Keerthi and Sneha were friends since childhood, growing up in the same Indian community in an Ohio suburb. They regularly rode their bikes together and found themselves talking about so many things. One day, their bike ride turned into an hour-long ranting session, which ended with Sneha saying “If we recorded this we could turn this into a podcast.”
Both Tamil-Americans and currently attending college at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, Keerthi and Sneha would regularly have conversions with others in their community similar to their pivotal bike ride. Nearly a month later, they had a plan and started the Redefining ABCD podcast.
Pardesi Article Editor, Anu Kumar, had the opportunity to chat with Keerthi and Sneha about their experiences growing up and how Redefining ABCD has helped others as well as themselves.
Can you tell us a little about yourselves and how you know each other?
Sneha (right): I’m [Sneha] a fourth-year architecture major [and] I’m going to be graduating soon. [Keerthi and I have] grown up together for the longest time. Our families are very close. We’ve known each other since very young and now we’re both fourth and third years in college at [the] University of Cincinnati Ohio.
Growing up we were both very close with south Asian culture, we were very privileged in the way that we were always surrounded by Indian culture. That was just part of our life for the longest time. Going to college was a reverse culture shock. It’s good to break away from that and break away from a different lens.
Keerthi (left): [I’m a] third year, studying computer engineering. We grew up in an area where the South Asian community was very tight-knit. For every holiday we were always doing something.
There are so many types of South Asian identities, and it’s very unique to see how everyone portrays that South Asian side of them.
I think [we both] are not mainstream South Asian. We didn’t know if we fit in because we didn’t do the mainstream South Asian things as others.
Keerthi and Sneha are both Tamil-Americans, and they both feel more connected to the Tamil community rather than a broader, mainstream “Indian” identity. Their identities in relation to religion are very culture-driven, and they both have an appreciation for it.
K: We’re both Tamil-Indian. We’ve only known about more of the Tamil side. I don’t really watch Bollywood movies, and I only know Tamil. A majority of people around us were north Indian or from non-Tamil areas.
S: Religion kinda plays a part [in my identity], but it was mostly culture-driven. Back when we were growing up there wasn’t really a temple we could go to. My parents even got distanced from [Hinduism] just because they’re not in India anymore. I don’t think religion is as integrated in my life. We’ll do the pujas and stuff, [but] the way that my mom spins it is for the cultural aspect and to learn the origin of it and get the sweets and share it with friends.
K: For me, it was the opposite. My parents are religious and growing up they would drive the hour up to go to the temple. My parents didn’t want that to happen to me, where the kids would sigh and say “we have to go to the temple.” I did Bharatnatum, and the dances are based on stories in Hinduism. It’s made me realize I’m more agnostic, but I go to temples with a deep appreciation.
K: We’re surrounded by family and friends who are of different religions. [Being South Asian] isn’t just “Indian, Hindu.” It’s also Christian, and Bangladesh, and Nepal, and that’s the privilege we had to see that diversity.
S: Our family-friend group was very solid. There was so much diversity. As soon as we stepped into school, that’s where it became very “monotonous,” where we felt like we had to be a very specific type of Indian. I think it was coming to college to get out of that bubble.
Their podcast, Redefining ABCD, seeks to unpack identity from the viewpoint of people living straddled across multiple cultures. ABCD, an acronym meaning “American Born Confused Desi,” can be used in a joking and/or derogatory manner. Keerthi and Sneha talk about their own experiences they have as fellow ABCD’s.
Your podcast name, Redefining ABCD, is a very interesting and welcome concept. So I have to ask, what are your experiences with the term “ABCD”?
K: ABCD is typically said from a person [who doesn’t have] a hyphenated identity. I think the biggest struggle I had growing up, was that I sound like a true American speaking Tamil. I felt very scared to speak in Tamil, so growing up I felt like an outsider because I couldn’t speak Tamil as well as my friends. But culture is more than just language, [and] you can’t also know everything about a culture. That was my own inner judgment as an ABCD.
S: I don’t think anyone actually called me one, but it’s always implied. Especially when I go to India, and I’m trying to fit in and be a part of the community. It always feels like you’re not Indian enough, or you’re not American enough, and it feels like you’re stuck in the middle.
Was there a defining moment that inspired the creation of Redefining ABCD?
K: We talked about these sorts of topics with friends, and on a bike ride together we talked about starting a podcast. And then we just planned the whole thing on a google doc.
S: I believe the [conversation] we had that kicked it off was a rant and a bunch of topics and I said “If we recorded this we could turn this into a podcast.” I think it took about 1 month to put together the outlines and marketing strategy, and then people started reaching out to us and asking to be on it.
K: When we posted the first episode, a few friends that we hadn’t talked to [in a while] had even reached out and encouraged us. There’s a Facebook group called Little Brown Diary and asked for people to come on and share their stories. It was so encouraging because so many people wanted to be on our podcast.
S: So it really did snowball.
Through making Redefining ABCD, Keerthi and Sneha have enjoyed the journey it’s taken them on. While being an affirming place for others with similar identities, they’ve also enjoyed reflecting on their own lived experiences.
How has the journey of creating this podcast been for you both? What is your favorite outcome from it?
S: Meeting new people; it’s just really nice to know that there’s diversity in the South Asian community. It’s just nice to see people who don’t have mainstream goals. There was a tendency for me to hold off from showing off that design aspect because I was afraid people wouldn’t understand it. But I’m very affirmed with where I’m at.
K: Meeting new people outside of our circle is just so helpful because it solidifies that we are different and have different perspectives. A lot of our guests are from different states across the country, and it’s very comforting to hear.
S: While coming to college, mentioning the culture shock, there’s not many POC in this major. In the first 2-3 years I got very distanced from the South Asian community and that the podcast is a very nice way to get back to it.
K: I still remember being the only WOC in a meeting or a classroom. And making the podcast has made me more confident in myself. I think the podcast has really helped with self-confidence in such a happy state.
What are your main goals with the Redefining ABCD Podcast?
S: where we grew up, there was a tendency to hate on your own culture. We really loved it! We enjoyed it as much as we can, but always being surrounded by other South Asians who were very negative about it by other South Asian Americans. So that’s something we wanted to portray on our podcast. There’s a spectrum of South Asian, and you decide where you fall on that spectrum.
K: We’re just trying to break that stigma that everyone has to be a specific way to be accepted.
What’s in store for Redefining ABCD in the future?
K: What we wanted to do [alongside] our podcast is starting a medium blog, and we wanted to see if people were interested. [We want them to] just talk about their stories and their struggles. It would be great for everyone to see all sort of new perspectives
S: We’re always looking for [podcast] guests, and we’re trying to move to a weekly schedule.
As people with hyphenated identities, we believe that there are many everyday struggles of balancing contradicting cultural backgrounds. We found ourselves constantly questioning: “Am I Indian enough?” or “Am I American enough?” to fit into the standards of our surroundings. As we continue to grow into our selective identities, we realized that we can utilize our cultural upbringing, as a pillar within ourselves to help answer many of the questions that arise as we grow up. With this, Redefining ABCD was formed.
Redefining ABCD is a platform to openly discuss various internal stigmas within the South Asian American community and how we as a collective can “change the conversation” to incorporate more South Asian Pride in our day-to-day lives. With this, we hope to bring to light different identities within the South Asian American community.
Currently based in Paris, France, Anu Kumar is a neuroscientist, writer, and the Head Article Editor for Pardesi. A first-gen American of South Indian descent, Kumar is a Lab Manager and Research Technician within the Institut du Cerveau and enjoys learning about French culture and language. She is passionate about accessible science education, diversity and inclusion, and encouraging dialogue about trauma, feminism, and identity.