Written by: Sarah Chase
Everyone goes through their journey of finding themselves. Who they are without the influences of their environment and society and as a person of color, culture and history plays a big part in figuring out identity. Srinithi Srinivas runs an Instagram page and blog, Empowering Your Desi, as a mission to amplify the stories of Desi/Indian girls to make the journey of self-discovery as a Desi feel less lonely.
Earlier this year, Srinivas and a friend were on a Zoom call, where her friend brought up her struggles she had been facing at home. The friend struggled balancing her Indian identity at home and her American lifestyle in her Zoom meetings.
“It seemed to her like she was playing a constant game of ‘code-switching’, and wished she had a way of knowing if other people were experiencing the same thing,” Srinivas said.
Srinivas herself had experienced the same thing. A few months before the COVID-19 pandemic Srinivas attended an Indian event and after the event her parents wanted her to go to Target to grab a few items.
“I was extremely reluctant to go in the store - I did not want to be seen in my traditional Indian attire,” Srinivas said. “My parents did not seem to care about their clothes, and went into the store with no hesitation at all. The minute I walked in, I felt self conscious and insecure about my outfit. Although I was the same person I would be if I was wearing a hoodie, walking in with a colorful Indian outfit somehow changed my entire perception of myself. It felt like I was a completely different person, and didn’t belong in the store.”
Even after Srinivas reached the cash register where the cashier expressed her liking to Srinivas’ outfit saying it was “really pretty”, Srinivas continued to be insecure in her attire.
“This should have helped me regain my confidence, but it just made me more self conscious, as if I was so out of place that she was complimenting me out of sympathy. But when I went home that night and thought more and more about it, it dawned across me ‘Maybe she just complimented it because she liked it?’ I realized that by overthinking showing a part of my identity in public was the problem,” Srinivas said. The more I learned to embrace it as a new normal, the more comfortable I became with it.
Srinivas decided that there needed to be a space for Desi girls who experience that same type of insecurity. She wanted there to be a place where Desi girls can share their experiences and help others realize they are not al
one in those same uncomfortable encounters.
“Oftentimes, we feel really isolated, living in America and dealing with stereotypes and racism. Having a space to know that other people feel the same way and hearing their raw stories can really help people feel less alone and build more pride in their identities,” Srinivas said.
Srinivas knows how uncomfortable it can be for someone to show their culture in public not knowing if discrimination and hatred will come their way. She just wants people to know that that feeling is okay and they are not alone in it.
“In all honesty, I feel like we all face some sort of imposter syndrome in some parts of our life. Even incredibly talented celebrities have spoken out about the identity issues they face in the media. I think that connecting with others who may share similar struggles is one of the most effective ways to bring yourself to embrace that part of yourself. Obviously, your twin isn’t going to show up at your doorstep. The only way to find them is to truly believe that everyone around us has something to offer to us,” Srinivas said.
Srinivas still faces the challenges of feeling comfortable about who she is. She still faces times where she feels out of place, but she always remembers to have patience. Her patience with herself was and still is key to her feeling safe in places she felt the pressure to code-switch.
“It did not happen overnight, and I still struggle with it sometimes. I somehow manage to feel out of place both in America and India. It is like my identity is split into two. And that is okay! I have learned to own the fact that I am Indian-American, with the dash in between,” Srinivas said. “The two cultures may not be similar, but I have come to realize that it is okay to have two completely different parts of a whole. At the end of the day, they still make a whole, no matter how different they are. Learning to bring them together while still remembering that they are two distinct things was the best way for me to truly come to terms with who I really am.”
Empowering Your Desi has received a lot of positive feedback from readers and has inspired many. That feedback helped Srinivas realize that safe places are crucial not only only to empower, but to make others feel like they belong.
“In our technologically dependent world, people often see things online that are far from the real story. This ends up being really harmful, especially as they grapple with their self-perceived imperfections. Having a space where everyone can share their raw stories without any fear is so important,” Srinivas said. “ It is so amazing that people are able to inspire each other so deeply when given a means to do so.”
Stereotypes and cliches often tend to guide many people not of color or people outside of a certain race to believe anything about a certain group. Srinivas has been able to break those stereotypes and show those who are not Desi a side that they do not see.
“I would want [readers] to understand that as a community, we are all so different. A lot of people tend to group South Asian/Indian people into one bubble, labeling us all based on common stereotypes presented on TV. I hope that sharing all these diverse viewpoints within one community will help people understand the variety present inside our culture and not make assumptions,” Srinivas said.
At the time of this article, Empowering Your Desi has curated over 500 followers and the platform continues to grow everyday. Srinivas is grateful for the platform she has made and is excited for what is to come.
“I feel really empowered, but most of all, motivated,” Srinivas said. “Although I am happy with EYD so far, I really want to push it to reach a whole other level. I am constantly thinking of new ideas - a webinar with a Desi guest speaker, a conference for my followers to meet each other, or collaborative posts to do with some of the incredible accounts on Instagram. There is still so much more progress to be made in breaking Desi stereotypes and uniting our community. I hope to continue expanding EYD, reach many more Desi girls, and help amplify as many unique stories as I can. This journey is far from over!”
Photos Courtesy of Srinithi Srinivas and Empowering Your Desi.
Empowering Your Desi Blog Link