Ours was the only house lit up on Diwali and the only dark one on Christmas. At all our school potlucks, my decorated plate of jalebi often went untouched among platters of brownies and chocolate chip cookies. I never saw myself reflected on TV shows or in movies; no one looked or acted like me. My family’s yearly trips to India didn’t remedy this problem. I felt like an outsider peering in, diasporic, neither here nor there.
This feeling of loneliness was exacerbated by the disappointing lack of platforms for South Asian girls like me. Tireless internet searches revealed that the few outlets that did exist for South Asian women were not as inclusive as I had hoped. Most of them centered around established, successful, older women. And that was fine, it just wasn’t me. I needed a space to explore, to experiment, a space that would be accessible to people who were closer to my age, people who maybe didn’t have it all figured out yet. I craved a place for growth, a platform that wasn’t only about beauty and the latest bridal looks. I desperately wanted a space that I could call my own, and so, laptop, Photoshop, and new Tumblr account in hand, I set to work.
Desi Girl Magazine was born in January of my junior year. Desi comes from desh, the Sanskrit word for country, and is used to refer to the people and cultures of South Asia and their diaspora. DGM is an inclusive online space where people of South Asian descent, particularly girls, can discuss their stories, struggles, and successes and share their work.
For my Innovator Project, I wanted to produce a full length issue of the magazine. Unfortunately, with school and other obligations, I wasn’t able to dedicate as much time to the magazine as I had wanted to. When I heard about the Innovator project, I knew I wanted to dedicate my time to DGM. Three months of working on this project seemed almost too good to be true.
Since a huge part of this magazine came from a lack of representation from major industries, I decided to focus on South Asians in the biggest industry out there -- the entertainment industry. My Innovator paper focused on representation of the Indian diaspora in both Bollywood and Hollywood (or American TV shows). The research process unfortunately confirmed what I already knew, representation for South Asians was disappointing (and for non Indian South Asians, it was practically non existent!). However, the research process allowed me to analyze the little representation we do have. The ways in which South Asians are portrayed fall into a couple stereotypes, stereotypes that ring true across a variety of shows. There are characters who try their hardest to shed their Indian identities, often using it as a mask they can slip in and out of when their network wants to add a little foreign flavor to their show. It’s interesting that these characters who shy away from their political identities as South Asians are still highly politicized. This research paper just further emphasized the importance of DGM. I’m no Hollywood producer so I can’t expect Hollywood to give me good representation. DGM allows me to have more control over a creative space for South Asians, one that will not pigeonhole South Asians into a role. One that allows and even embraces the diversity the Desi community has to offer.
For a magazine that wants to celebrate diversity in a community, collaboration is easy. I was able to interview desi artists, I even got to see one of my artists, Reva Bhatt, at work and help her out during one of her photo essays! Much of my collaboration manifested itself in the magazine as features, either showcasing certain artists work or writing features about them. The majority of people I collaborated with were not from the Bay Area. This unfortunately did make it a little hard to coordinate times to have Skype interviews. All the rescheduling and cancellations were stressful, I was able to work it out in the end but a lot of my collaborators could only make time to speak to me towards the end of my project. This, unfortunately, meant I wasn’t able to celebrate these artists the way I wanted to as I didn’t have enough time to write full length feature articles about the vast majority of them.
If I could do this project again, I would’ve set slightly looser deadlines for myself. I didn’t allow for much fluidity in my original deadlines. At the start of this project, I’d set deadlines with specific article topics but as I continued to develop my final product, some of the articles didn’t fit as well with my overall theme. I was able to write other articles that took their place but I know I would’ve felt less stressed if I hadn’t tried to set all my specific features at the beginning of the magazine. Three months is a long time and a lot can change in such a long time. I wish I’d prepared for plans to fall through and allowed myself a little bit more wiggle room.
I think I improved the most on Self Direction. I’ve never had a project where I’ve had so much control. I came up with the idea, set my own deadlines, created my own rubric and was basically left alone with occasional check ins. It’s exhilarating to have that much power but it can be very easy to slack off when it feels like you only have to answer to yourself. Having this much creative control was very important for me. I think I’ve learned a lot in terms of how to keep myself motivated and how to properly manage and execute a huge project like this. It was nice that I was able to have this experience in high school when I’m not really on my own because I was able to make mistakes (and learn from them!) in a space where I wasn’t truly on my own. I feel the skill I improved the least on was probably Global Awareness just because through DGM and through my experiences as a child of immigrant parents, I’ve already been exposed to a lot of people and circumstances that make me globally aware. Of course, there is always room for growth and I continue to learn and grow every day but I would definitely say that’s the skill that I improved upon the least.
Since I plan to continue DGM, this experience was very helpful in that goal. I think everything I learned for writing journalistic articles or collaborating with people I wanted to feature will be helpful knowledge for the future. I also feel the time management and self direction skills I got from this project will be useful no matter what I pursue. And of course, as always, having an artistic background and knowing how to use tools like Photoshop or InDesign will always come in handy. It’s always interesting to me how easily things can be communicated through art. It’s much more visually appealing, it’s often easier to understand than a huge chunk of text.
Like I said before, having full creative control was something I’d never had in a school project before. Being able to experience that was something I’ll value for the rest of my life. I liked that I was able to choose a topic I was interested in and research it in a way that I wanted to explore it. I was then able to present what I’d learned in a format that I liked. It was absolutely exhilarating to have this much freedom and I think I’ve learned a lot in multiple ways, not just academically.
The Innovator Project was a massive project. Three months, full creative control, and an incredible amount of freedom. DGM has also been incredibly important for me. This magazine provided me with a creative outlet and gave me a sense of belonging. It combines my love for writing and producing art with my interest in identity politics and expressing and honoring my cultural heritage. The magazine has given me the confidence that I can make a positive change in the world. As the magazine reaches new heights, I hope to really turn this into a political project, one that will bring more South Asians to the mainstream. Being an outsider in my suburban neighborhood as well as the bustling homes of my Indian relatives has given me the drive to create a space for other marginalized girls. Next fall, as I head off to college, I will be starting a new chapter of my life. As I continue my studies, I plan to nurture my interests in the intersection of art and politics and help celebrate diversity and inclusion. With hard work, humility, and an open mind, I’m sure this dream, too, will come to life.