My grandmother had diabetes for most of the time I spent with her. She also ate Baskin Robbins Jamoca Almond Fudge regularly. If you know anything about diabetes, this decision is not one of the better ones. She taught me about tenacity and living outside the box.
My grandfather was a man of routine. He watched NBC nightly news every night. He would respond “good night” to the anchor and then we would eat dinner. He taught me that knowing what is happening in the world is important as we do not live on an island.
My dad, a very religious man, once went out of his way to tell a stranger their tail light was out because he was concerned for their safety. I learned that humanity is more important than my convenience.
My mom worked her way up the ladder of success, not by pulling herself up by her bootstraps, but rather by being kind, honoring her values, and sacrificing. I learned from her that moving up in the world does not mean treating others poorly, but rather that kindness and humility will take me further. Talk about a counter-narrative to American meritocracy.
My sisters always remind me of how I still snore and will always lose at Monopoly. They love me regardless and tell me not to take myself too seriously.
Finally, my partner who is the complete opposite of who I am reminds me that family is the most important. When I come home, who I am at work is not as important as who I am with my family.
These stories of the family are what it means to be Desi in my student affairs journey.
I represent something bigger than myself. I depict my family, my students, my stories, and my heritage, which are all intertwined with my Desi identity. I know that there are moments that I, although unwillingly, represent a voice and an identity that is for so many South Asians. I also know that my Desi students, at times, bring my voice to a table where I do not reside. My voice is the lessons my family taught me, both good and bad. My parents taught me to “respect authority” and in moments I have silenced my voice to honor that. In the same vein, my parents taught me about Karma and the holiness of education (don’t put my books on the ground). I still hold those as sacred. Being Desi means being part of a collective.
As the kid of immigrants, I have learned to take the lessons of my family and make meaning of them in a way that brings power to my work. How can I both respect authority and stand for justice? I get the opportunity to talk to my white male supervisor regularly about systems of injustice that we propagate as a university and department. I have also worked quite tirelessly to build this relationship, so he hears me and feels respected. I would have never done this a decade ago, yet being Desi means dismantling systems of higher education in a manner that brings truth to generations before me. I have nieces and nephews of all ages; the oldest is 9 and the youngest just a few months old. I look around and still see the impact of the white imperial gaze all around me. Honoring my roots and my family means challenging systems that still make the world a scary place for these kiddos.
In moments of exhaustion, I remember whose daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, and partner I am because they have taught me Desi values of family, pluralism, humanity, justice, community, and so much more. To apply these values to a system of higher education, a system often rooted in whiteness, is why I do work in student affairs. Desi values are not perfect, yet the ones I hold on to have come to be meaningful. They have begun to shift how I do my work, how I sustain myself, and where my passion lies. So as I reflect, I am honored to continue the narrative of being Desi in student affairs through both my students and my work.
This post is part of our #HigherEdDesi series, which aims to share the stories of what it means to identify as “Desi” and working in higher ed. We hope to provide a context of how we came into Higher Education and what that journey looked like for each one of us. For more information, please see Juhi Bhatt’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Maryann Krieglstein on Social Justice & White Privilege