Dadi Haldi’s Long Journey

A hand grabs a pinch of turmeric and sprinkles the aromatic yellow powder into a dish. The young lady leaves the dish to cook with a table of spices laying around. As the room is cleared of any human presence, each spice awakens one by one. There on the table sits Dadi Haldi with her children, Adrak (ginger), Dalchini (cinnamon), and Mirchi (red pepper), wide-eyed and eager to ask questions. Mirchi, the spicy one, makes the courageous move and asks her first question: “Dadi Haldi, how did we all end up here?”

A hand grabs a pinch of turmeric and sprinkles the aromatic yellow powder into a dish. The young lady leaves the dish to cook with a table of spices laying around. As the room is cleared of any human presence, each spice awakens one by one. There on the table sits Dadi Haldi with her children, Adrak (ginger), Dalchini (cinnamon), and Mirchi (red pepper), wide-eyed and eager to ask questions. Mirchi, the spicy one, makes the courageous move and asks her first question:

“Dadi Haldi, how did we all end up here?”

Dadi Haldi, as she occasionally checks on the dish, looks back at Mirchi as the others now stand behind Mirchi, fearful of Dadi’s stern response. Dadi, in nature, is reserved; her true beauty hidden. Still facing the dish, she replies calmly.

 “Finally, you ask about our journey to this new world.” 

Dadi’s nostalgia for her days as a young bowl of Haldi overcame her composed mannerisms, a sight that the young spices were shocked to see. She took a pause and in a flash, Dadi Haldi travels back to the hustle and bustle of the colorful bazaar located on the Malabar coast, what is now modern Western India. She describes her lively stall filled with many different spices.  

“You think we are a huge family of spices,” she says. “Oh, you don’t even know. The sweet family who kept us, they had every spice you could think of. And the son, oh, he always teased me and grabbed a handful of me to color his friends with.”  

Dadi, with a smirk on her face, admits to Dalchini that she thought the boy was cute. She didn’t really have any elder of her own, making her very close with Adrak, Dalchini, and Mirchi’s great-grandparents who were her companions during this time. 

“Mirchi, you think you have a temper? Your great-Dadi–oh, she was a spice the rest of the Dadis knew not to mess with,” says Haldi Dadi, laughing as she reminisces those days.

She continues to tell the younglings how the bazaar was so comforting as her face suddenly drops from a bright smile to dull sorrow. Adrak, the one that can never see anyone sick, turns to her and asks, “Dadi, what happened? Why are you sad?” 

Haldi Dadi takes a deep breath as she begins to unravel wounds that she covered up years ago and promised to never bring up again. “All the spices, in the stall, knew that one day we would be bought. Our responsibility was to go to a home and fill it with our beauty. I sat at the front, right by my Baba, the owner, and I used to see these fair men pass by on large animals with black sticks. They didn’t look like people who bought us daily.” Dadi Haldi was describing the British officers who rode on horses through the bazaar with guns. 

“They used to come up to Baba and tell him all sorts of things. I was young and never understood what they meant. I saw your great-grandparents begin to worry. That night, Baba’s wife took me home to use on her son who had gotten hurt.” Dadi told her babies that the officers were telling the family to either start selling their spices to them, or they’d ensure no one else buys from them. “Baba was desperate, and they started selling to the fair men. Your great-grandparents and I were among the first to leave. Some didn’t make it on our voyage to the new land. Adrak unfortunately your great-grandma left us first,” Dadi says with a frown. 

Wiping her tears away as she sees her babies start to cry, Haldi Dadi begins to compose herself and return to the facts. For her, the voyage to London never seemed to end, where the only scenery she had for months was dark, moldy wood at the bottom of a ship.

“I had forgotten what sunlight looked like at one point,” Dadi points out. Then came the day they arrived at their new home. “This land was unfamiliar and so strange. The humans looked so different. But then we met our new family. They looked similar to our old family, but they wore different clothes.” Haldi Dadi was describing an Indian servant family that helped manage all the spices that were brought from India. She continues on to talk about how this family was forcefully brought to London to work under a fair man that all the fair men followed. She was describing a British General and how other officers would visit his residence. “We all stayed in the kitchen so often that the family would open up about their problems like how the fair women talked rudely to the women.”

Dadi says with anger on her face, “These fair women would yell at my new friends for adding our cousin, Elaichi (cardamom), into their tea. They don’t even know what true tea is if they don’t add my dearest Elaichi.” 

Dadi Haldi described the new customs and listening to her companions’ painful stories made adjusting to their new home difficult:  “As all three of you came into this world, in our new home, I felt as though this new unknown land was becoming my own. The dishes we are used in are the same, and we all are fulfilling our responsibilities,” Dadi says with a more encouraging tone. “So babies, our journey was long. We have made it from land of colors to a land of unknowns. And that is okay.” 

Adrak, Mirchi, and Dalchini, on receiving their answers on Haldi Dadi’s long journey, start to wipe their tears, when suddenly they hear the young lady’s footsteps approaching. With no time to lose, everyone goes back to their positions, and just as the lady returns, Haldi Dadi adds an extra splash of herself into the dish as all her babies go back to sleep. 

Resources: 

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4287851.pdf

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/10.7312/newm15670.6.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fbasic_SYC-5187%252Ftest&refreqid=excelsior%3Accbd3345152dec3eb6bb1f0c278d2182

The Mountain Rumbled

“I wrote this poem shortly after the tragedy at the port of Beirut. Among the images of the aftermath, I noticed images of people in their ruined homes, cooking and sharing food. I was inspired by the perseverance and adaptation of cuisine through times of struggle, and the way it unifies us on an essentially human level.” -Christopher Alam

We are still –

On the volcano’s edge,

victims of sympathy

dates dried up in the heat

pumice sizzling manaeesh,

olive trees exiled on the slope,

cursing coffee for boiling

blaming the volcano for erupting,

         making heaps of these bones,

         and conjuring kanafeh.

We look down from our mountain

somehow breaking bread

– starving.

The Diaspora Fruit

Somehow pomegranates became the Iranian “diaspora fruit.” By diaspora fruit, I mean the way a certain fruit can become a stand-in for a nation or homeland; signifying history, ritual, and the residues thereof.

As Anita Mannur outlines in “Culinary Nostalgia: Authenticity, Nationalism, Diaspora,” food can facilitate “‘culinary citizenship,’ a form of affective citizenship which grants subjects the ability to claim and inhabit certain subject positions via their relationship to food.” If I had a dollar for every Iranian artist I’ve seen deploy a pomegranate in their work, I would not be so stressed about my student loans. Pomegranates are a powerful symbol of Iranian cultural heritage, as the fruit is native to the land we now call Iran and Afghanistan. I fall prey to the time and space travel the pomegranate promises: yes, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I have a pomegranate tattoo planned, and it doesn’t feel like home if there is no pomegranate molasses in the cupboard.

Iranians are obsessed with pomegranates.

The insides of a pomegranate always resembled the architecture of a mosque to me: archways and cavities full of holiness. Seeding pomegranates with my grandfather in the yard, he tells me that the rare translucent seeds in the fruit are pieces of heaven. “I didn’t know you could eat the seeds,” a friend once told me. “You’re not usually supposed to eat the seeds of fruit, and pomegranates are all seed. I thought you just juice them.” I remember white kids’ aversion to seeds at lunchtime: groaning at big grapes, leaving their oranges untouched and unpeeled. But I was taught to embrace the fruits others avoided. Perhaps my first understandings of Iranian culture were through fruit. My father, grandfather, aunts and uncles all have an unwavering commitment to fruit, often the fruit white neighbors grow in their yards but don’t eat–like gojeh, small, sour unripe plums we eat until our stomachs bloated in protest. If you see gojeh, you have to grab it, even if it means trespassing. My family has stopped on the side of the road for gojeh, or marched into parks armed with plastic bags, raising each other up to get to the highest branches and grab the fruit most others overlook.  

Pomegranates, too, are left untouched on many trees. Some people don’t know what they are, while some consider them cumbersome, a pain to seed. My dad’s close friend Farahmarz reminisces about the days when most Americans were impervious to the glory of pomegranates: “They were so much cheaper. The storekeeper would give me extra for free practically because no one bought them–they thought they were for decoration.”

Iranians are obsessed with pomegranates. On one hand, pomegranates hold specific cultural relevance. For example, they are central to the celebration of the winter solstice, Shabe Yalda. On the longest and darkest night of the year, we stave off evil spirits with fruit consumption, laughter, and warmth, candlelight glowing against the waxy maroon of pomegranates’ tough outsides. But there’s also something more nebulous to the appeal of pomegranates, something almost primordial. Even POM , the popular and lucrative pomegranate juice company, pays homage to the fruit’s Persian roots. Their website features a timeline replete with stories and artwork to convey the history of the fruit–1370 AD: the legend of Isfandiyar, from the Shahnameh, national epic of Iran:

“In the Zoroastrian religion of Persia, Isfandiyar became invincible after eating a pomegranate, emerging victorious in seven battles: Slaying two monstrous wolves, two lions, a dragon, a wicked enchantress, a mythical bird and its offspring, braving a three-day storm, and crossing a desert. Pomegranates are known today for their incredible antioxidants, but still, that’s quite impressive.”

Witnessing POM Wonderful’s commodification of myth and history to entice consumers alerted me to the ways the romanticization of origin stories can distort communities. The Aryan myth, for example, circulates in many Iranian communities–particularly diasporic ones. Originally put to use to solidify a national identity by Reza Shah, now diasporic communities have found it useful to wedge themselves under the umbrella of whiteness. “If anyone bullies you for your race, they are stupid because we are the true white people. Caucasian–as in the Caucasus Mountains, hello!” is a statement I’ve heard more than a few times in Iranian circles. 

Mannur writes that “food…becomes a potent symbol for signifying the ethnic integrity of Asian Americans, serving both as a placeholder for marking cultural distinctiveness and as a palliative for dislocation.”  I would take this statement a step further to say that food nostalgia can also become a mode of cultural supremacy. Even Iranians who don’t ascribe to and in fact actively denounce these harmful white supremacist beliefs can find themselves swayed by the appeal of origin stories, including the beguiling roots of the pomegranate. How special to be able to lay claim to such a marvelous fruit! With pomegranate-tinted glasses, Iran is a place we always celebrate, full of vibrant fruit, poppies, rugs, marketplaces and mosques–a world of magic and color. A closer examination of any of these objects, however, reveals a fraught reality of who matters and who is relegated to the margins. All of these things– pomegranates, poppies, etcetera–are also a part of the cultural heritage of Afghanistan, a fact that gets eclipsed.

Even a phrase as seemingly innocuous as “Persian New Year” reveals the extent to which Iranian supremacy has a hold on cultural narratives, erasing the many other regions where Nourouz celebrated. 

In many forms and iterations, the Iranian nation and its myths have perpetuated violence toward Afghanistan and Afghan people, invisibilizing their cultural heritage and lives. In early May, Iranian border guards forced 45 migrant Afghan workers into a river and only 12 survived, Shapoor Saber reports. 

 The comfort and pleasure of connecting with a food for its ability to bind us to our displaced homeland is fraught. We only have the language and maps which teach us to understand this homeland in terms of a nation and its borders, and we must be aware of the ways our diaspora fruit nostalgia has the potential to reinscribe these borders.

Cowtown or Browntown

By Sona Bhargava

Without all my brown friends at college, one might mistake me for a human hermit. Almost every organization or club I’ve joined, and almost every friend I’ve made shares my cultural ties (cough, cough Other Collective). This is interesting, considering my culture did not influence my upbringing in the same manner that it is affecting my college life.

 

Growing up, my parents implemented cultural values and rituals into my everyday life. Every morning my brother and I would sit in the corner of my parents’ bedroom, and pray to a shrine to both thank God for our blessings, and pray for safety and good health among other things. But my “brown identity” was not an essential part of my life. Living in a predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles, I did have brown friends, but the majority of my friends were of other ethnicities. Growing up, I had a friend group of five girls; Filipino, Irish, Mexican, Argentinian, and me, Indian. Due to our diverse backgrounds, the activities we participated in were not culturally connected. We watched movies, ate food, and got  together to indulge in pastimes that did not associate with culture. We simply partook in these cultural undertakings on our own times with our families.

 

Upon entering college,, I adopted the typical college student mindset: I wanted to make new friends, and join a few clubs. When Other Collective came to my Indian Civilization class, looking for staff writers, my interest piqued. I was a journalist in high school and adored writing, so the chance to continue expressing myself through words was exciting. I joined Other Collective mostly because of the writing aspect, although the cultural ties were intriguing to me as well.

 

I later joined UC Davis’ Raas-Garba team, UCD Raasleela, on a whim. I went to their dance workshop and auditioned for fun, thinking I would never make the team. I danced as a child, and was heavily interested in dancing in college. But the traditional folk-style of dance that Raasleela is was very out of my comfort zone. However, I soon became accustomed to the style of dance and hence, the plethora of new brown relationships.

 

I became part of a brown girl friend group within the first few weeks. The idea of making all brown friends from the get-go was unintentional, but I loved the company of these girls so much so that it did not matter. I had no clear vision of where I saw myself on campus, but I was open to joining just about anything to get involved from the beginning. After reflection, I realized  connecting to my culture in college occurred because it has helped me feel a sense of family. I never needed to look elsewhere than my family for my culture because they were always right there. Now, being over 400 miles from home, turning to my friends here in the same way I used to turn to my family makes me fulfilled. I feel content in cultural spaces on campus and a strong sense of community.

 

The connections in brown society between colleges across the nation have yet failed to amaze me. Last week, I discovered that one of my best friend’s friends from home is friends with one of my close friends here at Davis. I quickly uncovered that the reason there are so many connections between my friends at Davis and my friends from home is due to a shared culture. Originally, I was thinking it might just be a weird Bay Area cult-type thing, but lately I’ve been hearing about people from all over the nation who are friends of my friends at Davis, but also of my friends at home. Weird, right?

 

I hope my college experience continues the way it has so far. I have been blessed with an easy adjustment period because of the new relationships I have made. These friends I have made at Davis have quickly turned into family, and I believe a strong part of that is the culture we all share. I feel a sense of positivity with my friends that excites me for the next four years.

Same Religion, Different Interpretation

By Taimoor Qureshi

My religion gives me guidance and inner peace. Islam has always been a source of wisdom and comfort to rely on regardless of how dire my situation’s circumstances are. However, I frequently find contradictions between how I practice my faith vs. how others practice. While most of my family strictly eats halal meat, I find myself to have an awful addiction to the number seven at Chick-fil-a. But what I have come to realize is that my way of practicing my faith does not make me any less Muslim than them. As a second-generation Pakistani-American, the environment I have grown in has forced me to adapt my religion around my life priorities.

My experiences are similar to those of my father’s. As a Pakistani immigrant, my father’s circumstances led him to develop a reformed practice of his faith which he continues to abide by to this day. My Baba gradually came to realize that he did not have the capacity to pray five times a day while committing to a full time job. “America was very tough for Muslims back then…mosques were so far away from the city, [Los Angeles], and there weren’t any halal stores,” Baba said. “I was working all day like a robot to support family back home— like everyone—so I guess I started to practice my religion according to my convenience.” 

My father’s story is representative of what many immigrants experience: having to leave their home country in search of an opportunity to provide for their family. Although Baba maintained his strong connection to his faith after immigrating, he had to prioritize providing for his family over his religion. He simply didn’t have either the resources or the time available to practice Islam the way he did back home. It would be difficult to pray five times a day while committing to a full time job, but Islam meant much more to him than the number of times he prayed in one day. His faith was a source of comfort and peace for him at a time when he was on his own, and burdened by the responsibility to be the sole supporter of his family here and in Pakistan. My father’s way of practicing Islam is definitely not the only way. 

 Some may think my father isn’t necessarily a devout Muslim because he misses his namaz, or prayer, once a day. But ultimately, both Baba and I have endless love and passion for our religion. We simply practice our faith in different ways.

About four years ago, I asked my friends from my local mosque if they wanted to grab something to eat after our typical Friday prayer. And because it wasn’t too far away, I suggested Chick-fil-a. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would soon feel embarrassed by asking such a simple question. However, since the chain offers non-zabiha meat, my own friends began to question my faith. They were quick to assume that I wasn’t a devout Muslim. 

This experience, and many similar ones, have made me feel as if I was unfaithful to not only my religion, but also to myself. I often felt that people judged me as less of a Muslim for minor infractions rather than my actual spirituality. It was because of Baba, however, that I felt like Islam was an essential aspect in my life that directs me to having willpower to keep pushing through any time where I feel defeated. From whenever Baba’s business wasn’t doing well all the way to whenever he would have a slight cold, Baba would pray, make dua, and feel as if he is unstoppable. And I wanted to follow Islam exactly the way he did as it seemed to always bring immense inner peace and guidance.

I may not relate to my father’s story of being displaced, but we share a struggle for authenticity. I’ve realized that it’s unfair to not only Muslims who were born in or who migrated to the US, but also people of the diaspora to feel like they aren’t as deeply connected to God despite being separated from homeland communities that would offer that validity. Religion offers displaced immigrants like my father a way to feel like they’re still at home. To feel like they will always belong to a greater good no matter where they go.

“Allah has given me everything,” Baba said.

China’s Project of Ethnic Repression Against Uighur Muslims

By Aarya Chidambaram

On Nov. 9 2019, Alfred was on a bus to Washington D.C., mindlessly browsing the internet when he saw his name plastered on the Global Times, a Chinese nationalist newspaper. In an official statement by the  Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), the Chinese government wrongfully accused him of being a member of a terrorist organization, the World Uyghur Congress. 

Alfred is a twenty-two year old Uighur Muslim born and raised in East Turkestan, officially known as the XUAR. In 2015, he came to the United States to pursue a college education in Economics, and later switched to Computer Science. 

It has been two years since he has been able to speak to his parents. Alfred’s mother and father, a math teacher and journalist for the state television respectively, were detained inside internment camps. His mother was detained from December 2017 to early 2019. He has been unable to contact over a dozen of his imprisoned relatives and loved ones in East Turkestan, including those who remain outside the camps. Chinese authorities have banned Uighurs from contacting relatives outside of the immediate region. Even if granted the chance to speak with them, Alfred fears that reaching out to anyone back home “will get [them] detained.” 

Internment camps are just one aspect to the Chinese government’s slow, calculated project of ethnic repression and internal displacement of the Uighur Muslims. Mass detention of Uighurs is relatively new, but anti-Uighur policies and actions are not. Although they Uighurs have lived in the region for thousands of years, Uighurs of East Turkestan were brought under Chinese rule in 1911.

In 1949, the region attempted to declare independence, but the movement was crushed soon after. Then, demonstrations in the 1990s led to a temporary independent status. The Chinese government swiftly responded by curtailing any seperatist sentiment. A series of violent protests in 2009 to 2014 continued to escalate tensions which ultimately culminated in the most severe crackdown yet— the opening of the internment camps.

Today, China exploits the Uighurs’ plight to paint their narrative as  a terrorist threat to national security. Alfred frames this issue as one of cultural imperialism and colonization, not of Islamophobia. Targeting Uighurs has more to do with China’s interest in controlling the oil-rich East Turkestan, and erasing Uighur identity than with suppressing their Islamic faith. 

“If the current situation was due to Islamophobia or China’s treatment of Muslims, there would also be camps in Ningxia [another autonomous region, in north-central China],” Alfred said. “There are over 10 Million actual Chinese Muslims called Hui, who practice way more strict form of Islam, and there is no single camp there, and they are not subject of internment camps and other crackdown like in Uyghur Autonomous region.”

Alfred’s story —from his childhood in Xinjiang to his current efforts to bring justice to the Uighur community — shines light on the Chinese government’s campaign of forced ethnic assimilation. 

“Even before the crackdown, there were [Uighur] people who disappeared–people who said something or did something, or showed any sort of resistance against the central Chinese government,” Alfred said

By 2005, the Chinese Government required classes from elementary school to university to be taught only in Mandarin. Government workers and educators, such as Alfred’s mother, were not allowed to wear headscarves. Uighur language and cultural classes were restricted throughout the education system.

Uighurs have a rich cultural history filling Xinjiang with traditional dance, music, and art spaces.  Muqam, a style of classical music, has been collected into an epic called “the Twelve Muqams” and is considered an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity,” by U.N.E.S.C.O. But over time, openly practicing these traditions became more and more dangerous. When such “re-education” camps first opened in 2014, the immediate targets were those who actively participated in cultural or religious spaces. 

If one were to openly practice their Islamic faith, pray, or fast, they were in danger of detainment. Moreover, those who had any association with foreign nations—whether they had relatives abroad or had studied abroad—were at greater risk.

Even during Alfred’s younger years, China was gradually becoming a surveillance state, specifically targeting Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. Police checkpoints were set up every 100 meters. Police were granted the power to enter and reside in Uighurs’ home for extended periods of time without permission or previous warning. Phones were frequently confiscated and randomly checked by police. Internet firewalls often prevented communication with loved ones. Alfred managed to get a green card in order to study in America, but many Uighurs are barred from leaving their own cities without a permanent resident card. 

Even so, when reports of the internment camps emerged, he was shocked at how such atrocities could occur “in the 21st century.” China’s efforts of forced integration of Uighurs had gone on for decades, but had never undertaken a project of mass incarceration on this large of a scale. 

Such ”re-education” significantly centers around criminalizing Islam, and punishing Muslims who practice their faith. Prisoners are forced to eat pork, drink alcohol, and take courses which aim to turn them away from Islamic cultural and religious practices. They are barred from praying, or donning traditional garb.

Jessica Batke, a former State Department research analyst reported that detained Uighurs are tortured through waterboarding, isolation, starvation, and sleep deprivation. 

Alfred was afraid to speak out about his family’s treatment in XUAR instead choosing to keep his Uighur identity hidden.

 “I stayed silent for a while–I even stayed away from the Uyghur community in the United States,” Alfred said. “I followed every one of their rules. But my parents still became victims.”  

Contact with relatives back in China makes Uighurs more likely to be targeted by the government; Alfred is still fearful that anything he may say or do will provoke the government and put his family in harm.

 On Nov. 17, the Global Times, published another article condemning Alfred, claiming his relatives were “ashamed of the scum among their families,” and his activist abroad. They claim his mother, “lives a normal life and is not under detention,” and wants Alfred to “not be manipulated by others.” His father, who has also been accused of “harboring a criminal and inciting national enmity or discrimination,” and has been detained for a sentence of nineteen years and ten months. Alfred is shocked by these false accusations.

”To be honest I don’t even know how I feel now.  All I hope is my father can be released as soon as possible and my family can get some rest and treatment,” he said.

Alfred, along with other Uighur immigrants, has met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss China’s repression of Uighurs, and how the U.S. will address this human rights issue. On Dec. 3 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act which calls for sanctions on members of the Chinese government. The U.S. is also one of twenty-three countries that signed a multilateral statement at the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee in Oct., condemning Chinese treatment of Uighurs. 

 Fifty-four countries stand in opposition, including Russia, Egypt, and Pakistan. They  defended Chinese internment camps as counter terrorist efforts intending to protect human rights.The geopolitics these letters reflect speak to the complexity and global reach of China’s actions, and will likely inform future reactions to the current situation. Still, Alfred hopes that the global community will condemn China’s actions, and put an end to these atrocities.

Miram Madrese

By Kiana Borjian

first day of “Women in Islamicate Societies:”

Why are you taking this class?

I begin swirling

like the dervishes

my mother is named for: Sufi

plus an “e”

I am jealous of her name –

the way it suits her worried eyes,

sacred face. What she knows

about Islam: not being able to join

swim team after the revolution. I dread

swimming, feigned a shoulder injury

to get out of water polo.

What I know about Islam:

climbing on my grandfather’s back,

the guttural whisper of his prayer

whirling around his spine, images

of birds and men with beards bordered

in emerald and gold. Do you think

my grandparents would accept my sexuality?

I ask my mother. You know

early examples of homosexuality are found

in Islam, in the harems my mother says.

I live in the gold embossed margins of my grandfather’s poetry books,

of my binder paper I struggle to fill

with notes. I have anxiety, so

I am not a history major. Or –

history sends me spiraling

into the recesses of my mother’s name

the photo albums of her mother’s mother and her mother’s mother

who look the way my mother taught me not to:

hair bridging their brows,

above their lips. My body

like history: uninhabitable, scarred,

erased, hairy.

Dry Mango

I sat in our study lounge for the fourth consecutive hour, when my phone flashed with a message from my mom. As usual, she was sending me mouth-watering pictures of Indian delicacies for the festival season – sweets and savory items alike. I missed home so so much as I chewed on a sandwich that I had prepared eight hours ago. I wanted to teleport back to some good food, some Indian food, my mother’s food. As I tried to focus on practicing linear algebra, my hunger kept bringing me back to the food topic until my friend offered me some dry mango.

Now if you’re Indian, you would know that a mango is the king of fruits. Rightly so, since our motherland is home to over 1500 varieties of this fruit. So hunger or no hunger, the offer brought back memories of juicy Alphonso mangoes I’d eat in India, a raw mango drink Aam Panna, and even my grandmom’s special homemade mango pickle. And thus, I ate some dry mango. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself halfway through the packet and thrown into a ocean of emotions. I’d just gobbled up half of my friend’s snack in America. Was that rude? Or worse, was this indicative of one of two “international student” behaviors that the others talked about?

According to popular belief, international students are either children of extremely rich parents and thus have extravagant lifestyles or are studying at an American institution because their parents have somehow struggled to get them to this country of dreams for the hope of a better tomorrow. If you “belong” to the second category, you’ve seldom known comfort and happiness and you’re very likely to pounce on to it, just like I’d eaten the mango. In other words, the absence of the spectrum approach turned something as trivial as eating a snack with a friend, to an issue of me representing those of my kind, who account for over a million students at different universities across the country.

But is it really fair to judge the entire community based on a few individuals’ reactions? Is it even right to judge students like us as we make our way through starkly different cultures in the United States? While all students at the university level are busy dealing with stressors like midterms, finals and excessively competitive grading scales; paying too much attention to our surroundings can lead us to feeling out of place at several different levels – dressing sense, taste pallets and social behavior. To top it off, there are occasional comments like “oh international students don’t care so much about cleanliness anyway” or “don’t you love how clean Davis is, since you’re from India?” But in reality, I did care a lot about cleanliness and I grew up in Dubai, which is cleaner than Davis. 

In a way however, my reflective self is grateful to these comments because they make me more aware of myself and my priorities. Furthermore, it has taught me to acknowledge, but then move away, from people who look for such indicators in their  “friends.” Sometimes I wonder how my life here would be without some of the (very) kind and accepting people I was lucky enough to meet in this past year.

By: Radhika Marwaha