures that I loved, but then things changed. I moved to a new town, a suburb.. Looking back, I recognize that my feelings of loneliness and confusion were really a state of culture shock. I went from urban to suburban, and it was a tough transition. I was often made fun of for my weird last name, my weird middle name, my skin issues and overall alienated for basically existing, so I stopped doing anything that made me seem even remotely ‘ethnic’ or ‘FOB.’ It was a hard journey, one sometimes that I still struggle with to this day, but over the years I have begun to look at myself in the mirror and smile. Instead of wondering why others don’t find me ‘beautiful’ I think of why I didn’t see my beauty all along. Why should I be ashamed for being different? It just makes me more unique.
M.Dee is a rapper and singer-songwriter who posts videos on YouTube to express her artistic passions. Always eager to channel her inner voice into positive outlets, M.Dee uses youtube and social media to talk about topics she is passionate about. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @dutyfreecritic. THE MESSENGER | 15
WHITE-WASHED “White-washed,” they call me.
An identity that once seemed, so fulfilling So bright, So full, So complete. An identity that once gave me validation, And hope, And promise, And love. An identity that made me feel worthy, Worthy of the white man’s friendship, Worthy of the white man’s approval, Worthy of the white man’s success. “I don’t even see you as Paki,” they say. “You’re different.” That difference is what made me feel good about myself, Because I didn’t want to be like Those brown boys that studied engineering, or like Those brown boys that became doctors, or like Those brown boys that just weren’t “cool enough” To dress like us, or To speak like us, or To think like us, or To sit with us, To be like us. “You’re an Oreo,” they tell me. “Brown on the outside, white on the inside.” White, just like when I started shopping at H&M, to stop looking like a brown nerd, or like Like when I started listening to Linkin Park, To fit in more with the emo white scene kids at school, or Like when I got my first undercut hairstyle, So I could look less like a terrorist Like every time I shave my face, So I can look less like a terrorist; but it’s a cool and hipster trend when white boys have beards, right?
For people to recognize where I come from Yet a brown, white enough To live this lie that I’ve created for myself A lie that tells me that I need to hate my parents because they are so backwards and oh so goddamn strict, A lie that tells me I need to hate my religion because it is so oppressive and goddamn strict, A lie that tells me that my skin is dirty, And my hair is messy, And my food is stinky, And my language is a joke to laugh at. A lie that tells me, I need to be as white as possible, in order to be heard, In order to be seen, In order to be accepted, In order to be loved, In order to be validated, In order to be intelligent, and creative, and successful, So I fix my hair to look like theirs, I change my clothes to look like theirs, I adjust my voice to sound like theirs; Like adding white milk into a dark brown chai, it makes a lighter brown. The more white I am, the more tasty and appealing I become. After all is said and done, what am I? What does it mean to be white, or brown, anymore?
This piece explores my personal struggles of assimilation to whiteness as a queer South Asian Muslim American growing up in a post-colonial and diasporic world through personal identity, image and presentation, culture, and more. Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat:
Zain Ahmed is a queer, Pakistani, Muslim individual lost in the American diaspora. Currently, they are a college student, artist, activist, and writer in San Jose. They have experienced an intersection of racism, gender dysphoria, homophobia, and intra-religious adversity to develop a sense of self and a love for art and community change. They’re sad, they’re tired, they’re angry, and they’re honestly over it and ready for some f***ing change around here.
WHITE-WASHED THE MESSENGER | 17
Emphasis on the person AND the color Because it seems for some reason It’s expected that I be happy with just one See I could be a PERSON of color Emphasis on the person Ignore the color Where a starbucks cup in my hand validates my thoughts and ideas as human Because now that I’m “normal”, I’m “basically white” Never mind the way I talk to my parents or get ready or even watch a movie For the sake of their comfort that’s not who I am To them, I’m my dyed hair and the way I hold a fork even in an Indian restaurant To them, i’m only as big as my assimilation will allow As they cling on to any piece of perceived whiteness, perceived normalcy they can grab on to to justify even talking to me
Otherwise, I could be a person of COLOR Emphasis on the color Ignore the person Where someone asks where I’m from, where I’m really from, before they ask my name And then tell me about how one time they went to India to “find their spirituality” Never mind the diversity of cultures and experiences in India, and the diversity of experience in my life To them, one tourist trap trip means they already know me To them, I’m an exotic caricature of an ideal housewife and primitive culture To them, I’m only as small as my assimilation will allow As they cling on to any piece of perceived stereotype, perceived fetishization to justify even talking to me Riya Bhargava
PERSON of COLOR 18
It was the late 90’s. I was in either fifth or sixth grade, and had been to multiple schools before I had reached this particular one, where my sister and I were ostracised for being the only brown girls. We didn’t know why. We just thought it was because we were city slickers, or the new kids, or because we weren’t skinny like the white kids. It only clicked after the remarks of one horrible boy. We were in the school tuckshop to cook something, and we were all told to wash our hands. While I was washing my hands the way teacher instructed, I caught the eye of a boy called Scott. He came over and told me my hands were still dirty. So I washed them again. He repeated they were still dirty, so I washed again, and this continued on until I was the last one there after everyone else had been called away. When it was my turn to help with the food, Scott grinned. “Stop! Her hands aren’t clean, look how brown they are!” I was confused. I had washed them so many times! The other kids caught on and giggled. The teacher smiled at the joke, but then tried to come to my defense. “Scott, look she’s upset now.” Shifting the blame to me. I didn’t figure the joke out until I got home. Micro-aggressions and racist remarks can drain a person. They can make one feel insecure, alienated, ashamed to exist as who they are. They can leave a lot of hurt that can be hard to heal, and can build up as anger, resentment, depression, and feelings of loneliness, inferiority, and self-doubt. This is where self-care comes into play. Self-care is realising that your own feelings and experiences are real and valid. This means putting yourself first. Make some time for your wonderful and amazing self- then stick with it the best you can! Just for 30 minutes a day, or if you want to start slow, 30 minutes a week. What comes first is understanding your own self-worth, and realizing that your issues, feelings and experiences are unique and your own. This is where self-talk comes in. Change to a more positive, uplifting and encouraging way to talk to yourself. From ‘I can’t’ to ‘I’ll try’, ‘I’m stupid’ to ‘Now I know’.
Some excellent self care activities include: · · · · · · ·
Exercising Taking a bath Puzzles Meditation Breathing exercises Spending time with friends or family Counselling
· · · · · ·
Games Diary keeping and dream journals Creative activities (painting, writing) Kite flying Yoga Dancing
This isn’t an exhaustive list of healthy activities to participate in. It’s budget friendly so hopefully something here that’s will work for you. Self care is all about how you feel and think, it’s about relaxing and distressing and focusing on yourself, and how to better understand and control your own actions, reaction and learning to let go. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your wonderful self, and notwhing selfish about looking after yourself. However, if you find yourself unable to sort out your feelings, and you’re feeling heavy all the time, please, please, please see someone. It you want to be anonymous, there are many free hotlines you can call and people who can direct you to budget or free services. There are so many people out there that can help and who truly do care for your wellbeing. -Preeti Khan
THE MESSENGER | 19
Questions of Culture: What Reclaim the Bindi Means to Me By: Gurnoor Kaur Sekhon
s a young girl, I remember throwing around the word “culture” with a vague understanding of what it meant, but a strong conviction of its existence. It lived in the pores of my skin and in the follicles of my hair. Like a cloud of mist, it lingered in the air I breathed, but when I reached out to clench it in my fist, I felt only my nails digging into my palm. I had, what they called, “culture.” I didn’t shave my legs or pluck my eyebrows. I grew out my braid and never once cut it. When people asked me why, I’d say, “It’s part of my culture.” Sometimes, I’d say it smiling proudly. Sometimes, I’d be looking away, fingers laced together.‘Culture’ meant that I stuck out like a sore thumb, my tongue tied into decadeslong knots. The older I grew, the more I needed to be able to articulate this feeling. Through high school, through college, like any other user, I waded through the articles people posted to social media websites. Though I stumbled across important concepts like feminism and intersectionality that helped me articulate different facets of my experiences, the word “culture” remained shrouded in that familiar mist, secretly silent to my mind and heart. One day, on a whim, I waded through the bindi tag on Tumblr and stumbled upon our miraculous and 20
empowering movement: Reclaim the Bindi. The movement helped me understand how to articulate what culture meant to me, through discussions about concepts like cultural appropriation and reclamation. What I have come to understand isn’t complicated, sophisticated or new, but it’s important all the same. Though similar practices exist in cultures outside of South Asia, wearing the bindi is a social practice particular to South Asian cultures. Wearing the bindi is a performance of that cultural identity, whether as an expression of a religious belief or the participation in a social practice. Our practices present our beliefs in a tangible way. It’s precisely this performance which makes our culture so fluid and so vulnerable to appropriation. If culture is something you think and do, then it can easily be changed or mimicked. Anyone can wear a bindi, meaning anyone can pluck our traditions, disregarding their cultural and historical contexts, and thoughtlessly erase our rights to practice and identify with them. Naturally, our anger for this is justified. When we are mocked for our cultures, when our culture is stolen from us, we cannot stay silent. However, as we articulate the pain we feel and the problems we face, we must be careful with the words
we choose. When I was young, I saw only the single, homogenous, white color of the mist. I did not see the individual social practices, like droplets of water, that hung together densely in the air. By helping me understand how to articulate culture and cultural appropriation, the Reclaim the Bindi movement has also made me realize that we can easily reduce rhetoric about culture to a rulebook, or a monolith. The way we talk about our culture is a performance of our culture, too. When I say, “It’s part of my culture,” I have to think and talk about what that means. I have to remember that, because culture is beliefs and practices, culture is dynamic and fluid. In talking about the bindi as a part of our culture, what are the words that we choose to define culture? What does the bindi mean to us, who live in diasporic communities, as a part of our culture? Do we allow the meaning of the bindi to change? How do our personal feelings affect the meaning of the various social practices in our culture? When we reclaim culture, what is the culture we presume to reclaim and for whom are we reclaiming it? Do we define our culture by a single kind of belief or a spectrum of beliefs? Do we isolate our culture by defining it by a set of unchanging practices, or do we allow new thoughts to influence the way we perform our culture?
Reclaim the Bindi has answered my last question by reblogging the selfies of diverse South Asian women of varying shades and ethnicities. But we can do more. By telling and listening to the multitudinous narratives of our fellow South Asians, we can gain a clearer understanding of our culture and give it the room to grow. If culture is beliefs, then beliefs
are made up of stories. It is only when we start sharing our stories that we can see each color in every droplet of water in the mist that envelops us. After all, the first steps to empowerment can be as simple as having conversations and exploring the questions in our hearts. I know the young girl in me yet yearns to hear those stories and understand what culture really means.
GURNOOR SEKHON, alias Gwen. I am a student of English with a focus on literary criticism at the University of Wisconsin. I mostly write fanfiction in my free time. I can be found on twitter at the username â€˜empressgwennyâ€™.
THE MESSENGER | 21
વ ે ર ન ૌ મ ગ છે
Growing up in a household which spoke Gujarati, I remained painfully aware of how my parents sounded during parent-teacher meetings, at the ticket kiosks, at the bank, you name it. There came a point in my life where I would be deeply ashamed of being seen with my parents in public lest they should start talking in Gujarati (or God forbid, broken English). It wasn’t simply my mum’s bindi or my dad’s weird assortment of clothes anymore. Why was I ashamed? It was because I’d been convinced by people my age who were around me that I was the daughter of an immigrant. A part of it was also self-inflicted — I simply assumed everyone was thinking the same thing that one person had said to me. Suddenly, it wasn’t simply about my skin colour or smell - it was also about what came out of my mouth.
Now, I speak my mother tongues fluently, I’m teaching Gujarati to the next generation of British-Asian kids and I’m learning Sanskrit at university as one of my main subjects. The epiphany that caused all this change? Simply embracing the lingering realisation that my language was a huge part of the identity I chose to inherit from my parents. Up until then, I honestly thought that if I simply ignored that side of my identity, it would be easier to stop the passive bullying at school or the puzzled looks from random people in public places.
Reclaim the Bindi:
Language as part of South Asian identity The author is an undergrad student studying Theology and Sanskrit.
Turns out, I couldn’t ignore it. And if I couldn’t ignore it, I might as well embrace it whole-heartedly. After all, what’s there to be ashamed of? South Asia has a massive number of extremely beautiful languages: Urdu, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, this list can go on forever and ever. On top of that, I learnt other languages at school, which made me multilingual! Your story with your mother tongue might be different. But remember, there is no disadvantage to speaking your mother tongue. There is no disadvantage to being proud of your mother tongue. Reclaim the Bindi. Be proud of every bit of your identity. And if you want to pick and choose which bits, that’s fine as well.
I used to doodle a lot as a kid to calm my anxiety, which mostly came from being the only Indian in most of my classes. I drew a lot of Indian girls, I guess as compensation for the absense of them in my life, growing up. Iâ€™m really glad to be able to share a self care sketch with a zine with the purpose of giving POCs a (creative) constructive voice.
JASWIN/BILLIE. She/they pronouns. 21. Sociologist and writer from San Francisco, currently living in NYC in public education. Social media handles: Twitter: @jaswinksangha Instagram: @jaswinstagram YouTube: @sincerelybillie
THE MESSENGER | 23
When I don the bindi I; an Indian girl I am Typical Ugly Disgusting Old fashioned Why? When celebrities don the bindi Celebrities; who are merely infatuated with my culture They are Unique Beautiful Trendy Stunning Fashion-forward Why? Why? Why is it that I; an Indian girl Can’t even adorn something that belongs to my culture Without getting put down for it?
Photo: Sneha Gubbala Tumblr: tsardines.tumblr.com Instagram: 2 4 @officialsneha
Why? Why is it that when everyone else Adorns my culture in the worst way possible Gets celebrated for it? Why am I only considered beautiful at Coachella and not at a temple Why am I seen as a trend not a person Why should I get used to being ridiculed in the streets but praised in the magazines Why should I just “live with it,” or “get used to it” When will this stop When? I do not see this as a form of appreciation If you truly want to learn about me You wouldn’t be mocking me this way
Daashayani Govindasamy Pillai Fashion student, Singapore @dollylama__ @daashayani
The Center of Our Universe, Pencil, Pen, Marker Tara Prasad Instagram: @megustapatinarsobrehielo
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