Living brown in a white town


Art by Sathvik Manam

Being an Indian in Londonderry can sometimes be challenging for sophomore Sathvik Manam.

High school is like a Hershey Kiss cookie for me, just one brown blob surrounded by white. 

Hi, my name is Sathvik Manam, and I am brown in Londonderry.

Yeah we’re pretty elusive, right? It’s like seeing an albino in the wild: it makes you feel accomplished and more diverse.

Being surrounded by whites is definitely different. My entire world is shaped by the fact that I don’t look like the person next to me. 

True story, when I was in kindergarten, I thought the mirror was lying to me and that I was actually white since everyone around me was white. I have grown to accept the fact that it was telling the truth now.

I am an Indian, specifically from Andhra Pradesh in India. That makes me a minority in Londonderry, but a majority in the world’s population. Being brought up in Londonderry has accustomed me to the white suburban culture. Still, I also grew up in a household that nurtured me in traditional Indian culture.

Growing up in these two diametrically opposed cultures has made me, in a word, confused. On one hand, I’m taught to lead my life and do what I want to do. But, on the other hand, I have parents who wish the best for me so much to the point that they do it for me. 

For example, in the third grade, we had a project to build a castle, and when I brought it home, they would end up doing the whole project themselves though the grade would be mine. Sure, the castle came out great, but I didn’t learn from the project at all and the grade isn’t even my own at that point. Yes it was a while ago, but they still do it to this day.

I have most things in common with others when it comes to school. Since we share the same material, we share the same problems, and that creates bonds beyond just classmates. I can communicate and make references based on shared experiences. 

But, the problem is only a few of the conversations are actually about school. It becomes difficult when it comes to actual culture.

We Indians don’t have many things in common with the Caucasians around us. We have very different foods, types of movies and TV shows, language/slang, celebrities, roads, prejudices, and even advertisements. That’s a lot of stuff that we don’t have in common, and I am always in contact with people who I barely have a common ground with. It is like a cookie being by all cookies and there being only one chocolate in it all. 

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “How does he balance all of these things and still stay super white and woke?” The answer is “I’m awesome!”

And what else is awesome, food! Food, in general, is like the Pokémon Eevee, yeah it’s the same essential components, but you can still get very polar results depending on the region and elements. See, Americans have a wide range of delicacies. To boil them down to potato salad that is not seasoned is… unfair. Same thing with our cuisine. To call it all “curry,” a name coined by the British, is unscrupulous. 

One of my favorite Indian cuisines is chaat. It is sweet, sour, savory, salty, and spicy. Like you did not think it could hit all of those flavors, but it does. It is like Pit in Super Smash Bros, except it does everything well. I could talk about the many varieties of this food for hours, but I can’t because no one would understand, and that is just my reality.

This next difference is weird. I don’t know whether it is ignorance or convenience, but it always makes me chuckle when someone asks me to “speak Indian.” Indian is not a language you silly goose. Can you imagine if people walked up to you and asked, “Can you speak New Hampshire?” It would be weird.

I speak Telugu, which comes from my hometown of Andhra Pradesh. India is like if 50 countries decided to call themselves the same name. It is the reason why you cannot take somebody else’s username on a social media platform, it gets confusing. But, it is pretty cool nonetheless.

What is more confusing or wacky are our movies and TV shows. Oh boy, where do I begin? Well, for starters, all of the films are musicals. Like all of them. There is no single movie without a song with lyrics. Sometimes songs are well-timed, as much as they can be, and other times it’s as if you’re watching the Shining, and then it cuts to “I’m a Barbie Girl.” You get the picture. Songs also generally come from the movie itself. 

There aren’t singles made by an artist. The album is the movie. It is like the “Greatest Showman” album, the songs were not out there before the movie, the songs were made for the movie. Those types of songs are the only songs that we listen to. Most songs that are popular in India come from a movie. 

These are only a couple of the differences between you and me. It is hard when you make a reference I don’t get, or I want to make a joke, but no one would understand. But I think we can move past that. 

If your intent is to learn, then fine by me, ask all the questions you have. It can be like Oprah, but instead, it’s “You get an answer now, you get an answer, and you and you and you.” Don’t get me wrong; if you seriously want to know and want to learn something, then go for it and ask. Ask to your heart’s content and don’t be shy. We don’t bite. 

But, if your intent is not to learn and you just want to make fun of me or any other community. If your intention is to boost your own ego and to hide your insecurities, then, on behalf of all groups everywhere, I envy those who have not met you because I have feelings too.

Just keep in mind, an albino is also the same species; it just looks different.