Uncovering Untold Voices From The South Asian Diaspora

Through 32 distinct and beautiful narratives, Brown Girl Magazine and Mango and Marigold Press’ untold: defining moments of the uprooted takes you on a journey through the vast and unique stories of South Asian womxn.  

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With the many experiences, emotions, and incredible moments of South Asian womxn that have yet to be told, editors of untold Gabrielle Deonath and Kamini Ramdeen took on the job in 2018 of getting 32 distinct stories in the hands of as many people as would listen. After three years of working with writers, artists, and publishers, Deonath and Ramdeen’s creation was published, and 32 real experiences were out there for the world to see. Deonath says, “Here’s finally a way to tell real stories of South Asian womxn in the diaspora, and it’s different because this particular genre of creative nonfiction allows for the reader to feel as if they’re alongside the author as they’re reading their story… as well as experience this idea of moments. The common thread throughout all of the stories is that they focus on one particular moment, or a series of related moments, that are incredibly impactful in the writer’s life.”

The unique and artistic idea of focusing on influential moments in the writer’s lives allows the readers to delve deeper into the specific events and feelings that contribute to defining who someone is as a South Asian person. Deonath explains how the process started saying, “We put in a call for pitches and left the terms very loose, we didn’t even know what the sub-sections were going to be yet and we didn’t want to define those right away… we just mentioned creative nonfiction, the idea of moments, and some topics that we would like to cover. A month later when it closed we were surprised that we had over 150 submissions, from all parts of the diaspora.” Deonath and Ramdeen were then faced with the challenge of selecting which pieces were going to be included in the finished anthology, as well as push the writers (some first time) to their greatest ability. Ramdeen speaks on working with the writers saying, “There’s a bit of a learning curve that we all went through in making those edits heartfelt and authentic. Gabrielle and I’s mission throughout this entire process was to do that and still focus on the fact that this is your story, so what’s the best way we can tell it?”

The writers’ vulnerability and passion shines through in each individual story, as you feel as if someone is sitting you down, braiding your hair, and telling only you these intimate stories about their lives. Deonath expresses her pride in the courage shown by the writers: “It must have been really hard for them, because you’re writing in a style that you might not be particularly familiar with and you’re writing about very personal moments in your life that you know is going to be published, and I’m sure that has to affect the process in some way. I feel like as womxn in the South Asian community, we sometimes feel like it’s disrespectful to speak authentically about our family and the conflicts that we may have with them, or to really delve into the issues within our community that we all experience, and that we just can’t go there and we can’t talk about it. So their bravery proves the whole purpose of this book, which is to push those boundaries.” Without a doubt, the results are astounding as each short story is able to pack in important themes and defining moments of identity, in a delivery that is both artistic and simple to understand. Ramdeen explains how the variety of subjects written about were both surprising and something she was immediately able to learn from, saying, “When we think of the South Asian diaspora there’s certain topics that you might naturally consider to be taboo or things that don’t get talked about enough that we should talk about more. In reading the pitches and all the topics that were covered, this whole process was just world expanding, and we got to hear all these experiences from voices that come from all over the world.

Ramdeen also commends the writer’s hard work and the end result saying, “In the end, the writers who stuck through that process are now the writers who are part of this amazing book. They put their heart and souls into these pieces and into transforming them over and over again, sometimes revisiting very triggering moments of their lives, and still putting it into this anthology and in the format that we prescribe. So it’s really kudos to them in terms of the storytelling process and sticking with it to the end.”

Ramdeen and Deonath also made the unique decision of not italicizing or consistently explaining words in different languages. Ramdeen explains, “In a book where we’re representing South Asian womxn from around the diaspora where there are so many different dialects and so many different types of languages… we didn’t want to follow that prescription of  ‘othering’ ourselves. Why ‘other’ ourselves in a space that is meant for us? So we challenged the readers a bit, if you’re not familiar with a word then look it up! You’re getting dropped into a moment that is inherently a big part of this person’s life, which is part of a double identity.” As many BIPOC communities and individuals have experienced, “othering” is the act of diminishing one’s cultural or racial identity and experience, which allows it to be considered just an “other” compared to more prominently understood and valued cultures or races. By not explaining or italicizing any non-English words, the authentic light of the writer’s experience is not dimmed, and the reader can learn more about a culture or language they may not be familiar with. Ramdeen explains further saying, “After reading all these stories, no matter how different the topics were, we could see a common thread that was apparent in all of them which was the feeling of being ‘othered.’ That can mean feeling ‘othered’ in your own family or feeling ‘othered’ by your culture which is juxtaposed to the dominant culture of the country that you’re living in. I think that thread became more and more apparent in these experiences, and is really what carried these 32 stories through.”

With untold now out there for good, Deonath and Ramdeen can’t wait to see the impact it creates. Deonath says, “Now that the book is out there, people are finally talking about these stories, recognizing that we need to tell more of these stories, and even wanting to share their own story now, which is amazing.” Ramdeen expresses the potential she believes the book has to reach so many different people: “I hope that the book does get into the hands of people intergenerationally, because I think when you’re exposed to the idea that people are talking about certain topics, it makes you feel more okay to share your experience and that you’re in that safe space. So I hope that untold is possibly the beginning of people’s safe spaces or the thing that starts the conversation that leads to a space being opened up.”

The book’s coverage of “taboo” topics allows readers to reflect on why they feel that way and how it relates to the culture they were brought up in, right alongside the author as they share their own perspective. Many of the untold authors as well as many South Asian womxn in the world have had challenging experiences regarding their identity and relationships. Deonath explains how she feels pushing conversations specifically through the book can help: “How we get to a mutual place of healing is through simply talking about it and reminding yourself that whatever you’re going through is okay and okay to talk about. We want people to have more open-minded and open-hearted conversations.”

Through these intimate and beautiful moments, untold strives to give everyone in the South Asian diaspora a voice. Whether it’s a start to a conversation, learn from a perspective you’ve never known, or relating to an experience, the anthology works to bring people together and give a microphone to the voices and stories that have been silenced and suppressed for years.

Ramdeen says, “There’s a lot of need to find solidarity within who you are and your identity within the context of race in many communities, specifically in America right now. We are still ‘othered’ because of our skin tone — an unchangeable fact of life. So I do think that there is a need for community and I hope that untold can provide some context to the vast depth of this community that so many beautiful stories and people are a part of.”

In addition to the amazing stories in untold, the stunning art on the cover, inside the book, and the author’s portraits have been another beautiful expression of South Asian womxn’s individuality. Cover artist Aishwarya Sukesh speaks on her inspiration and final decisions saying, “I knew we had to make the cover inclusive, especially since the stories in the book are so nuanced. So instead of worrying about body features and other identifying (and potentially alienating) things, we prioritized conveying strength, vulnerability, and authenticity. You’ll notice the figure doesn’t have any clothing or facial features — that’s intentional.” The cover is captivating and beautiful, depicting a feminine figure with brown skin and henna covering their shoulder, dark brown wavy hair in an updo adorned with a marigold and a clip, and a silver hoop earring, as they face away from the viewer.

The emotion and intention inherent in Sukesh’ incredible piece can’t help but ask the question of how art fits into the world of activism. Sukesh says, “Art and activism can be synonymous because they both represent the values you protect, project, and are willing to fight for. When there isn’t a space made available to you, art allows you to create it yourself.” Simran Sarin, whose gorgeous illustrations are featured inside the book, agrees: “Every artist has a different message and perspective to bring to the table, and the art that they produce can be a huge stepping stone to engaging in discourse that is often overlooked.” Manasi Arya has been illustrating portraits of the untold authors for Instagram. She’s an artist, activist, and creative influencer with almost 15k on Instagram and a recent website launch selling her representation-focused artwork and apparel. She expresses her excitement with the project saying, “What I really try to concentrate on is to bring a voice to the many womxn that may not have the voice or the platform to talk about things that may still be considered taboo… so with untold it was a really great opportunity to be able to showcase these womxn and honor these people for taking the time to share their story with us and having that voice for the many of us who aren’t able to.” In intersection with journalism, business, science, and so much more, art is being used as a tool for activism now more than ever. Sukesh puts it simply saying, “Art tells a story or starts a conversation in a way that words sometimes can’t.”

Sukesh, Sarin, and Arya all adore the book and have been so excited to be a part of it. Sukesh says, “What’s really beautiful about the book is that it includes voices that don’t necessarily have literary agents, a million followers on Instagram, or large networks to credit their successes to. The entire team is very aware of how privilege plays a part in who gets to hold a microphone.” Sarin says, untold is the first step towards destigmatizing the experiences of South Asians. I hope that readers are inspired by this content to share their experiences with one another, resulting in a massive increase of discourse surrounding topics that we as a community tend to shy away from.” As artists are no stranger to working to start conversations and address taboo subjects in a beautiful way, the untold writer’s and illustrator’s collaboration is especially astonishing in this book where the passion surrounding the work is so evident. Sukesh expresses the significance of untold’s concept: “Highlighting untold stories is arguably the first step in reclaiming our voices, voices that society has historically deemed ‘not that important.” All three artists are incredibly happy about the way everything has turned out and can’t wait to see the influence the book has on its readers. Arya says, “I think untold is making a really strong impact in the South Asian community and really opening up doors for others to learn more. I think it is a great book for just reading stories, and is both light and heavy at the same time… but also something that truly represents us, and I think that is honestly the coolest part of it all. I’m super thankful to be able to be part of this project, even just as an illustrator, because it’s a way of honoring these womxn and such an exciting thing for me to be able to do.” Sukesh expresses her love for the book saying, “This anthology took action to share the lived experiences of people who come from all walks of life. It’s inclusive and unfiltered and that’s why it’s important. My hope is that the stories and artwork will support and inspire people.”

As more writers and artists emerge, more untold stories are finally being heard. Deonath explains the importance of people continuing to push their stories saying, “It can’t stop here. More people need to continue to speak their truth and be creative and really just trust their artistic selves, and feel confident and brave enough to put it out there. If we want to see change, then there needs to be more of this. And even if you’re not doing it in some sort of artistic way then at least just have those conversations.” Although it may seem daunting, the many available mediums, resources, and opportunities, as well as the courage seen in the untold writers are hopefully an inspiration to people to get their story out there. Deonath says, “Believe in the power of your story. Don’t ever minimize your own story or minimize your artistic abilities. It’s all very much about belief and it’s not going to be an easy process, but it will be so worth it.”

Fortunately, countless podcasts, magazines, blogs, social media pages, and so many more forms of media have been dedicated to amplifying the voices of those who are yet to be heard, as long as people are willing to be brave and share their narratives. Ramdeen says, “I think if you really believe in something just do it, and get a really good team around you too who will encourage you and will burn that midnight oil with you. And that’s what all these writers did, they worked really hard and I’m so incredibly inspired by them, putting themselves out there and trusting us with their stories… we should also definitely normalize that being scared is totally part of this process of doing something new and trying to advance in storytelling. So I would say if you really want to tell a story, there are people that want to hear it. So put it out there.

untold: defining moments of the uprooted is a stunning, artistic, and beautifully vulnerable anthology that will take you all around the South Asian diaspora as the voices and narratives that have been forced into the shadows for years finally step into the light by the new generation of South Asian womxn, and they prove that their vulnerability and story is not only important but can strengthen an entire community whose stories are yet to be told.

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“untold: defining moments of the uprooted” is a collection of 31 real stories that explore the South Asian experience in the U.S., U.K., and Canada through the lens of identity, being, and relationships. Thirty-two emerging voices share deeply personal moments relating to immigration, infertility, divorce, mental health, suicide, sexual orientation, gender identity, racism, colorism, casteism, religion, and much more, all while balancing the push and pull of belonging to two cultural hemispheres.

Ariana Bhargava

Ariana Bhargava is a high school student based in Massachusetts. She writes for Reclamation and Brown Girl Magazine and is passionate about storytelling, activism, and photography.

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