On representation

“As immigrants, we always feel an obligation to the opportunities we’re presented with, even if there are glaring red flags staring right at us. Be aware of this irrational gratitude.” – In saying this one thing Jinal Shah made me feel seen in a way I didn’t even know was invisible.

This whole piece is a series of reflections leading up from that one moment that has stayed with me since – on representation.

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It was our usual Friday hour at LWS, where many of the strong, independent, and wholesome women from the community showed up for each other and ourselves. I was sharing a particularly difficult situation at work, at a job in a country I’d newly moved to, all the while trying to downplay the impact of the situation on me. What Jinal said, rather the calm kindness yet conviction with which she said it unlocked a whole new part of my mind making me braver to own what I deserve and shed my immigrant baggage.

In that instance I felt a connection with Jinal that remains months later, and lives on as an ever-present reminder of a brilliantly fierce, intelligent, and compassionate leader at the forefront of strategic thinking. An Indian immigrant woman I look up to and aspire to be (at least half as) impactful as – Jinal represents the attainability of this aspiration.

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Thinking back on my early days in NY, an overwhelmed immigrant student I felt inadequate in my confidence and its legitimacy in the Big Apple. It was during one such acute moment of inadequacy at the NYU orientation that I happened to sit next to Sanya Deshpande, a vibrant and confident Bombay girl who had also moved to NY after her undergrad in Boston. Sanya had already spent some time in the city working many prestigious jobs, and from where I was sitting, already “making it” in New York. But she was humble and forthcoming, and kind enough to sense my hesitation and give me a quick crash course on the creative world of NY ad agencies, the ones I one day hoped to be a part of. Her relatability created comfort in me and carries on as a friendship but more so a sense of respect for a peer I very much draw inspiration from.

Sanya’s calm confidence in her multi-facet personality and life blended with the dynamic NY vibe, but the fact that she was so grounded in her roots in India was what was so refreshingly hopeful and assuring – representing the courage to dream big, beyond borders and countries and visas.

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More on representation of the Indian immigrant (woman especially) – I may not be an avid follower of Priyanka Chopra but I do applaud her, and loudly so, for putting India on the map for global fashion, art, media, and culture in a never-before kind of way – as an equal individual. She represents the Indian woman who has lived many lives in many places, globally and locally, who isn’t afraid to pave her path from her Indian origins and build forward with her global exposure and perspective.

And speaking of the role of media in representation, little Devi’s character in Never Have I Ever (thank you Mindy Kaling for this creation) felt so relatable to my teenage days. I’m far from being a teenager today, but this helped me process my own teenage drama growing up in an Indian family. Devi represents the cultural nuances I missed relating to, watching a unilateral view of western content in my younger days.

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Flashback to early days, I realize how blessed I was to have strong female representation around me – be it my grandmother with her literary brilliance and unabashed belief in herself or my mother who showed me very early on that you could have it all – a family, a career, and a fervent passion for something you truly believe in, which for her is about helping people.

It was this that brought Vrushali and Chatura, two of her most cherished students, into my life. They were these passionate, intelligent, and wildly confident young women with a unique distinctiveness in their minds and their style. I was as intrigued by their accessories (Vrushali’s earrings and Chatura’s motorcycle) as I was by their thinking – clear, kind, and bold – immediately elevating the atmosphere of any room they entered, both in spirit and intellect. They represented my future.

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To all these women and many more, with a special mention for my brilliant English teacher, Mrs. Monica Joshi, who represented my love for the English language and my future as a writer – I am eternally grateful for your representation in my life. You’ve intentionally or not steered the course of my life so I can be braver, bolder, and most importantly representative of all your influences on me. And I hope that will be a representation for someone else. And so it will go on. Representation.

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The Ladies Who Strategize community is a representation of a kinder, braver, non-transactional world – come be a part of it.
I intentionally chose the cover for this blog to be a picture of Anjali Sud, daughter of Indian immigrants, showing us what it means to be a woman leader, taking a young company to exceptional heights, alongside being a good mother.

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