On my own journey to learn about my roots, I realized that they are broader than my direct lineage. I was born in the United States and my parents were born in India. And I’ve slowly been trying to learn more about my ancestors, in the capacity I can.
But I realized that my lineage is both narrow and broad. There’s my direct bloodline, and then there’s the communities that surrounded, and continue to surround, me. Who we are is influenced by others in society.
Here are a couple resources that preserve and raise South Asian voices and are helping me dive deeper into these broader communities.
The South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) has been documenting, preserving, and sharing South Asian American stories for 13 years. They have various projects such as sharing road trips of South Asians traversing the United States by car, digital and in-person community storytelling, and over 500 stories documenting immigrants’ first days in America.
One of SAADA’s values is: We believe that history is not a spectator sport. I really love how the stories in this digital archive have shared and unique experiences. This collective, first-person perspective, which is preserved, organized, and shared so thoughtfully, warms my heart.
SAADA also has a magazine called Tides which brings its work and current events together, connecting the past to the present. They also have events ranging from how to preserve your own story to better understanding underrepresented South Asians.
This community-driven, grassroots organization is truly a gem, and I’ve enjoyed diving into their collections to learn more about stories I never would have heard in the past. While I identify as South Asian American, that doesn’t mean I’m aware of everyone’s experiences. After all, India alone is the second most populated country in the world. And other, often forgotten, South Asian countries like Nepal Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, were barely represented to me while I was growing up. This resource has helped me make connections and broaden my limited knowledge and experience of the intersections between South Asian and American stories.
2. The Blueprint: Rewriting South Asia
The Blueprint: Rewriting South Asia is a new publication founded by Dalit feminists. If you don’t know, Dalits have also been called the Untouchable caste. Their voices are often misrepresented and underrepresented because of this.
The Blueprint “amplifies the voices of South Asia and its diaspora, giving special attention to stories from caste, tribe, language, gender, sexuality, and religion-oppressed communities.” Growing up as an upper-caste Hindu, I heard so many stories about how “lower-caste” people weren’t worthy or were in a “lower” because of deeds in their prior life. And, of course, because of their status, they are often voiceless. So when I heard these stories as a child and teenager, I didn’t exactly have the will or resources to believe otherwise.
This resource includes new and politics, stories about identities, technology, arts, and history, specifically from a Dalit feminist lens. I particularly loved “Stories in Motion” by Esha Pillay, examining caste in the Indo-Fijian diaspora. Pillay writes, “I can’t count on history books to tell my stories because the layers to each story won’t be there. Storytelling has been important in learning about the histories that I come from and arriving at the truth that I need all of my stories to exist alongside one another.”
This is a story I never would have known about unless it was written in The Blueprint, and I’m so grateful there is a resource to recenter stories have been coopted, retold, decontextualized, and have had nuance completely erased. The Blueprint is also an initiative of Equality Labs, an organization that gives voice to South Asian religious and cultural minorities.
Just because I’m South Asian doesn’t mean I know everything about South Asia or India or all South Asian Americans. Cultures, religions, caste, gender, traditions, and colonial histories aren’t all the same. It is frustrating when a non-South Asian approaches me expecting me to know about histories outside my lineage. The fact is, I’m still learning about my own ancestors.
I’m glad that there are resources that uplift voices in a way to provide shared and non-shared experiences, exploring a massive population with care and curiosity. I invite anyone interested in learning more to explore as well.
Nisha Mody is a writer who also is also a Coach, Podcaster, and Librarian. She has written for The Rumpus, The Times of India, and Ravishly. Find her on Twitter and Instagram. But most importantly, adore her beautiful sister cats. Read more of her work in her healing and justice newsletter and community, The Healing Hype.