Be True, Be You, Be Brave

Disclaimer: All views are my own. The events that transpired this past weekend and our feelings are of no fault of nexmasfest as an organization. Historically, the event has been held in Boston. We feel that it is the demographics of the venue and surrounding area, that contributed to our experience. We choose peace, love, and light, and I ask that anyone reading respect this decision.

I have also highlighted many South Asian creators and orgs throughout this post and encourage you to check out their work if you get a chance. They are in italic font to allow readability but also emphasis.

Happy Diwali to all.
-Your fave aloo monster ❤

Background

If you identify with a hyphenated identity (I’ll go first: Asian Indian-American), then you may know that you get to choose how much of each culture to embrace. (TED talk, @ROYALSHAUNAK). I always had a strong sense of my own identity growing up. I remember having short hair, aka a “mushroom cut” and playing the MALE role in our Bengali plays as a kid! But I played those roles like a queen!

During my first week as a seventh-grader at BLS, my mom had packed me rice with vegetable curry for lunch. Our cafeteria was filled with circular tables, meant for fostering connection. As soon as I opened the lid, a girl exclaimed “EW.. what is THAT”. Flabbergasted, I looked for the words to explain my lunch. Someone told her not to be so mean. But I already felt the impact of her words. I insisted to my mom that she only make turkey and cheese sandwiches from now on.

Throughout my time at BLS, I realized that I could count the number of brown (read: desi) people on a single hand.

I did what any angsty desi teen would reasonably do to express myself. I got a nose piercing in Kolkata at 15, joined BLS Desi society, and found a circle of true, genuine, and multicultural friends. My junior year research paper was a fierce fourteen pages on two books by V.S. Naipaul. I remember going to Regal Cinemas Fenway to watch Dil Dhadakne Do, alone, at 16, because my brown friends were taking the SAT Subject test LOL. My favorite thing about moving to Boston was the diversity of my city, my new home, even if the diversity was almost comically misrepresented at my school.

Our experience: resilience and bravery

This past weekend, my mom and I showcased and sold her art at nexmasfest. Over 300 artisans would build booths to exhibit their art at the Earth Convention Center at Mohegan Sun, CT. I was so excited. I had never been and bought myself a new dress, just for fun.

Within a few minutes of setup, we became extremely conscious of our identities as brown women. Many artists were Caucasian, and/or men. I counted two other South Asian-owned booths and two Black-owned booths. We frantically began unloading our rental Chrysler Voyager. I assured her that we were two gundas (gangsters) and that gangsters transcend race and gender.

But it did not feel enough. We put our blood, sweat, and tears into building our booth.

The first sale of the day for vendors in Kolkata is a celebration. Vendors casually sit back and for the first sale, cash in hand, they do a quick prayer gesture to thank Lakshmi, goddess of wealth.

In the fluorescent lighting of the Convention Center, my heart BROKE. My mom crouched to hide behind our table, and cash in hand, quietly did the prayer gesture to thank Lakshmi. Her proceeds go to charity. She should NOT feel scared to pray while pursuing her own dream.

Hasan Minhaj was right. Our parent’s generation was about survival, while ours is about thriving (Homecoming King, Hasan Minhaj). I’m over here trying to actively table by putting our booth number on my sweater and marching through the aisles (CMU Om: Diwali and Holi). Mom is quietly playing Lakshmi mantra.

Meanwhile, I’m over here blasting Soundcloud bhangra to hype myself up. Like a bhangra dancer touches the stage to do a quick prayer before a performance, I’m touching the carpet of the Convention Center every time I enter LOL. Am I turning heads? Sure, but who really cares? Not me, I promise you that.

But there was more. We felt like we were on display, rather than our booth. People would gawk and stare at us as they walked through the aisles of the festival. What was supposed to be a fun time quickly turned us into stressed, introspective, and quiet individuals.

Why is it that every black, brown, and Asian artist I saw were all hiding in a corner behind their booth, trying not to be seen?? I doubt that the average Caucasian male artist did this much reflection.

I relate to The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) now. After their original restaurant burned down in a fire, the Kadam family moved from India to Paris to open a restaurant right across a Michelin-star sensation. The film stars Manish Dayal as Hassan Kadam, a talented young chef. Om Puri made his daughter Mahira, played by Farzana Dua Elahe, dress up in jewelry and a sari and stand at the front to *attract* paying customers. (Remember, we don’t chase, we attract. Source: TikTok).

At nexmasfest, while my mom planned, she told me how she wants “pretty girls” to sell her art. I wore my new dress just for her. I would adorn my eyes each morning with golden glitter eye shadow because my eyes are all people would see under my mask.

Epilogue

Hard work, dedication, and passion. These manifest in different ways, seen and unseen. My mom worked year-round in addition to her full-time role to produce her art. I was merely a humble volunteer, doing my best to table, sell, and have fun along the way.

As we reflected upon our experience, we both felt initial anger at the situation, because we could not control the demographics that chose to attend the festival. We talked about reaching out to nexmasfest, and she is going to be in touch with them to share her experience. Also, we did make solid money. Out of 300 artists, people saw something in her art, and maybe even in us as a dynamic desi duo.

Do NOT mess with two ARIES women. We forgive but do not forget. We believe in karma. NO artist should have to feel angry. I wrote this post for my Mom. Bengalis are historically thought to be creative and very sweet. We are both, except when you mess with us.

It is so cool how Aries (fire sign) sounds like Ares, the Greek God of war, the spirit of battle. I choose to pick my battles. Who knows whether the pen is mightier than the sword, but the written word is my talwaar, my sword, my current weapon of choice. Holding my little puppy warrior, Scout, and listening to desi music brought me a bit of sukoon (calm, peace, relief) and a pocket of peace. (Sukoon Mila x Arijit Singh, Nabela Noor).

This Diwali season, I choose peace, love, and light.
However, I will not be silenced.

Our fire and our light burn brightly.

Inspired by The Circle Season 3 and Jane the Virgin (Team Rafael), I titled this post:

Be True, Be You, Be Brave.

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