Why I Joined MiC: Danyel Tharakan
I am mixed-race; my mom is white and Jewish and my dad is south Indian. I have been confused for Mexican, Dominican, Salvadoran, Ethiopian, Arab, and many other ethnicities by white people and other people of color, alike. Growing up in Washington, D.C., I existed as a cultural chameleon. There isn’t a strong Indian or Jewish community in the city as most live far out in the suburbs. The neighborhood where I grew up and my elementary school was majority Latinx, my high school was very mixed but majority Black. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I never had to prove my identity to anyone; I was mostly around other people of color who, despite knowing I wasn’t the same race as their own, accepted me as another Brown kid.
This entire dynamic changed when I came to Michigan. Ann Arbor is by far the whitest environment in which I have ever existed. When you exist as a person of color in predominantly white surroundings, white is the norm; you become defined first and foremost by your ethnicity. Because you are ‘other’, the majority seeks to categorize you. Being mixed clouds this categorization. It is obvious that I am not white, but I don’t fit neatly into what is stereotypically expected of an Indian-American. I don’t speak Malayalam, my father’s ancestral language, or Hindi, one of the national languages of India; I do, however speak fluent Spanish. I’ve only seen two Bollywood movies in my entire life. Since coming to Michigan, not fitting into the majority’s conventional definition of Indian has forced me into a persistent identity crisis. It has been a constant challenge to remind myself that my identity as a mixed-race, Indian-Jewish American is valid, even (and especially) if that identity confronts our society’s conventional ideas of race and ethnicity. A white person would never be forced to evaluate their entire identity for not fitting a narrow description, and neither should I.
Michigan in Color is exactly the space that I needed. It’s incredibly difficult, as a person of color, to find a place where you can exist as an individual free from being judged or evaluated due to race. Having a space that exists for all people of color is a little piece of D.C. for me here in Ann Arbor. To have a place insulated from the racism of white people, where I can exist as a complete individual, full of contradictions and beyond the narrow bounds society places on people of color, is why I joined Michigan in Color.
I am incredibly excited to be a Senior Editor for MiC this year, and grateful for the opportunities: to help promote voices of color on this very white campus, to find my own voice, to improve my writing, to make new friends, and a host of other goals. I can’t wait to see what this year has to offer.