Image source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAQ-pU7x0IU

To All The South Asian Icons From My Youth….

A shoutout to all the South Asian icons from Sabine's childhood

Although Asian representation, especially for South Asians, in Western media during the early 2000s was scarce and sometimes problematic, there were still characters who stood out to me and whom I considered icons of my childhood. 

Characters like you, Indie Mehta! 

How to Be Indie" How to Get on Carlos Martinelli's Capital 'L' List, and Live (TV Episode 2009) - IMDb
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1464993/

I used to watch you on How to Be Indie after school; it was like Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, but for young brown girls like you and me. Your wacky hijinks were always entertaining, funny, and informative, as the title of your show would suggest. And, though my parents weren’t as traditional or strict as yours, I did relate to the way you hoped to fit in with the other kids at school. I felt that Indie — I wanted to be normal too! But, as your story unfolded, I think we both realized that being normal shouldn’t be the goal. Being young is hard enough without expectations from others and trying to change in that image. I remember that one episode where your cousin made you feel as though you weren’t Indian enough. I sometimes wonder, even now, if I would be considered Indian enough. As children of immigrants, it can be difficult to navigate the culture you grew up with in comparison to the culture of your ancestors. But, if you taught me anything, Indie, it’s that just because you don’t fit into one person’s image of what it means to be Indian, it doesn’t mean that you’re completely divorced from your cultural heritage. You taught me important things like “How to Fix a Friendship Fail” and “How to be Thankful,” but, most importantly, you taught me that it’s okay to stumble as you find your way as long as you learn, stay true to yourself, and appreciate those you love.

Mohini Banjaree of Lemonade Mouth, I think you would know what that’s like, too. 

And It Went Like... // A Lemonade Mouth Fanfic - Characters - Wattpad

I hope you’re reading this while recording new music with the band. The Lemonade Mouth soundtrack, to this day, has some of my favourite songs of all time. The story of 5 teens coming together to be heard, stand tall, and be loud? So much better than The Breakfast Club. No joke. Mo, you had to navigate the expectations of your Indian parents with those of the popular kids at school. You didn’t feel you could be the perfect Indian daughter or the perfect American girlfriend, and that scared you. Well, I felt that, too, a feeling of being in between, but not anything real at the same time. But, you spoke your truth to your friends and to your family. What I love about you and your story is that you realize that it’s not about hiding who you are to conform to the image others have for you, but learning to attend to your own dreams as well. 

If there’s anyone who knows what it’s like to follow your dreams against the expectations of your family, it’s you, Jess Bhamra. 

You even try guilting them into it. | Bend it like beckham, Omar epps, Best supporting actor

Bend It Like Beckham is still one of my favourite movies. Whenever I watch your story unfold, I can’t help but feel a sense of belonging. You grew up in England as the child of Indian immigrants, idolizing a famous white person. I grew up in Canada as the child of Indian immigrants, and I did idolize my fair share of famous (and sometimes fictional) white people. But, Jess, you absolute badass, you and the others mentioned in this letter began to replace them. Not only did you look like me, but our shared cultural traditions and customs were shown as beautiful instead of exotic. I knew that if we were to meet, I wouldn’t have to change myself in any way. You experienced that feeling of not living up to the expectations of your traditional Indian parents. You stood up to your parents and told them what you wanted, but not in a way that completely rejected your Indian heritage. Wherever you are now, I want you to know that I loved watching you chase your dreams. By now, I picture you as a super famous soccer star in America. I hope you and Jules eventually got together, too. You were my original OTP. 

Speaking of love: I can’t forget you, Mindy Lahiri, you hopeless romantic! 

Mindy lahiri GIF on GIFER - by Nalmewield

While The Mindy Project is not one targeted towards young viewers, my cousins and I would spend a good chunk of our family get-togethers in their basement, watching you navigate your sexy New York life. I guess it was a way for us to bond over our shared experiences without really having to talk to each other. You were the kind of flawed protagonist who got on my nerves, but I still rooted for you, which made you feel all the more real. That episode where you didn’t feel Indian enough spoke to me. That seems to be a recurring theme throughout this letter, with all of you showing me, in your different ways, that there isn’t one way to be Indian. 

Finally, Kamala Khan, or do you prefer Ms. Marvel? Like you, I am a fangirl. Unlike you, I do not have any superpowers, nor am I a superhero. But, seeing you in the pages of a comic book made me believe that I could be a hero. My dad grew up reading Marvel comic books, so my brother and I grew up watching the screen adaptations. While I admit to enjoying the older Marvel movies where white men are the heroes saving the world, largely because of the nostalgia factor, seeing you is when I truly felt a sense of joy. It’s where my love of the superhero genre went from “this is pretty cool” to “WOW! This is amazing. Ms. Marvel, can you be my best friend?”

Kamala Khan Stretching 13 Gif by 0bscurion on DeviantArt | Ms marvel, Ms marvel kamala khan, Ms marvel kamala

To all the South Asian icons from my youth, I guess I should say thank you. I know you’re not real. When I was younger, you all felt real, though. You certainly weren’t perfect, but you were departures from the side characters and stereotypes that non-white characters were often assigned. You were people who went through similar struggles as me, whose families looked like mine, and whose existence made me feel less alone. You remind me of that golden glow of childhood, where everything is warm and comforting, so the future doesn’t seem as scary. So, I guess even now, you seem less like fictional characters and more like old friends.

Let’s stay in touch, okay? 

Your friend,

Sabine

Staff Writer

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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