My coffee name is…


For those of us who absolutely hate hearing mangled versions of our names, the simple act of ordering coffee at a certain ubiquitous chain can be unnecessarily stressful.

It turns out that we are not alone. The Village Voice’s Shefali Kulkarni recently had this revelation:

…I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had tired of being asked how to spell a name that people find difficult to handle, at least in the super-busy moment of a Starbucks line.

So, like other people, I came up with a “coffee name.” Something simple that a coffee jockey can scribble on a cup without thinking. And, after taking a survey of the local scene, it’s clear that many others have come up with a similar solution.

At the Starbucks on Eighth Avenue, a grande iced caramel macchiato for “Sean” was really meant for “Chan,” short for Chandani.

“I never, ever give out my name,” Chan says. “And they still don’t get it right, but, hey, it’s what everyone calls me.”

Is anyone surprised that both the author of the article and the first person quoted both have desi names? And do any readers use a nom de cafe while in coffee shops or restaurants? I never do, primarily because I am afraid that I will forget my alias and never get my $4 drink. Continue reading

Desi Say What?!

From the folks at Cherry Sky Films, here is a video for you. There’s a cameo at the end by a Desi (Neil Sehgal) (h/t to Salil).

Cringe-worthy, no doubt, this short video reflects an inter-racial sub group struggle in self-identity versus external community identity monikers. In other words, the use of the word “nigger”. I thought the video was smart in that their use of the word “ninja” as replacement word and Asians as the replacement community really shifted the perception of the use of the “N word.” Plus, the video was hella funny.

What I loved most is when a brown kid saunters up on the basketball court to a group of Asian dudes and says, “What’s up my Ninjas!” The guys look like they are confused as to whether to accept him or not. But after a quick look to each other, they give him the bro-man hug and you hear “It counts.” As a South Asian, he may not be accepted immediately, but he can be accepted into the “in” group since South Asia is kind of Asian, if you stopped to think about it. Marginalized, a little bit, he can be accepted in the end. It was a simple interaction, but reflective so much of society’s deeper of inter-racial issues I’ve seen in the Desi meets East Asian communities.

As an activist in the Asian American and Pacific Islander movement, this attitude is something I see often, though a lot less brash and satirical as seen in the video. The South Asian community is often accepted into these AAPI space as an after thought, or even worse, as a token. Continue reading

Weird Kitchen Science

IMG_2187.JPGSome old friends of mine were recently in town and came over to make dinner. N, whose family is from Andhra, does lots of cooking stuff differently from me, and it was fascinating to hear her talk about it. We (okay, she; the other two of us mostly chopped and helpfully tasted) made three dishes. One: a South Indian-style daal with veggies in it. (I’ve long plopped frozen spinach in my paruppu, but tomatoes for some reason never occurred to me.) Two: chana with mushrooms from a recipe that we found on the Interwebs… And three: the piece de meat resistance, lamb curry.

We ate and drank and made merry and curry. It was fun, and I learned a lot from watching N. She has a deft hand with spices, and the curry aged well, too. So well, in fact, that I was moved to try some experiments. Continue reading

America is increasingly going Deep

As we all move forward in this brave new era of increasingly visible South Asian influence in America (an era henceforth referred to as Post-Sepia, or Post-Sepiaism), I would like to point out the kudzu-like ubiquity of Deep Brand foods. In the last 2-3 years in particular this stuff has just exploded. In the early 80s South Asian Americans were relegated to going to the lone Indian store in town when they wanted to get their samosa or “Hot Mix” on. Now this stuff is everywhere. I dare any of you to find a reasonably sized grocery store that doesn’t have multiple lines of Deep branded food. Hot Pockets, shhmott pockets. Why not Babu pockets? Yes, I know I am going to hell for pointing people to processed packaged food that I myself will hardly ever touch. Still, there is something comforting knowing that in the future “Abhi junior’ will have the option of having a Babu pocket as an after school, pre-dinner snack. Deep Brand in particular (among all other brands of packaged Indian food) bares mention as it seems to be aggressively cornering its market in the U.S. It is also a rather interesting success story:

Deep Foods, Inc. is a family-owned and operated manufacturer of authentic all natural Indian cuisine since 1977

In the early ’70s Mrs. Bhagwati Amin’s passion for good authentic cuisine gave birth to a hobby. Mrs. Amin had a passion for sharing the cuisine and culture from her homeland. She served up delicious food to friends and neighbors. Soon, small Indian storeowners sought her abilities. As she worked in a clothing mill on weekdays, she would work nights and weekends to satisfy her desire to make and serve high quality foods for the community. Many advised her to open a restaurant. She knew that the time required to run a restaurant would detract her from the family’s need. For this reason, she opted not to start a restaurant.

In a short time her products became popular. Mrs. Amin’s husband, working as an accountant in AT&T at the time, was always eagerly supporting her endeavors. In 1977, he helped Mrs. Amin Incorporate her hobby into a fledgling business.

As the business grew, she never lost sight of producing authentic, quality products. No short cuts were taken that would compromise the quality of the products. Her concern and personal interest for the well being of all her employees earned a great deal of respect from them…

From the humble beginnings of a home kitchen, to the state-of-the-art production facilities and multiple distribution centers, Mrs. Amin has adhered to the original principles of quality and authenticity following a traditional family code of ethics. Today, Deep Foods Group has approximately 1800 employees through its seven locations and over 500,000 square feet of production and distribution space. The company follows her philosophy and believes that there can be no compromise between people, quality, and innovation. Staying within the roots of why Mrs. Amin formed the company, she and her husband Arvind have formed a Non Profit Foundation in India. Out of the success of Deep Foods has grown a foundation that helps the children of India to obtain an education where it would not be possible without their help. Deep Foods, Inc. produces the finest quality foods seeking to provide authentic taste experiences for customers while providing a sound environment and growth opportunities for its employees. [Link]

Maybe the big boys are starting to notice. I learned this past week (perhaps way after most of you) that Costco sells a 30 pack of uncooked whole wheat roti. Just fire up the pan and serve up fresh roti. Can’t be as good as my mom’s but with my long working hours I won’t complain too hard. Have any of you tried it? Is it any good? Pillsbury has been serving up this stuff for a while now.

And now for the fun part. It is time once again to share your Indian packaged food hacks. Take one part packaged food and one part home cooking and tell me about a dish I should be occasionally serving.

Sepia Surgeon General’s Warning: Abhi strongly advises against buying too much packaged food. Never let more than 15% of your weekly grocery bill be attributed to food that comes in a package. Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other ailments are rising too quickly in our community.

Continue reading

A Part, Yet Apart; For All of Our Paattis.

Six years ago, I helped four others create this space for us; I am immensely grateful that I was gifted with such an opportunity. It has, without a doubt, changed my life.

When Abhi dreamed up the concept of a group blog for the American children of immigrants from South Asia, there was nothing else quite like Sepia Mutiny, anywhere. We didn’t have a virtual adda to discuss politics, prose or polemic. We were born in this amazing country because of the epic struggles and sacrifices of our courageous parents; yet no matter what we ate, wore, read or said, we were often considered “apart”, not “a part” of our own culture and country.

You younger types have it so much easier than the first wave of post-1965-era babies did. :) We didn’t have the internet (not until college, and even then, it was IRC and Pine!) and many of us went to schools which didn’t have massive “Indian Associations” or inclusive “South Asian Student” orgs. A non-trivial number of us grew up in homogenous areas, around people who neither knew nor understood anything about what we ate or how we worshipped (and why we weren’t allowed to go to Prom). For every kid who graduated from a diverse place like Mission San Jose, in Fremont, I feel like I’ve met ten who were the only brown kid at their school. That was often a lonely, challenging experience.

Was it the end of the world? No. We survived. Many of us thrived. But many of us also sport faint scars from the digs, disses, and yes, even the depression which was summoned by difference.

Do people who are hyper-recent immigrants to America also feel lonely and face challenges? Yes. But with all due respect, none of this was created for you because we are not you; we could never fully understand or do justice to what it is like to be you. You are welcome here and you are respected here, but please, keep our intentions in mind. Lower your expectations accordingly. :)

My favorite Sepia Mutiny posts, the moments which I cherish, the conversations that I adore– those occur rarely, and always when we examine our identity, because we are unique, damn it, and we deserve to evaluate and make sense of that. My Mother is fond of saying that her children are the lost ones, and thankfully, we will be the only ones. That by the time we have kids of our own? Those future grandchildren of hers? They will be fine. Grounded. Accepted. Taken for granted. 100% American in a way that was denied to us. Then she grows quiet, doleful.

“I am sorry that my choices meant that you would hurt.” Continue reading

But Is It Racist?

There is a mutiny afoot in the Sepia Mutiny bunker. About half of us think that Joel Stein’s piece published in Time on Edison NJ was ill-humored garbage. The other half thinks it’s RACIST ill-humored garbage. I’m of the camp that thinks it’s racist. In the past few days the Desi blogosphere, twitterverse and facebookdom have been in uproar over this piece but what I find the most striking is the debate – “Is it or isn’t it racist?” What is it about the “R” word that makes us recoil and run to words like “stereotype” “bigot” or “xenophobic”? Why are we scared to call things racist?

I thought the article “My Own Private India” was racist – but then again, I come at things from a Critical Race Theory perspective where racialization is an inherent part of our history and narrative. It permeates through every aspect of living in the U.S., whether in how public policies and laws are implemented, healthcare is accessed or in a simple Time satire article. I think a lot of things are racist, more so than the average brown person, whether it be internalized, institutional or blatant. I think implicit biases are real, and people can be racist without intentionally doing so.

But instead of dissecting the Stein piece again, I wanted to highlight another racially controversial piece in the news. Today is the official premier of the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Last Airbender. The movie is based on the Nickelodeon anime-styled cartoon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which is a cartoon heavily influenced by East Asian philosophies, there’s martial arts in it, and the cartoons are brownish Asian looking kids. But the controversy has been around the casting process of the movie. White kids were cast as the main three roles, and the evil people? Why they were cast as the Desis: Dev Patel (as Prince Zuko), Summer Bishil (Princess Azula), Aasif Mandvi (Commander Zhao) and Persian actor Shaun Toub (Uncle Iroh). Question is, is it racist?

Floating World had a fantastic piece on their blog about the history of face painting in the industry, and the use of white people in the entertainment industry to play people of color.

…”The Last Airbender” offends even more [than "Prince of Persia"] with its casting of newcomer/lesser known White actors over equivalent Asian actors to portray its starring Asian characters. The marketing reasons attached to famous actors does not apply here; instead, the marketing assumption is that White actors are more “capable” than Asian actors for pulling in viewers, with a possible secondary assumption in their “superiority” in acting abilities. This overarching assumption is the basis for an institutionalized racism innate to Hollywood’s long, long history of ethnic narratives. [floatingworld]

Continue reading

Today is Michael Jackson’s Barsy*

Sudarsan Pattnaik's Michael.jpg

As a child, when my father “celebrated” my grandparents’ death anniversaries, I felt even weirder and more out of place than I usually did. None of my friends at school did it; it seemed odd to observe such a sad occasion. As I matured in to a somber teenager, I grew to embrace what I once thought morbid, especially when I realized that it brought comfort to survivors. (That’s the biggest reason why I am prone to insulting half of my family** by joking about how Marthomites have no respect for the dead; I’m only half-kidding.)

As an adult, I didn’t just celebrate a single death anniversary; I couldn’t help but relive a death “week“. It’s strange how measuring time by the absence of someone in your life can warp your perceptions. In the beginning, I couldn’t believe it had been one, two, three years since I lost my father. Now it feels like it was a lifetime ago.

I didn’t realize what was significant about today until I fired up my browser and my Facebook feed declared that 31 of my friends had changed their profile picture. Kindly forgive me; I hadn’t had my kaapi yet so I wasn’t really paying attention. “I wonder if there’s a new fb game,” I mused. Then I noticed that two-thirds of those profile pics were of the same brown person, sporting an afro, and it wasn’t Sai Baba. Why were so many of my friends honoring “old” Michael Jackson? The next tab which loaded contained news and immediately provided me with an explanation for updated Facebook pages.

It was the first anniversary of Michael Jackson‘s death. Continue reading

Tipping Point? Haley’s journey nearly complete.

Nikki Haley’s victory Tuesday in the Republican primary battle for the South Carolina Governor’s mansion is symbolic of the huge strides that South Asian Americans have made in the past six years. I say this completely agnostic as to what kind of person or leader she will be or which policies she supports. You don’t have to support her politics one bit to pause and appreciate the demographic and historical significance of Tuesday’s victory. 2010 is a year in which a “raghead” is a few months away from being elected the chief executive of South Carolina. Something has fundamentally shifted. In 2004 when I wrote about Nikki on SM I did so in a post which cited Dalip Singh Saund in the title. He was the lone anomaly in Indian-American history.

So like, what’s up with South Carolina? Not widely recognized (at least by this blogger) as being a bastion of minority politics, all of a sudden South Carolina is the place to be if you are South Asian and have your eyes on the prize. Earlier this year, you may recall that Nikki Randhawa-Haley, 32, won the Republican Primary in South Carolina?s House District 87 and was to run unopposed in the November election. [SM]

Today Saund is no longer an anomaly but a harbinger:

The Republican Party stepped away from its long and uncomfortable history of racial and ethnic politics in South Carolina on Tuesday, nominating an Indian American woman for governor and an African American man for the House…

Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, overwhelmingly captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination over Rep. J. Gresham Barrett — despite a whisper campaign insinuating that she is not really a Christian, as she says she is. And in the 1st Congressional District, Tim Scott, a black state lawmaker from Charleston, convincingly defeated Charleston County Council member Paul Thurmond, a son of the late senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Barrett and Thurmond are white. [WaPo]

A commentator in the Baltimore Sun was exultant this afternoon. He even invoked spelling bees, ivy league schools, and Kal Penn:

… the next decade is set to be the Indian-American decade. Second generation Indian-Americans are building on their parents’ success and achieving in diverse fields. From Ms. Haley’s political success (she is the likely Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina) to prime-time TV, its hard to miss the rise of Indian-Americans.

As late as the 1990s, there was only one notable Indian-American character on TV, a cartoon character, Apu on “The Simpsons.” From the lovable, Slurpee-peddling Apu, we now have an Indian-American on a major TV show each night of the week. From Mindy Kaling on “The Office” to Naveen Andrews on “Lost” to Aziz Ansari on “Parks and Recreation” to Kunal Nayyar on “Big Bang Theory,” Indian-Americans are suddenly everywhere.Indian-Americans don’t just win elections; they win national spelling bees, including 9 of the last 25. Indian-Americans have also taken home three Nobel Prizes. At any Ivy League school, more than 5 of the population is Indian-American, quadruple the share of the national population. [BaltSun]
Continue reading

Desis Run to The Hill

Over the weekend, the AP did a piece on the record number of Indian-Americans running for office in November, a topic I covered well before the primary season here.

Meet Reshma, Surya, Manan, Raj, Ami, Ravi, Nimrata and Kamala — a new wave of Indian-American politicians. At least eight children of Indian immigrants are running for Congress or statewide office, the most ever. [yahoo]


  • Reshma Saujani – New York, 14th Congressional District: She’s still up for her primary.
  • Surya Yalamanchili – Ohio, 2nd Congressional District: He won his Democratic primary.
  • Manan Trivedi – Pennsylvania, 6th Congressional District: He won his Democratic primary.
  • Raj Goyle – Kansas, 4th Congressional District
  • Ami Bera – California, 3rd Congressional District
  • Ravi Sangisetty – Louisiana, 3rd Congressional District
  • Nimrata “Nikki” Haley – South Carolina Governor: She (almost) won her Republican primary. Runoff on June 22nd.
  • Kamala Harris – CA Attorney General: She won the Democratic primary.

The article debates that the perceived assimilation of candidates into white American culture in an effort to get elected.

Yet when Haley’s motives are questioned and some suggest Indians must become less “foreign” to get elected, many of these new candidates are quick to ask: Who are we to judge the mashup of American ambition with an ancient culture?

> Manan Trivedi, a doctor and Iraq war veteran who recently won a Democratic primary for Congress in eastern Pennsylvania, said he did not view his ethnicity as a handicap: “The American electorate is smarter than that.”[[yahoo](] He goes on to ask the question we at Sepia Mutiny ask time and time again…. > Christianity is a more critical issue for white Republicans than other groups — could a Hindu who worships multiple gods, or a turbaned Sikh who doesn’t cut his hair, survive a statewide Republican primary in the Bible Belt?[ [yahoo](] Continue reading

Elmo-wielding Terrorist Toddler Stars in Security Theater

I live in Washington, D.C.

10967282_3799e75522_m.jpg I have lived here since I moved to this great city from my native California in 1999, to attend graduate school. Back then, I went home at least twice a year; between’s $125 roundtrip fares and living three miles from Reagan National Airport, flying to NorCal was as easy as taking the “Metroliner” to New York City. I loved traveling. I loved the excitement, the anticipation, the permission I gave myself to buy mind-rotting magazines and over-priced candy from Hudson News, right before sauntering up to my gate.

Then, everything changed.

Traveling was no longer glamorous and thrilling, it was fraught and terrifying. Was it going to happen again? How could we stop it? How do you protect a massive, liberty-loving nation from crazed zealots who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for some twisted ideal?

Security. Lots and lots of security.

Lining up to be screened for hidden box-cutters or submitting to more thorough searches through our baggage made sense. We were trying to protect this country. We kept repeating, “Never again.” But somewhere between justifiable caution and utterly comprehensible fear, common sense was lost. What replaced it was an obtuse over-reliance on the obvious– but not your obvious or mine, no. It was the “obviousness” of the ignorant which suddenly became a battering ram of blunt discrimination used to profile, persecute and pervert. Continue reading