“If you want to know my ethnicity just ask me my ethnicity. Don’t ask me where I’m from.” – Roksana Badruddoja
A bunch of South Asians occupied the Smithsonian on a gorgeous Saturday for the South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF).
SALTAF started off with the screening of The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan, a documentary by Phil Grabsky.
While I love that a South Asian festival kicked off with a focus on Afghanistan, the narrative didn’t hold my attention and I kept questioning the lens and authenticity of the work, given the film-maker is British after all. I don’t understand why we need to showcase movies made by the Brits on Afghanistan, especially in a South Asian space. It was just perplexing, to say the least.
But that is my only complaint for the day and forgotten as I was introduced to Dr. Roksana Badruddoja (Eyes of a Storm) and Shailja Patel (Migritude), whose words touched my soul, blew my mind and still resonate in my spirit.
Shailja told me to not be apologetic about being ill because other people’s immune systems was not my problem. She handed me a bookmark that read:
“We overdress, we migrants. We care too much how we look to you. We get it wrong. We show up ridiculously groomed, bearing elaborate gifts. We are too formally grateful.”
Roksana’s book, Eyes of a Storm, is a feminist anthology of South Asian American women that critiques quite a number of award-winning and best-selling South Asian novelists. She rejects the binary narrative of individual desires vs. family desires found in way too many of our novels.
“This is not going to be politically correct but the kind of South Asian American books that make the New York Bestseller’s list are written for the consumption of white people.”
I went up to her to get my book signed and told her that she was right, not that she needs my re-affirmation. It’s just heartening to have someone finally call out Pulitzer-Prize winning authors like Jhumpa Lahiri for selling what is an unauthentic depiction of second generation South Asians and pandering to white people. I mean, there is no one authentic way of being South Asian American, which in itself is an amorphous term, but lets get real: most of us do find ways to pursue our individual desires while keeping our families together, and often, these are not in tension with one another.
I’m looking forward to reading the two great books after the inconvenience of law school exams. Law school sometimes gets in the way of pursuing more intellectually stimulating things that are relevant to my life.
I also picked up a copy of Nina Godiwalla’s Suits, who signed it for me and told me that lawyers relate to the book quite a lot. We’ll see how that one turns out.