Aditi Mehta, Founder, Brown Girl Magazine
I did the following interview for the new portal The Indian Diaspora. The Indian Diaspora is the first news and informational portal of its kind that covers the more than 25 million people of Indian origin worldwide on one platform.
By Mayank Chhaya
Young South Asian women, either born here in America or having migrated early on, have rapidly emerged as a distinct group within the diaspora that has a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Although there are ethnic South Asian publications that occasionally reflect their concerns, Brown Girl Magazine founder Aditi Mehta believes they constitute a distinctive and substantial enough group to merit a platform devoted exclusively to them.
Founded six years ago, Brown Girl Magazine has carved a niche for itself by addressing themes which go well beyond the inevitable subjects of fashion and entertainment. What is unique about Brown Girl is that it is an entirely voluntary effort where young South Asian women, whose families originate from all parts of the seven South Asian countries, write about wide-ranging subjects which have a direct bearing on their lives.
It is an online publication that balances competing interests among South Asian women in the age group 17 to 24, which also happens to be potentially attractive for marketers.
Based in Texas, Mehta answered questions from The Indian Diaspora. Excerpts:
Brown Girl has been around for six years now. What has been its experience in chronicling the aspirations of a sharply defined demographic constituent of American life?
At Brown Girl, we have tried very hard over the years to identify and develop content that would reach out to young South Asian women across the US. We were one of the first publications that wanted to cover stories about South Asian women, the issues they face, and that wasn’t just another fashion or entertainment blog. It was very difficult to start from scratch and figure out what we could do for this audience. Over time, what really helped was that all of our writers are young South Asian women themselves, each with unique backgrounds and really wanting to share their personal stories. If we didn’t have such a passionate staff, BG wouldn’t be where it is today!
What prompted you to give it the kind of specificity that the very name suggests?
Brown Girl is an endeavor that began as a way to provide a community and platform for young women of similar cultural backgrounds to voice their stories and opinions. As an avid reader, I often felt that young South Asian women were left out of important discussions or that issues that were important to them were disregarded completely. Hence, this magazine – a publication completely dedicated to and created by young women of South Asian descent. Initially, when titling the magazine I wanted to create a title that was inclusive to all South Asian women, whether they were Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Nepali, etc. I did not want a title that referenced to a specific language or region.
Furthermore, the magazine was to be created for all young women regardless to the level they associate themselves with their culture. For example, many Brown Girls may not identify themselves with being “Indian” or “Hindu” but just a girl that was born and raised in the United States with parents from India. Some of our readers are girls that have been raised with deep understanding of their culture and a passion for what it’s about. For other girls, they may have been the only Brown Girl in their high school and this is their first exposure to other Brown Girls.
Do brown girls have a set of experiences/challenges that are unique to their ethnography as well as their color?
I definitely believe so. I feel that brown girls haven’t always been included in many different parts of life, especially in American society. When it comes to entertainment and media brown girls were invisible or very much a stereotype. Much of this is changing now. And it is great to see that Brown Girl could be part of the shift where you see people like Mindy Kaling on everyday television.
How has been the response from the target audience?
We have grown tremendously over the years. Much of our growth has come from word of mouth and we really want to continue to reach even more young South Asian women in the US. We get letters frequently telling us how happy women are to find Brown Girl and have something they can truly relate to and find inspiration from.
Are you, after spending a fair bit of time reflecting a certain segment of South Asian immigrant community, able to say that brown girls are united by common challenges?
For the most part yes, but of course we all have our separate issues and concerns. For example, I think Muslim brown girls have their own challenges that maybe others can’t truly understand. As children of immigrants, many brown girls in the US do have certain challenges that overlap and that’s what the magazine hopes to address. This can include balancing cultures, following dreams when it comes to career, or even trying to find love.
Since you address the age group between 17 and 24 what according to you are the most compelling issues for young women in this group?
This is a tough one, because I don’t think there is necessarily just one issue that is most compelling. I’d say depending on where you are in your life, your challenges can change. For example, younger women might find themselves battling it out with their traditional parents or trying to fit in school. Slightly older women may now be facing pressure in terms of marriage and relationships.
How do the conflict/pressure/strengths/weaknesses of growing up between two cultures play out in daily life for these young women?
I can’t speak on behalf of all South Asian women; everyone’s experiences can be different. But what I do know that there is often times this tension in balancing several parts of my identity: American, Indian, Hindu/Muslim, young woman, etc. This puts a lot of pressure on the decisions I make such as who to date, my career path, or even whom I would be friends with.
For instance, how is life in that age group different for women in South Asia and here?
There are definitely big differences in growing up in the US rather than in a part of India. I think many of us (again I don’t want to speak for an entire group), are extremely lucky to have access to resources, support, and opportunities that the US brings.
Yours is a fully volunteer staff. Tell us about the challenges of maintaining consistent quality with a volunteer staff.
It’s definitely been a challenge over the years to maintain consistency and continue to attract quality writers. We are finally looking into ways to make our magazine more sustainable so that we can pay our writers and staff for all the work they contribute. Right now, we have a diverse group of young women who attend colleges or work across the country. It’s great to see their stories come to life on our site. We hope to offer an audience for writers that they might not be able to reach otherwise. Writers are contributing right now to share their stories and get across the positive message that Brown Girl is about.
Do you believe brown girls form enough critical mass for mainstream corporations to pay particular attention in terms of their needs and wants in different walks of life–from entertainment to jobs?
I do – there is a huge population of South Asian women in the US – growing up, going to school, and starting their professional lives. We’ve only scratched the surface. As more South Asian women come into mainstream media, the easier it will be to grow this audience.
For instance, how would the rise of someone like Mindy Kaling or at the other end of the spectrum the emergence of astrophysicist such as Sukanya Chakrabarti play out in this context?
Things are so different from when I was in high school. When I was in high school, you would never really hear about successful South Asian women in the news or in media. Things are changing dramatically – with Mindy, Sukanya, Priyanka Chopra, news correspondents on CNN, etc.
Being brown and on TV will soon no longer be a novelty. And this is very important in solidifying Brown Girl’s identity. We are an important part of society, we deserve to be recognized for our contributions, and we hope to continue to share information that is important to us. And with more recognition from mainstream media, Brown Girl Magazine hopes to be the publication that people turn to learn more about those women.