India

Rant on “IndoWestern” Fashion

I usually don’t like categorizing things as a rant. However, today’s post is going to be exactly that: a rant.

There is this horrible disease going around, mostly among Indians, but also sometimes among hippie-bohemian people of the white variety who like to appropriate things. It is called “IndoWestern” fashion.

I don’t know which idiot thought these two things could be combined to still look beautiful. I think Indian fashion on its own has an elegance that is rarely paralleled. Western fashion can be cryptic, but it also has its perks as it is usually more utilitarian. But why, WHY would you put these two things together??

Examples of how bad Indowestern fashion sucks: fusion outfits. First off, I feel like fusion has always been the bottom of the barrel in terms of Indian dance teams, though perhaps that’s not their fault. Bhangra, garba, and raas teams showcase dances and outfits that are specific to a region and are usually narrowly defined. Fusion, on the other hand, can be everything and anything–usually confined to Hindi pop (though I’d love to see teams challenge that norm).

The first mistake they usually make is to take 8 songs and turn them into one mix like it’s cute (hint: it’s not. Stick to like 2 songs per mix, okay, y’all?). Also, instead of trying to find folks who have the potential for leadership and organization, fusion teams usually just attract people who are already friends of people on the team, leading to a clusterfuck that loosely resembles a sorority (except sororities actually have a point sometimes). I will spare these folks the embarrassment of being sourced.

fusionoutfitno

Scarves tied around butts are always so attractive.

fusionoutfitno2

This one is called the Victoria’s Secret-wannabe-sportswear look.

fusionoutfitno3

Can’t be an Indian fusion team unless you’re wearing over-the-top, fluffy pink pants, a belly dancing belt, and a top that doesn’t cover your midriff.

(The exception to this rule is Gator Adaa from the years of 2011-2013. That team had everything: leadership, organization, and class. Shoutout to you women. Y’all were fierce.)

adaa height

Source: Gator Adaa: Fusion Dance Team Facebook Page

To be self-critical, I understand that on first glance, it might seem like I’m slut-shaming. Look, maybe I am, but here’s the thing, right? I’ve seen classy hoes, okay? Remember Rani Mukherjee in Saawariya (2007)?

rani saawariya

Source: India-forums.com

I’d love to see a fusion team showcase a look that is about having fun as a woman in whatever role she is performing, not the “WE HAVE TO LOOK BROWN AND EXOTIC BECAUSE WE ARE DANCERS” look. Other examples of truly heinous Indowestern things:

truly heinous

Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: a green that even your visually impaired grandmother would not wear, royal blue mummu with pink trim for when you want to look like a fish??, a thing trying to be both a dress and a top, WHY WOULD YOU PUT LIME GREEN AND CORAL TOGETHER IN THE SAME OUTFIT THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL SEPARATELY, what is this cut, what is this print.

no2

Source: utsavfashion.com, Clockwise from top left: Dafuq is this print, actually kinda cute but I could get from Forever21 for 6 bucks, assflap?, what is THIS print?, for the 7-year-old in you, mushroom-high-psychedelic print.

Right. So what did we learn today, y’all? Indowestern “fashion” is NOT FASHION. Brown women, I suppose you are the ultimate arbiter of what you put on your body. But I do feel like the amount of grace I find (at least in ready-to-wear shit) in the mixing of these styles is little and far between.

indian1

YES! Source: utsavfashion.com. 

indian2

YES! Source: utsavfashion.com

western 1

YES! Source: Target.com

western 2

YES! Source: pinterest search “pants”

noindowesternnoindowesternnoindowestern

Remember Me

IMG456I just finished reading On a Wing and a Prayer, by Arun Sarma. It’s a tragic story, but fascinating because it’s about Assamese people like me. I had never read a piece of fiction about Assamese people before I came across this book. Obviously, there is other literature about Assamese people, and the literature has existed for a long time, but for some reason it took 22 years for me to find. The work is translated from Assamese into English, which makes it even more fascinating. The English text still has the residue of Assamese speech. I can hear the quaint interjections and greetings being said in the language they came from. I can picture the green hills, the village life, and the river that I have seen myself when I read this book. I never thought I would read about that place in an English text. I didn’t know it could exist in English prose.

I have recently learned a lot about the region of the world where my parents are from. It turns out people from northeast India, or the Northeast, are treated in India much like minority populations are treated in the United States. Their level of education is often questioned. They are taunted about their accents, their slanted eyes, and their way of life. They are often denied access to public spaces, or their citizenship is questioned. In essence, they are treated like second-class citizens in their own country. (Sound familiar?)

I didn’t know this until just this past year. Suddenly, many of the encounters I had with other Indian Americans as a child make more sense now. I grew up in the United States, where Indians are often lumped together as a group. Americans are hardly sensitive to the level of discrimination and in-group/out-group dynamics that occur within minority populations. I assumed, before ever having any Indian friends, that I would be fully accepted as Indian if I were to ever to find any because that’s what I assumed I was.

It became very clear to me, upon meeting other Indians (at the age of 5, nonetheless), that I was not like them, at least they didn’t think so. Most Indians I came across didn’t know that Assam is a state in India, let alone being familiar with where it is. They often questioned the authenticity of my “Indianness”, commenting on how I “look more Hispanic”, my eyes are “so Asian”, my features “are not Indian at all”. They thought that because I didn’t speak Hindi (which I can now), or one of the languages they’d heard of, like Gujurati or Marathi, I was not Indian. The people who did know what and where Assam is tended to exotify me even more than the non-believers. They said the sorts of things you’d expect white men at a bar to say to me: “Oh, that’s so diverse!” or my personal favorite, “Wow, you’re so exotic.” To no surprise, I never felt I belonged to the very people who were supposed to claim me as their own.

I ought to explain, it is no mistake that I look more Southeast Asian than South Asian. The region of Assam is a mix of several cultures of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Assam is located in the Brahmaputra valley, on the border between India and China. A number of tribes populate the region, and several different languages are spoken. The culture of the area often more closely resembles those of Vietnam, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries than that of the rest of north India (Hazarika, 1994). Some of the languages spoken in the Northeast belong in the Mon-Khmer language family, an Austro-Asiatic language family, though it should be noted that Assamese is an Indo-Aryan language (the easternmost Indo-Aryan language, according to the 2001 Indian Census).

Growing up, I never once felt inferior for being Assamese. My mother taught me the significance of my culture since the day I was born. She made sure I learned to speak Assamese. She taught me about Assamese homes, how they worship, what they eat, and what they wear. She taught me their music, she told me their stories. I spend a lot of my time being angry with her. I always wondered why my parents moved our little branch (more like, twig) of the family over here to the United States, and why I had to watch everything over there from afar. I always wondered why my mother never knew what I wanted, why she never understood when I had a problem, and never yielded when I wanted my way.

I have never thanked her for what she gave me. She taught me where I am from and instilled a sense of pride in who I am. She has given me enough knowledge for me to be a vessel for my culture, to be able to transmit it to another generation if I choose to do so. She has filled me with a love for that place that claims me as its own. She gave me somewhere to belong on this lonely planet.

For those of you who know who I am, I have never admitted how important being Assamese is to me. I would go so far as to say I consider my Assamese identity more salient than my Indian one. People have always acted like it doesn’t matter. They have told me it is such a trifling difference, such a confusing distinction, can’t I just be happy being Indian? I always went along with the suggestion because I did not have the tools to explain why it matters, and even if I did, it would be too exhausting to explain. I will not let that be the case any more. In a perfect world, it would not matter. Being Indian would encompass being Assamese. But knowing what I know now, knowing that this small place that claims me already does not have a voice, and has even less of one if I never do anything about it, is not fair. It is more than unfair, it is unjust. At the University of Florida, where there are 50,000 students, there were 5 Assamese people when I was a freshman. That’s 1 for every 10,000 students. By now, two have graduated. That means there is 1 for every 16,667. After I graduate, there will be 2. That is 1 for every 25,000 students. That is staggering. We are exceptionally rare.

And fine, I will concede that resources would be difficult to provide. Frankly, in my experience as part of the Assamese diaspora in Florida, we can usually provide our tiny community enough support without any external aid. That does not excuse your ignorance of us. That does not excuse your exclusion of us. That does not excuse your persecution of us.

I only ask that you remember me. Remember where I am from. Remember what I have said here. You will search a long, long time before you meet another person like me.