Why I Joined MiC: Vaishali Nambiar

Wednesday, January 8, 2020 - 10:29pm

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Courtesy of Vaishali Nambiar

As a little girl, nothing brought me more joy and excitement than dancing. My parents recognized this and were quick to enroll me in dance classes, in an attempt to encourage my curiosity for the performing arts. My parents emigrated from India in the 90s, and while I believe my mom would have loved to see me begin my dance career with a form of Indian dance, she put me in ballet class instead, because that’s what almost every other five year old in our predominantly white town was doing.

To cut to the chase here, nothing made me more aware of my race than standing in that dance studio. After all, it did not take much effort to notice. In a dance room with sparkling glass mirrors spanning from one end of the wall to the other, I consistently saw my brown skin stand out in a sea of white, regardless of where I was in the room. My frizzy hair struggled to seamlessly arrange into a crisp ballet bun. As I got older, my leotard began to outline a curvier body structure that did not fit the mold of the ballet greats before me. Everything about me that was different began to feel wrong. Honestly, over time, I spent more time using those mirrors to see how I measured up to a white-standard of beauty I would never meet, rather than using them to improve my dance technique and skill. I felt like nobody really knew me past being the token Indian girl, and for a while that’s all I really saw myself as too.

This all changed when my family and I moved to a much more diverse, neighboring town when I reached high school. I found many more Indian Americans like myself, and took comfort in a new group of friends I was able to share similar cultural experiences with. However, I also was labeled by these same friends as white-washed or the “most white” member of the group. I was confused, how could personality traits directly correspond to a race? I spent a lot of high school wondering what was the correct way to be Indian-American. How could I exemplify the perfect blend of both my cultures, without being harshly labeled or stereotyped at one end or the other? 

Both my positive and negative experiences navigating my own cultural identity have led me to Michigan in Color, so I can contribute my ideas to this complex discussion. I am ready to share my experiences as a POC on this campus, and I am excited to learn from the stories and experiences of others. I am looking forward to joining this community of people seeking to push societal boundaries in hopes of a more understanding, respectful and inclusive campus.