The word Uyghur was always met with a blank face. Every Uyghur person growing up in the West can attest to their little speech for the inevitable “where are you from?” question. Some skip it altogether and say they are Turkish, or Uzbek, or even Chinese.

Interview with Priya Arora

  


 

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?

I don’t know if it’s happened yet, to be honest. Each day feels like a victory- I’m grateful to be here every day, and try to treat my approach to life that way. There’s a reason I’m here, a reason I’m still alive despite it all. And while some days are harder than others, I’m committed to excavating that purpose and putting forth work and advocacy that will long outlast me.

How did you come to be the host of the Queering Desi podcast?

Queering Desi was an idea that had germinated in my head for a long time. I had kind of burned out as a long-time activist in the South Asian LGBTQ+ community, but I knew my work within our communities was just beginning. I was bouncing around ideas for various forms of storytelling- a photo project, a blog… and then, one day, my wife asked, “What about a podcast?” And immediately, it clicked. This medium was perfect for what I was hoping to do, and as an avid podcast listener, felt incredibly exciting to me. I started doing some research, talked to people I knew who had started their own shows, bought my own equipment and hit record.

Tell us a little bit about what Queering Desi does.

Queering Desi is a podcast centered around highlighting the stories of South Asian LGBTQ+ folks. There’s two main goals. One is, telling our stories in our own words. I’m a big believer in oral histories and the importance of passing of our histories from one generation to the next. I think it’s so important to capture a person’s story as they know it at that moment in time, especially in a time where there aren’t many stories or depictions of our communities.The second is, talking about our journeys as a whole. While coming out is and may always be an important facet of LGBTQ+ existence, it’s never one thing or one conversation in our communities- and more than that, it’s one small piece of who we are. Let’s talk about the writers and chefs and artists and poets and doctors and parents and just be proud of who we are as people, beyond labels. Right now, we’re in our second season, which will take us up to a total of 30 episodes. It’s been a wild ride- we have tens of thousands of listeners around the world, and it just speaks to the power of this medium and the importance of our work.We are also finding new ways to further the stories that have not yet been heard, with Instagram being our other leading platform right now- we regularly feature LGBTQ+ South Asians, extending beyond the podcast to take on the sharing of stories visually and in writing. We also released our first batch of Queering Desi merchandise, started a Patreon page so we can expand our team, and more events and mediums are forthcoming. It’s an exciting time for us and our growth, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us!

What are some of your personal goals?

Emotionally, I want to continue to grow towards patience, empathy and humility. This world, and the way we consume information in it, is reducing our edge in these areas, and I’m purposeful about keeping myself grounded and seeing the humans around me as they are. Physically, I ran a half-marathon a couple of years ago, and I still have hopes of doing a full one someday soon! I’m also dying to travel more, and there’s a lot of that coming in the latter half of 2019.

What are some of your professional goals?

Oh man, so many. I want to see Queering Desi take on a life of its own, as it already is. The goal here has never been to make money, but instead to uplift the stories of our communities and I want to do that on a bigger and bigger scale. I’m limited by my own networks and biases, and I want QD to take on a wider range of topics and interviewees, which we are aiming to do with Season 3 and beyond. Overall, I want it to be bigger, better, and much more well-known just because that visibility for South Asian LGBTQ+ folks still seems so minimal. And I think I could do bi-weekly episodes for the rest of my life and still not be done sharing stories that are unheard. I want to do this for a long, long time but I also know this is about more than Queering Desi- I want to empower others so that our legacies and stories multiply and strengthen.

And as for my full-time work, I’m always itching to write more. I’m thankful to be part of a place that has opportunities to do so, and I’m doing my best to push the envelope with my pitches and ideas.

How do you unwind?

I’ll admit, it’s really hard for me to unwind. Between working nights at my full-time job (which, in itself, is nearly manic in its pace), and trying to spend time with my wife and family, it’s hard to turn off my brain sometimes. I used to think that unwinding meant watching something on Netflix or mindlessly browsing Twitter, but I’m making an effort to decrease those. I guess my answer is, I unwind by limiting screen time, even when I’m alone. And even though slowing down enough to read isn’t always easy for me, I’m trying to do that more even if it is on my Kindle app (LOL).

What advice do you have for your teenage self?

Oh man. I would say, “You’re good. You’re fine. It seems like everyone around you is cooler, thinner, and more accomplished than you. I assure you, this isn’t true and it doesn’t matter anyhow. Do your thing and forgive yourself for unintentionally hurting people while you were hurting. Let righting those wrongs fuel the healing of the trauma you carry. Everything that happens to you that you could never speak up about is just one more thing that will give you nerves of steel someday. Hang in there, take care of yourself, and recognize where your safety lies. Everything else is gonna be good. Oh, and, write more: just for yourself, and not on Xanga.”

How do you stay connected with your culture?

It’s kind of ingrained in me now, and full credit goes to my parents for that. I know that superficial things like music and movies aren’t all it takes but… I listen to almost no non-Hindi music and watch (and re-watch) lots of Bollywood movies. My wife and I are also into some of the Indian reality shows like India’s Got Talent or Khatron Ke Khiladi (Fear Factor India). My recent frustration has been that I’m fluent in speaking and understanding Hindi, but I can’t read it- so I’m teaching myself now. Culture is so many things. My morals and values, and my constant questioning of them, both brings my closer to my culture and makes me confront it, nearly every single day.

What is your go-to coffee order?

Iced Mocha with Oat milk. I can’t have dairy and chocolate is my weakness! (I can also make do with any kind of Cold Brew!)

What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing Asian women today?

As multiply marginalized communities, we often work harder to prove ourselves, shatter the Bamboo ceiling, and yet preserve the cultural traditions we come from- and some of us may lose parts of our own identities in the process. When we don’t talk about sexuality, gender roles, mental health, ableism, casteism or anti-blackness within our communities, it perpetuates a culture that also thinks Asian women and queer and trans AAPIs are lesser than their male counterparts. There’s no easy way, but it’s time to break the silence and talk about the taboos that hold us in, even if it’s uncomfortable.

 


priya.jpg

Priya is an editor by day, and a podcaster by night. As a queer, non-binary person born in California, Priya has spent the last 7 years in NYC where they have found their voice as a community activist and the host of Queering Desi, a podcast featuring stories of LGBTQ+ people. They previously served on the board of SALGA-NYC, the tri-state area’s largest South Asian LGBTQ+ org, and currently serve on the board of SAJA, the South Asian Journalists Association. Their writing has appeared in The New York Times, HuffPost, Brown Girl Magazine, and The Aerogram.

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Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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