Anika Govil Has That Desi Connection

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About two years ago, Anika Govil, an Indian-American teenager from Pingry High School in New Jersey had a key insight: young South Asian girls were struggling with their dual identity and rejecting their “desi identity” due to the stigma of being “othered.” In other words, being seen as “too Indian.”

So Govil, a junior at Pingry (Class of 2022), who has grown up being Desi-American, founded Embracing Our Desi, a platform for South Asian girls to share their stories.

“As a South Asian female living in a predominantly white space, I feel as though my voice, opinion, and sometimes background have been “erased,” says Govil.

“I also find that there’s a stigma around being too “Asian” or too “Indian” that I constantly face. I have known that I’m not the only person to face this and that’s why I founded this organization.”

Govil’s website (embracingourdesi.com) has featured numerous stories of South Asian girls and their experiences ranging from culture shock to anti-blackness within the South Asian community. The goal of these individual stories is to get people talking and form a connection within the South Asian community.

The struggle is real and is faced by many youth in the South Asian diaspora, and especially by South Asian girls. This cultural conflict is a growing trend brought to life on the big screen by Devi Vishwakumar, the protagonist in the “Never Have I Ever” Netflix series directed by Mindy Kaling. Vishwakumar is a 15-year-old Indian-American, overachieving high school sophomore who rebels against and rejects the cultural mores that she finds too confining.

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“I also sought to create a space where desis from all around the world could come together and share their narratives,” Govil says.

Growing up, her parents always made sure that she was fully immersed within her roots. She attended Indian school for five years. She did Bollywood dance for the longest time, and now has been doing Kathak (Indian classical dance) for seven years. Each of these elements, brought her closer to her culture.

The website (embracingourdesi.com) has featured many stories of South Asian girls and their experiences, ranging from culture shock, growing up as a person of color, and societal issues within the South Asian community such as colorism and the stigma around mental health.

From monthly webinars, podcasts, writing submissions, and a final conference (that we are planning), we seek to combat each societal issue we encounter as desi (South Asian) teens while also celebrating our heritage.

“Being Desi American has always been a very big part of my life. Growing up, my parents always made sure that I was fully immersed within my roots. I attended Indian school for 5 years, did Bollywood dance for the longest time, and I now have been doing Kathak (Indian classical dance) for seven years. With each of these elements, I find that I am brought closer to my culture.”

As she puts it, “South Asian culture is BEAUTIFUL and I hope Embracing Our Desi is platform where everyone feels welcome. It was started because I was frustrated with the lack of resources available to South Asian girls like me. I want to make change and help our community thrive, and I really hope you find that the website is a safe space for everybody.”