What it is… and what it isn’t

Image description: A partial close-up of a North Indian woman’s eyes and forehead. In between her eyebrows, a red sticker bindi is visible. Source: Wikipedia.

I wore a bindi for nearly the entirety of my senior year of college.

It’s not that I was particularly traditional: I was raised by semi-practising, liberal, agnostic parents who themselves were raised in very orthodox families. As a toddler I had an aksharaabhyaasam, the traditional South Indian ritual which takes place just before a child enters school. I grew up painting a silver bust of Lakshmi at the end of every summer, to celebrate Lakshmi puja. In the winter, weeks before Christmas lights went up, my family would gather to set off firecrackers for Diwali. But beyond a handful…

Image description: A picture of an Indian character from Steven Universe. She has medium-brown skin, a slightly hooked nose, and no lips.

That is Connie Maheswaran, a character from Steven Universe. I’ve never seen the show, but I know of Connie. After all, she’s one of the few Indian American characters in animation – which means that a large proportion of Indian Americans (myself included) have been compared to her, physically.

This statement: “You look like Connie!” boggled me the first time I heard it – mostly because I look nothing like her. I cannot possibly over-emphasise how unlike Connie…

A picture of the WhatsApp logo (a chat bubble with a phone in it). A crude frowny face has been drawn over it in black
A picture of the WhatsApp logo (a chat bubble with a phone in it). A crude frowny face has been drawn over it in black
Image Source: Wikipedia, with edits from myself.

#StopAsianHate – from other Asians, too…


I am speaking as a fellow member of the American diaspora, a second-generation Indian-American who is deeply connected to my roots in both countries. There is so much about the diaspora I love, especially the passion I see in emerging activist efforts. We are a vibrant and resilient community. And yet, when it comes to racism, our track record leaves so much room for improvement.

We have almost all experienced some form of discrimination based on our ethnic background before. It’s difficult not to, when you’re brown and first- or second-gen American. I…

My ancestors were not slaveholders. But my great-great-grandfather fought. He had federal troops coming into Norfolk. He said, ‘Nuh-uh, I’ve got to join the army and defend my home state.’

This is a quote taken from an article published yesterday in The Atlantic. The woman who made this statement, a white Southern lady who helps run one of the largest Confededate cemeteries in the nation, said it to the piece’s author: a Black man. She spoke to him politely and seemed bothered by the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ tendency to raucously shout neo-Confederate slogans every Memorial Day. …

I did not think too hard about caste, growing up in the South Asian diaspora. In fact, I have only one childhood memory pertaining to it. A friend of mine, a fellow Indian American, said she was a kshatriya. I thought about the valiant warriors in my Amar Chitra Katha comic books, and felt a pang of jealousy: I was only a boring Brahmin.

For a long time, I was sheltered from what exactly caste meant. I knew mine, but didn’t talk about it or take pride in it. I knew that in India, people of different, supposedly “lower” castes…

I watched two social justice movies recently: Pink, which deals with Indian rape culture, and Article 15, which has a similar theme with the added layer of caste discrimination. Both of them were extremely well-taken, and I immediately recommended them to my friends.

But while watching each movie, I noticed one detail which made me pause. In many respects these films are groundbreaking – they venture into territory mainstream Bollywood is loathe to touch. And yet, both lean into one particular trope – one they share with masala movies like Chennai Express: the vilest characters are dark-skinned.

I’ve touched upon…

On white feminism and racist tropes:

My family loves a good mystery show. All four of us are constantly on the lookout for a solid murder mystery to binge-watch on weekend evenings – so when we discovered Miss Scarlet and the Duke on Amazon Prime this evening, we were thrilled. The titular lady is the daughter of a private detective in Victorian London, with aspirations to become an investigator in her own right despite the raging misogyny surrounding her.

I loved the introduction. I enjoyed watching Eliza Scarlet display her deductive reasoning skills and knowledge of chemistry.

Louisiana’s House Bill 564 isn’t quite as infamous as the devastating anti-transgender bills in states like Arkansas and Texas. But it is no less dangerous in its intent. The bill aims to prohibit teachers from, amongst other things, calling the United States “systemically racist” – and its ambiguous wording paves the way to potentially getting rid of any discussion around slavery and Jim Crow from school curriculums.

I sent this letter to the bill’s sponsor, Representative Garofalo, a week ago. I have not received a reply.

Dear Mr Garofalo,

I am writing to you about House Bill 564, which you…

If it means anything at all…

I have a vivid middle-school memory of being confronted with the question ubiquitous to every immigrant child’s experience: “Where are you from?”

“India,” I said (not strictly true – technically, I am from Pennsylvania). “I’m Asian American.”

My classmate squinted at me. “No you’re not,” they said decisively.

“Yes I am,” I insisted. But my classmate did not back down, no matter how much I argued – not even when I held up a globe to point out India’s location in Southern Asia.

That was when I truly internalised this: I do not embody…

Some things should be taken slow – but not this:

When I was sixteen and poring over National Park Service statistics on the American Civil War, I was horrified at the sheer number of deaths. Perhaps, I thought, over half a million lives might have been saved with some form of compromise. Slavery was dying out in the 1850s, or so I thought – so perhaps instituting some policy to eradicate it within the next decade or two would have stopped the Civil War and ended the enslavement of Black Americans, in one fell swoop. …

Aditi Ramaswamy

Software engineer; emerging author; almost certainly not a changeling. I write about the uncomfortable parts of Indian & American history & culture.

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