Diversity is always something of a tricky question for me. I find it odd to think of myself as diverse, considering how I just exist. I never really thought about how things like representation or seeing my culture appreciated by people outside of it might be important until recently. As I’ve mentioned before probably countless times, I grew up in a very white environment. We lived just off of the Bible Belt in the Lower Mainland. All my neighbours were white or mixed, most of the kids I went to school with were white, and all of my friends were white or East Asian. Whenever there were kids of South Asian descent in my classes, I always felt like I had some weird obligation to be their friend, even if I didn’t like them very much, based solely on the fact that we shared a culture. In the fourth grade, there was a new girl who came to our school, and she was from Sri Lanka. Even though we did not look anything alike, we had entirely different names and I had been in the same class as most of my peers for four years up until that point, we would get confused all the time. It was as though we were synonymous with one another. I’ve only recently started to look back at such interactions and think about how that probably should have bothered me.
I couldn’t blame the kids, of course, they had no way of knowing the difference between India and Sri Lanka. First of all, they were fourth graders. Aside from a Diwali presentation that my mom sometimes would give to my and my sisters’ classes, they really had no knowledge of Indian culture. Unlike my isolation from people who shared my heritage, this phenomenon lasted a little while longer. I remember being in high school and bringing daal to school only to be asked excitedly what it was that I was eating. It blew my mind to think that people had no idea what it was. Even further back, we had family friends that would come over every year for New Year’s to have my mom’s butter chicken, because they had never had it anywhere else and swore that hers was the best.
Nowadays, things are slightly different. Indian culture is not at the forefront of many people’s minds, but it is not as invisible as it used to be. I’ve seen characters in popular fictional works that are coded as being South Asian, like Inej from Leigh Bardugo’s books. South Asian beauty rituals such as hair oiling are going viral on social media apps. Even the restaurant where I work has added butter chicken to their menu! There is still a long way to go when it comes to the representation of South Asian people in popular media, but I’m optimistic given the changes I’ve been seeing in the past few years, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.