SASU and Psychology Club Podcast: The South Asian Experience

Editor’s Note: In this podcast episode, the CUNY SPS South Asian Student Union and Psychology Clubs teamed up to have a conversation about coping with discrimination, stigmatization, and stereotyping of South Asians in the United States. Tune in as they share personal experiences, discuss the importance of support systems, and offer practical advice on how non-South Asians can be allies. 

Parsh Lal: All right everybody, welcome to the South Asian [Student Union] and Psychology Club collaboration. Today we’re going to be having a joint discussion, a joint open discussion, on the experiences and challenges of first and second generation issues of the South Asian community. My name is Parsh Lal, I’m the Student Life Coordinator of CUNY SPS. And I’m joined today by three lovely students from the South Asian Student Union leadership board. We have Komal Mehmood, we have Krutika Patel, and Shihnaz Awan. I’ll have each one of them introduce themselves. We’ll start with Komal. 

Komal Mehmood: Okay, hi, so I’m Komal and I’m doing my undergrad here at CUNY in Psychology with a concentration in Psychopathology. Well, I’m the president for the South Asian Student Union and I’m also a member, and now a treasurer for the Psychology Club. 

Parsh Lal: Thank you, Komal. Shihnaz, you want to go next? 

Shihnaz Awan: My name is Shihnaz and I’m originally from Sri Lanka and I’ve been living in the United States for like 22 years. 

Parsh Lal: Awesome, and what are you studying at SPS? 

Shihnaz Awan: My major is in Psychology and then I’m doing my minor in Mental Health. 

Parsh Lal: Awesome, thank you for that. And lastly, Krutika, introduce yourself. 

Krutika Patel: Hi everyone, my name is Krutika Patel. I am a Data Science Master’s student here at SPS. I am originally from India and I came to the United States around the age of eight. 

Parsh Lal: Awesome, thank you, Krutika. All right, so basically, just to let everybody know, we’ll be asking three questions about our topic today. For the audience, feel free to, at the end of every question after each person has answered, to let us know about anything that you found interesting or anything you want to add on and could relate to–whatever it is, feel free to let us know. Each of the panelists will get three minutes to answer the question. And then from there, we’ll move through each question and just have an open discussion about them. So, the first question, and this is for Komal, is what does it mean to be a South Asian in the United States and how has it impacted your self identity? 

Komal Mehmood: Okay, so I’ll be honest with you. I have a confusing situation–a living situation. So half the time I’m in the United States and then half the time I’m in Pakistan, which is in South Asia. So I think I have an experience of living in both societies. And I know how it feels to live in a South Asian society as a South Asian and then in the United States as a South Asian. And being in the United States as a South Asian, I say it’s been a very multifaceted experience. There are a lot of things that are–you know, because you do bring cultural diversity to the table but I mean, there are so many more challenges when it comes to that. 

Parsh Lal: And to you, if you had to describe in a couple of words, when living in the United States as a South Asian, what exactly for yourself do you see–what does that mean to you? You mentioned that sometimes you’re in Pakistan and sometimes you’re in America, but if you had to describe a little bit about being a South Asian here in America, how’s that been for you? I’m sure like many of us, you’re probably first generation as well. How does that feel for you? 

Komal Mehmood: Yeah, it’s been a good experience. I mean, there’s obviously been challenges where there have been times where I have felt that I have to hide my identity and for people to not know that I’m South Asian because I feel like I’m at a disadvantage. But then again, I mean, in a room I feel like I do bring a lot of diversity so I think in that way, it’s like a bittersweet combination. 

Parsh Lal: And sorry, last question. So if you had to think about some of the challenges–if you have to name one or two of them, if you would like to share with us, what are some challenges that you think you faced as an individual? 

Komal Mehmood: Being South Asian in the United States? 

Parsh Lal: Yes. 

Komal Mehmood: Okay, so to answer this, I think firstly, I think there was obviously always an identity crisis because you’re inside your house and then there’s a whole different environment there. And then you go out and then it’s the whole western society, right? So there’s obviously this identity crisis going on and you don’t know how to act. And a lot of times in that, I think you lose a lot of yourself, where you lose a lot of your cultural identity–and just to fit in. I think that was the major challenge that I had to face. 

Parsh Lal: And I’m sure that’s something that a lot of people can relate to. Especially finding your way, finding your identity, finding how you fit into a culture that you’re not really too sure about. Thank you for that, Komal. 

Komal Mehmood: Yeah, thank you. 

Parsh Lal: Next, the question goes to Shihnaz. And Shihnaz, the question is, what does it mean to be South Asian in the US and how has it impacted your self-identity? 

Shihnaz Awan: Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a citizen, like almost 22 years. So I came to the United States at the same time when 9/11 happened. So you know – it was not a fun thing. I was in school, kids used to pick on me and it’s like, “Oh, you’re Muslim, you’re from here.” Being called names and stuff like that. So I used to wear a hijab to my school, which I had to stop. During that time, my mom felt like, “Okay, you know, this is not safe, right? We’re just going to be like, normal, right?” Just dress normal, like how all Americans dress. And because of other safety reasons and stuff like that. But as I grew, I knew I had to embrace myself, like, “You know what? I can’t hide from the fact of how other people see me, right?” I have to say, “Okay, this is me, this is how we are.” And that’s what I teach my kids as well. 

But I have learned a lot being in the United States as a South Asian person. It’s a different culture, it’s a different environment. But I like how I learned to manage it–to balance it in other words. Like, to balance it–not to mean to not recognize society or forget about my culture, where I come from. So there are some things that I do at my home, no matter what. X, Y and Z, we must follow. But other things, I’m very flexible. Does that answer your question? 

Parsh Lal: Mhm. And you mentioned–it’s probably a little bit sensitive–I know you just mentioned that you came during the time of 9/11, which was definitely a very tough time for the entire country. So, for you personally, did you face any kind of issues maybe? I know me personally, even myself, people misidentified me, people made assumptions about me, people made stereotypical comments about me. Did you face anything in your opinion? Because I’m sure– 

Shihnaz Awan: Yes, I did. That’s actually when I first made my–we had a whole set up in school during that time. They had a guidance counselor. They said if you need counseling services, you gotta talk to them. You had counselors at school, you had psychologists at school. So they’re like, “Oh, go talk to them.” And I was like, “Who are these people? Why should I go talk to them?” Right? That was my first introduction to psychology and counseling and what it means. So it was like a first introduction. And then they were just–as I was talking to them about things that happened, like kids would randomly pull my hijab.

Or when you walk by, they would call me names, like, “Hey, she’s a terrorist.” Things like that. So as I was talking to my guidance counselors and the school psychologists, they were like, “You know, this is how it is.” And they kind of helped me to lift my spirits and then helped to navigate my rest of the two years of high school. 

Parsh Lal: Right. And I could imagine how that probably affects you psychologically, with having these kinds of labels put onto you that you never thought were anything close to you. So I couldn’t imagine what that might feel like. 

Shihnaz Awan: You know, Parsh, my daughter faced the same thing after so many years when she went to high school. She faced the same thing. 

Parsh Lal: Right, right. 

Shihnaz Awan: That surprised us. Okay, we came a long way. I mean, I like teaching kids about culture. You know, back in the day, I feel like there was not too much cultural involvement in the school, but now they do cultural events, cultural foods, they teach different cultures in schools now. But those things, they still happen. 

Parsh Lal: Right. Thank you for that. And lastly, Krutika. The question is, what does it mean to be South Asian in the US and how has it impacted your self identity? 

Krutika Patel: For me, being South Asian in the US has always been being the other person in the room. Not necessarily the fact that “other” being the only person of color and so on and so forth. But in the circumstances I’ve been in and the environment that I’ve been in, there’s always been people of color, but not many South Asians. So in that term, I always felt like the “other,” the group that kind of wasn’t represented that much. 

And I had to be the sole representation. So yeah, it’s not necessarily “other” in a negative form. Sometimes it has, but it’s generally been a mix of a negative connotation and a positive connotation. Most generally, when I say negative connotation, it would just be getting looks, getting my name pronounced wrong, people not really putting in the effort to ask if they’re pronouncing my name right. 

And this is something that, as it goes into the secondary part of this question, it goes into self identity. Most people are not able to pronounce my name correctly. That’s okay. And I understand. It’s the fact that they do not put in the effort to ask if they pronounced it right, or putting in the effort into learning such a very integral detail about my life. And that has been kind of that deflection in a way, that this person is here but we’re not going to put in the effort to make them feel included while expecting them to give us, “them” being me, to give them the utmost respect, the utmost feeling of conformity. 

And what I mean by the positive connotation of “other,” is the appreciation of my culture, of the diversity that I bring. 

And in terms of self identity, I came at an age where it was like an in-between age. I wasn’t too young where I would grow up and fully be incorporated into American culture. But I also wasn’t at the age where the eastern culture and just environments and values were fully ingrained. 

And as I said, I came around the age of eight. And because it was such an in-between age, that really impacted my self identity in a way that I felt uncomfortable being in social situations. And when I look back at it, I think my uncomfortableness in social environments stems from that. It comes from my parents wanting to integrate our culture into my daily life. And the looks and the negative connotations I received for that from the western culture. For example, peers in school, teachers and so on and so forth. So there’s always a sense of, is anyone looking at me? Am I doing something that’s making someone uncomfortable? And it really makes me doubt myself in certain situations because my culture or a part of it or the values that I have, weren’t embraced or weren’t acknowledged. 

Parsh Lal: Beautiful answer, Krutika, a beautiful answer. All right. Now I wanted to ask the audience if they have any questions or comments, feel free to either put it in the chat or unmute yourself. If not, we can move on to the next question. I mean, if anybody wants to relate it to something they’ve been through – doesn’t have to be something that’s related to South Asia. Something that you personally went through, that you want to share, you’re more than welcome to let us know. 

Kadiesha Excell: I have a question for Krutika, if I’m pronouncing that right. Once again, because that’s what we were talking about. 

You said earlier, “I get it, it’s a hard name to pronounce.” And I want to know, do you really feel your name is hard? Are you just making allowances because that’s just what you’ve been normalized to believe because of life, society, or whatever? 

Krutika Patel: Thank you so much for that. To be honest, I don’t think it’s hard to pronounce. And I do acknowledge that because of people’s accents and their phonetics, they can’t pronounce the correct phonetics of some of the letters in my name. So my name is Krutika. It’s Krutika. But I recognize that pronunciation isn’t possible for everyone else. 

So the most closest pronunciation that I see in the West is Krutika. And I go with that. And it feels comfortable to me that you ask. And it’s sort of an acknowledgement that you’re valuing me and because my name is an integral part of who I am. And then by asking me, you’re pronouncing my name, right? It shows me that you respect me. And are trying to form at least a respectful relationship. 

I don’t believe my name is hard. But I also, as you said, I tend to always say that it’s hard to be mindful. To take into the fact that someone might not think it’s hard in a way, self deprecating, as you said. But I say it to make myself comfortable. I hope that answers your question. It was a long, roundabout answer. 

Kadiesha Excell: No, you did. I grew up when there were no Kadieshas and people would act like it was really hard to say and stuff like that. And then when I look around or when I grew up, I always think about, there’s like memes out there where people are like, “Oh, but you can pronounce 42 Russian composers with a million letters.” So when I used to say, “Oh, well, I used to do the same thing.” And so, there’s humanity. And like you said, it’s a part of you. So when people just don’t even want to put in the effort, I just don’t want you to put that on yourself. It’s not a “your name is hard.” It’s a “they don’t care.” And that’s something to know about that person. And instead of being like, not that it makes your life any easier, but I just think at this point in my life, it’s just like, “Oh, noted, this person doesn’t want to put in effort.” And that’s something to just know about some people. And that’s fine. 

Parsh Lal: Thank you for that, Kadiesha and Krutika. All right. I’m moving to the next question now. And it is for Komal. And the question is, have you ever been pressured to hide yourself or embarrassed to be yourself in the Western society or South Asian environment? 

Komal Mehmood: Oh, definitely. I mean this is very quick, definitely. But it’s very sad. But that’s very true that I have felt pressured a lot of times to hide my identity. And this also brings me back to when it is something as small as just when someone asks me my name, you know what I mean? Just because they’re not going to say it right. 

So I do agree with Krutika. And these are these names, they aren’t hard at all. But I have yet to meet one person who has pronounced my name right in the United States up until now, because I haven’t. And that’s really sad. So I do believe that there have been a lot of times that I felt really pressured to hide myself. And I felt embarrassed of my identity. 

Parsh Lal: I can imagine how that must feel. I mean, even for me, my own,  and I can relate to it as well is that, even though I go by Parsh – my full name, anytime I go anywhere, wherever I go, a lot of times, when I’m on the phone with customer service, they just struggle so bad with my name. And I’m just like, “Listen, save yourself the favor, call me Parsh, you’ll be fine.”

So I could relate to you on that Komal about having to fight who you are or being embarrassed or when people do pronounce your name, and it just comes out so bad. Growing up, people probably laughed saying, “Oh my God, that’s how you pronounce it.” This and that. 

Komal Mehmood: Yeah. And you know, it’s not like you think it’s hard, but it’s been ingrained in your mind when you’re living in a Western society. Like you know what, “No, your name is hard, because it’s not something that we usually hear.” 

Parsh Lal: Right, right. Yeah, it really brings the bigger question of how much education is really going into schools to educate about different cultures, different backgrounds, right? I mean, growing up, I’m sure we all learned about different religions, like Christianity, Islam and different things. But what about the culture aspect of it? How many cultures have we heard about in society? Because I think a lot of times, not only just South Asians, but if you’re Hispanic, no matter what it is, we often get piled up into one based on how we look like and not really getting deeper than that.

Komal Mehmood: And I believe it’s so important that people understand that even though we’re all South Asians, we come from very different backgrounds and we do have similarities culturally, but there’s so much that is different about all of us. 

Parsh Lal: Right, right. I mean, it’s safe to say that it looks like the world kind of runs on assumptions, whether that’s through some disability, whether it’s through someone’s culture, identity, physical looks – the world runs on assumptions. Sadly, that’s what it is. We tend to forget unknowingly or sometimes knowingly that there’s more than just what you see. It’s about really what it is and what it means, right? Yeah. Awesome. 

Thank you for that. All right, Shihnaz, the question is for you. And the question is, have you ever been pressed to hide yourself or embarrassed to be yourself in a Western or South Asian environment? 

Shihnaz Awan: Yes, I have. Many times. Like I mentioned earlier I had to remove my hijab to fit in, right? That’s me – I’m hiding. That was the point, I was trying to hide my identity, right? 

And I’m trying to think of another incident. This is not directly related to me, but it’s related to my kids. They are the first Pakistanis in my neighborhood. 

So, in a neighborhood school, they were like – even the teachers didn’t know the culture. And I tell them, “Hey, they only eat halal food and don’t give them chicken sandwiches.” They were like, “what?” I was like, “No, I’m going to provide the meal for lunch,” but these are the foods they would eat. And then the kids in the school, they were so rude to them and they were like, “Oh, your people like these things, like, they have this curry smell, right? And you guys don’t have it.” They would make comments like that. 

So I brought it up to the principal in the school and I was like, “Listen, you have to implement cultural learning into the kids.” And then my kids called to bring a proposal and tell them like, “Okay, you know what, it should be every year – kids should have like a project that’s based on their culture and talk about their culture, who they are, where they’re from, what food they eat and how we are different.” And difference means like we are the same people, but we just follow different stuff. We do different religions with different holidays and talk about it and make it normal now. So every year, the school wants to have a cultural event. 

Parsh Lal: Yeah, definitely. For those who haven’t tried curry before, trust me, it tastes really good. Trust me, I know if you probably hear some stereotypes, but curry is just like a base for something. It could be any kind of curry – chicken curry, whatever. So for those listening, if you haven’t tried curry, try it out. It’s pretty good. I’m not gonna lie to you. It’s pretty good. 

Shihnaz Awan: Yeah but they don’t understand. But they’re like, “Okay, like, you guys smell like curry,” but I don’t even think the kids can [unintelligible]. Like what is this? Like for somebody to say this, “smells like curry,” right? But my kids, like when they go outside, now they make sure they wear perfume. They don’t want anybody to comment on them. 

And there’s this little stuff that it’s automatic and registers in your brain. And then you think about it when you go outside – it’s sad. But, when I go outside with my kids and everybody goes, I make sure we smell good and I’m supposed to smell good. But those kinds of stereotypes, we have to break them. Not everybody likes curry. 

Parsh Lal: Right. I mean, it’s not our fault – the aromas are so strong in the spices that things just get attached to us like nothing. I mean, we can’t help it, but at least we’re happy. The food tastes good at the end of the day, right? That’s all that matters. 

And a quick question Shihnaz, for you. I know you said your children are still a bit younger. I know the DOE recently, and I think CUNY as well, they started implementing more holidays for different groups and backgrounds. I think Ramadan’s also gonna be something that they honor. No, sorry, not Ramadan. I think we’re gonna start to honor the Eid next year, as well. What’s your thoughts on that, that these kinds of changes you’re seeing in the DOE and CUNY? 

Shihnaz Awan: Yeah, I love that idea. When my kids are like, “Oh, we’re gonna start getting Eid.” I was like, “Really?” And they were like, “Yeah, they were implementing these things.” 

And then, and even in school now, they have a vegan day, a cultural food day. They are implementing a lot of things now. But it’s a big change. I think New York City has changed a lot. It’s been 20 years. So I’m happy. And now, my kids are out of school, like out of elementary school and stuff now, but I’m happy to make new progress. 

Parsh Lal: Right, right. And that’s all that matters, honestly. That we’re changing with society, that the next generation has it a bit easier and more representation, more awareness about things that are important to people’s culture and background. Thank you for that, Shihnaz. All right, Krutika. The question is, have you ever been pressured to hide yourself or embarrassed to be yourself in a Western or South Asian environment? 

Krutika Patel: Yes, again, the answer is yes. And when I was thinking about this question, distinct experiences come to mind. So I’ll first talk about being pressured or embarrassed for myself, for being South Asian in Western society. 

So, hair is very important in South Asian society, especially for women and girls. And it’s very enforced too, like cleanliness and being kept is also very addressed in schools in India specifically. For example, when I went to school, nails had to be cut short, hair had to be oiled and in pigtails, no hair should be out. Either it was in pigtails or ponytails, very strictly enforced. So when I came to the US, my mom did my hair in two pigtails and that was something she did up until I started third grade in the US, and she did that up until the eighth grade where I slowly started weaning from two pigtails to one. And my hair was always oiled and always in two pigtails. 

I was so embarrassed. Not because it made me look bad – when I was in India I was comfortable with it. That’s what I knew and it was healthy for my hair as well. But when I went to school in the US, I was constantly picked on because other girls had their hair out and in pony tails, it wasn’t oiled, it didn’t have a certain smell because of the oils. We used either coconut or like herbal oils that help your hair grow stronger. So I had a distinct smell. And so everyone was very picked on for that and it got to a point, not like in a harmful way, but I was just trying and I really wanted to fit in. So I remember in eighth grade, I did two pigtails and then I slowly transitioned my mom from two to one, to ponies and to leaving my hair out. It was a very slow transition, but I guess it helped me feel comfortable–

Parsh Lal: Did you cut it out or? 

Krutika Patel: Oh, no. It made me feel uncomfortable, but when I tried to conform and look like others, I felt I fit in more and people acknowledged me more. They talked to me like I was normal. But what I noticed is my hair, it slowly started deteriorating. And I know it’s just hair. For some people that might not be important, but it’s something that I think back on a lot, really. It’s something that’s a part of my culture, that has intrinsic value and it was good for me, for my body, but because I wanted to conform, I went with that. And while I gained acknowledgement, I also saw the negative effects and had some of my hair. It would go crinkly, while before I had straight hair. I saw the effects of it. But it’s a contrast that I look back on a lot, trading one thing for another. 

And when I am asked the question about, have you ever felt pressure to hide or be embarrassed in South Asian environments, one thing, not necessarily embarrassing, but word pronunciation. South Asian immigrants or just people in India in general, or global South Asians in general – they have a specific accent and a specific way that they say words that are different. Whether the words we pronounce are the same, the enunciation of it is different. 

So when I say the word, for example, restaurant, that’s how I would say it to someone in the Western society. But if I was talking to my friend, I would say restaurant. I still can’t say it right. And it’s something that – I know that since you guys are listening, it never comes out fully the way I would say it to my parents. I guess it’s like a mental block. But that enunciation and that shift in using one enunciation for one group of people and another for another group of people, it’s in a way hiding your identity. The reason I do it personally is sometimes, I think that if I pronounce it in a way that it’s pronounced in the Western society, I’ll be made fun of. Why [unintelligible]. And so, those are two examples that come to mind, yeah. 

Parsh Lal: Thank you, Krutika. And just to read some of the comments in the chat, Kadiesha said, “My house was smelling like curry on Saturday, it happens.” Yes, it does, to all of us, trust me. Happens to all of us. And Sanam said that she has observed that stereotype, I think it was back to the answer that Shihnaz had given about the smell, I think it was? Sanam, if you wanna correct it? Unfortunately, she didn’t say anything because it was older. Any other questions or comments about this question or should we move on to the next and final question? From the audience? 

Kaci Conley: I did wanna let you know that Kadiesha put in the chat that it’s just small things that affect one’s self-esteem over time. That honestly makes me think of my questions, how to call it, like, “death by thousand cuts” or something of that nature. So it was just interesting to read that comment and I’m sorry you feel that way. And thank you all so much for being so open and sharing your experiences. 

Parsh Lal: Awesome, thank you, Kaci. And if there are no other questions or comments, I will move on to the final question. All right, Komal. So the final question is, how do you cope with discrimination, stigmatization, and stereotyping? So it’s a three-part question. 

Komal Mehmood: Yeah, it’s a three-part question. I mean, initially it was really hard and I didn’t deal with it well at all. This one time, back then I used to live in Jersey City and I needed an Uber and I called an Uber driver. And obviously he showed up and he looks at me and he gets in his car and he says, “No, no, I’m not gonna take you.” And then he just leaves. And there are just things like that. They’re very, I think very baffling. 

And they’re also, because you know why that person did that, right? They saw you and then they said, “You know what, I don’t wanna take you.” So it’s because of you being of a different skin color, you being from a different background that they’re acting that way towards you. So I think initially, I wasn’t very good at dealing with coping with all of this discrimination and stereotyping and it was very, very hard and very challenging for me. But as time has gone by, I’ve realized that, you know what, the world is a really bad place and there are really bad people. People do act this way and they will continue on doing so. But what we can do is that we can educate the people around us who don’t know much about our culture or our society. And I think throughout all of this, my family has been very supportive. My mom has always been there for me, whenever I felt like a stranger, even in my own country. So yeah. 

Parsh Lal: Thank you for that, Komal. And Sanam said, “Support is the key.” So great. 

Komal Mehmood: Oh yeah, definitely it is. I think it’s very important to be surrounded by friends and family who are supporting you. And after coming to CUNY, and after starting the South Asian Student Union, I feel like I found my family who’s always there for me who understand what I’m going through. And yeah, I think it’s really, definitely, support is key. 

Parsh Lal: Definitely, and I’m glad you found that over here. Let’s move on to Shihnaz and thank you, Komal. Shihnaz, the question is, how do you cope with discrimination, stigmatization and stereotyping? 

Shihnaz Awan: I just give it straight up now. Like, for example, something recently that happened, like a year ago. One of my coworkers, she was newly hired, and she came to me and she’s like, “Well, you people are very rich.” I was like, “What?” She’s like, “Oh, you guys come to America and take our jobs, we are suffering here, we don’t even have what you guys got.” I looked at her and I was like, “If I’m here for 22 years or whatever – like, if you cannot do what I was able to do or what my family is able to do, right, the fault is in you, it’s not us.” Opportunities were there from day one, it just needs you guys looking at the right spot, right? If I’m able to make it in the last 20 years and be in America, in a fresh country – if I’m able to make it, anybody can make it. It’s just how you make it happen, right? 

I should have been done right there. Back in the day, I used to be a little bit scared, but not anymore. I’m more open. You tell me something, you throw me a stone, I will throw a stone back at you. The way I cope with it is like, I don’t want to have – like I used to have a lot of regrets. I’m like, “Oh, I should have said this, I should have been more helpful, like, I’m gonna be nice.” And then when I come home, it aches me, like, “No, I should have really said something.” Like thinking about it for two days in my brain, like, “I should have dealt with it differently.” 

So now, I tell them as I see it. Recently, this past Monday, one of my co-workers asked the Pakistani co-worker, “do you ever sleep with a hijab on?” I was like, “You’re too old to be asking dumb questions like this.” Looking at her, like, “Don’t ask a dumb question, it’s not funny.” She thought it was funny, but I told her, “That’s not funny just because she doesn’t speak up and she’s a quiet person, you shouldn’t be asking such a question.” And I always stand up. I speak my mind and I just put everybody in their place. That’s how I cope now. Any questions? 

Parsh Lal: Nope, that was it, that was a strong answer. It’s hard to come up with questions to a strong answer. Thank you for that. And lastly, Krutika, the question is, how do you cope with discrimination, stigmatization, and stereotyping? 

Krutika Patel: I cope with all three in the same way. The way they affect me is, like Kaci said, “death by a thousand cuts.” It kinda puts me into a little bad or sad mood for a little while, but I always think that, “You know, maybe it’s the person’s ignorance or they don’t know what made them react this way.” And that feeling, telling that to myself, is the way that I cope. I recognize that maybe that person didn’t know what they were talking about, didn’t realize how that could affect me or how that was not the most sensible thing to say. But yeah, that’s what I do myself. 

Parsh Lal: Thank you for that, Krutika. This really brings the question, like no matter what kind of situation, whether it’s discrimination, stigmatization, stereotyping, I think there’s always two ways to handle it. There’s always the way of being very confrontational about it or making it an opportunity to teach somebody who might not know much about who you are and what you’re trying to express. You know, it’s really good to always assess the situation. 

Of course, if somebody’s coming at you without any kind of context, purposely being rude, it definitely takes some other kind of situation, but if somebody asks you kindly or maybe someone is unsure, it’s really about making sure you understand what’s going on and how can you make it into a learning opportunity for somebody. And, you know, I think a long way is that if we help somebody out, educate them about what we are, they have information now to pass along to somebody else and vice versa. So I definitely think that that’s also a good way to look at everything, but thank you to the three of you for those amazing answers. You know, I definitely appreciate your guys’ time for this. I do wanna leave some time for any questions or comments from the audience. 

If you guys face these kinds of similar situations or anything you guys wanna share, feel free to let us know. If not, if there are any questions for our three panelists, let us know. The floor is open for everybody. Sanam said in the chat, how can a non-South Asian be an ally? That’s a great question, Sanam. Thank you for that. I’ll first ask Komal in a minute. Can you let me know how a non-South Asian can be an ally? 

Komal Mehmood: I mean, a non-South Asian can be an ally just by, I think, maybe being mindful of everyone you know what I mean? And just to learn more about the culture and the people around you. If you have a South Asian friend, learn more about them, ask them. I’m sure they won’t get offended. And you know, rather than just staying in the dark and not knowing and just judging and stereotyping, I mean, get to know them more. And then I think that that’ll be a learning curve. Definitely. 

Parsh Lal: Definitely, Komal. And you know, just to add on to Komal’s answer, you know, I myself, I am a Sikh. I fall Sikh as a Punjabi. So I’m not Muslim. I’m not anything else but from India as well. But I think for me, I learned so much about the Muslim community. 

I have a lot of Muslim friends. And through iftars that they had – iftars basically, correct me if I’m wrong, Shihnaz, Komal, it’s a shared meal that you guys have together. Is that correct? 

Komal Mehmood: Definitely. Yeah, the iftar, right? 

Parsh Lal: Yes, the iftar. It’s after we break our fast in the month of Ramadan. Yeah, so during that time, a lot of my friends invited me to join them for iftar. And they really showed me what they do to break their fast. And a lot of the things I learned just are from actually going to the events that the students produce, or going to a friend’s house and kind of really seeing what it’s all about. 

I mean, try the food of these cultures, see what it’s like to taste the food, and ask questions. Sometimes it’s about doing your own research, seeing online, watching documentaries about it, you know, things like that. Or if anything, just ask those questions. 

We’re always happy to answer any questions that anybody has. And, you know, we want to know about your culture as well. It’s not just about what South Asians are, but we want to know vice versa. Like, what’s your culture? Like, what are some things that we don’t know about that you could teach us? 

So it could always be like a two-way learning street for that. But  I always say try to attend the events. Like, I know this South Asian group, we produced a South Asian formal just this last month. We had an iftar in March. And these were two examples of us kind of opening up the community at SPS and really showing the entire community what it is – what South Asians consist of. Just come support us, come ask us questions. We’re always happy to answer anything. Shihnaz, the question for you is next. What are some things that a non-South Asian can do to be an ally? 

Shihnaz Awan: Like, the same thing Komal and you spoke about, asking questions. Like, “Hey, why do you eat differently?” Or like, “What is this like? I say this before I eat, right?” 

Like, “Yeah, I say my prayers.” They’re like, “Oh, we do that too.” So just asking questions, not being judgmental, like “Hey, can I ask you a question? Why do you do this?” Ask simple things and just let them know you’re asking these questions to not – to learn rather than throwing random questions out of nowhere. “I just want to learn about it. Can you tell me a little bit about it? Like, what is this about?” That’s a teaching moment that can be like, that’s the way I see a person can be an ally. 

Parsh Lal: Thank you for that, Shihnaz. And, Krutika, how about you? What is someone that wants to be an ally to South Asian people – what’s something that they can do to help out? 

Krutika Patel: My answer is the same as Komal and Shihnaz. Ask questions if there’s something you’re unsure of. Just bring it up in a light way. Hey, this is what I have heard and I want to ask you, is this true or can you give me more information about that? And the conversation dialogue between Komal and Parsh, that’s an excellent example of what one can do. Ask, be respectful. Also, as Parsh said, we also want to know about your community and your culture and finding things in common. I think it’s a very unique part of being an ally. It makes us feel that we are, quote-unquote, “normal” because normalcy is what we’re trying to achieve. 

And also gives something for both of us to connect on. So, yeah, ask questions. Find out what you’re, what you do similarly, how you’re different.  If you’ve heard anything, if you want to know if it’s true, ask them. As Shihnaz, Parsh and Komal said, we’re always welcome to answer your questions, then tell you more. So, yeah. 

Parsh Lal: Thank you for that, Krutika. Any other questions or comments before we close out today? 

Kaci Conley: I have a question. Since you want us to learn, since you want allies to learn more about your culture, can you say one thing that’s your favorite part about your specific culture? 

Komal Mehmood: Great question. Can I go first? Yeah, it’s the food. Definitely. The food is amazing. It’s bomb. It’s so good. You have to try it, Kaci, sometime. You’ll love it. 

Kaci Conley: I will. 

Parsh Lal: That is true. I can vouch for that as well. The food is definitely one of our biggest assets across all of South Asia. Shihnaz, what about you? 

Shihnaz Awan: The food and the parties we throw. 

Parsh Lal: Yes, I can also vouch for the parties that we definitely try to always incorporate through music. Our weddings are very good. The weddings too. And honestly, I’m not sure if anyone’s familiar with Bollywood. It’s like a whole industry of different kinds of movies. So try watching Bollywood films. Some of them will make you cry. Some of them will make you feel happy. It’s a big industry. It’s like there’s Hollywood and Bollywood is the next one right on the map. So I’m sure if you’re watching them – like if you got something familiar with Priyanka Chopra, I think she’s in Hollywood now, but she started out in Bollywood and she’s married to Nick Jonas. 

So she’s a great example of someone who transitioned from Bollywood to Hollywood. But check out the movies. Sometimes when you watch a movie, you can kind of learn the thing or two about the culture. 

Krutika Patel: So Bollywood, to be honest, it’s a culture in itself. But yes, Kaci, to answer your question. For me, it’s the food and the clothes as mentioned also. The food is amazing. And one unique thing about it is in a general sense, it’s similar for all South Asia. But the very unique thing is as you move from township to township, it changes. There’s variations. There’s different foods that one community eats that another doesn’t. So yeah, the different variety of food is one thing I like. And the clothes. The clothes, they’re very special to us. We spend a lot of money to get that stuff. 

And it’s a very integral part of our culture. Yes, as Komal, Shihnaz, and Parsh would know. We do spend a lot of money getting that stuff, getting the clothes from India, Sri Lanka, or Pakistan, here to the US. Yeah, that’s something we celebrate, something we cherish. 

Parsh Lal: Awesome. Thank you, Krutika. All right, then. Just to close out, thank you everybody for joining us tonight. I appreciate everybody who came out to support the discussion. And thank you to three of our panelists who joined us to talk about their experiences, to all three questions. And thank you to the Psychology Club for being a co-sponsor on this thing. Definitely appreciate when clubs collaborate together and produce amazing events. So thank you to the Psychology Club. Yeah, for any other questions, feel free to email us at [email protected]. And thank you everybody for joining us tonight. 

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