Tag Archives: #swatiramaswamy

De-Colonizing the System: The Core Divisiveness Between Minorities

I grew up in an environment where my grasp of English determined my intelligence and the colour of my skin determined my beauty. Undermining those with ‘heavy Indian accents’ or a dark brown skin tone were a part of the Indian mindset that what must be eventually achieved is “whiteness”. I attempted to be as white as possible with my brown skin. 

When I came to America as a kid, I did not know much about systemic racism. It was a distant concept that I had not tackled in India. In my first week living in America, I was called so many names and racial slurs. I realized I knew of a very different world. Whiteness did not mean intelligence or perfection like I had previously believed. The white man has conned us. 

At an Ethnic Media services briefing on March 26th, a few distinguished speakers gathered to discuss and explain the process of redistricting in the US. 

Redistricting is the redrawing of political district boundaries – the boundaries of a district are redrawn to account for a relatively equal population and to have better representation in that community or district. 

EMS panelist, Thomas A. Saenz stated, “Redistricting is the redrawing of district lines not just for Congress, but also for state legislatures, also for local bodies like city councils, county boards, boards of education, community college boards. Where those systems elect their representatives by district, rather than at large.” He further went on to state the reason for redistricting: “In the 1960s, the U.S Supreme Court concluded that each state and each locality must redraw their lines after the census to make the districts relatively equal in population.” 

Once every ten years, after the census— the official count of the population— the district lines are redrawn to create a relatively equal population in each district and also have a better representation of people of colour in these districts and offices. This means that people of colour can engage and actively participate in communities and vote from city councils to legislative areas, it also helps create a better environment for minorities in their day-to-day lives. 

Despite all these beautiful laws that should be protecting minorities, in the 2020 Census, the Trump administration was trying to change the way data was collected for the census from total population to citizenship population. This would mean that people under the age of 18, illegal immigrants, and any non-citizens in the U.S would not be counted in the census and lead to drastic misrepresentation.

The people that minorities may seek validation from are not even willing to count them as part of the population or have them represent a community in American society. 

San Jose Districting (Courtesy of University of Maryland’s T-Races project)

Leah C. Aden, who currently serves as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), stated that the next round of redistricting will be a struggle because in 2013, the Supreme Court “immobilized section 5 of the voting rights act.” This was a provision that stated some states require federal approval prior to redistricting, just to make sure that there was proper representation of people of colour as those states had elected officials who would finish the voice of POC to come up in power. But now, due to the immobilization, places like Georgia, or Texas, or Louisiana, will not need federal approval, potentially making it worse off for communities of colour.

The speakers at the EMS briefing gave concrete examples of how people of colour can be affected negatively in every community. The constant need to push out people of colour from finding equality and comfort in communities is just perturbing. 

It’s been a series of events, the way white supremacy has constantly pitted people of colour against each other while simultaneously driving them out of political places that influence their daily lives. 

I’ve seen Black people and Native American people scream on top of their lungs and seen Asian and Latino communities having to protest all day, just to be considered human. I’ve seen the privileged find comfort in their privilege and only raise their voice if the privilege isn’t extended to them. This year has perhaps been one of the biggest eye-openers…

As people of colour a lot of us feel tired. But I urge you to accept and love and define your own self. I urge you to unlearn the ideologies that have been instilled in you and learn that you are enough because you exist. You deserve respect because you are human. I urge you to decolonize your mind. To engage in communities and be the representation in society you want to see. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

Aki Kumar Fuses Blues With Hindi and Makes It Familiar

Aki Kumar is a blues musician and artist from the Bay Area. Over the years he has developed his identity as a musician and what it means to be Indian in a traditional Blues world. Now as a well-established musician and artist, redefining and breaking the barriers of genre, I chat with him to understand his growth and work as an artist. 

“Toxic masculinity is the biggest hurdle in my world. It’s the ‘macho bravado’ that I needed to get out of myself.” 

He elaborated on the importance of getting out of the man box and how the presence of toxic masculinity has affected many women in the Blues world. He details his understanding of appreciation vs appropriation, the importance of the Indian community and the barriers of toxic masculinity in the blues world, and how he overcame the divide in the music world, to create a fusion of those worlds. 

IC: Where do you feel you stand in music right now and going ahead? Where are you headed? 

AK: I’m headed towards running away from the label of ‘genre authenticity’ which is really what caused me to first try to not represent my Indianness and then go completely the other way. Blues has been heavily appropriated in the US by the white audience that consumes it. When I was starting out in the Blues scene, I played and performed with my white peers, following their tastes and catering to a white audience. But even they know in the back of their heads that they’re not the authentic torchbearers of this genre. It’s always been Black music and in fact, black musicians have been denied their rightful ownership for several decades. I realized I was chasing an authenticity that these guys (white musicians) were not going to find. What’s authentic for a Desi boy is to be Desi as best as you can. But moving forward I’m going to try and break away even more from these predefined notions of what is authentic and what isn’t. The only authentic thing to me is just me and if a song comes to my head I’m gonna represent it my way. 

IC: What message do you have for the people that look up to you? 

AK: I hope someone is inspired by what I’m doing. The thing I would like to tell people is to really find yourself in your art. I myself didn’t realize this when I was starting out because I came from a traditional standpoint. But despite that, you have to find your voice. It’s a journey and when you find it is up to your circumstances but it is the most important aspect of artistry, otherwise you’re just reduced to an authentic mimic of something that already exists. 

IC: As an Indian immigrant in the States, how important is it to speak from an Indian perspective, in your music?

AK: It has been a journey to be honest because the first ten years of existing in the US was just ‘hey do I have my visa? Where’s my visa? Is everything stamped? I don’t want to get a drunk driving ticket cause then I’ll get deported.’ Until I realize that there are more people here (in the States) and there’s a history here. It’s a process of growth and I think everyone goes through it. 

One of the things I find with the Indian community is that we can be caught on the fence. A lot of folks are not sure about how to thread this needle where they want to be nationalistic in the Indian sense but they can’t embrace American nationalism cause that’s toxic to them. So they end up being liberal in the United States in many ways and embracing the freedom they enjoy here and then being rigidly conservative in India. This is a liberalism of convenience where you’re saying ‘oh I’m going to embrace the aspects of a democracy or being liberal when they benefit me but if they’d not benefit someone else I don’t care’. This is something I would like to address because they need to be aware of this. If you care about inequality it has to be in all aspects. 

IC: Where do you think the rise in fusion music puts India in the global music market?

AK: I think India is going to be a powerhouse, it already is. There is so much variety and talent in India and the consumer market is also in India. If all the music was made in India and listened to in India, it would be a powerhouse even if no one knew about it. The next century belongs to India culturally speaking. There’s so much regional music and so much potential for fusion, which has already been happening. Bollywood, for example, is fusion music. We are a masala of cultures. Everything gets blended in and we make something good out of it. However, it is important that we don’t appropriate cultures in fusion. If you’re going to bring cultures together through music, be aware of what you’re doing and educate yourself on the genres and history behind styles of music. If you want to do fusion, be a master of your domain.

IC: You explore a lot of genres and with fusion, there is bound to be criticism from both communities of Bollywood and traditional blues. How do you deal with that?

AK: There has been a lot of support, which I was really worried about in the beginning but a lot of folks got what was going on primarily because musically what I did with the fusion, worked. Most people who listened to it without prejudice found it smooth. The criticism comes from people who are so fixated on genre-centric music that they have established rules for what is and what isn’t fitting of blues music. In fact, all of the criticism has been from white people. Black people typically won’t go that way because they themselves have been oppressed in the ownership of the genre they created. So I don’t pay much attention to that part. In Bollywood music, it’s mostly people who say ‘oh that’s Kishore Kumar and he’s my favorite artist, but you don’t sound like him.’ I’m not Kishore Kumar that’s why I don’t sing like him. Nobody has really criticized me in a way that has stuck and after five years, if no one has found a way to give you truly insightful criticism, then maybe you’ve done something right. 

IC: Your track Zindagi that you released this year, is extremely comforting and hopeful, what made you release such a song during this time?

AK: I wrote the track a year before I actually did a video. I’m very proud to say that I wrote it in Hindi which has been a bit of a tricky thing for me because I don’t speak Hindi fluently. But it was part of the process of trying to write something more positive because typically I write cleverly worded attack songs to express my frustrations with the political or social climate. But then I thought that as an artist I need to find myself a more positive form of expression. Given the pandemic and how we landed last year, I had a feeling that if I put something positive right now it’s gonna seem lame cause people are not feeling positive right now. But there was hope of vaccines and the administration changing. Everything was building up to a more positive year. So I feel now is a time to put zindagi out there to help people feel hopeful. 

IC: The song was more reggae than blues, was there a reason for that?

AK: I’ve been on this old school Ska and Rocksteady journey which are precursors to reggae, and I’m the kind of person that steadily listens to one genre of music in extreme depth to really find its roots. I realized the things that appealed to me about the blues— the core nature of the rhythm being in place and this tonal vocality that just cuts through with a message, all of that is in ska and rocksteady because that’s the foundation of black music. I know reggae has kind of been a part of my musical listening even before I moved to the US like A.R Rahman’s Dil Hai Chota Sa’ is complete reggae, so I knew the genre and I just thought it would be perfect for the song.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Love. Come. Go Away.

Love

come, go away

like curtains you fall back and forward in the golden hour 

of the darker lights

hidden, open, quiet

breathe, you’re loud, soft to touch

hold me against your skin if only our eyes linger

blue, your footsteps reside and awake like waves between our limbs your heart- pink, and red lips in purple

hue

you, look at me like I look at you and bend, straighten

curve, fall back, dance to the soundless music and the play of our fingers, foggy and green when we overlap— stop

breathe

I count your moles on the hazel lenses I call my own, you—

do you feel the cracks? 

crevices in my skin pour into your heart walls that are grey, bleed out the dark and dusk draws out our light

you and me and our thorns white under the moonlight you, you

“let’s swim?” 

in the craters of this space lets enclose ourselves in the little cage and again— hidden, naked, brown

reflections spoke honesty and you were so profound, a dip on one side of your cheek calling out the smile on my face— dimples, how quaint in this quiet forest where leaves are singing and we remain still, restless

move, my head on your neck and you move again with our hand on each waist

sway, to the soundless music that plays from the red of our pain

love, into the night and the pinkish golden haze

fall into water and stay dry, breathe with me, let our eyes linger, stay, 

Stay.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Pink and Pollution at 4 O’Clock

I’ve begun applying hot coconut oil on my hair again every Saturday. I search for the little footprints I left back in the streets of India playing football. I seek that warm sun and humidity in Hyderabad on Saturday evenings. I’ve begun reminiscing about the pink and pollution of 4 pm. The kiraane ki dukaan that quenched my thirst with sprite and a 10 rs. Lays packet. I reminisce about the rainy days of playing four corners instead of basketball. I remember the smell of rain hitting concrete. I remember the feeling of melted dairy milk silk on my fingers, the cold glass of mango juice that numbs my fingers on a hot day, the smell of yellow daal tadka, and aloo after coming home from school on Saturday. 

Artwork by Swati Ramaswamy

This nostalgia made me realize: the smell of rain on concrete is not so different in San Francisco. Sprite tastes the same here, just a little (lot) sweeter. The sun at 4 pm yesterday was bright and golden and made me feel like I was in Mumbai. As a kid, I never understood the feeling of belonging to a place, everywhere can be your home if you want it to. But this past year I felt so distant from every place that I had called home. I felt in between things and just slightly offbeat. But these small things, like the smell of concrete and the sun, connected me back to all my homes. It connected me to Sunday morning skies in Japan, which were perfectly blue and sunny. It connected me to the most beautiful view from my balcony in India. It made me realize that pieces of my home, that felt most like it, always carry themselves with me. They repeat, they renew. No matter how much I change or grow, they give me comfort when I need it. The new year felt like that. Like the smell of freshly baked cake in the kitchen. Like finally making the perfectly round and “crisp on the outside soft on the inside” dosa. It feels just happy enough to be happy for no reason and happy enough to be happy when I’m sad. The feeling of jumping into a cold pool on the hottest day. It was like landing. I think home, wherever it is, invokes comfort in its meaning rather than its physicality. This phase of nostalgia made me realize that if I ever feel lost, I’m still always home.

Renewal. It’s a very tedious word. We renew passports, leases, and licenses. It’s a process that we have already achieved, but need to repeat. Renewals are odd and vacant. But the years that repeat are also renewals. The seasons renew too, so the second time it rains you have an umbrella. Situations repeat, and we change how we react to those repetitions, and we grow. This new year won’t be much different, but I hope it ends up being one of familiarity and comfort, even if it is about seeking new things. I hope there is always belonging, there is always that memory of a home that makes you feel permanent, like a cold glass of mango juice on a hot day.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.