This item is an audio file.

Oral History Interview with Rangoli

Anish, Deepshikha and Satvika are co-founders of Rangoli, an LGBTQ+ South Asian group based in Pittsburgh, and editors of Mirrors, an LGBTQ+ South Asian anthology. They describe their personal histories individually followed by a discussion on how their involvement with Mirrors and Rangoli.

The interview begins with personal histories from Anish, Satvika (starting at 24:05), and Deepshikha (starting at 58:18), followed be a group discussion on Rangoli (starting at 1:21:52)

Gender & Sexuality, Community Organizations & Organizing

Duration: 01:58:41

Date: March 5, 2020
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Mustafa Saif
Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Transcriber: Alisha Cunzio

Anish (A): (0:00)
I’m Anish. So I grew up with an older sister - she's three years older than me - and we’ve always been super close, and I think probably closer than most brother-sister. And so like a big part of my childhood I spent with her, and I think that definitely influenced some of my outlooks and like the, like-- my mannerisms, my behavior. So, I was born in New Jersey, like I said, but then when I was three my family actually moved to Indonesia. So we lived there for three years, because my dad had an assignment there, and so from like a pretty early age I think I was, like, sort of in between cultures, and like nationalities, and that was a little weird - and then we came back here when I was six. And luckily I was able to start school like from the beginning in kindergarten here, so it wasn't really disjoint. Then I lived the rest of my life in New Jersey until I went to school in Pittsburgh. So I was a really, like a really avid reader when I was younger so I used to read a lot-- mostly fiction, which actually still continues to this day. I don't really like nonfiction that much. Yeah, so I would read a lot of fiction, I would play with my sister a lot. When I was younger - like really young, especially in Indonesia - I remember that I didn't really have-- even at school I had like no male friends. And so I was often playing like around other girls, um and that changed a little bit when I came back to the States.

Mustafa S (MS): (1:40)
So you remember these moves to and from Indonesia, or were those--

A: (1:43)
I don’t remember ‘to’, because I was like three, but I remember coming back. I remember it being really weird because I don't-- like obviously don't remember anything from before I moved, so like I knew I was American-- like I knew was American, but it didn't really seem like-- like I didn't know anything about it in a sense. So it was weird to come back to where I'm from, but to not actually have felt like I was from there, because [audio distortion] I think we had come back to visit like [audio distortion] For all intents and purposes I didn't remember ever living there.

MS: (2:17)
Can you talk a little bit about what school was like for you?

A: (2:20)
I looked forward to school most of the time. I think I made friends pretty easily. [pause] And it definitely continued the trend of like, mostly having girlfriends when I was younger, and that was a little bit sometimes of a problem, like with my parents. I remember-- I remember in particular, like, kindergarten. It was like a parent teacher-- You know how sometimes you have those - your parents come in and have a one-on-one with your teacher? And this was like a center thing, like it wasn't in trouble or anything, but I remember for some reason I was there - I think it's because there was nowhere for me to go - and I vividly remember my teacher being like, “Oh, you can go sit at my desk and eat these goldfish,” while she talked to my mom. And then... everything was mostly fine, she was talking about whatever - like in kindergarten what is there to talk about with your academic performance? - but then I do remember her saying-- distinctly saying, “Oh, Anish is like a ladies man,” and then whatever. I don't remember my mom-- but she meant it more in the sense like ‘he's always around girls’, right? I don't remember my mom's reaction, but I do remember several times being sort of like - not disciplined, but like chastised for it? In the evenings by my parents. That was definitely a pretty prevalent theme in my elementary school.

MS: (3:52)
How did that impact your understanding of gender at the time and since then?

A: (3:58)
Pretty strongly in the sense that it really fermented the idea of the distinctions, but also an understanding that I didn't really adhere to them very well. So I think in a sense it was-- like while I came to understand that that's how it's perceived I don't think I ever really felt like I fit into the distinctions very well. I think... I think I grew much-- like hyper-aware of it, so I would try to compensate a little bit, because I didn't want it to be called out. But it was always... it was always very guiding - the thought. And I think to this day - and Satvika and Deep would probably-- I think they're testaments to the fact that I think I still have that inclination more in the sense - and if you look at the proportion of my friends like it's still heavily woman.

MS: (5:00)
What were those teenagers like for you? What was going on for you at that time?

A: (5:06)
Pretty shitty. [laugh] Just like a lot of, you know? [pause] Uh… I mean-- Okay, I mean, to be honest, I actually really enjoyed school. Like, high school in particular was really great for me - like really, really good friends. Probably a testament to really, really good compartmentalization of, you know, sexuality and gender and stuff like that. Um, but they were also really hard - like, really difficult. I definitely felt very, very isolated, very alone - like very alone in my experience, and not really feeling like there was no one to go to or talk to about it. Which was kind of true, until probably it was like 11th grade when I came out to a couple friends, and then eventually my sister, and that was really good, and like sort of the beginning of breaking those feelings.

MS: (6:06)
So what did you come out as and how did you go about doing that?

A: (6:10)
So I came out as gay, and I did it mostly through individual-- like, just one-on-one conversations. With my sister it was actually on the phone, because she was at college, and that was actually the reason I told her. It was actually kind of complicated. It because I was-- it was senior year and I was trying to figure out which college I wanted to go to, and I had gotten into what was my dream program - which was studying-- it was like a combined undergrad-graduate program at Brown. And we-- like me and my parents had gone there for accepted students day, and my parents saw - because it's Brown, like super liberal - they actually saw at least three to four gay/lesbian couples, like just out. My parents explicitly expressed hesitation about me going there for those reasons, and it was also a very, very expensive program. So I was having a really, really hard time trying to decide if I wanted to do this and have my parents spend a lot of money for that program, and then, you know, if in the future they found out, like blamed the school or like blamed themselves. So it was actually a really, really painful decision. And I was talking to my sister about it, and that's when I'm like-- I just had to tell her, because without that piece of information she couldn't sort of understand the dilemma to the same extent. And so that's when I told her. [pause] And I ended up not going, which is why I went to Pittsburgh.

MS: (7:57)
So what were the expectations around gender and sexuality that made you feel that - aside from your parents expressing hesitation at that event - what was more generally with your relationship with them, what were some of the expectations that you had?

A: (8:13)
I think pretty much like the conventional ones, um, in terms of a pretty, like… [pause] conventional adherence to what gender roles are, and what's expected of children. So I was pretty consistently chastised for not liking sports, not playing video games. Um, my body was a big thing? Like, I've always been really skinny and so I got a lot of shame for that especially as I got older when a lot of other boys are, you know, working out lifting and stuff. So that was pretty-- I wouldn't say it was like very acutely bad at any certain time, it was just very consistently there. There was just a subtext to it all the time.

MS: (9:09)
This is going back to the conversation you had with your sister. What was her reaction like? And what were some of the other reactions amongst your friends like?

A: (9:16)
So my sister I remember - I don't think I'll ever forget - there was a tone of fear when she first was like, “Wait, really?” And then she immediately tried to hide it because she didn't want me to be scared, and then it was immediately support after that. But like, I know that instinctually she felt a lot of fear because of what it meant culturally and family wise. But after that she was always very realistic about things but also more optimistic than I was-- or like tried to be, in a sense. In terms of like fam-- friends reactions I think... pretty typical for what you might expect of, you know, a lot of people our age these days if their friend was coming out to them, like very supportive, “Things don't change,” blah, blah, blah, all that stuff.

MS: (10:15)
So then you mentioned you ended up deciding not to go to Brown.

A: (10:18)

MS: (10:18)
Can you talk about what ended up happening in terms of when you started college?

A: (10:25)
Yeah, so... Well, okay, to be completely honest, it was a little bit more complicated than that, because when I decided not to go to Brown I decided to go to a small school in New Jersey that also had a combined undergrad-graduate program. And then I actually realized after we were supposed to make our final decision that that wasn't right for me, and that's when I reached out to the University of Pittsburgh and found out that they would still let me come. And so I decided to go to Pitt after I was actually supposed to make the decision, and because of that I was really late with stuff, and so I didn't really get a choice with housing and stuff, and getting into certain programs. And so when I went there it was-- it was all kind of really haphazardly set, and it was really difficult because I ended up in a dorm that I didn't necessarily want to be in with-- [audio distortion] it was really hard, because I ended up in a dorm where the floors were not mixed gender. And so I was on the floor with all boys, and that was kind of hard because just, as I said, I've normally been much more, I think, comfortable around women, so it was really hard my first semester to make friends. And the people on my floor were fine, but we didn't really connect, and I think that sort of isolation - in a sense - was pretty difficult in terms of coming to terms with the sexuality and stuff. And so I felt like I regressed in a way, because I had come out to like maybe 10 to 12 friends in high school, and then it wasn't until actually sophomore year that I even talked about it in college, but that was after when I actually moved dorms to a different dorm that was mixed gender and then made a lot of friends. And that was sort of the turning point of college for me.

MS: (12:35)
Why do you think it was important for you to come out as gay to people? And how did that sort of intersect, or not intersect, in terms of gender balance--

A: (12:44)

MS: (12:45)
In terms of who you were surrounded with.

A: (12:47)
I think it definitely intersected, because I think despite knowing that gender and sexuality are separate they often interact, and I think - definitely in my case - and I think the way I present myself, even unconsciously, definitely could signal-- or does signal, you know, that I might not be straight. And I think I've always been hyper, hyper conscious of that. So, um... And like until coming out to people I used to be very guarded and very sort of… uh, very aware of what I was saying, what I was doing. And I don't think my relationships were as authentic, or that I would be as forthcoming with people until then. And I have seen very vividly how those relationships changed after that. So that's why I think it was really important, and I think in a lot of-- in a lot of cases it was not a surprise to a lot of people, so they were also able to, you know, be authentic with me because it's not like they were hiding the fact that they had already suspected it anymore, right?

MS: (14:05)
So how did things change after these other-- like this shift where you were in an environment that you weren't very comfortable in, and then something changed.

A: (14:13)
It was great. I mean, it took a while. I think after that I was actually able to probably, for the first time, become good friends with other queer people. And that was really good, because I think I started to learn a lot more about the community, like just have other people in my life - close friendships with people who, you know, had similar experiences. And junior year of college is when I think I came out-came out - where I-- it was not a secret. And that, I think, felt like I was finally presenting myself unguardedly. And I think that really then shifted my interest - like my worldview and what I felt like I could be involved with or want to be involved with. So I started becoming a lot more involved in the community, and that did kind of fall off after I graduated, but I know the later end of college I was doing a lot more in the community, like-- in the city of Pittsburgh, I mean, and also had a lot more interest in sort of like social groups, and I don't know that I would have had those same interests had I not had this identity, and then all those experiences that led me there.

MS: (15:30)
So you've talked to a lot about your gay identity driving a lot of this. In what ways, or were there ways, in which your South Asian identity also was important in guiding what groups you were a part of?

A: (15:43)
I mean, I think those identities are inextricable. I mean, obviously, because I've always been both. But I do think that a lot of the decisions I made and the sort of progress I had with my sexual identity [audio distortion] were informed by my South Asian identity, and I think thinking about, like, cultural reception, familiar reception-- And so what that's one thing, but then in my South Asian communities-- So I did get involved [audio distortion] with South Asian groups. [audio distortion] But it felt like it could only be a community to a certain extent, because I didn’t feel very comfortable [audio distortion] one of the places was my sexual identity, because I didn't feel the same sense of belonging and understanding and acceptance in like-- is probably in the general campus community. Um, and so those things actually felt like those identities and those-- like when I was in those communities it felt like those identities had to be separated.

A: (17:03)
So I mean I guess, as I mentioned, the last two years of college felt a lot more - like broadened worldviews, more interest and sort of the community of Pittsburgh, but also different demographic, or social groups. And I think that did infor some of-- like that did change-- So throughout all of college I knew that I wanted to go into medicine, but I think towards the end that did sort of inform the ways that I thought-- like, I envisioned my clinical career. But then I sort of took a break from the clinical path, and I started working in tech, and I was staying in Pittsburgh, and I think, unfortunately, a lot of the community involvement that I had fostered in college fell away, regrettably. But what was really cool was that then I found these folks.

A: (17:58)
We got involved with Rangoli before we were really friends, actually, because we were maybe acquaintances, but that started a couple months after graduation. So, even though I think a lot of my community involvement in the way that I had structured it in college fell away I was able to then be involved with the community in a different way - and I think create my own sense of community. And through Rangoli I think I was able to connect a lot more closely to a lot of the queer South Asian-- queer and Asian American communities and organizations across the country. And I think that actually helped me gain a lot more understanding of the wide spectrum, and the sheer number of people in this community, because I had no idea before, and I think that was really like a triggering point to understanding just how vibrant and actually large this community is.

MS: (19:06)
So how did you-- how did you meet the other people in Rangoli? And what-- how did that start?

A: (19:14)
There was a different group that was trying to consolidate some of the broader South Asian organization and activism in the community, and so there was maybe eight to ten people involved in that. And the three of us were involved in that, but not intentionally in terms of queer stuff. And so-- but then, you know, we realized that we all-- we're part of that identity, and that that should be part of the work of this broader organization. So we kind of formed a subset, and that organization has since disjoined, but we- we remained, and that's, you know, that's how we met.

MS: (19:55)
So, yeah, I think maybe I'll ask a few more questions to you specifically, and then this seems like a good point for-- seems like a transition where most of the conversation would be around the group, so... But in terms of-- so you have this move from New Jersey to Pittsburgh. Can you talk a little bit about Pittsburgh, and what it meant to be looking for community in Pittsburgh, and how it was different from where you grew up?

A: (20:20)
I think I-- in New Jersey - like growing up in New Jersey, there's always been a sizable South Asian community around me, at least in my part of New Jersey. So one of the interesting things I felt was that some people might be surprised, but initially my perspective was that I saw less South Asians when I moved to Pittsburgh, at least in the city proper. And so that was a little weird for me. But one thing that was nice was that, in general, the South Asians that I did see - because they were students - felt more progressive than the circles I was in in New Jersey, where it was, you know, suburban families. But then in terms of finding community at the intersection of the South Asian and queer identity that was extremely difficult, and I think it was-- it seemed even-- even more difficult than it probably was in reality, because I felt so uncomfortable in the South Asian circles that I saw there, even though I just said they felt more progressive. I think they did, in general, but not-- not with specific regard to sexuality and gender. And I think throughout college that was always very difficult, because I think I-- like I said, I made a bunch of queer friends, but I don't think I made any queer South Asian friends until after graduation when I met Satvika and Deepshikha. So finding community in Pittsburgh was difficult, and it did color the way I thought about Pittsburgh, and the way I felt about it - that it felt a little suffocating, like a little small, and not as-- sort of like not having the opportunities that a coastal bigger city would have in terms of like finding the vibrant, queer South Asian community that I sort of dreamed about.

MS: (22:26)
And what were you looking for when you found the other folks in Rangoli? What were your hopes and dreams for what a group like this would offer you, or what were you seeking?

A: (22:41)
I don't know what I was expecting at that time. I think-- I don't know that I even knew what to expect, because like I said I hadn't met any other queer South Asians until then. So I think-- I honestly remember just even being really overwhelmed at the idea, and then the first time we sort of met was a very... a very weird experience, because I think I'd grown up so long feeling like I was the only - and I know other people have said this too - like the only queer South Asian person. And so... it was, yeah, it was just like-- it was weird. It was just weird knowing that there were other people and then we were just, like, sitting together. And I don't think-- it probably wasn't for a while after that that I actually had more expectations of what, as a group we could do, and like what we could mean, but I think probably fundamentally I just wanted to have a group that could support each other and probably do what I had wished-- offer what I wish I could have had as a college student in Pittsburgh, which was knowing that there were people out there like you, and that you might see South Asian communities or groups that don't feel welcoming, but that's, you know, that's not all of them - that there is, you know, there are circles in there, and there are groups of people where this is not just accepted, but celebrated.

Satvika (S): (24:05)
Satvika. [pause] So I was born in India, like I mentioned. So I lived there until I was five - was born right around Hyderabad, we moved around a little bit - moved to the north a little bit - right around the time that my dad was trying to get a visa to go to America and things like that. And our main reason for moving in the first place was because my dad wanted to make some money and then, you know, come back home. And he ended up-- he left so it was just me, my mom, and my little brother - we also have a three year age gap. And so it was just us for a little bit in India, and while he was here in America he ended up fighting to bring his family with him on that special family visa or whatever. And I think about that a lot, because my dad and I don't really get along, but the fact that he fought so hard to get us to come with him that-- that's kind of really meaningful. Anyway, so I was five, my brother was about two to three I believe, and we moved to America in 2001. So right before, kind of like-- I'm sorry, it was 2000. So it was a year right before 9/11 happened, and all that stuff was going on. And I feel like it-- that really just like-- moving and being an immigrant - with not really a huge grasp on the English language - and, you know, I could speak it, but I wasn't very good at it, and my parents were, you know, had really thick accents and things like that. And so we ended up moving around a lot again - even in America, because my dad was a contractor, and so he had different jobs every now and then. So I think it was like-- we originally moved to Connecticut, then moved to a small town in New Jersey, moved to a small town in Illinois right outside Chicago, moved back to New Jersey - different small town - and then moved to a small town right outside of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, and then the last time we moved was across the river in Harrisburg, and so like to the west side. And then we stayed there for-- and then that was when we kind of settled down - that was kind of where we ended up.

S: (26:23)
I didn't go to the-- I didn't go to - and we always moved in the middle of school years, so I didn't spend a whole school year in one school until eighth grade. Every other year since then had been kind of split in half with one school or another, and then at one point I think there was one grade definitely where I did, like, between three different schools. And so it was kind of similar in that my brother and I just were each other's best friends, because we kind of had to be, because everyone else we kind of ended up leaving very quickly. It also - and I've been thinking about this a lot recently - but I think that because of everything else going on-- you know, growing up brown, immigrant, queer - and then also with ADHD was just so much, I think? And so-- and I'm realizing it now, but I ended up becoming such a huge people pleaser. It was very easy for me to make friends, because I was so able to just make myself who the other person needed to be-- needed me to be to become their friend. And I didn't stop - I didn't realize I was doing that - and then I didn't start making strides to stop doing that and really figure out who I was until I started therapy, which was after college - so very recently. And so that was… yeah, that was kind of growing up. It was really tough, I think. With just kind of having my immediate family there was a lot of generational issues as well as cultural issues. Like, I wasn't allowed to shave my legs until eighth grade, and that was a huge thing - just getting bullied in school for that, and just kind of getting bullied for a lot of things that I did that weren't, you know, girly enough or... Yeah, I think kind of similar to what Anish was talking about. I feel like I was always the tomboy growing up. Always like, I don't know-- we would sword fight in the backyard, or play with imaginary dragons or whatever. And it was always really easy to kind of escape into fantasy worlds and things like that, and that was always kind of my escape growing up.

S: (28:31)
Something that is really-- So, until about high school it was always really, really meaningful to me to have, kind of like, the huge Indian community that we'd always grown up with - and specifically the Telugu community I think. I don't know, we always-- I don't know if this is everyone's experience, but we always ended up going on really, really long car rides just to go to some function or another - some housewarming party. You know, we drive like seven hours up to Boston for one weekend or something, and it was just like, ‘why are we doing this?’ But, at the end of the day - I mean it wasn't until I think my 16th birthday party or something - and my mom had invited literally everyone we knew I think. But it was always really, really cool to see that - and I didn't start appreciating until very recently - but it's such a huge community, and we all really care about each other. And even when we go back to India - all of these relatives who have only seen me very sporadically, throughout my growing up and everything, still almost kind of immediately love me, you know? Or are immediately drawn to me, and it doesn't matter if we haven't spoken in - I don't know a decade - if I need to go to a new town, and they have a house open I can absolutely end up staying there. That always felt really special to me - about kind of the Indian community. The Telugu community in Harrisburg definitely was a huge moment for me in-- We did a lot of cultural dances. It was, you know-- we had kiddie parties at people's houses kind of every weekend. That community was where I met my best friend, who still is my best friend, and I think it's been like a decade now. So I think that that was really important to me growing up, because it made me-- and it was definitely very like - I would be American in school, right, and then I would be Indian at home, and it felt very separated in that way - but I feel like the friends that I made that were around my age in the Indian community that also went to school with me could kind of-- were the start of me being able to bridge that gap, you know, and kind of embrace those hyphens.

MS: (30:34)
What did that specifically look like in terms of being American at school and Indiana home? What were some of the ways in which you made that distinction?

S: (30:43)
Yeah. So I remember-- I distinctly remember - I think this was high school - we had this- I don't know, chemistry project or something, and it was someone who I was-- I was partnered with someone who I was only friends with a school, and so we weren't really close or anything, but I remember, at one point, she was like, “Oh, can we just like, do part of this project to your house?” And I was like, “Absolutely not. We can go to a coffee shop or we can go to your house.” And then the day came and stuff ended up happening, and she was like, “I think we just need to do it at your house. I think that would be easier.” And unfortunately, because it was last minute, my mom was cooking pakoras that day - because of course she was - and so this girl literally walked in and was kind of like, “Aaaah!” and I was like, “We can go work in my driveway, or the porch or something. That's fine. Let's do that.” Um, so I think it was things like that. It was like… middle school I'd have parties where it was-- We'd have separate parties - we would have the Indian people party, and then American party - and this was constant. This was from middle school to high school we'd have - I think my 16th birthday party especially - I had like an hour long American party, and then right after, a couple hours later, we had the Indian party happen - in the same venue, just very different experiences. [laugh] I did an outfit change and everything.

S: (32:09)
And so I think that was kind of it. It was very easy to separate my life, because I think that's what kind of everyone was doing really? You know, even if you saw people that you knew from the community at school you wouldn't really talk to them. You'd kind of do like a ‘hey’ and then you wouldn't really say anything - unless you were already friends or whatever. But yeah, it was definitely interesting. And it wasn't until later on - I think probably college - that I really started kind of really learning about my culture in a way that my parents never really taught me, you know? Like, we do-- So I grew up Hindu, and so we do a lot of the rituals and things like that, but really there was no explanation about it or anything, and so it wasn't until college that I started researching myself - what it meant to do, you know, these different rituals and things like that.

MS: (33:00)
During all these moves when you were younger, what were some of the resources or ways in which you grounded yourself or found comfort and support?

S: (33:11)
Honestly, writing. It's probably the big reason that I ended up being such a writer. I think that-- it's actually kind of interesting to see how my writing style has shifted throughout the years based on who I was. In elementary school all I wrote about was-- [laugh] I don't know if you've read the first book of the Boxcar Children, but it's the one book where they find the boxcar out in the woods, and they just live out there. And the whole book - there's no mystery or anything - the whole book is just like them living out there - and that was my dream. That's all I wanted to do. I wanted to go find a boxcar out in the woods and just go live there. And it was, you know, it was this escapist fantasy of ‘I don't want to deal with all of this, I'm gonna go do that instead’. And so all of my books were writing about running away from home and finding a boxcar in the woods, or something like that. And I would proudly show them to my mom, and she'd be like, ‘I don't-- why do you think I'd want to read this?’ Yeah, and so a lot of it in elementary and middle school was very fantasy-escapist, you know? It was like finding other worlds, and finding other-- like a portal to a different place where life was different, you know? And then it kind of shifted in middle school where it became all about writing about being the kind of girl that I wish I were. So it was a lot of pure Americana - things would happen, but it was mostly about writing about being able to go to the mall with your friends, because that wasn't something I was allowed to do, or writing about just being able to do things that I felt like I should be able to do and wasn't back then. I also remember this one moment where I was trying to write a scene where - it was at the dinner table or something - and in my head I was like, “What do white people eat for dinner?” Like I don’t know, and my only answer at the time for so long was just pasta. Like, that's all I thought of that white people eat. Anyway, and then in high school it became kind of like a merging of those two different styles - of being able to both write about characters as well as kind of different worlds and things like that. But yeah, I think I really delved into books, and writing, and just kind of TV shows, probably. My brother, like I mentioned - it's part of the reason that we were so close growing up - was because we really only had each other, and… Yeah, I don't know, it was hard, though. I feel like I didn't really do a great job - because I was a child - of grounding myself in any way. And I think it was-- it was kind of fun to be able to change up who I was at every school, and figure out who I wanted to be this week, and the ADHD part of my brain loved that also - it was just like, “Novelty!” constantly.

MS: (36:03)
You talk a little more about the types of expectations that you were struggling with throughout middle school in high school? You mentioned I think earlier about shaving.

S: (36:16)
Um [laugh] So yeah, I think that as I was growing up it was definitely clear that there was a lot of... I mean, obviously, there's a lot of cultural differences, and I think a lot of it came with gender, you know? And so - being able to wear shorts out of the house, you know - or being able to wear flip flops to school or something like that. And I didn't quite understand how gendered everything was because my brother was younger than me and so it took him a little bit longer to get to the age that I was, and so it's this stage of... he's the baby, but he's also definitely allowed to do more things and I was at his age. Yeah, like I wasn't allowed to go to the mall with my friends, or go to restaurants by myself, like throwing-- or going to a friend's birthday party was always such a hassle because it always meant that - especially before I could drive, but even after that because we were fighting over the car and stuff. It was a very difficult thing to be able to figure out who I was in the mix of like Eurocentric beauty standards being pushed on me from school, and then you know patriarchal gender norms - from everywhere really - but also my family specifically. And so I’d do things like put shorts in my bookbag to change into when I was in school, or borrow friend’s flip flops because I didn't want to wear my sneakers. What did I do--? Oh, at one point I used Nair - like the hair removal thing - and my mom got so mad at me she didn't speak to me for a week. And [laugh] and it was things like that where you'd be in gym class and it was the only-- like, you know, wearing shorts and with all the leg hair, and as a brown person you grow a lot of body hair - and everyone would be commenting on it, right? There was a point in time where someone was like-- Oh, I think it was this dude who. at one point was like, “I would be interested if you shaved your legs.” And that was heartbreaking to me - I was devastated - because I think this was seventh grade or something? And I ran home, and I was crying, and I was like, “Mom, this is... just happened. Why can't you just let me do this?” And she was like, “Well” - she's said the very sensible, adult thing of like “Well, if he doesn't like you the way that you are, then he doesn't like you at all.” And I was like, “Mom, you're ruining my life.” And then I ran upstairs.

S: (38:53)
Yeah, and then also the boy thing, right? I think that there was a lot of expectation to like boys, and a lot of expectation to do something about it if you did. And so I remember growing up where - so identify as bisexual, but this is also something that I've heard from a lot of lesbians also growing up - but you would pick a random boy that you liked just to tell people that you like them. And I had the added thing of as soon as I picked that boy I ended up hyper-fixating on them. And so then if I randomly was like, “Oh I like Scott from seventh grade” or whatever - or from social studies - then suddenly my brain was like, “Oh, so you do like him?” And then I just obsessed over them. And then I don't know- and then at one point my mom gave me this whole talk where she was like, “You can't date until you're married.”

MS: (39:45)
So can you talk a little bit more about identifying as bisexual, and when that came about, and whether you were navigating that in high school and middle school?

S: (39:55)
Yeah, so not really in middle school. I think that-- I mean, looking back on it there was definitely a lot of crushes that I had that I didn't realize were crushes. But it wasn't really until high school-- So I think it was... so freshman or sophomore year I got into Tumblr, and Tumblr was [laugh] for all it's terrible things it really was where I got radicalized, you know? And so I just was reading a lot about gay theory, and reading a lot about all of that stuff, and then in my head I was kind of doing that thing where I was thinking a lot about whether I was gay or not, and then finally at some point it was like, ‘straight people probably don't think this long about whether they're queer or not’. But it wasn't until photography class - junior year - that I ended up having the moment of realization, and it was because there was a picture of-- we were talking about - what's his name? - Andy Warhol or something, and the way that he does photography. And so a picture of Marilyn Monroe was on the screen, and I for the life of me could not stop staring at her boobs the entire class. And so the next class that I had I grabbed my friend Becca, and we ran into the bathroom, and I had a full gay panic moment for half the class period, I think, where I was like, “What does this mean?” And Becca, bless her heart at the time, was trying to help and so she was like, “Well, I think that like the way those dresses are cut just draw your eyes in that direction. Don't worry about it, it’s probably not a real thing.” And I freaked out. But that was like the moment that I really was like ‘oh my god I like girls’, and then it was a whole journey of trying to figure out ‘is it only girls?’, and my friend Becca is now also a lesbian. So like, it's that classic [laugh] we all end up together.

MS: (41:49)
Can you tell us what happened after high school?

S: (41:53)
Yeah. So I ended up going to Carnegie Mellon for college. It wasn't really my choice. It wasn't-- it was probably my last choice, actually. And they just ended up giving us the most money, and it just kind of ended up happening that way. And so I went to CMU, had a whole-- I also was one of those kids that never knew what I wanted to do, and CMU is not the place to go if you don't know what you want to do with your life. So I came in as a physics major, ended up changing to international relations and politics, ended up also getting a minor in computer science, and it was kind of this whole thing. And so that was kind of also where-- so I have this talk where I talk about embracing my hyphens, right, and so I think that we-- I talk a lot about how my connections between international relations, and computer science, and tech, and social impact, and all of that kind of stuff also probably stemmed from my very comfortableness with living outside of the binary and within these different liminal spaces - and within these intersectional spaces.

S: (43:08)
College was interesting. It was not a good time. I have never felt dumber than when I was on campus. Decided to go back for some reason, but it-- it was one of those things where I was always kind of-- I was pretty smart in high school, and then you get to college and it's all the people that thought they were smart in high school. And so-- and the work culture at CMU is very toxic, and it's a lot of those kinds of different things. And I was dealing with a lot of-- it was that classic ADHD story of you lose all the structure that you have from home and from high school, and suddenly you're on your own and you have to do everything. You have to build your own structure and you're not trained how to do it - and this is something that happens to a lot of girls with ADHD when they go to college - but I just ended up spiraling into depression and anxiety spirals, and a lot of things like that. And so, as I mentioned before, I think college was also the time that I really started figuring out what being South Asian meant. And it was interesting because I didn't grow up with a lot of South Asian people in my grade. There was always the Indian community, or the Telugu community, but it always felt very separate to me, as I mentioned. And college was one of those times where I could-- it still felt really separate, because a lot of the brown people that I met were like... the dance brown people? I don't know if that makes sense, but you know what I'm talking about? And that just wasn't really my vibe. They all made Hindi jokes, too, and I was like, ‘I don't understand Hindi’. And so it was-- it just felt very insular, and it still didn't feel really very welcoming. There's [unintelligible] friends I had, which was nice, but it still felt very disparate and different.

S: (44:51)
But like I mentioned, it was kind of when I started thinking a lot about what these different things that I did growing up meant, and where it came from, and kind of starting to veer a little bit back towards Hinduism and kind of the mythology of it and stuff like that with kind of that queer lens that I now had, right? And so really seeing that Hinduism, you know, used to be pretty queer. Junior year was really the time that I got really started getting really comfortable with my sexuality - and not feeling like I had to broadcast it, but also feeling that it was just something that was me. And that was still around the time where I wasn't-- I wasn't talking about it all the time or anything, but every time I did bring it up, there was always kind of, like - for the first time especially with like a new group of friends - there was always like a moment of like, ‘oh, is she?’ and I'd be like, yes. And then I graduated college, and then decided to stay in Pittsburgh, found this... kind of a nonprofit accelerator, fellowship sort of thing - leadership thing - and that really opened my eyes to what a cool city Pittsburgh was, generally speaking. But - and I think this was something Anish was talking about also - it was really hard to figure out where the South Asians were. Pittsburgh is a very White City, and when it's not white it's usually pretty black and white. And the Asian population and the Asian community here is not very well organized, and also just not very visible at all. And so it was really hard to figure out where my place was, and how to... you know, how to make space for your community without stepping on other people's community - like that they've worked really hard to make space for also. And so figuring out where to draw those lines, and figuring out how to do that has been kind of an ongoing journey and an ongoing struggle. It's part of the reason that the larger group that Anish mentioned is called the Alliance for South Asians in Pittsburgh. Why that got started was to kind of build community and build power for South Asians in Pittsburgh, because it was something that wasn't really seen. And I like to mention that because - especially when I do work around the Asian American community - people in Philadelphia are-- they have very different needs and resources than we do here, right? There is almost no power for Asians here. And so trying to build that, and trying to figure that out, and where to draw those lines has been interesting.

MS: (47:13)
Can you - going back to where you brought up how returning to Hinduism has offered you some support? Can you talk a little bit more about what that offers you and how that relates to understanding your gender and sexuality?

S: (47:28)

To me it's interesting because I always-- I was always really interested in the mythology and the stories of Hinduism growing up. Like I remember being a kid and reading through the comic book version of the Mahabharata and being really into that. And going to Temples with my mom - and things like that - and kind of really feeling very... I don't even know the word to explain it, but very seen and very heard, weirdly, in a Temple when I wasn't really doing anything. But it was always a really good experience for me, I think, going to Temples. Even if I didn't want to go at the beginning it was always kind of nice to be there. And I actually tried going on my own. I think after I graduated college I went with a friend to one of the Temples around here, and the experience was vastly different. It was so bad. I remember going in - and I think part of it was that we were dressed in jeans and a t-shirt or something like that - but we got stared at constantly. It was like-- it was very clear that the message to me was that ‘You don't belong here. Why are you here?’ You know? And that was really interesting. But, like I mentioned, I think the thing about Hinduism - with the mythologies around it - it's been really interesting to go back and kind of really realize that it's... like the origins-- the origins of it were very queer, right? And back in the day I kept being like, “Oh, actually the origins of Hinduism are pretty feminist and pretty queer.” And then recently we've started really talking about caste issues within the Indian community, and so realizing, you know, the origins of Hinduism are pretty shitty also. And so it's not that they're really feminist or anything. There was a lot of that baked into the caste system. And so it's been kind of a cyclical journey, I think. I'm trying to figure out how to get the parts of it that do make me feel safe - and kind of valued by my culture - while also being very aware that that's not the case for everyone, and it's not the case for a lot of people that I love.

MS: (49:42)
And then in terms of finding South Asian community - being someone who doesn't speak Hindi, when a lot of these communities are really centered around that particular practice of South Asian culture - how have you navigated some of those challenges and how has that felt?

S: (50:01)

It's actually-- it seems like it's a little bit less of a thing now, because actually the three of us in Rangoli are all Telugu people - which is nice. [aside] Sorry Deep [Deepshikha]. But yeah, it's definitely still really a thing. I have started and stopped, and started and stopped the Duolingo Hindi version a lot just to be able to understand parts of it. I think the worst part is when all these really cool queer Bollywood movies are coming out, and I can only understand them through subtitles - which has been really devastating mostly. So that's been the main thing actually recently, I think. Otherwise.... In college it kind of sucked, but in college I was also really able to compartmentalize, I think, and not really care about that. Or when I was there, just kind of like, you know? And a lot of the friends that I did have were South Indian also, and so that was a little bit easier to navigate.

MS: (51:06)
And similarlym with identifying as bisexual, how does that fit in with feeling either included or excluded in a larger queer community?

S: (51:19)
That was always really tough too. I think, especially the group that we had growing up, it was really easy to talk about-- [audio cut] Before Rangoli was always that my queer friends were pretty white, you know, and my South Asian friends were very straight. And it didn't-- it honestly did not hit me how big of a hole that was in my life, or how big of a gap that felt to me until I met other queer South Asian people. And I think-- I mean, we got lucky because we all really like each other also, and we had similar interests outside of that and everything. But it was really, really huge. I think that I-- I at least romanticize it, I don't know about other people. But the moment that - I think it was the three of us, I think [redacted] joined a little bit later - we were sitting in Big Dog Coffee, and we're just talking about different books and different - I don't know - different media that we've consumed that we like. It felt very anchoring, and that was really, really awesome, and it was really, really beautiful. Literally, I romanticize it in my brain I’m like: ‘the sun was filtering through the window panes’, and all of this stuff. But it really was a really beautiful moment, and I think we had a similar one where it was me, Deep, and [redacted] at different coffee shop and we were talking about caste and a lot of these different things, and it just felt really wholesome and freeing to be able to talk about these things. Both of these different cultural touchstones I have, and being able to put them together, and be able to talk about how there are parts of Hinduism that are queer without having to explain references, right? Or be able to talk about different books without having to explain what this thing is, you know what I mean? And the one other moment that I remember - this is a little different - it was maybe a year into when we had Rangoli - but this also sticks out of my brain as a huge formative moment.

S: (53:17)
But yeah, it was about a year in - Anish and I got invited to go to Philadelphia for kind of a film festival, and so they wanted us to table with our anthologies. And the first night of the film festival - it's the Mustard Seed Film Festival - and they were doing a South Asian drag show the first night as kind of the opener, and we were really afraid we were going to miss it, because we were driving from Pittsburgh that night, but we ended up catching like a little bit of it. And just the second that I stepped into that room, to the moment that we stepped into our Airbnb, it was just this magical feeling of-- it was very complicated. It's not all good emotions - there were some weird emotions mixed in there - but I remember as we were leaving I was lying on my friend's lap in the backseat of the car just freaking out, because I was like ‘all of this has existed before us’. There are these people that are doing these really cool things - like there's enough South Asian drag performers to do a South Asian drag show. And all of this - this whole community has existed way long before us, and will continue to exist after us. And it was this whole moment that I was having, and it was really, really-- it was really awesome, because I was like ‘oh, we have this whole shared heritage and this shared like experience’ and then I was also kind of like - there was a part of me that was like - ‘where the fuck was this when I was growing up?’ Like, where was this? Why didn’t I have it? And so it was kind of a really weird, interesting mix of emotions. But that also really sticks out to me as a moment of being able to kind of really put the two parts of my identity together, and really realize that this whole community exists. Because before then, like I mentioned in Pittsburgh, we're the first queer South Asian organization - we’re the first South Asian organization - there isn't really a whole lot of this happening in Pittsburgh. And so it was really easy to feel like we were kind of going at it alone, and this was kind of our thing, and realizing that it was kind of a drop in the bucket, you know, is-- I mean it's a small bucket, but it's still a bucket. Was really-- yeah, it was both good and bad for a lot of different reasons.

MS: (55:30)
Thank you. I loved hearing about those two moments - the coffee shop and then the Mustard Seed Festival. Can you give some detail around how you actually found the other folks in Rangoli, and sort of what you were seeking and hoping to get out of that connection?

S: (55:49) So like I said, we met through kind of a mutual acquaintance at the time. We'd met a little bit before, but didn't really know each other and hadn't really spoken or anything. And then I didn't know Deep or [redacted] well at all, and so the three of us - Anish, Deep, and I - kind of met through this mutual acquaintance that was kind of organizing the Alliance for South Asians of Pittsburgh, and that's kind of how we ended up kind of meeting. And then think Anish brought [redacted] in a little bit later, and so it was kind of the four of us then. I think at the beginning I honestly… [pause] In my head, I wasn't really-- I didn't really have any expectations for how this would-- what this would mean to me personally. What we were meeting around initially was doing our first editions of Mirrors and the anthology, and so in my head I was like, “Oh cool, we'll just do this project and that'll be that'll be that.” I think that's also just kind of the way that I am with projects that I'm just kind of like ‘okay here's the start, here's what we need to do, here’s a to-do list let's go, let's just go do it’. And so there wasn't a whole lot of expectation about what this might mean as an entity, or what this might mean to me. And it really wasn't until much, much later that I really-- that it really hit home like what this actually did mean. There are-- every time I do public speaking - whether it's a rally or I don't know, just any kind of speaking engagement whatsoever - I talk about being queer, and I talk about being South Asian - that journey. And almost every single time I've done that someone has come up to me later - after the event - to be like ‘me too’. Like ‘also me’. And I think those moments are really when it really means a lot that we have something like this to fall back on. And I think that especially when someone moves to the city, and is trying to find community - that they maybe had or maybe didn't have in their last city - and we're able to kind of provide that for them - that's really been really, really awesome. And I honestly-- at the beginning it didn't-- it did not occur to me that that would be possible at all. Again, in my head I was like ‘we have this one thing that we're going to do we'll see how it goes’. And the fact that we all became such good friends - I wasn't really expecting that either. I wasn't not expecting it, but I really wasn't expecting it. That was really nice also.

Deepshikha (D): (58:19)
Deepshikha. So we're Marwari. My parents are - but I kind of like to call double diaspora, because they both grew up in Assam, and if you don't know Marwaris are a group-- are an ethnic group from Rajasthan. So they grew up in Assam, they moved a lot - around a lot. My dad was posted in Chennai, and then they came back to Assam, and then eventually my dad moved to, actually, Arizona first and then he - on the H1B program - and then he moved, and then we all moved to Greensburg, which is a suburb of Pittsburgh about 45 minutes away. And so I grew up in Greensburg until I was about 10 years old. I was a really active child. There were a group of girls that I was friends with, we’d meet outside, we’d play every day. I was super inventive - definitely the boss of the group - I was the one coming up with the games, directing people to go here and here, putting on the shows. We'd run around, we played with our dolls. It was pretty idyllic - and I realized that I'm framing it that way, because my parents also they were fairly strict. They put me in piano lessons when I was five, and so that was always a source of contention, you know. ‘Practice the piano’, ‘do your math homework’, ‘learn the multiplication tables’ but you're only four years old - like that kind of thing. And my sister was born when I was five, and so interpersonal-wise that was sort of like-- my mom and I don't have the best relationship, and I think a lot of that is because her attention is just-- when my sister was born my sister was her focus, and I was sort of that other kid that had to be dealt with, or it feels that way. I don't know how much of that is just that feeling of childhood abandonment, and how much of it was that, but my sort of escape became playing outside and reading books. I read so many books - mostly fantasy. I was a big Boxcar Children fan too. Anything that let me escape into any world that I wasn't in - that I could be in except the one I was actually in.

D: (1:00:45)
So I was 10 - this was, I think, 2004/2005 - we moved to Monroeville, which is a closer silver suburb to Pittsburgh, and it was a new community. And there were Indian families, but I was the only one my age, and so - whereas before I could have played outside with friends now it was just me sort of roving around this neighborhood on my own. And I think that pushed me further into books is my escape, playing stories out with my dolls, and then later - in like Middle School - getting really into writing - first poetry and then eventually fiction. My parents were, and continue to be, super involved with the local Hindu community - North Indian Hindu community I should specify - in Pittsburgh. There's two large bodies in Pittsburgh: There's the body that congregates around the Hindu Jain Temple, which is primarily North Indian ethnic groups, and then there's the group of people that congregate around the S.V. Temple [Sri Venkateswara Temple], which is largely South Indian groups, although there's definite-- you know, there's nothing like-- you know, you don't go there. You don't go there.

D: (1:02:02)
So my parents are super involved with that, and I think I was... seven... seven or eight when my parents put me in Hindi classes. So every Sunday we would go to the Temple - in the community hall by the Temple. They would, you know-- you'd have morning prayers, and then you do your Hindi classes - I was in Hindi - but they also did gujarati, marathi. And after that there was lunch, and maybe, depending on the time of the year, you'd either have religion class or yoga class, and then afterwards, if you wanted to pay more, there was a couple that taught singing and keyboard. And so my parents put me in singing and keyboard, so my Sundays were just packed. We were always at the Temple - from like 9 am to 5, basically. And being at the Temple I excelled at Hindi classes, because my parents-- we all spoke Hindi at home. Which, my sis-- they didn't speak Hindi with my sister as much, so her Hindi is not as good, but with me they were very ‘this is your language, we're going to speak it’ and so I excelled at that, but I was always sort of the outsider in those groups. I think there was an element of ethnicity - like a lot of the girls my age were Gujarati and I just wasn't, and so I never quite fit in with those girls. Not to say ‘I wasn't like other girls’, but I really wasn't like other girls. We never-- we didn't have shared interests. I was more interested in books and Harry Potter and stuff, and they were over there talking about boys. I wanted to play, they wanted to be little cutie party enactors, that kind of thing.

D: (1:03:58)
But I had friends. I made some really good friends in Temple that I eventually became better friends with when I moved from Greensburg to Monroeville, because Monroeville is also where both of the Temples are situated. My best friend that I initially met at Temple - she's Gujarati and she is someone you wouldn't think I would get along with, but we were able to - because our parents were friends and we hung out, we were sort of able to become friends that way. But even when she and her family moved to Monroeville in our eighth grade year we sort of - there was always that sort of that divide, like, ‘I'm the nerdy one’ and ‘I'm the cool, popular type of person’. It was that sort of divide. So I've never really fit in within groups. I've always felt like an outsider. In school - until high school - I wasn't really surrounded by a lot of South Asians or Asians, but once I was it was really nice to have this group of people that, you know, we're all smart, and nerdy, and didn't really fit in everywhere. And it was a nice-- It was a great group of people. I'm still friends with a lot of them.

MS: (1:05:22)
So during this time as well you were feeling like an outsider - did you have a vision for an alternative, or like a vision for a future where you felt differently, or you found a group?

D: (1:05:33)
I always wished I was part of those groups where everybody was like-- like a big group of people that was friends with each other, and then did everything together. Part of my friend group being outsiders - like we had Asian parents, they were all strict with us, and none of us hung out with each other like those other people did. If we did it was more like a one-on-one things. My parents would let me hang out with my Indian friends more than they would with say an Asian or white friend. So growing up I was-- I always longed for a group of people that I could just hang out with all the time, and not have to fight my parents to do it, or fight their parents to do it, or you know. So one-on-one friendships I've been very good at developing, but I sort of struggled with group settings I think to this day because of that. And I mean I haven't gotten into it, but I have struggled with being a girl and being feminine my whole life. There obviously-- there's that struggle, you know, with being brown - visibly brown - and having hair, and girls asking, ‘oh, why don't you shave your legs’ and this and that. But then there's also the struggle at home with my mom-- I don't think my mom would have cared - after eighth grade - if I had shaved, and that's-- I think, actually, it was seventh grade when I started shaving, and my mom really didn't care, because my mom was the one pushing me to be, you know, ‘you should be more feminine’, ‘you should do your eyebrows’, ‘you should do your upper lips’ and ‘why do you choose to look this way?’. And it was always this great source of tension in that I was not feminine enough at home, and I was not feminine enough in the outside world, and I just wanted to be my hairy, sort of brown self, and I didn't want to have to do anything to be what other people wanted me to be, and I've always sort of fought with that my whole life.

MS: (1:07:36)
In terms of the Hindu community that you were a part of was that experience - outside of like learning-- like it seemed like a school setting in some ways - but was it important to you in a spiritual way or in another way as well?

D: (1:07:50)
Yeah, I have always really loved the stories of Shiva and our own family God. And so I remember the big Temple functions we would sort of separate ourselves from our group - me and one other boy - and we would just spend the whole time reading Amar Chitra Katha, which are the comics-- comics series that are published to make Hindu mythologies more accessible to younger people. And so I was-- sort of was another route of escapism for me, but I loved reading those stories. But despite my interest in mythology - and in sort of learning abou different groups and sects of Hinduism - I've never felt compelled to be a practicing Hindu, and to do those rituals and stuff. My spirituality has sort of... hasn't grown that way. I've sort of developed my own sort of ‘pluck this, pluck that, pluck this and that’ sort of way of thinking about my spirituality. My dad has had a big influence in this. He would listen to the lectures of Osho in the car whenever we drove anywhere - and I don't know if you're familiar with Osho, but he's also known as Bhagwan Rajneesh who the IRS got into - it was the IRS or something - got into a gunfight with in the 70s or 80s. So listening to that stuff growing up, and then reading Osho’s works on Buddhism and Jainism, and just sort of like getting the feel of a lot of different sort of spiritualities was really great, but I don't think Hinduism is where I would... It's where I come from, but it's not where I'm rooted. And I don't tend to find spiritual validation from Hinduism as much as I do my own sort of--my own sort of what I've developed out of picking and choosing.

MS: (1:10:02)
In terms of gender and sexuality where there-- were you navigating any of that while you were in high school or middle school?

D: (1:10:13)
So, me being sort of isolated I spent a lot of time on the internet. The first real internet space I can remember inhabiting is the 4Kids.TV forums and pretending to be a Winx Club fairy, and then it's sort of snowballed from there until I was finally on Tumblr. And Tumblr is where I sort of had-- I wouldn't say-- I wouldn't call it awakening. I would read these posts about gender and sexuality that would come on to my dashboard, and then I got really, really involved in The Legend of Korra fandom, and I think-- and Korra is a character who is dark skinned. She's a very loud and sort of-- kind of angry woman-- like, young girl. She's not your conventional sort of... she's buff, she's a fighter, she's a brawler. I really, really identified with her. And so, going through the Korra fandom, and listening to people talk about sexuality, and gender, and shipping filtered through the lens of Korra really helped me sort of understand that ‘oh, maybe I’m not straight either’. But it was never like a-- I never had a moment where this is the point where I'm like, ‘I'm gay, I'm gonna come out as gay and tell the whole world about it’. I identify as bisexual, and my gender is a big question mark currently, but I've never sort of-- [laugh] I sort of let it sort of be passively absorbed. I haven't come up to my parents, and that-- because that could be a problem, because they know about my involvement with Rangoli as an ally, and my parents hate it because it's gay, so that's like a whole sort of... that's another question mark. But being on the internet spaces really allowed myself to express myself and develop my personality in a way that I wasn't allowed to at home, in the real world, around my parents especially.

MS: (1:12:15)
Can you walk us through what happened after high school?

D: (1:12:19)
So I have always wanted to go to the University of Pittsburgh. I remember going to Pitt’s campus in high school as part of the Young Writers Institute that they hold and just being like, ‘wow, I want to be here’. And so when college came around I applied to a few other schools, and I got into Pitt, and that was that. Once I was in Pitt that was where I was gonna go. I spent the first year living on campus, and it was kind of rough because I was put into a suite of seven other girls. Two of them were really nice, but the rest of them were very white, and very sort of like... republican-y type of people, and so I didn't really get along with them. The friends I ended up making were mostly guys that that first year, because I sort of happened to run into this group of people in Union one evening, and they've sort of been my friend since. I started studying computer science - because of my parents insistence - and all my life I'd sort of floated between, ‘oh, I want to be a doctor’, ‘no, I want to be a scientist’, ‘no, I want to be a psychologist’, ‘no, I want to be an archaeologist’. There was never something that I really knew I wanted to do, or if I decided like-- at one point, I really wanted to be an archaeologist and my parents were like ‘absolutely not’. So I decided when I went to college, ‘okay, I'll study computer science, make my dad happy and take classes of whatever I want on the side’. But that was a terrible idea, because not only did I have no friends, I was also really bad at computer science, and that affected my mental health really badly, and it just...

D: (1:14:08)
That first year of college was very, very awful. And then at the end of that year I told my parents, “Look like if I keep doing this, it's gonna be awful”. And so they said, “Alright, do what you want to do. Just do it well.” And so I decided to study writing, and communications, and gender/sexuality and women's studies. But I also moved back home and commuted for the next three years, so I never was able to-- I was able to make friends in classes, but I was never able to sort of develop community, or join clubs and find that community, because I always had to catch the bus to get home at nine o'clock, and on campus meaning sometimes start at 10. I've always sort of felt like I was floating between people - like person to person - and there was nothing really to route me down. And all this time my gender and sexuality is just sort of like humming in the background. I didn't make very many brown friends in college, because honestly - to this day - I just don't get along with the people you would term “trown town” - the people who do dance and do all the South Asian Association stuff. I just never sort of fit in with those people. I don't listen to the same kind of music - I'm a metal head. I don't-- I'm not interested in playing Holi on the green in the spring - like that kind of stuff. College was kind of a blur in that way. My friends were all white. We were all writers. It's great. I'd sort of resigned myself to being-- gonna mostly inhabit white spaces and that's okay.

D: (1:15:55)
And it was after college that my dad took me to a community meeting with the local police. So it was my dad, a bunch of other Temple people, local police, and my friend from high school [redacted] was there. And [redacted] and I got to talking later about certain questions that hadn't come up with a meeting with the police that I-- I don't think these uncle's would have thought about to begin with. Like, who-- you know, can an undocumented member of the South Asian community call the police without being-- without fear of reprisal from ICE or something. So we started talking, and she told me she was trying to pull together a group of people to think about these things - you know, other South Asians to think about these things, and I was like, ‘awesome I'm in’. And I think I followed her into this sort of group more-- less out of activist reasons, and more to find friends, and community, and people to just be around. And obviously this is the group that Anish and Satvika have referred to, and that is where I met Satvika and Anish, and once we all sort of realized, oh, we had-- we're queer, we had an interest in maybe doing something about it, and we broke off - and then the rest is sort of history.

MS: (1:17:22)
How did things evolve from this broader South Asian community to Rangoli for you?

D: (1:17:29)
We started doing our thing with Mirrors, and I think - for various reasons - the other group disbanded and we started getting closer both of as colleagues interested in working in the space and also as friends. And just things sort of kept working out in a way that I didn't expect that they would, I think? There's so much that happens in these kinds of spaces that never sort of pans out, but we all came together and we clicked in such a way that we wanted to make sure things kept going, and there was-- We weren't just looking for what to do now, we were also sort of looking to do-- what can we do next month? How can we keep going? And I think also meeting as friends and becoming friends also lent itself a lot to staying together as a group. I think if we hated each other we couldn't have worked as colleagues either.

D: (1:18:24)
And so really becoming friends with the group was the first time I sort of really saw myself, and all my queer friends were online, mostly, and my South Asian friends are - again they were straight and I sort of slid my sexuality that way, but never really talked about it because it just didn't feel relevant. But this was the first time where it was like ‘oh, you guys are South Asians. You get this - a lot of things about me implicitly, you guys are also queer, and you also understand that part of me implicitly’, and it was like ‘holy shit’. [laughs] And yeah, so finding a community of people that like where I can sort of articulate without having to explain myself or hide myself has been really freeing in a way that being a part of other friend groups has never been.

MS: (1:19:28)
And how is it different for you? For a lot of people that are finding community around this time in college, they're moving from home to be part of that community, whereas for you, you were - when you were in college - you were living at home and you were still in the same community in many ways. How does that feel different or…?

D: (1:19:51)
In a way-- So it feels like I've never really left. I didn't actually move out from my parents until late last year, so this is the first time I really lived on my own. Until I did that I still felt very connected to the Temple world, and what my parents were doing, and I never-- I didn't really feel like I had a life of my own. And it wasn't until I had that independence - that most people I think would have gotten with their move out to college for the first time - that I also felt like, ‘oh I'm my own person and I can form communities without sort of my parents having to be nosy about it all the time-- nosy about it all the time’. It's been interesting because - before I even moved out - I was already pushing sort of that community that I've grown up in away, because just there's a lot of reasons. A lot of them-- because the community of Indians that I've grown up with in Pittsburgh - they're very right wing leaning in the Indian sense - BJP supporters - and increasingly as I've grown up I don't want to be-- I don't want to be part of that. When I was younger I did a stint in the local Shaka, which is a group for the youth organized by the HSS, which is the American version-- American branch of the RSS. The group is... you show up, you sing patriotic songs, you pledge, you do weird paramilitary type drills that are presented as games but aren't, and then you're drilled about how Hindus are better and this stuff. So just being on the fringes of that kind of group, and knowing that this is what my parents actively support, it became really important to me to reject that and the ways that I could even if I was still tied to them.

MS: (1:21:52)
It's very fun hearing all the interesting ways that things intersect - like the Boxcar Children. I didn't know that was like a popular queer South Asian convergence point. But it sounds like in terms of your individual stories there's this convergence around Mirrors. So can you tell me a little bit about what that project was like, and what you were hoping to do with Mirrors, and are hoping to continue to do with Mirrors?

S: (1:22:18)
Yeah, so Mirrors was our first big thing, and I think it was kind of our way of-- so, like I mentioned, this larger South Asian organizing effort was happening. And I think there was a moment when Anish and I were like-- we just met and we were kind of talking about potentially doing something queer related, and we were talking a little bit abou what an anthology might look like, or what a collection of stories might look like or something like that - because I think for all of us stories were really important growing up. And so that's kind of how the idea started, and we didn't really have a better idea. [incomprehensible] And so we, like I mentioned, we met up for the first time, and just kind of talked about what it might look like, like what trying to get contributors might look like. I don't know if this is true for everyone, but there was a lot of-- there was so many stages of this that I was like, “This isn't gonna happen.” Like, I don't know, when we were reaching out to contributors and we didn't get, I don't know, the response that we wanted or something and I was like, “Okay, so this is over.” Or when we were trying to fundraise, and we-- we ended up fundraising more than enough, but at the beginning it was a little bit slow, so I was like, “Okay, so this isn't happening.” And it was just very easy, I think for me personally, to give up really easily, because I was like ‘this is so niche, why would anyone?’, you know? It was really important for us to talk about stories, and have a collection of these voices. I think the moment that we all really got really close was the week that we were trying to put together the book. Once we had all the contributions, and we were editing as well as typesetting - well, Deep was doing most of that work - but we were doing a lot of that, we were stuck at the Pitts library for eight hours a day on top of our regular work days, and it was just this week of doing that. And I think we all got so much closer through that struggle.

D: (1:24:24)
I think Mirrors really came out of a desire to see ourselves represented wholly. If you read our introduction - we really labored over that introduction as we labored over all parts of Mirrors, honestly - but just sort of to see ourselves represented completely in a way that we've never seen ourselves. I think that was one of the first things we sort of talked about when we first met. Sure, you'll see queer media, but it's all white. You'll see South Asian media, but queer people don't exist in South Asia sometimes. And how could we sort of create something that would fit in that space? And I think Mirrors then is the same as what we want Mirrors to be now, and what we want it to be in the future, which has to be a space for queer South Asians to be queer and South Asian without sacrificing either aspect of those. And the media - being in print media and having a physical version of that - is, I think, really important to me, because that makes it real in a way that just existing in like a social group doesn't.

A: (1:25:39)
I think all of us felt like-- I mean, you've heard us say how meeting each other was really important in a way that we didn't realize. Some of us had been very conscious of the fact that this was a hole, and some of - like, in our lives, that's something we were missing - some of us not so much. But I think all of us, upon meeting, realized how important it was and how influential it could be. And I think noticing that lack, we wanted-- part of our goal with Mirrors was that people could see-- like, this is something we would have wanted to see - like we would have wanted to know that there were stories out there, and that we weren't alone. And I think that was part of our goal. To be able to put together pieces and, like Deep said, something that's very tangible, so that it was very clear to anyone who came across it that this identity does exist, and you might not be the only one out there.

MS: (1:26:34)
So how did you all recognize each other? Like in this larger group, how did you-- how did that evolve from being when you were all organizing together around the South Asian activism, but then how did you within that group essentially come out to each other or recognize that you could be a queer subgroup?

A: (1:26:53)
I think [redacted].

S: (1:26:54)
I think she kind of did it for us.

A: (1:26:55)
Yeah. So the mutual acquaintance, I think, was the only one who knew all of us, and I guess knew our identities, and so catalyzed it in a way. And then I think-- I think I remember sending the first email to you both, because I was just like, “Oh, wait, oh my God, that's cool.” I don't know that it would have happened as quick - like I'm sure it probably would have happened, we could have realized - but I don't think it would have happened as quickly without [redacted], the acquaintance, sort of triggering us.

MS: (1:27:24)
How did Rangoli emerge from this project that you were working on initially?

S: (1:27:29)
It was kind of like a branding strategy session, honestly. Because it was-- we were coming out of this larger umbrella group, but we were doing this project, but then we wanted a name for our group. And so we-- there was definitely a moment where we kind of jokingly said, “We should call the anthology”-- Or, I think the name Rangoli came up first, and we were like, ‘okay, maybe that should be the name of the group’. Initially, it was gonna be the name of the anthology, but we were like ‘that doesn't really work’, and then I think someone - I think it might have been [redacted] - jokingly said, “We could name it Mirrors”, because we were talking about how we wanted to hold up a mirror and have people be reflected in their stories and stuff. And I think all of us were like ‘wait that's perfect’. But that's kind of how that happened. And I think it was-- so Mirrors was our first flagship project. It was the first thing that we did. It was kind of our way of figuring out how we worked as a group, kind of what our values were as a group, and things like that. And then I think it was after we finished Mirrors that we kind of - I mean, we took a break, because it was hard - and then we were like... I think it was-- we kind of got together and we were like, ‘okay, what's next’? What else can we do? What else is there to do? And does that-- what does this group look like outside of Mirrors? And I think that's kind of the conversations we started having around then. I think a lot of the stuff that came out of those conversations were things around kind of like different workshops, different panels, and so we did a lot of those going into it. And then I think our next biggest project didn't really happen the year after, right?

A: (1:29:14)
From my perspective it was-- I don't know that we thought about it - like Satvika said - thought about Rangoli that much separately from Mirrors until after. I think we did think a little bit about supporting some community events, and we did-- One of our goals was community building, specifically for queer South Asians, so we wanted to reach out and get to know more people in Pittsburgh. So we did a couple-- I think we hosted some film screenings and stuff, but it wasn't until after that we were much more deliberate about being like ‘this is how we're going to put the word out’, ‘this is how we're going to have social events where people can meet and actually build’. We can facilitate those community interactions, and then also think about what is... what are we as a group, in terms of what we're advocating for, and what are we going to do beyond justice this publication?

MS: (1:30:04)
And why did it feel important to have a group for queer South Asian people? What was either the whole - with the original group that you all met each other at - what were some of the needs that you wanted to fulfill with having a specific queer group?

A: (1:30:26)
So I can actually just add one quick-- I remember a story that probably demonstrates that. One of the things that that group - the Alliance for South Asians in Pittsburgh - we tried to do was have little potlucks where we just-- there were supposed to be, I guess, open forums or brainstorming sessions to think about ‘what are the needs’ and ‘where should we be focusing efforts’. And I remember there was one potluck - it was like five or six people - and it was at-- was at someone's house who was not - most of the people in the organization were around our age, like mid 20s - but this was like an adult, like a middle aged adult’s house. And he was South Asian, and his elderly parents were there, and I remember Deep was there, too. And we were just talking about different aspects like about South Asian communities, so maybe like immigration and other types of issues, but we didn't really broach sexuality or gender. And I don't remember if it was me or Deep who kind of timidly mentioned it - and one of us elaborated on how honestly, even in that space, we didn't even feel that comfortable going into it - and then I remember like me and Deep looked at each other and there was sort of unspoken acknowledgement that we both-- whoever said it, the other person also felt the same way. And it was just-- I think it was very telling that even in that space, which was a very progressive- by name progressive South Asian organization, there was still this hesitancy about being able to be fully authentic about that and even speak it. And that story itself hopefully illustrates why we did feel like there was a need to have a safe space - safe, dedicated space for us to be able to interact with each other in a way that we didn't have to feel burdened by performance or hesitation.

S: (1:32:24)
To me, when you're able to kind of create a space where you're able to be fully, authentically yourself, you're giving other people's space to be able to be fully, authentically themselves as well. And it's kind of what I meant about every time I talk about it, there's someone else that kind of comes up and says ‘this is also something that I am dealing with’. And so that was kind of always in the back of my head when I was-- when we were trying to figure out what a specifically queer South Asian group might look like. Just the fact that it was important to have that space for other people to feel like they could be wholly themselves, you know?

MS: (1:33:00)
What was the reception to forming this new group? Did you feel supported by these other progressive South Asian groups? Or was it contentious to have as an offshoot?

D: (1:33:12)
I don't think it was contentious, but reflecting. And a lot of the people are great supporters and signal boosters, but I also don't-- I think a lot of these people's activist concerns are just situated in such a way that they don't necessarily work explicitly with queer issues, because that connection just isn't there. I've always felt we're here because we're queer. They're supporting us, but they're not going to do a lot of the work - like as an active involved ally, either. There's a passive support, but there's not-- and there's often active support too, but there's not ‘we're gonna put in the work with you’.

S: (1:34:00)
And to be clear, most of us are still friends, right. There isn't really an animosity or anything. But I think that, like we mentioned, the group dissolved for a lot of other reasons. And I think it has been kind of interesting, though, because I-- Yeah, I agree. I think there's a lot of passive support of like ‘oh, the work that you guys are doing is really coo’l. And there'll be a lot of signal boosting - of sharing some of our calls to actions or something - and most of them will donate if we have a crowdfunding thing or something like that. But yeah, there hasn't been a lot of active things, and even kind of in the larger Pittsburgh community there's always the sense that I have of like ‘oh I'm on this panel, because I'm queer’. Or, you know generally it's like I'm here because I'm South Asian, but in the Asian community it's always like a sense of ‘oh you're here for the queer perspective’. Which is a fun and fine thing.

MS: (1:34:54)
So going back to Mirrors and this idea of being really interested in storytelling as a way of building connection, what was the reception to Mirrors like, and how did it feel to be able to share stories with one another and with other folks?

A: (1:35:09)
One of the ways that we shared Mirrors was... the day that we sort of releasing it we had a launch party. So we had-- we contacted a really cool organization in Pittsburgh that allowed us to use a space to have just a small sort of release where we had we invited anyone who had contributed, who was in Pittsburgh, to come share their story or their work, and then other people who weren't in Pittsburgh to send in recordings. And I remember us being really nervous because we weren't sure about the turnout, but it ended up being really shockingly more than we expected. And it was really humbling, because there was a lot of our friends who came there to support us, and then even some acquaintances, I think. We didn't have that strong connections to who ended up coming. And it was a really great event, and I think it was really meaningful for us, because like all three of us had work in Mirrors that we were able to share. For me, it was sort of the first time I had ever shared anything personal like that - verbally - in front of such a large audience, so that was really great. But then beyond just that event, I think we had a lot of good reception from the community - like from our friends and family - and then also from the community in Pittsburgh. Like different parts of the social justice community I think were really interested in-- they had supported us during the fundraising, and then also in sort of taking up Mirrors and amplifying it.

A: (1:36:39)
But what was really cool I think, for me personally, was posting about it on my social media feeds and then seeing people - South Asian people - from my life, especially from high school, who now identify as queer, responding and exactly the way that I think was what what I had hoped personally, like what I had mentioned before about having wanted to see this and know that they weren't alone and having comments like, ‘I felt so seen’, you know, ‘I can't believe like something like this exists,’ and ‘there's all these stories that really resonated with me. And then what was even funnier was that I think some of my friends from college who were South Asian, who don't identify as queer, but maybe aren't all the way on like-- are not all the way on the straight point of the spectrum, but haven't really thought about it enough deeply to identify a certain way, read some of the stories and were like, ‘wow this is really interesting’ like ‘this is resonating with me in ways that I didn't think’. And I think it was really gratifying to hear that it had sparked that type of personal introspection.

D: (1:37:48)
I can share a story about Mirror-- shortly after Mirrors with... So my parents and their family friends rotate potlucks every month, and the one right after launch party was at my house - at my parents house - and my mom had said, “Don't bring it up.” Where, you know, I proudly brought the magazine, and they just weren't interested in doing anything other than homophobia. And so my mom was like, “Don't bring it up. We're not going to talk about this.” Yeah, it didn't happen. Um, so whatever, whatever. It was actually an auntie that said, “Hey, beta, I saw your Facebook post about your magazine, and I read through and your piece was really good.” I was like, “Oh, thank you.” And then all the other auntie's start chiming in, and they were like, ‘oh can we see the magazine?’ and ‘you can show us your piece or whatever.’ And I looked at my mom and she's like, “Okay, bring it down.” And so it was this weird, very strange-- like she needed to have the tacit approval of the rest of the Indians before it was okay for me to even bring it down, and even then we didn't talk about it being a queer thing. It was so weird. The impression seemed to be ‘this is your work and we're supporting you, and the gayness is just something we're not going to acknowledge’. And so we made this inroad into this fairly conservative space, but nothing about it that made it what it is was really acknowledged or remarked upon. There was sort of a discussion about ‘oh, gay people are like this’ and ‘gay people are like that’, and I was just like ‘I'm not gonna do this right now’. But yeah, it was a very strange experience. Very strange.

S (1:39:40)
Yeah, I think for me, I agree with what they had said just in terms of like-- I think it was so much better than I had expected it to be. At the launch party there was a lot of people there that I didn't expect to see, which was really awesome. And I was just thinking about this while I was listening to you guys talk - and I have I've never said this out loud before, so I have no idea how this is gonna go - but I think that thinking about how good Mirrors and good Rangoli has been for my professional career is now really weird to me to think about, because I remember there was a moment when there was this person who I admired really heavily, and we were chatting, and I was kind of doing the thing where I was like, “Well, I'd love to catch up or grab a coffee or whatever.” And she just kind of looked at me and she was like, “Satvika, you made a book. I am so impressed with everything that you've done.” And that really was a huge moment - and I think like right before the launch party, actually. So it was this person who ended up facilitating the way for me getting a API honoree award or something like that. And I remember - it was kind of a similar experience to Deep’s - because I remember going home - because it was in Harrisburg - and I was saying that my parents, and my dad kind of looked at me and was like, “What is this thing that you're getting? Why are you being awarded?” And I was like, “Well, we made this book,” and like, you know, whatever, whatever. And he was like, “What though?” And I was like, “Well, it's this queer thing.” And then he immediately didn't want to talk about it anymore, and that was really interesting. But yeah, just kind of thinking about how doing Mirrors has gotten me - has gotten all of us I think, and the group really - name recognition in a way that I didn't really-- we didn't think about beginning. But looking back on it, it was probably the thing to do - create a project, and then do you know different things on top of that so that we have a thing to show people.

MS: (1:41:43)
So then moving into Rangoli, can you tell me where the name came from, and then what how it felt to organize in Pittsburgh, and whether you had any connections with other South Asian queer groups in terms of inspiration or as models?

A: (1:42:00)
I think through Mirrors, actually, it was a really great opportunity for us to reach out to other organizations, because we wanted both support of knowing if they had done projects like this - had existing tools that we could use - and then also their support in sort of getting the word out about our project. So we ended up doing, I think, a lot more research than we would have about what are the people and organizations out there doing work in this space. And that naturally led to sort of us just meeting people either virtually, or in person, or following their social media, or learning about different groups. I think I may have first found out about SADAA actually through this inquiry. And so that was really great because we got to connect out with different people. And for me, personally, I remember - I think it was the year after we had-- or the summer after we released Mirrors - I actually went to the National Conference in San Francisco - NQAPIA’s National Conference - and connected with a lot of people. And I think I mentioned before, when we're having sort of a discussion about my own history, it was through sort of these efforts that I really came to understand, sort of in the way that Satvika described, that all this has been happening and it's there, and there's so many people, and it's really vibrant and it's really rich. And there's actually years of this - even decades, as I guess you-- the whole goal of your project is to show that like this has been happening in the United States too. And I think, connecting that back to what Satvika just mentioned, maybe not necessarily strictly professionally, but it has completely changed my worldview in terms of what this community actually means, and who's out there, and what it can mean for me going forward. Especially as someone who wants to go into clinical medicine, and potentially work in primary care, I think knowing that there's actually a sizable queer South Asian population out there, and it's broad and different with unique health needs, that's-- this journey has helped me sort of understand that that is one of the patient populations that I want to work with.

D: (1:44:04)
I feel like we went through so many different-- like the original version of our name was ASAP Rangoli, and I think we met went through a wide variety of potential options as to what we could be called before we settled on Rangoli. And I don't remember a lot of them, but I remember we did pick Rangoli because a rangoli is a colorful amalgamation of different colors into something beautiful, which is what gayness is about in the end. But we did recognize the art of rangoli is a very culturally and religiously specific thing rooted in specific Hindu practice, but I think despite that, we sort of reasoned that this is something that does represent what we may want it-- we want this group to be. Anish, what you were saying made me think of how despite there being so many queer South Asians, one of the things that we've struggled with is also finding these queer South Asians. When we were working on Mirrors, specifically, I think we did a fair amount of research into ‘hey what projects are happening that are like this? Who can we talk to?’ We found a couple projects that, you know, call for submissions were put out, but the projects never came to fruition. And then we ended up talking to one woman who had put together an anthology of South-- of a topic related to South Asianness, and she sort of chided us for not knowing that someone else was doing this work out there where she was. And it was very weird, because despite there being so many people doing this work, it's very hard to connect with them. And even in Rangoli we found that despite being an active presence on social media, and doing events, and this and that - it's very hard to reach the people we want to reach, and the best connections we've made have been, ‘oh we have a friend of a friend’ or this person is reaching out to us directly, because their friend told us. Very personal connections is what has made Rangoli grow rather than sort of broader social media work.

S: (1:46:30)
Yeah. And I think it's been hard even now, as Deep was saying, to-- even if we're trying to do a project or something, and just kind of trying to be able to reach out to these organizations that we now know exist and have worked with them in the past maybe, but kind of reach out for different projects, or... I don't know, there just seems to be a lot of disparateness in both kind of the goals of these different organizations and the projects that they're working on, and kind of what they're doing and things like that. And so it's been the kind of consolidating the South Asian queer activism organization world has been an interesting journey.

A: (1:47:20)
And in connecting with these organizations I think, personally, I've learned that it's not as-- like it wasn't the paradise that I expected it to be - everything is not perfect. And that was a really tumultuous kind of like-- I kind of had to grieve that. It was almost like there was a grief involved with that, because for so long I wanted there to be this community. And I think when I found that with these folks in Rangoli it was very positive, and then I expected it to be similar when I-- when we connected it in a larger scale, and it wasn't. And I think I found out that there's a lot of problems - even within this niche group. A lot of intra-community problems, where these patterns of privilege outside of these axes are presenting themselves. We talked about a lot of Hindi dominance - Hindi speaking dominance, like North Indians. Like gender dominance.

S: (1:48:18)
And Hindu dominance.

A: (1:48:18)
Like rearing its heads. And that was really difficult to come to terms with, but I think it was an important realization, and one that's real.

MS: (1:48:27)
So maybe - and I think this next question really branches off of that well - but I’m thinking of giving you all sort of a longer question, but we can go around and each respond to it. So I wanted to-- one of the things that you raised were some of these challenges around organizing in queer South Asian spaces, so - this is like a three part question - but can you go over some-- what have been some of the largest challenges you've had in terms of organizing queer South Asian spaces? And then what are some of the most valuable memories you've had in queer South Asian spaces? And what is your hopes and visions for the future of this-- of organizing queer South Asian spaces?

D: (1:49:06)
Biggest challenges I think I've spoken on that really, for me personally, I feel our biggest challenge is to reach the people we want to support, and continuing to reach the people we want to support to keep-- to find people who not only... I think a good group has a core group of people who are involved in organizing, but it also has a group of people that may not come to organize, but come to the events, and come hang out, and participate. And I think one of our challenges is to not only find the people who want to just come and hang out, but also the people that want to keep Rangoli moving forward. And so we've been able to find people who are interested in organizing as well, but I think my vision for Rangoli would be five more people? Like please, where are you? Come join us, hang out with us, just be there with us and we can be a big, queer South Asian sort of like... you know, a group that meets regularly not just to organize, but also to socialize. And I think part of the limitation, obviously, is that Pittsburgh is a small city. We have a population of 330,000 at max in the city, and so branching off of that my hope for Rangoli in the future is that even as we sort of move on - the four of us - that people are there who are willing to keep it going, because it would be-- it would be so sad to have yet another queer South Asian group dissolve like that, because the people just aren't there. And then to answer your middle question, my favorite memory… Oh god, the launch party was a big-- was something that I think about a lot that happened. It was such a touching moment for the community to come out with us, and to be supported in that way, and to be able to express ourselves and be the most authentically ourselves. Another great memory I have is-- We put together a - the word is eluding me, but a presentation - of two professors at the Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit, and they talked about queerness and imperialism. They gave two different lectures. And just putting that together, and seeing the amount of people that came out to be like ‘hey this is a topic we're interested in and thinking about’ was really incredible to me. And then my last thing - just all of the gatherings that we've had as a group together - not just to organize, but just to be there as queer South Asians together - has just meant the world to me. I don't think there's anything that we do that can surpass that, personally.

A: (1:51:54)
So I think - answering your first question about the biggest challenges - probably I would point to what I was talking about before. Realizing that it's not simply-- it's not a simple task where you just have everyone who identifies with this group sort of just magically fit in perfectly. There's varying degrees of…. obviously, acceptance - everyone on their personal journey with this identity - but then also how they feel like they need this community. I think that's been difficult, because I sort of assumed that everyone needed it in the same way. And so that's one challenge. Another challenge, I think, would be getting past those issues I was talking about before that I think have really been debilitating in a lot of these organizations across the country where basically you have these patterns of privilege that just lead to certain groups dominating forces at the expense of others. And I think I've repeatedly heard that that's been a non-trivial issue, and I think it's one that we actively talk about and I think try to make sure it doesn't happen. It's-- we're really lucky. I think that organically, when the four of us sort of started we didn't have, just by nature of our identities, we didn't have some of those typically disproportionate forces coming up. Because, you know, it was three women and one man, which is not as typical. Yeah, I think that that's definitely a challenge that I see happening. In terms of favorite memories, I think, I agree with Deep about how - while there were some really, really great memories from things like the launch party and some of the other big initiatives that we did - I think the things where I think back and find more joy in its purest form, as cliche as that sounds, was these very just unstructured times when we were just hanging out. The three of us actually started rock climbing a lot, and that has been really, really fun. Like belaying each other and stuff like that, taking our belay test together, just really good memories that I think were not from these big events have been really great.

S: (1:54:16)
A lot of the challenges for me have - because of the nature of Pittsburgh and because of the kind of work that we do - I think for me it's been a lot of trying to figure out how to build solidarity with other movements while also keeping our specific audience and our specific focus, and specifically how to do that in Pittsburgh, right? And so trying to figure out how to-- like, a lot of the things that we care about around advocacy issues - so like police brutality, or housing rights, or economic justice in a lot of different ways - and there's so many groups doing that work, and they're much more of an issue based advocacy, whereas we’re much more of an identity based advocacy. And so bridging that gap and trying to figure out how to work to build solidarity in that way. So we've been trying-- there are these statewide efforts, I think, around building API power in Pennsylvania and trying to figure out-- just doing a lot of voter registration and things like that, but also like kind of surveys, and a lot of it this year was around census, and currently everything's about COVID, obviously. So trying to figure out what our role as an organization - and also as humans in these different areas - has been my biggest challenge, I guess, personally. To me it feels like there's so much more that we could be doing, and also we are kind of a niche identity group - or at least it feels that way here in Pittsburgh. And so trying to figure out what that might look like is kind of my vision for the future. Kind of like doing-- doing more broadly, but also trying to keep it true to who we are, which is the queer South Asian organization. I think I agree. Favorite moments - there's so many to name. I think from the beginning - like a lot of it-- a lot of my favorite moments have been not even the times that we're hosting events, but everything that leads up to those things. So, I think, for the Mirrors launch party and for Mirrors, it was that week that we all just spent holed up in the library building the book, right? And then for a lot of our workshops it was just the moments right before where we're all like, “Have you eaten yet? Have we, like, what's happening? What are we doing?” You know, it's always the like-- and then for Day of Visibility last year there was this really special moment when-- [laughs] We were trying to set up for it - it was a couple days before the digital toolkit was going live - and we just started playing metal screamo music - [unintelligbile] screamo - and Deep and I were just jamming out, and then Anish was just sitting there like ‘what is this?’ I think about that a lot.

S: (1:57:11)
There was a moment when those-- Day of Visibility last year again, and we had just gotten-- we were just finished with the in person event that we were doing - we were hosting a panel of just kind of Queer Asian stories - and we had both the proclamations that we had issued from the state and the city kind of in our hands. And there was a moment where we were driving back to an Anish and [redacted]’s apartment, and we were taking pictures in golden hour with the proclamations and stuff. There was a moment when - I think it was [redacted]-- For the record, [redacted] is a very risk averse person, I would say, and so it was really, really cool for her to say, “Hey, doing a lot of these Rangoli events made me more-- made me be able to envision doing these things more.” Like, “I'm more likely to be able to do them, and I can actually see them happening now that we've done them.” And to me - I was driving and I almost started crying - it was so special and really, really important. And so, to me, it's the ways that we've changed each other. I think I've become a much more - other people might not agree - but I think I've become a much more patient person through this whole process. And just yeah-- just kind of the ways that we've changed each other and just talk through a lot of stuff. And yeah, it's just-- we just got really lucky, I think, in that like the people that we wanted to organize with were also the people that we wanted to be friends with. And that's huge to me.

Collection: Mustafa Saifuddin Fellowship Project
Item History: 2020-05-29 (created); 2020-09-09 (modified)

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