"In Iowa I was an Indian,
here I'm an Iowan,
and in India I'm an American"
The struggle to find our identities is not a foreign one to most. Especially as young adults, concretely and confidently defining who we are is no easy task — especially in our socially groundbreaking and media ridden world today. However, UC Berkeley student Simran Sarin has turned her struggle into art. I came across Simran (formerly known as Mirchiwalli) while mindlessly scrolling on my Instagram explore page and was impressed by her award-winning and frequently featured artwork. My jaw dropped when I read she was part of Cal’s class of 2021 and was thrilled at the possibility of meeting her. Fast forward several months and I found myself sitting across from this talented young woman, who narrated to me everything: from her lack of formal training in graphic design to her longing for a strong Indian community in her home state of Iowa.
Through her work, Sarin both educates the world and herself about her rich heritage. She brings common Indian concepts such as “kum kum” to the world stage while doing more scholarly research on traditional household items or jewelry she had taken for granted.
“I think one of the defining moments when I was growing up was this whole deal with henna. In junior high, I went to India and I came back and I had mehndi on my hand and people were literally like, ‘oh haha why do you have shit on your hands?’ But then come junior year of high school, these same girls are asking me, ‘Where can I go to buy the darkest henna?’ to wear to Coachella. And I’m like ‘Okay, what the heck.’”
Simran relates experiences that most Indian Americans can relate to. Being able to provide a voice not just for herself but for her entire generation drives her to keep going.
She also has the opportunity to further explore both the pros and cons of Indian culture. For example, after she came across the term “jhoomkas” and learnt that they’re a very popular style of Indian earring, she was excited to realize she had a pair at home which she promptly photographed, enamored by their delicate beauty. Through this process, she has dived into learning about Indian arts and artists — both old and new.
However, she also understands the darker sides of a worldview that can often be quite conservative, and strives to draw attention to them. “I try to represent a ‘fierce’ Indian woman through my work because every time you go to India there’s an expectation that you can’t wear shorts or tank tops. You have to get approval from your parents about what you can pack in your suitcase because all the men stare at you. I can’t have a proper conversation with people because they expect you to sit quietly. Or if you have an opinion it’s expected to be in the same line as everyone else. Disagreeing is not a thing you do. My interest is in the ‘Desi-American’ who’s going outside those boundaries.”
Her artwork is a way for her to stand up and say no to the long-standing culture of the “submissive woman.” It’s a way for her to combine all her identities into one image and along the way, help others find their identities in her illustrations as well. Her powerful personification of young Indian women growing up in American environments is part of a larger movement of “rebellious” Indian women that are taking a stand and proving to the world that they are confident, independent, and capable of anything and everything. Sarin politely but firmly summed up what’s truly at the heart of the rising movement “Now I’m saying no.”
Simran's Social Media and Store: The Sunny Side!
About the Author: Manooshree Patel