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South Asians: Check Your Privilege

Ah, you have finally made it. You have what they call a ‘seat at the table.’ You are the only minority on your work team or maybe the only woman in a team of men. Maybe you are an educator of color or perhaps you are part of a prestigious program. Except, you have not actually made it, not really if you peel back the layers. 

People often fight for women, minorities, people with disabilities and so on, to have a seat at the ‘figurative’ table. But I’d argue that a seat alone isn’t enough. In light of the state of unrest in our country in regards to how our Black brothers and sisters have disproportionately experienced the impacts of racism and police brutality, I have seen South Asians rise up and speak. Finally rejecting the quasi acceptance and ‘seat at the table’, by way of the model minority stereotype. This seat in which we were changing and molding ourselves to inch closer to whiteness while removing our ties to our heritage, acting nothing more than a placeholder at this ‘table’. We bleach our skin, straighten our hair and scrunch our faces at the mere mention of something that draws us closer to being Indian. And we proudly sit with a seat at the table, void of who we are and as placeholders who simply vote yes to whatever is placed in front of us while fulfilling the minority quota. And why wouldn’t we when the applause of the majority is so alluring? When it is hard to be the single lone dissenting voice in a room? 

But this isn’t why you were given a seat at the table. This isn’t how you should use your privilege. This isn’t even how Jesus used his privilege. Five years ago at Urbana, Cristena Cleavland spoke on the ‘Privilege of the Priesthood’ and how Jesus radically used his privilege to give a voice to those who were voiceless. She explained how in the biblical story of the woman with the issue of blood, when she touched his cloak and was healed, Jesus did something radical. In Luke 8:46 it reads that,

“And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me,”

Luke 8:46

and with this one question he brings forth a woman who was by all intents and purposes invisible to society and gives her a platform to be heard.  Jesus used all his power and influence to give a voice to someone invisible to society.

*Warning All American Spoiler in the next paragraph* 

Using your privilege isn’t reserved for model minorities, we all hold degrees of privilege in our lives, this is something Cleavland explained in her session. In Season 2, Episode 10 of ‘All American’, the protagonist, Spencer James, is injured and sent to the hospital. Because of the color of his skin, all sorts of assumptions were made of him and when a group of healthcare workers tried to delay his care, a nurse of color finally stood up. She had a seat at the table. She had a voice in the room. And when she heard someone being judged on the basis of how they looked, she spoke up for him and was the reason his quality of care changed. 

Though I don’t often see such overt examples of racism in my life, there are the microaggressions. It’s when you read a resume and judge someone because their name isn’t Sally, Bill or Gary. It happens when two students both act up in class but one student is sent to the office after acting up twice, while the other student needs to act up four times to be sent there. It is invisible but tangible and if you are able to wake up and see it, you can do something about it. 

If you are someone with a seat at the table, how are you using your voice? The applause of the majority is alluring. But this isn’t why you were given your privilege. If you see racial stereotyping- do you point it out? Do you advocate for women or people of color to have new positions or their own seat at the table? 

Because if you are privileged enough to have a voice when injustice is in front of you: are you actually speaking up?  

Thank You to Those Who Left

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Photo is taken from thebiblegirl.com.

tl;dr- There are many reasons why people choose to leave the ‘Indian Church’ and this blog post explores just a few of those reasons and how the ‘Indian Church’ can respond today. 

It’s hard enough to grow up ethnically Indian immersed in American culture, but add in a layer of conservative Christian culture and you may understand why the hashtag #malupentewoes was created; shorthand for Malayalee Pentecostal Woes. In my 26 years of life, I’ve seen the Malayalee Pentecostal Church grow and evolve in ways that my nine-year-old self could not imagine. This nine-year-old self who was told with a beaming smile by my mother that maybe at the age of 15 she’d let me wear clear nail polish. Clear nail polish. Can you even imagine something more bland? But wearing nail polish at all was an idea that felt so rebellious that I bragged to my Sunday school class friends about it.

Despite how much the Indian church as a whole has evolved over time, it would be naive to assume that these changes, that I and many others now enjoy, came with open hands. Instead, they were often fought for, and I believe they may have never come unless some people in generations prior to my own and even in my own age bracket had the courage to leave.

The Old and New Cycle 

You may be wondering: why thank those who left? Shouldn’t they have stuck it out? Fought for real change and made it happen, rather than running to the megachurches already filled to the brim with loyal and tithing members? Well, why do people boycott companies? Why do workers go on strike? There is value in leaving; value in showing what you will and will not stand for.

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It became an unwritten rule that there was a way the Indian church cycled people out. You stay from birth and fight in your corner, making changes where you can, and then you get married and after a year or two, you are done. You have paid your dues. No more fighting for things that are just expected in other churches. And after some time passes, some of those ‘prodigal sons’ return; but this time, with their arms holding children, filled with nostalgia for the slightly traumatizing but somewhat homey childhood they left in the Indian church. Though I’ve never seen this myself, I’ve heard of this happening. 

I know that I’m not alone in holding this belief; when I asked Charles Samuel, who wrote the blog post, ‘The Indian Church Must Die’ and later wrote, ‘I Still Believe the Indian Church Must Die’, about whether it was the ‘norm’ for him to see people leave his church growing up, he admitted, “I want to say I was probably the first person in my church who left on my own terms.” He explained how he had also seen a similar ‘cycling’ of people, “Prior to me leaving, it was totally normal to see people get married and then immediately bounce (or go to school and stay away for a long time). It was a running joke as teens that we couldn’t wait to get married so we could all finally leave. It just felt like the necessary step to the exodus.” For many millennials, it felt as though the only real way to ‘escape’ the overly conservative Indian church was to wait to one day be able to leave. 

That was the way things were supposed to happen, and then the script was rewritten.

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People began to leave earlier than a few years into married life, much like Samuel who left on his own terms. They left as college students. They left the minute they lived on their own and didn’t have to face the ramifications of disappointed parents. They broke the familiar pattern that our churches began to depend on, and then our churches were left with this void that their talent once filled. And this new cycle brought to the surface larger issues within the Indian church that needed to be addressed. Issues that reached beyond traditions that could be seen as conservative, and into bigger grievances within the Indian community.

Pastor Cecil Mathew acknowledged the impact of this cycle, “Yes it has changed but change is slow. The pace is not satisfactory to many who have left. Some have thrived outside the Indian church while others have wandered and now disconnected from church and maybe God. That’s not to say that if you attend any church you are automatically connected to God.” He brings up an idea that could be explored in a different post. What about those who are so jaded by the Indian Church that they leave their walks with God altogether?

The Pros & Cons of a Deeply Connected Community  

After taking time to talk to people from different regions across America, I realized that some reasons why some of my friends down South chose to leave the Indian church were very different from the issues I personally saw. 

One friend, who asked to be anonymous, shared that she had developed somewhat of a bad reputation in her church and wouldn’t consider attending another Indian church because she felt as though anywhere she went, those churches would know what other people had said of her. Because of how interconnected the Indian church was in nature, having a bad reputation was hard to really ‘escape’. She recounted that for her home church, she once felt such passion that she was,  “willing to die for this church.” Ultimately, her reasons for leaving her Indian church stemmed from issues within her church community. 

I was surprised to hear that her church was, for the most part, willing to adapt and change in many ways. But this felt contradictory when she also shared how she was treated somewhat poorly for making the decision to pierce her ears. She explained that her home church was relevant because, “If the song ‘Blessings’ came out, next week their choir was singing that.” Ultimately, some of the division within her church came from their differences in opinion on what was permissible within a church environment; “Some of the youth wanted to play Travis Scott. Others would feel that wasn’t right, that this was a church.” 

Choosing to incorporate certain music is one thing, but division grew further when her youth disagreed over whether drinking was okay or not. She recounted stories of her church youth drinking on Friday nights and then leading worship the next day. 

But this community that was the reason my friend did not feel safe to return to a different Indian church, was the same community that Dr. Rhema Jacob, from Texas, appreciated, “I value the Indian sense of community especially during times of crises as well as shared cultural and spiritual values.” This community is so interconnected that when one person is sick and in need, chances are that many churches, sometimes across the country, will know and be praying for that person. This was something shocking I experienced when my uncle, who is also my pastor, first became sick. I didn’t need to tell any of my Malayalee Pentecostal friends what happened. They all knew and reached out to me, extending their prayers to me and my family. 

However, Jacob argues that true contentment in a church is not reliant on a leader or the community within a church. “I’ve learned over time that the key to being happy in a church cannot be rooted in trust or faith in a spiritual leader or a specific social group/circle of friends – it has to be totally God-focused… “ I’ve often heard people say that they leave churches because they didn’t feel they were ‘fed enough’, rather than asking what they can offer to whatever church they are attending. 

We aren’t done just yet

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In case you missed it, I have a recording of a talk I had with Simi John  that was originally shared through my instagram. John shared this very idea of shifting our focus to what we can offer whatever church we are attending.  This talk was inspired by a random Instagram conversation between John and myself. She is now the wife to a pastor at a multicultural church, but comes from the Indian and specifically Pentecostal church. Despite not being a part of the current Indian church, she still saw the value in this church today; voicing how many people could be better used in their ‘small’ Indian churches than if they were to leave for the megachurches of the world. 

Even Samuel acknowledged that there are reasons why people would still choose to attend a cultural church, “Asian-American church exoduses over the past few decades (e.g. the Korean-American community) is seeing a resurgence because second-gen kids who left a few decades or so ago to “American churches” are RETURNING for various reasons, including seeking cultural commonalities for their own kids and a sense of underrepresentation in those American churches”. At our core, there is something comforting about going to a cultural church even if one identifies as ‘American’. Minorities are often invisible in mainstream media and the cultural church can be a reprieve in which one does not have to ‘explain’ themself. Even while writing this post, I realize that I could take time and clarify myself more to the ‘white gaze’. The ‘white gaze’ is an idea that Toni Morrison, an American novelist, has written about and admitted that at the beginning of her writing career, she was cognizant of this ‘gaze’ and felt the need to explain herself in her writings that tackled issues related to race.  I find solace in knowing that there are people who understand the community of Kerala Christians, even without me needing to explain it, and this same ease is often what I experience in the Indian church. 

Dr. Rhema Jacob who attends an Indian church in Texas appears to mirror Samuel’s sentiment, “I have attended several Indian and American churches and I prefer the Indian church for spiritual as well as cultural/social reasons.” She continues to explain, “Also, the Indian churches that have been responsible for my spiritual growth did not resort to only social activities and feel-good sermons, but would preach the unadulterated word of God that is life-changing, unlike diluted sermons to attract the masses”. From Jacob’s point of view, even the messages that she heard within the Indian church resonated with her more than those she heard in other churches. 

However, it is important to acknowledge Samuel’s point that, “We probably won’t see totally community-centric churches in the South Asian community until the older generation of decision-makers pass on.” He argues that some of the real ‘change’ that millenials and gen-z long for may only be possible further in the future. But if the Indian church waits too long, their pews may be empty before new people from these cohorts can step into positions of leadership. 

Samuel does acknowledge that “the underlying thing that’s worrisome about a lot of Asian churches is the idea of phyletism […] Conflating the success and progress of one’s culture with the success and progress of ‘The Church’ leads to more bad than good — isolationism, focusing inward rather than outward, doing community work but keeping the community at arm’s length”. And it makes sense that this same community that feels comfortable for Malayalee Indians can leave others who try to join this ‘Indian church’ feeling like the ‘other’, and ultimately unable to be a part of an authentic community simply because of their ethnic background. 

Pastor Cecil Mathew’s church in Elmont, New York seems to have addressed this issue. His church began an an ‘Indian’ church and later transformed into a multiethnic one, “We have Indians in our church. We have transformed into a multiethnic church. We still have ministries specific to the Indian demographic because that’s how our church started.” 

Sometimes it is better to leave 

Ultimately, there are many reasons why some choose to stay or leave, as Samuel mentions, “Some feel called to stay or leave. […] There are deeper reasons worth digging into about any of those decisions”. Those who felt deeply unhappy with the Indian church should, without judgement, be able to find communities that they did feel happy to be a part of. 

The decision to leave can lead to healing in a church because ultimately, if people are unhappy while attending a congregation, this inevitably leads to conflict. Reverend Abe Joy from my church once pointed out the scripture about Paul and Barnabas to me. Acts 15:37-38 shows how there was a disagreement between them, “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work”. In verses 39-41 we see how this disagreement ultimately led to them parting ways, “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches”.

Some would view this separation as a failure, but Joy pointed out another way to look at it: this separation allowed both parties to experience peace while continuing to minister for God’s kingdom. Even within my own church, it was really hard to see people leave over the years. But many people in my church youth have admitted that it was only after some people left that they really had a chance to get involved because there was now a need for them to minister in a particular area of the church. 

Whether you choose to stay in the Indian church or go to the multiethnic church or the megachurch or choose a completely different type of church, it is okay to part ways and seek out the community that you want to be a part of. And for those who are still a part of the Indian church, I believe that there is still potential for real growth and community that we would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. 

 

Edit (Thursday, May 21, 2020): This post was edited to include information from a few responses from Pastor Cecil Mathew at First Church of God in Elmont, New York.

 

What Mental Health Counseling Is Really Like

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Image is taken from Texas Public Radio

If you need help finding a counselor, please look at this video from my YouTube channel. 

Back in college I saw a mental health counselor for the very first time. I was frankly overwhelmed with life and I needed help. After a semester, I felt better and it wouldn’t be until a few years later that I got help from a counselor again. Here’s what I wish I knew before beginning that journey.

There are different types of therapy

When I was in college I had received something called “talk” therapy. I now receive Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with my current counselor. I’ve been seeing my current counselor for 1.5 years. Though there were small lessons I learned through talk therapy, I definitely like CBT better.

Talk therapy is the kind of therapy you would see in tv shows growing up. I would talk and talk for almost the full hour and my counselor would only occasionally interject a thought or question. The biggest lesson I learned from a semester of taking therapy was to be comfortable with being alone and to even enjoy my own company. Prior to that therapy, I dreaded walking to the train by myself or pretty much any time alone.

CBT is focused on changing your response to situations. Yes, something awful can happen- but how do we react to that? [Edit- In my case, sessions have looked more like a conversation. My counselor and I talk and share and she will ask questions and spend time offering direct advice. I was never given direct advice in talk therapy. She’ll even walk through strategies or give me worksheets or recommendations for books to read or things to try outside of session.] 

Mental Health Counseling Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Trust God

There are people who are resistant to medicine because of their faith and I know that others would scoff at such extremism. But why do we then act as though we might not need help with the things going on in our heads? It seems okay to take a Tylenol  but admitting that you need help with mental health is for some reason not okay.

CBT, as mentioned earlier, focuses on your thoughts. And the very idea of reorienting your thoughts is inherently biblical. Philippians 4:8 instructs that, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The counselor I see is Christian and will often mention the bible to me or even recommend Christian books or authors to me. The irony is that for many- my choice to seek counseling would make me seem weak or “unbiblical.” But choosing to have a counselor has grown my walk with God in incredible ways.

You Are Not More “Broken” If You Seek Help

I remember going for this class on finances and a friend of mine would often say that none of us in the class should offer advice because the very fact that we need that class means that we’re not qualified. Maybe there’s some truth in that but I wouldn’t apply this logic to counseling.

I like to think of it like going to the gym. I consider myself pretty fit and I wasn’t when I first started working out. Maybe that’s the same for you when you first seek help with mental health. You go and initially need a lot more help and over time, you don’t need to see your counselor as often.

When I go for counseling, sometimes there are a lot of things I need to work through. Maybe there’s a lot I’m struggling with. But other times, I’m honestly feeling okay but go out of discipline and over the time I’ve sought counseling, I’ve learned invaluable lessons.

I don’t think that choosing to seek help means that one is more “broken”, we’re all broken. It just means that one is willing to try and get better. [Edit- There are times people do go for counseling and are going through extraordinary pain or need, but this isn’t always the case. I honestly think counseling could help most people as well as people with more severe need. And to clarify, both times I sought counseling, I was in need of help.]

You Get Out What You Put In

Counseling is not a magic pill. It is hard work. Maybe you’ll match with the first counselor you see, maybe you won’t. The unfortunate truth is that it is hard to find a counselor but if you are persistent enough, I’m sure that you will. I could write another blog post on just how unfair it is that it is so hard to get counseling but I’ll save that for another day. (BTW: Hasan Minaj has an excellent special on this topic.)

Once you get through the already unfair hurdle of starting counseling, it will be a hard journey to grow.

There have been many times that I have been tempted to focus on things that I want to complain about or seek our old destructive patterns. but I put in the work and choose to think better thoughts and this has led to so much joy in my life.

Closing Thoughts & Lessons 

Do not let the stigma around mental health counseling stop you from getting help if you need, if you believe you would benefit from it. At the end of the day, you are the one who has to live your life, not people who pass judgment or who categorize you as “less than” for seek help. To end off, below are some of the major lessons I’ve learned from counseling through CBT from that around 1.5 years hat I’ve been receiving help.

  • Even when I desperately want to spiral into negativity, I know to instead choose positivity. It feels so good to be negative in the moment but choosing positivity is a flourishing foundation to build your life. And you’ll find that over time- you were so right to be positive.
  • Sometimes we can’t give people exactly what we want, but we can offer our best yes.
  • You never know what’s right around the corner.
  • If there’s pain you need to process, journal it!
  • When someone isn’t listening to what you’re saying and//or saying hurtful things- let them know and leave the conversation.
  • Boundaries are so SO good.
  • Rewrite your narratives about who you are.

There are countless other lessons, but these are just a few I wanted to share. Best of luck to you if choose to start counseling, please always feel free to reach out.

-Nina

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Practical Ways to Change Your Language About Dark Skin

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This picture that showcases some of my lovely melanin was taken by my friends over at Mallari Productions.

tldr: If we can be mindful of our passing comments regarding light and dark skin, we can then choose to be a part of the narrative to change what it means to have dark skin.

I was just a kid at the time and I was binge watching The Twilight Zone amid summer break. Back then summer vacation meant lounging in my ice cold basement and clicking through television stations with my brother. To stumble upon a marathon of The Twilight Zone was always a treat. Though I’ve watched countless shows over the years, The Twilight Zone remains a favorite of mine because the deeper messages it has taught me about life. But of all of the episodes I’ve watched over the years, one stood out to me the most- ‘The Eye of the Beholder’.

*SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD* You’ve been warned… 

The episode details the horrid tale of a woman who was plagued by her “ugliness”. Little children would cry when they saw her. It felt as though it was impossible for her to exist in society because of how ugly she was. Despite countless surgeries, she remained hideous. However, though she was plagued with ugliness from birth, this episode began with a sliver of  hope- she was getting another surgery.

The entire episode is intentionally filmed to avoid the faces of actors, including the woman receiving surgery. It is only at the end of the episode that the viewer sees the faces of people in her world; the people considered beautiful. The creators of the episode intentionally showed people who’s facial features distinctly differed from our society. I remember being horrified at what looked like pig snouts in place of noses and facial deformities that defined the “norm” of beauty. And the woman classified as ugly, who made children cry, would instead be considered gorgeous by our culture’s standards. The episode ends with screams of people crying over another failed surgery for this woman and my realization that this stunningly beautiful woman believed the lie that she was ugly because of how society defined beauty. Sound familiar?

Most people get it- the ways in which our society speak about having dark skin is not okay. The lack of representation of people of darker skin tones within Bollywood and media in general is frankly disturbing. Instead of seeing women of medium to darker skin tones being portrayed negatively, as touched on in “Why black people discriminate among ourselves: the toxic legacy of colorism“, we are absent in Bollywood. The void of women who look like me in the media communicates that people like me are not even worthy to be portrayed negatively. Darker Indian women are not to be seen as representative of what it means to be Indian, even a negative portrayal.

It sinks into our subconscious mind and teaches us what is beautiful. I think most rational people can all agree that this presentation of women of dark skin is insane. In fact, countless people expressed outrage over the appearance of the finalists for Miss India, confused as to how a country as diverse as India could somehow only have light skin women as finalists for a pageant queen.

In the same way that there are microaggressions across race, there are small ways in which we speak that perpetuate certain stereotypes and ideas surrounding what it means to have medium to dark skin tones. Ladies and gentlemen, we are counteracting years of Euro-centric culture and media. I don’t think that we’ll always be politically correct. But I’m writing this post because our language is important. It matters because the way we speak to each other has power; especially the comments we make in passing.

I’m creating this blog post for the people who want to “do better” but might not know how to do so. Because as much as I’d like to say that it’s only immoral people who say hurtful things, I’ve heard the statements below from an array of people. Some people who I respect and trust, others who I look up too. Colorism runs deep but I know we can do better. Below are some practical ways to change your language about dark skin and why it’s important. 

“I thought she was beautiful, not just because of her color.” 

“I thought she was beautiful” 

The problem with the above statement is in its construction. The use of the word “just” implies that by virtue of this person being a lighter skin tone, she might be pretty. And the issue with saying this is what it insinuates of people of a different skin tone. I get it, our brains have been fed images over and over again of women with ivory skin being described as beautiful. Maybe you feel deep down that this person may be pretty just because they have light skin but please be mindful of how saying this can be perceived by someone who doesn’t fit that ideal.

This brings into question- is it wrong to innately find light or dark skin attractive? I don’t think so. But when we speak we must be cognizant of the privilege of having light skin and accept that the norm is not that people love and appreciate both light and dark skin. The norm is instead glorifying light skin while shaming those who don’t fit that ideal. For that reason a passing comment of admiration of someone just because they are light skinned can come across as hurtful.

I can recall countless instances in which I would be confused and ask my mom why a certain person was also described as beautiful when they weren’t to me. The response was always something along the lines of how they actually really weren’t but they had light skin so naturally some people would find them beautiful just for that reason. This taught me that you might be pretty just for having light skin and maybe ugly just because you don’t. That’s an issue. Why can’t we find the beauty in both? Why can’t we praise both? Why can’t we see beyond the color of a person’s skin?

“Don’t stay out too much, you’ll get dark!”

“Put some sunscreen on before you go out into the sun so your skin is protected!” 

In all the years I’ve been told to not stay out in the sun or to avoid the sun, it has never been because my skin needed sunscreen or because of skin health. It was all because of the vanity of how I might look worse with dark skin. Hello, people- are you kidding me? Skin health is super important and totally disregarded. In fact, some people risk the health of their skin in attempts to bleach their skin to become when society deems beautiful. By telling our our daughters and nieces to stay inside to avoid tanning, we are communicating that how we look is more important than actually living our lives! I’ve seen people petrified of their skin tanning. People who would go to lengths to avoid the sun touching their face while sitting in a car or they would steer clear of standing outside for prolonged periods of time. It’s not just medium/dark women, I’ve seen women with light skin chained down by the expectations of having light skin and doing whatever it takes to maintain it. When we engage in this behavior we remained bound to fit this narrow ideal of what beautiful looks like and this is a reality for light and dark skin women alike.

“She would be so pretty, but she’s so dark”

“She is so pretty, all that melanin glows” 

You don’t need to qualify someone’s beauty. They’re not pretty for a dark girl, they’re just pretty. I would often hear my grandmother described as a dark beauty. But growing up I never felt the need to add “dark” to that compliment. Her almond eyes, defined nose and gentle smile were not beautiful despite her darkness. She was just beautiful. Period.

Someone recently commented on one of my videos in excitement about how my melanin was starting to show more because the sun was out. I never heard someone refer to my skin color that way. Why do we think that by being dark this somehow negates someone’s beauty? What if instead we saw it as something that’s actually beautiful about a person?

“We couldn’t understand why that gorgeous girl married such a dark-skinned guy.”

“We couldn’t understand what a gorgeous girl married a guy who didn’t think was so cute!” 

When you choose to use the word dark as synonymous with ugly or “less than”, that’s a problem. Why is that language normalized? What if I were to say- she’d be so pretty if she were not so toned and in shape? He’d look so much better if he wasn’t so confident and comfortable in his body. The way we chose to place the word “dark” in sentences teaches the meaning of that word to our future generations. Dark does not mean ugly and needs to stopped being used as a synonym for unattractive.

Closing Thoughts

The reality is that dark, medium and light skin are all beautiful. People were created by God with different skin tones for a reason. Instead of perpetuating the message that light skin is beautiful while dark skin is not, let’s empower fellow men and women to love themselves more. The alternative is chasing this one beauty ideal that leaves so many women feeling insecure.

I remember hearing as a kid how my father had the lightest skin out of all of his light skin siblings. This was a point of pride. But he was also described as foolish because he didn’t care for it and his ivory skinned darkened over the years to a now tan color. When I asked my dad about skin color, about why he married someone darker than him, like my mom, he explained that he thought brown skin was beautiful.

There are people willing to risk the health of their skin in order to fit into the mold of what society calls beautiful. Being honest, I’m not normally a fighter. I often grow tired of fighting the current of what society desires and part of me wants to just accept things as they are, conform and change my skin. But the reality is that I can’t change my skin to fit this mold. I refuse to bleach my skin to be just a shade lighter, to attempt to conform to the idea that being “fair” is lovely while still not even reaching that goal. I also don’t want to because I’m growing to love my skin- even when it tans in the sun.

My father’s attitude was confusing to me because he in many ways held power by naturally having light skin. He had something that other people desperately tried to get through bleaching and staying out of the sun. He threw away this status because he didn’t care for it. My hope is that all of us can be more mindful of the influence that our culture has on our perception of beauty. The woman from The Twilight Zone episode haunted me. It’s a radical choice to believe you’re beautiful in a society that tells you that you’re not. But you might just be right.

 

 

Why I Stayed in the ‘Indian’ Church

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TLDR: In short, I stayed and continue to stay in my Indian church because though it is largely Indian and specifically Malayalee in population, we have a heart for our neighboring community and have consistently seen people come to faith. When I think about my abilities and resources, I feel as though they’re currently best used exactly where I am. 

When I was fifteen I cried to my mom and begged to leave our church. I desperately wanted to leave and start over somewhere new. She had entertained the idea of us actually leaving or at least she told me she had considered it. It’s now 10 years later and I realize that I had issues. I battled with insecurity, negativity and a host of negative emotions. I still have problems but now I have resources.

I won’t delve into that all deeply here, that’s a different blog post. But fifteen year old me would have never imagined that one day I would come to not only still attend my Indian church, but that I would love it.

Within the Malayalee Indian church, the blog post ‘The Indian Church Must Die‘ spread like wild fire as people of Christian Indian backgrounds felt as though many of the concerns they have long held about the Indian church were voiced, finally. It is really hard growing up in the Indian church for reasons that I will touch on later in this post but the purpose of this blog post is to instead speak about the reasons why despite the longings of my fifteen year old self; I choose to stay.

We’re missional

I swear that almost every week I hear of a new person who came to faith from the Hindi service. This service has brought in a huge North Indian population to my church and has even challenged the idea that my church is Malayalee. It’s not just North Indians, over the years I’ve seen people of different ethnic backgrounds come consistently to my congregation, serve and join our family.

The problem I’ve noticed within a lot of churches is that we can become too attached to whatever rules we have. I recently heard of a church that did not allow members who wore jewelry to take holy communion. How do you expect members of your community to come and join your church with a rule like that? The idea of not wearing jewelry has deep roots for a lot of people and I can respect this decision. But requiring people to not wear jewelry limits who can feel comfortable in your congregation.

If the only reason why your church is growing is because other Indians left a different Indian church- that’s a problem. Our churches are not meant to grow through shuffling church members. But it’s truly transformative to see people who never knew the name Jesus, people who are from or come from different religious backgrounds, all coming together and accepting Jesus as their person savior. If there was every a remedy to lukewarm Christianity it would be to see the fire of someone who has just accepted Christ. There is a passion and love that puts me to shame.

There’s room for Me to Grow 

My church allows women to lead worship, teach Sunday School and even give Sunday sermons. I would often hear from other women at more conservative churches that women are not allowed any leadership position, even choir leader. In the midst of an environment like that, my pastor has spent time and invested in my gifts. He has given me a platform when I know others places wouldn’t. And he doesn’t just do that for me. Through my church I have seen incredible singers developed, talented musicians and powerful men and women who deliver God’s word. Maybe if that happened once you could chalk it up to that one person’s talent. But when you see it consistently happening, I know that God is working in a place.

My Impact Feels Larger 

My church, in many ways, is small. Because it is small by the measure of a lot of other churches, I know that the work I do has a big impact. If I have an idea for an event, I can directly see the people who are influenced. When I want to try something new, I can tangibly see how these decisions impacts others. I’ve grown to learn that there is beauty to the mega churches. There are far more resources that can give an individual a lot of room to grow. But because my church is small, I know my influence means a lot.

The Bad Can be Changed

The author of , ‘The Indian Church Must Die‘, Samuel, also acknowledges that some Indian churches can change and those are the ones that will survive, “the ones that start listening to young people, start integrating them into the church vision and projects”. I believe my Indian church is a place just like that. When I first got my ears pierced I feared the larger implications of this decision. But to this day, I don’t think anyone has really had a problem with it. I remember once recounting an older grandpa who also spoke to me in Hindi. I thought he did this because I wore earrings. But when I shared this incident with my church friends they explained to me that he speaks Hindi to literally everyone. Despite all my fear about what people might think, no-one seems to have really cared. Or at least no-one has told me they cared to my face!

Sundays are my Favorite Day of the Week

We had an annual North East region meeting today that I always try to attend because I love connecting and catching up with familiar faces from different churches in the region. But every year during this meeting, despite how happy I am to see new people, I genuinely miss my Sunday routine. You see, I love my Sundays and I love my church. It’s here that I start off Sundays by sleeping in a bit (till 8:30am) and then spend time catching up with friends until it’s Sunday School time at 10:30am. Then from 10:30am-11:30am I lead the most amazing group of girls through the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. 11:30am-1:00pm when we have our main service that is usually filled with powerful worship and a meaningful word from the bible.

It is here at my church that I imagine and day dream about what ifs and possibilities of ways in which God will move. It is here that I first taught Hindu/Muslim students during VBS. It is in this church that I see my family. Not just those who I am connected to by blood but the aunties and uncles who I grew up with, as well as those who have come in recent years. These people and my friends have become like family. And when I think of God’s vision for my life and I know that for the present time- this is a really great place for me to grow as a speaker, a Sunday School teacher, an informal counsel and as a leader/server.

While I think there are many legitimate reasons for why someone may choose to leave the Indian church or any church for that matter, these are my reasons for staying. This blog post doesn’t mean that I couldn’t ever imagine myself leaving. I always try to remember that man makes plans and God laughs. But what it does mean is that for the time being, I’d really love to stay.

How To Avoid Pickpockets in Paris

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I bet you thought I was done with blog posts about Paris. I thought I was too! But a friend who is leaving for Paris this month reached out to me for advice and I realized there was one last thing I needed to share with all of you- how to avoid pickpockets.

Let me tell you, I was petrified of pickpockets abroad. I had heard of two co-workers who has been pickpocketed and became almost paranoid that it would happen to me. Here are my recommendations for avoiding losing your very valuable belongings while traveling abroad. I’d also like to preface this by saying that after a few days in Paris, I felt extremely safe. However, I’d like to acknowledge that I do say this as someone who currently lives in NYC.

Photocopy Your Passport

It is always better to be safe than sorry. Photocopy your passport and leave one copy back at home and carry one with you in case you lose your passport or have to stolen.

Lock Up Your Passport

The idea of carrying my passport around Paris made me feel very uneasy. If you’re staying at a hotel with a safe, this is a great option. Otherwise, we just kept our passports locked inside our suitcases at our airbnb and our passports were completely safe.

If you’re worried about someone breaking into your airbnb and stealing your passports, a money belt is a great option. I bought one but didn’t end up using it. But you can keep it at your waist and leave your passport there so that is always with you when you’re out and about. That way it’s always on you but in a place that pickpockets can’t readily reach.

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For most of the trip I carried this crossbody and opted to hold it on my arm so that it was always in front of me.

Wear a Crossbody/Money Belt

Something unique that I noticed about Paris was the fact that everyone wore a crossbody bag or carried a backpack with a fanny pack. This was weird to me because I never saw anything like this in NYC. I think that wearing something to the front of you that you can see is the best way to make sure your belongings are safe. And if you’re carrying a lot a backpack is fine as long as you have a fanny pack to your front with your most important belongings.

Carry a Card-case

I once had my wallet stolen a few years ago at work and wish I had thought of this idea before losing my wallet. I can’t take credit for it by the way, it was advised to me on one of the many blogs I read before traveling to Paris.

Don’t put all your important cards in your wallet. Keep some cards at home. When I lost my wallet I had to cancel all my cards. When you’re abroad, maybe just bring your debit card and one credit card without a foreign transaction fee. Limit how much cash you take out or carry so that even if something is stolen, you’ll be okay.

Don’t be Dumb

I caught myself a few times during the trip panicked because I left my bag unzipped in front of me and worried if something got stolen. Watch your belongings. Always zip it. Don’t leave things unattended. Don’t be dumb and I’m sure you’ll avoid the pick pockets.

I hope you enjoy your time abroad and as long as you’re careful, there’s absolutely no reason to worry.

Religion As A Spectrum

When I first sat down to write this blog post I had come to the realization that regardless of what you believe, belief often exists on a spectrum that can actually tie people of different faiths closer together than those of the same spiritual background. But as I explored this idea more I came to the realization that as much as I’d like to believe that religion is a spectrum, scripture tells me the unpopular message that I should be totally sold out to God or not believe in him all. 

While talking with a friend who is Muslim, I discussed the idea that in many ways, though I am Christian, I might feel closer to a Muslim who is religious than a Christian who isn’t that religious. At my current stage of life I am growing in my personal walk with God but have encountered countless people who have told me that religion is good, but not if it becomes too important in our lives.

I’m reminded of the guy from a dating app who warned me of his aunt who never got married because she was so religious and spent all her life serving God. Or well-meaning friends who see completely following God as a loss of sorts because of what could be understood to be rigid rules within Christianity.

The idea that I could connect with a Muslim more than a less religious Christian was crazy to me at the time because for a long time I held schemas in my head of what it meant to be a Christian versus believing a different faith. And to me, there was no way that I could really connect with others of different religious backgrounds.

The idea of connecting with someone of a different faith was first planted in my head years ago. I was hosting a GIG or Group Investigating God with a college friend and most weeks our group consisted of the executive team from the Atheist/Agnostic club at our college. During our last meeting I invited a Muslim friend and was surprised by how my Muslim friend and I defended faith and the existence of a God, though to us this God was different. Because to believe at all is to share something beautiful in common, compared to a person who does not believe in the existence of anything.

But before we can really look at the intersection of faiths, let’s look at how I personally define what it means to be a Christian vs. a Muslim.

Defining a ‘Christian’ 

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First, we encounter the argument of how you choose to define what it means to be Christian. For the purposes of this post- I’ve indicated how I categorize someone as almost a “baseline” Christian. I realize that you the reader may have a different definition of what being a Christian means.

And even as I tried to define a “baseline” Christian I wondered if it was fair to say that they tithe because I’ve heard that very few people actually do this. Then there are people who love God but regularly miss church.

Defining a ‘Muslim’ 

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I asked a friend how she defines a Muslim and she indicated the above and clarified that she also considered that recognizing one God, the day of judgement, and believing Mohammed is a prophet is enough.

The Intersection 

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You can see above how the intersection between how “close” you can feel to someone who also holds faith, even if they believe in a different God. That is compared to someone who is a different faith but isn’t as religious.

I was honestly super proud of this realization until I realized that I was missing one important fact.

God Doesn’t Want Christians On a Spectrum 

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To follow and listen to God’s word instructs me of the fact that God doesn’t want Christians on a spectrum. Thus negating the entire that a spectrum could even exist. 

Revelation 3:15-16 New International Version (NIV)
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The reality is that Christianity cannot exist on a spectrum because scripture instructs that you must either you are completely sold out for God or you should not believe in him at all.

The danger of our society is a culture in which people decide that they are kinda sorta Christian. This is a topic that was spoken about this past Sunday at my church.

It also begins to become easy to think that giving 10% is a lot if you surround yourself with other people who don’t give at all. But God’s standards for serving him are radically not in relation to those in our lives and instead is revealed in his word.

As I grow as a person and in my walk with God I am also learning to respect the journeys of others and realize that though scripture is clear, we might still be on a spectrum of belief. But while on this spectrum, I think we cannot deny the command from scripture to avoid at all costs, lukewarm Christianity.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Can Christianity exist on a spectrum? Is my definition of following Christ too rigid? 

PARIS: Some Places to Visit

This blog post is inspired by Un-fancy.com. The creator of that blog is the reason I believe I first started dressing in a way that actually allowed me to feel confident and not guilty about spending money on clothing that actually lasted. I highly recommend you check out her post on what she packed and wore in Paris. I tried to implement the different categories that she shared from her trip to Paris, but with details from my stay.

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DAY ONE

AFTERNOON: We arrived in our Airbnb in Le Marais around 3pm. We decided to get food after walking around and exploring a bit. We ended up getting burgers that were made with waffles in lieu of a normal bun. Tre chic!

EVENING: I almost ditched the group to sleep because of my jet lag but decided to get drinks by a cute spot in front of our airbnb. As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I opted for a coke which was so darn good. Back at the airbnb we spilt the most delicious pastries together as a late night snack. It was then that I learned that I love pistachio!

DAY TWO 

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MORNING: Because of jet lag, we decided to watch the sunrise at around 5am by Ponte des Arts in the Latin Quarter. Before it was even 12pm we grabbed breakfast, saw the outside of Notre Dame and went inside St. Chapelle.

AFTERNOON: Early afternoon we visited Musee d’Orsay because it was nearby and saw the most beautiful pieces. I’m super grateful that was had an art teacher with us because she explained the importance of a lot of things that I would have otherwise overlooked.

Because I had booked a Bike Tour in advance, around 2pm I left for the tour while enviously leaving my friends who used that time for a much needed nap. At the end of the tour I saw the Eiffel tower for the first time.

EVENING: We walked around more and explored more of Paris before stopping by Luxembourg gardens and later getting Steak and Frites. Steak and Frites was literally the only thing on the menu. I learned that my Coke was more expensive than wine, but just by a little. We came back the the airbnb and as per tradition, spilt some desserts.

DAY THREE

AFTERNOON: The night prior, despite all my attempts I could not sleep. My super sweet vacay roomie boiled hot water for me in the middle of the night. I was coughing a storm and woke up in agony. I told the girls I would meet them at the Lourve. I met them around 2:30pm, saw Mona Lisa and realized I was going to pass out if I pushed myself any further. I left the group and passed out because of what I later learned was a fever.

EVENING: I woke up around 7pm and still felt weak and once I decided to get food, I realized that all the food spots by us were closed. It was Easter Monday. My only options was drinks or the grocery store. Because I was so tired, I bought some cookies and chips, and called it a day.

DAY FOUR

LATE MORNING: Praise the Lord, I got better! The girls and I grabbed some brunch at Seasons and we decided it was a shopping day! We were super content with all the progress we made the past few days (them even more than me considering my sick day) and wanted to take time to shop. 

AFTERNOON: We headed to the infamous Champ de Elysees and after spending an absurd amount of time at Louis Vuitton (inconsistent customer service btw), went to Ladurée for tea and desserts.

EVENING: Before heading to our evening activity, we stopped by Montmarte. We wanted to take a nap beforehand and decided to skip a real dinner because of the time crunch. We grabbed croissants, pizzas and whatever other random cafe snacks we wanted before heading in an uber. In the evening we headed to Moulin Rogue. I was entirely aware of what I was signing up for in the moment and although it wasn’t my cup of tea, it wasn’t as intense as I imagined it might be! I even kinda liked it.

DAY FIVE 

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MORNING: We started our day with a tour at The Palace of Versailles that we purchased through Headout. Though I was upset that customer service told us to arrive at 8am when we only needed to be there at 9am, it was still my favorite part of the entire trip. The tour guide was funny and informative. Meanwhile, the palace and gardens were simply stunning. 

AFTERNOON: The hard part about being in Paris is how long it takes to eat at restaurants. Because of time constraints, we decided to get a grab and go lunch before shopping in the area. I bought some cute pieces from Stradivarious and if you’re a smaller chest size I would recommend Oysho for lingerie.

EVENING: Before dinner, I went off to the original Shakespeare and Company on my own. I wanted to buy a book for my personal library. I met back up with the girls and finished the evening with dinner in the Latin Quarter at Maison De La Lozèro, my favorite meal of the trip! My friend even let me try a bit of snail. They offered a Prefix menu at a steal but because I somehow felt stuffed, I decided to go with one delicious entree.

DAY SIX

MORNING: To end our time in Paris, we grabbed a delicious brunch of sorts at The Broken Arm , a cafe and shop, while reading our respective books.

AFTERNOON: And just like that, it was time to take a cab to the airport and head home. 🙂

COST BREAKDOWN: AROUND A WEEK IN PARIS

This cost breakdown of my Spring break trip was inspired by The Luxe Strategist. She is one of my favorite bloggers and my favorite financial blogger. If you haven’t already  started following her, I highly recommend you do!


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To me it meant a lot to travel to Europe. My entire life I had flown back and forth to India almost every year from the time I was eighteen years old to twenty-two. Despite all the stamps on my passport, I had never visited Europe and really wanted to experience what that was like. This past July I went to England for the first time and this past week, I visited France.

I traveled to Paris, France with two co-workers and we all had distinctively different styles which I believed added a lot to each of our experiences.

I decided not to include any pre-trip expenses as well as shopping while there. I did shop a lot and will be sharing a diary of that at the end of the month.

Cost Breakdown 

I spent $1,651.46 for my time in Paris. We had stayed there for 4 full days and two half days.

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You can also get an idea of how much everything cost day by day. I decided to divide this by 5 because with the half days, we really had 5 full days in Paris. I actually only had four because I got so sick one day and couldn’t do anything. However, that doesn’t influence any of the categories except for food/transport.

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Flight= $745.35

We payed a pretty penny for our flight, it was $745.35. I think if I were to visit Paris again, I would go during February and go through London first. Though I will admit that it much easier to get through the airport in Paris than it was in London. A friend messaged me that he was planning to do that with his wife and got tickets for under $400, but at an off peak time.

Our airline was pretty much the international flight equivalent of Spirit airways. It was super barebones. But it did provide an in flight meal as well as a free checked bag. Those were two things I tried to not compromise on when booking my flight.

Housing=$296.52

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I need to offer a huge thank you to everyone who recommended the neighborhood of Le Marais. Many people confirmed that this was a great neighborhood to stay in. Several years earlier my financial counselor had visited Paris and stayed in this very neighborhood and was kind enough to even share walking tours of different neighborhoods with me. It was much cheaper than other neighborhoods and was pretty close to almost everything we wanted to do. We could walk, take the metro or split an uber to everywhere we wanted for a super small cost.

I adored my airbnb. It was pretty small for three people but beautifully decorated and a good compromise because I didn’t want to spend anymore on housing costs.

If you’re interested in trying Airbnb, use this link for $40 in travel credit. After your first trip I get $20 in travel credit.

Food- $225.63

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The meals in Paris were not cheap but everyday we unintentionally skipped at least breakfast or lunch. We ate lots of pastries and croissants to compensate for this. I thoroughly enjoyed our food as well as the delicious desserts.

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I should have guessed it, but I didn’t realize how important potatoes were to French cuisine. It did feel super heavy to eat though!

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There’s a huge coffee culture in France that I really enjoyed. People also drink orange juice with a lot of their meals. It’s also almost always cheaper to get the combo meals that you can then spilt with others.

Local Transportation= $84.96

This number includes the cost of an uber to and from the airpot. Super cheap, right? In most instances, ubers were a great option because we could spilt the cost 3 ways. Most rides ranged form costing between $2.50-$5. At times I opted for the metro which is around $2 or we would just walk because so many things were within a 20 minute walk from us.

Activities=$299.00

I’m so happy we didn’t get the Paris pass. But we still overspent on activities. We didn’t realize how tired we would be once we reached Paris and didn’t even do everything that we had payed in advance for.

It was really helpful to pay in advance for museums though and buying a “skip the line” ticket for the Palace of Versailles was one of my favorite experiences from the entire trip. The tour guide was funny and we literally saw ourselves skip a huge line of people.


 

Overall, it was a great trip! My inner frugal person knows I could do it again just a  bit cheaper and one day I intend to do that. I think it’ll be a few years until I visit Europe again (or at least, European cities).

Have you been to Paris? What was your experience like? 

Now That It’s Cool To Be Indian

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Something odd that has been brought to the surface recently is how things taken from Indian culture that once evoked responses of disgust are now “cool”. I read a post on the Facebook group #SubtleCurryTraits about how the stereotypical “white girl” who years earlier considered turmeric disgusting in “yellow rice”, now adds tumeric to their chai teas for the “health benefits”.

Well, the tide has turned. The teenage heart throb of my youth, Nick Jonas, chose to marry the stunning, Priyanka Chopra. But despite this change in heart by America as a nation, I’d argue that things really aren’t better. You must be thinking- isn’t this sudden love of all things Indian supposed to be great news? Indian culture may now be “in” but the truth is that I still know too many Indians who are ashamed of their culture, petrified of being labeled a FOB and are unable to erase the years of shame that we’ve associated with being Indian because of pop culture’s previous narrative. A message in which the worth or lack thereof, of an India in media was communicated by the void of people who looked like me on television shows, ads or magazines
and honestly, even within India’s own media that continues to refuse to include women of medium or darker shades on media platforms.

We still live in the same country in which I heard the white kid next door telling me that my people should get out of his white neighborhood. There are still people who are told that they smell like “curry”, presumably from people actually knowing what curry smells like. Or you still find the white guys on dating apps who only like Indian girls and treat an entire people group as a fetish. This leads to whole groups of desi people who refuse to engage in anything that associates them with their culture. Forbidden activities include but are not limited to: eating with their hands, being caught speaking their mother tongue or even spending a week in India.

The truth of the matter is that it’s not actually cool to be Indian. It’s only cool in the same way that people like dressing up on Halloween or decorating their Christian tree once a year, it’s exoticized. But even when this fad changes, I’ll still wearing my lengha blouses mixed and matched with American gowns. I’ll still try to rock my lengha skirt with a button down and my salwars pants with American tops. Because just as much as I identify as an American as my nationality, I am still and will always be Indian and that doesn’t need to be cool to you. It’s me.