A recent college graduate in Computer Science, Tanya Gupta doesn’t feel any friction with her identity. Born and raised in the Bay Area, her passion for singing Bollywood songs, reporting for Sitaarre TV, and her love of Indian festivals anchor Tanya to her Indian heritage. In this We Belong interview, Tanya and her mother Varsha Gupta discuss their connection to each other and to Indian culture.

We Belong is a visual series highlighting different experiences of South Asian and Indian identity. This series was produced by India Currents in collaboration with CatchLight as part of the CatchLight Local CA Visual Desk. Photographs and interviews by CatchLight Fellow Sree Sripathy.

(From left) Varsha Gupta, husband Nilay and daughter Tanya, 21, at their home in Fremont, Calif. on Mar. 3, 2023.

Where were you born and raised? When did you arrive in the United States?

Varsha: “I was born in Delhi and raised in Delhi. I came to San Jose in 2000.”

How did you feel coming to the United States?

Varsha: “I felt a little nervous. But I was with my husband. He has a few friends here. Slowly and steadily, I got to know people. Things were not as Indianized at that time. But I had good friends nearby, so I could survive. I did not feel that I’m out of place. And then Tanya [my daughter] came very fast. So I was busy.”

How did you maintain your connection to Indian culture?

Varsha: “I saw that there is a temple in Sunnyvale. And I got to have all the festivals from there. I could take Tanya there. I have a lot of friends. I got to know a lot of people. I’m very Indianized. I did not change myself. So I could raise Tanya in that way, but she has both worlds, Indianized and Western culture. So depending upon the environment, the situation, we adapt ourselves.”

Are there things you miss about India?

Varsha: My parents. I used to miss a lot of the food, religion, and culture.

What do you hope Tanya will connect to with regard to Indian culture?

Varsha: She knows what we celebrate. She doesn’t know how to read or write Hindi. But there is Roman English. She can read and write that as Hindi. She knows a lot of shlokas and how to do puja. She knows how to greet and behave with people, which is really important more than anything else.

Tanya Gupta twirls and dances to her favorite Bollywood songs in her home in Fremont, Calif. on Mar. 3, 2023. “I love my daughter,” says Varsha Gupta, “whatever the way she is.”

Tanya, tell me about where you were born and how you were raised.

Tanya: “I was born and raised in the Bay Area.  There’s always a lot of conversation around ‘Are we part of the American world? Are we part of the Indian world?’ I was lucky enough to be raised in a way where my parents never forced Indian culture on me. So I always had that space. I got to choose what I wanted to see in Indian culture and what I got to take from Western culture. I never felt conflicted. 

Bollywood has probably been the biggest influence. And then, of course, school. We’d go on field trips, we’d make friends, so that’s where I got my Western influence from. What also really helped is the fact that I live in the Bay Area, which is very diverse. So you get to explore a lot of cultures. And I guess that’s another reason I never really felt out of place.”

Varsha Gupta (right) helps her daughter Tanya get dressed at their home in Fremont, Calif. on Mar. 3, 2023. “For every event she’s helping me get ready in some way or the other,” says Tanya of her mom.

Other than Bollywood, what holds you to your Indian culture?

Tanya: All the festivals. Diwali, Holi, Rakhi, and Navratri – these four festivals are the main festivals that we celebrate in our house. These are the days that I really look forward to, especially Diwali. In the Western world, it is always Christmas. Everyone’s decorating their houses, and you feel so happy. There’s just a separate cheer in the environment. It’s exactly the same with Diwali. All of us are happier, we’re all excited, everyone’s celebrating.

Tanya Gupta stands next to what her friends call ‘The Wall of Tanya’ at her home in Fremont, Calif. on Mar. 3, 2023. “I can see all the fun cruises, my senior graduation from high school, when I participated on the ‘Voice of the Ocean’ and family trips with Mummy and Baba,” says Tanya.

What is something new that you hope to learn about Indian culture?

Tanya: One thing that is really starting to interest me is the spiritual concepts of Hinduism.

Tanya Gupta points to a photo of herself, taped to the hallway wall, dressed as Lord Krishna at her home in Fremont, Calif. on Mar. 3, 2023. “I see my mom’s happiness because every time my mom or my Nani see me as Krishna they get really happy and excited,” says Tanya.

A call for portrait volunteers was promoted in the India Currents newsletter and on social media for this series. Do you have a story to share? We’d love to hear from you! Fill out the Portrait/Story Submission Form and we will contact you.

This series was produced by India Currents in collaboration with CatchLight as part of the CatchLight Local CA Visual Desk. Contributors include Vandana Kumar, Meera Kymal, Mabel Jimenez, and Jenny Jacklin-Stratton. Learn more about CatchLight Local’s collaborative model for local visual journalism at https://www.catchlight.io/local

This series was made possible in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program.

Sree Sripathy joined India Currents as a staff photographer and CatchLight Local Fellow as part of CatchLight's California Local Visual Desk program in June 2022. Reach out with story ideas or comments...