Generation Z, or people born between 1997 and 2012, are known to be very outspoken through social media platforms in defining themselves and their values. The digital age has massively impacted discussions on diversity and representation, cultural and social influences, and identity—all while Gen Z has grown up and taken it all in.
Gen Z continues to push boundaries and modernize aspects of culture in profoundly new ways, even challenging aspects their elders have taught them. This begs the question: How is South Asian Gen Z sharing their culture—our languages, arts, culinary skills, and values—in this evolving environment? And whose responsibility is it to pass on culture to future generations in the first place?
We reached out to student organizations across the U.S. and asked to connect with South Asian Gen Z. We asked them to share their insights on how connected they feel to their culture, and what it might look like to pass on aspects of their culture to the future generations.
Supreet Thiara grew up in the bustling Bay Area, Calif. and spent long, quieter summers with her grandparents in Reno, Nevada. Supreet shared how her grandparents brought her back to the family’s Sikh roots and values, such as community service and honesty.
Spending time in Reno opened Supreet’s eyes to cities with smaller South Asian populations, in stark contrast to the Bay Area’s massive South Asian population.
“I think growing up in the Bay Area played a huge role in staying connected with my Sikh roots,” Supreet said. “In Reno there is only one Gurudwara, and then you go to the Bay Area there’s at least four. That alone just says a lot about a community and the accessibility of it for people who are like me.”
Supreet believes social media brought Gen Z unprecedented access to cultural content and discussion, and it played a major role in how younger people are connecting with their roots.
“As I grew up I started seeing more things on the internet, which sparked my own curiosity about my Punjabi Sikh background and that led me to ask more questions,” Supreet said.
The internet’s impact was particularly influential to younger kids and teenagers growing up. For Supreet, it pushed her to educate herself more.
“There’s a lot of discussion about Sikh faith that goes on around Twitter that I saw growing up,” she said. “I’d question it because I’d see differing opinions about what’s right and what’s not. And so taking that and doing my own research about it, or even just going to my parents and asking those sorts of questions, really helped me learn.”
Supreet noted parents could worry their kids are taking away the wrong lessons online, but for her, it opened her eyes to the different ways others see faith and culture and sparked her curiosity to ask more questions.
“I have few people in my life and family who I trust in terms of being able to properly explain things to me, like what a song is about or a more Sikh history-related question. Having those open discussions is a huge part of my own understanding,” Supreet said. “And now I can share it with others—I never want to give misinformed answers to people if they ask me a question.”
Supreet is a firm believer in learning and teaching others as an everyday practice. While attending Purdue University, Supreet joined their competitive bhangra dance team Boiler Bhangra and continued to use her knowledge to uplift the communities she is a part of.
“One thing our organization tries to do is teach words in every general meeting so that people can learn and get that exposure to their own culture that they may not have had growing up. So little things like that are educating your own community,” Supreet said.
Supreet wants to pass on traditions before they are lost.
“I love music. And there are things like folk songs that are sung by older women at events like weddings, that are only passed on from word of mouth,” she said. “And so I feel I should probably be learning these things now, because once they’re gone how are we going to continue these traditions down the line?”
The digital world has changed what it means to pass on culture to future generations, especially when it is now possible to “save” everything online.
“I think the best way to stay rooted is to educate. Keep ourselves educated first and ask questions, because only then we can pass that along to future generations,” Supreet said.
Culture and traditions will never look the same for everyone, especially not as future generations both adopt and adapt them, but they do always continue to be a part of one’s identity. Supreet said that your roots can largely impact the way you grow up and the values you continue to uphold throughout your life, no matter where you come from.
Supreet’s approach to cultural connection is rooted in education and staying curious, which she believes is not talked about enough. She encourages others to ask questions and seek out information to learn more about both your identity and its fit in the world. This is not only a great way to stay connected, but it opens the doors for further conversations and the education of others.
So who does the responsibility to pass on culture lie with?
Supreet’s response: “I think responsibility lies in all of us, the diaspora, to educate ourselves first and then share within our own communities.”
Keya Trivedi was used to growing up in predominantly white communities, such as Manchester in the UK and Mexico, but she always felt an effort was being made to educate her and keep her exposed to the culture she loved.
“Growing up in Mexico or the UK I had only two or three Indian friends, but us and our parents used to meet and they would teach us about what the culture is or what the upcoming festival was about,” Keya shared with Brown Girl.
When Keya began attending Northeastern in Boston she quickly became a part of their South Asian community and ultimately became Vice President of their Indian Students Association, Sanskriti. She’s had to leave the country she felt most connected to—India—twice as a young child and as a young adult. Her leadership at Sanskriti means she is in the company of others who cherish India too. Together, they build a community for students.
“We want them to build a connection, build a bridge, and our aim is to make them feel a second home,” Keya said.
Although circumstances can be completely different when it comes to celebrating one’s culture in a foreign place, Keya’s organization does its best to keep events as accessible as possible.
“If we can’t do Garba or anything that’s fine, so what can we do? What we did as an Indian community was we’d come together and make sweets and everything,” Keya said. “So for me, it’s one’s surroundings, like the spaces Keya creates with Sanskriti, is vital to feeling connected to one’s culture.
“It’s the communities and people around you, the environment you have been growing up in, the positive vibes, everything,” Keya said.
“My advice would be doing what you feel like doing, not because others are doing it or you feel forced,” she said. “If you feel like it’s going to give you a positive perspective or positive vibes and you’re going to learn more about something then go for it. If you feel like no, I’m not still ready for something yet, take your time. There is no rush to anything like this.”
So who does the responsibility to pass on culture lie with?
Keya’s response: “I wouldn’t say it’s a responsibility, but for future generations, we need to try to explain why we do what we do, and hopefully they will get enthusiastic about it and want to know more about it. We are just passing down the information that has been given by our ancestors.”
Similar to many others, high school was not Hrishika Muthukrishnan’s favorite time… Especially when it came to showing off her culture. Hrishika long felt she neglected everything about her culture because of the pressure to fit in.
“I tried to make myself as American as possible and basically would ignore my own culture because I was so afraid of standing out. I just wanted to feel accepted,” she said.
However, Hrishika says her mentality greatly shifted after finding a welcoming South Asian community in college and later co-founding WE ARE SAATH, a mental health awareness organization for South Asian students, with student Pareen Bhagat.
“In college, I had this reverse mindset that unless I had Indian friends, I would lose touch with my culture and my identity,” she says. “I was so scared that I would lose my connection with it if I didn’t actively spend time with people who shared that.”
Throughout her first few years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hrishika felt her surroundings were a necessary part of keeping a connection to her culture and allowed her to stay actively involved.
But Hrishika had another realization halfway through college that shifted her mentality once again.
“I had struggled a lot with that concept, the whole ‘I can’t connect with my culture unless I’m with people with the same mindset…’ And I realized you don’t have to be friends with Indian people for that, it doesn’t change your identity or the cultural significance in your life. You can just equally love your culture and be a part of it. You can embrace it without having people to express it to,” Hrishika said. “At the end of the day, it comes from you.”
Hrishika’s realization redefined the way she thought about and connected with her own identity, but this was also something she explored when it came to religion. Growing up, her father practiced Hinduism while her mother practiced Christianity.
“My bedtime stories were about Hindu gods that my father would tell me, but then my grandmother would tell me stories about Jesus during the day. It was just this constant struggle of back and forth, and I didn’t particularly feel strongly towards either of them, because the stories I was told about each religion were so strongly associated with the people I love.”
Hrishika said that this largely influenced the way she thought about her life and future, especially when it came to one day having kids and if possible having mixed parents would negatively affect them.
“Learning about the experiences from my mixed friends definitely opened my mind a lot in understanding that you can marry someone who’s a different race and it doesn’t need to affect your ability to pass on your culture to your kids,” Hrishika said.
Although passing on culture will continue to look different as generations continue to evolve, Hrishika explains how she hopes to do it moving forward: “I want to pass on culture in a very open and fluid way. I know, especially growing up, I could see my friends around me being sort of forced into their culture sometimes and it didn’t help. I want to be able to give my children the choice of what they want to practice.”
Hrishika is excited about what younger people will bring to the table.
“I think it’s going to be great honestly, the future generations, because we’re redefining this identity and what it means to be South Asian in America, and I think that’s incredible to see.”
So who does the responsibility to pass on culture lie with? Hrishika’s response: “I think the responsibility lies on whoever’s interested enough to pass on their culture… It just lies on whoever strongly believes in it and wants to associate with their South Asian identity.”
Growing up in Harare, Zimbabwe, Pareen Bhagat felt very connected to her Gujarati roots.
Zimbabwe is known to have a larger Indian population with an influx of Indian immigrants dating back to 1890. Harare has a strong Gujarati and Hindu community. Pareen felt that the cultural and linguistic education she experienced there was an opportunity that community elders specifically created for Indian culture to flourish in Harare.
“Around when my great-grandfather immigrated to Zimbabwe, it was being colonized,” Pareen said. “And so obviously with white supremacy, schools were only open to white people. The Hindu society really wanted to create a space for Indian students to be able to learn and for them to be able to get the right education. And so then when I grew up I was able to study in a Gujarati school from grade one to four.”
Her perspective on, and immersion in, cultural education shifted when she went to high school because of the pressure to fit in.
“Even though I was always very in tune with my culture, at the same time during high school, it was something that I didn’t want to talk about,” she said.
Pareen said she felt shy about her culture and played down the fact that she was Indian—an experience she believes many South Asian kids outside of the subcontinent can relate to. This shame was also perpetuated by some of her peers. Pareen shared that one childhood friend of hers told her to not wear Indian clothes while visiting her home.
“I think that was something that had really played a part in how I viewed my culture then, especially because I loved fashion,” she said.
Like other Gen Z South Asians who shared their insights with Brown Girl Magazine, Pareen experienced cultural reconnection when she moved to a diverse college campus.
She reconnected with her cultural pride when she moved to the U.S. to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She joined UNC’s competitive dance team Tar Heel Raas and co-founded WE ARE SAATH, a mental health awareness organization for South Asian students, with Hrishika Muthukrishnan.
“When I came to UNC I joined the dance team, and I had never met a group of South Asians who were so proud of being South Asian and were so okay with it,” she said.“I was used to my Indian friends and I in high school being the only ‘Indian’ amongst ourselves and then whenever we had to associate in public we’d just switch off that part of ourselves. Then I came to UNC and met all of these people and dancers and they were so proud of who they were, and I didn’t know why I was holding back. I should also be able to be proud.”
From dance to mental health, to fashion, Pareen has found numerous ways to celebrate parts of her cultural identity in her daily life and work.
“Maintaining my culture for me now is mainly through fashion because that’s what I want to do. So I’m always adding cultural influences into my everyday wear… And it is not something that I should ever be ashamed of,” she said.
Pareen is enthusiastic about how the Internet created new avenues of cultural connection for South Asian diasporic Gen Z, especially if they are attending a school or a workplace that does not have many South Asian people.
“I think Tiktok has been amazing with South Asian culture,” Pareen said. “Our fashion is being appreciated, and there was even a Bhangra trend. I would have never imagined when I was in high school that Bhangra or Indian dance would be something that goes viral. So many people are doing it, and they’re not doing it comically or making fun of us. They’re genuinely trying to dance.”
Media representation, too, moves the dial. Pareen said a whole generation of kids are growing up and seeing themselves in media, which hopefully means that future generations will embrace rather than hide from their culture.
So who does the responsibility to pass on culture lie with?
Pareen’s response: “I think that we all sort of have that responsibility. Because, in a weird way, it was taken away from us. Everything is so Eurocentric, we are told this is the beauty standard, this is what food should look like, this is how you should celebrate. So I think that culture is something that we have to keep alive in every single one of us.”
Growing up in suburban Connecticut, being the only brown face in a room has never fazed me. I was always the little brown girl in the corner with waist-length hair and a name that made every teacher pause, but the feeling of “otherness” captured in this line was something I knew all too well.
This feeling isn’t unique. It’s the same experience of many immigrants and first-generation South Asian Americans, and that of the main character of “The East Indian”as well.
While a work of fiction set in the 1630s, the novel paints a very real picture of immigration and race in the United States today and the human need to belong.
It is the story of Tony East Indian, inspired by a real person documented in the country’s archives as the first known East Indian in the American colonies, but who is otherwise a work of the author’s imagination and research.
The son of a courtesan from the Coromandel coast of India, Tony unwittingly finds himself as an indentured servant in the plantations of Jamestown, Virginia at just 11 years old.
He accepts “Tony” as his first name — though he doesn’t care for it — because a fellow Tamil once suggested others in the world would find his real name “too hard to utter.” Then he adopts the surname “East Indian” simply because it is thrust upon him when he arrived in Jamestown. The protagonist can no longer even recall his birth name, but soon, he accepts it as a thing of his past.
Over the course of the novel, Tony lands at the center of scandal as he works to establish a new identity as a physician. All the while, he also struggles with isolation, prejudice and the challenges of trying to maintain pieces of the culture he carried with him from abroad.
He is confused as to why Native Americans are also called “Indians” and many colonists simply label him a “moor,” a term used for North Africans or anyone with darker skin, with no context for India or its people in this new world.
He, feeling disloyal to his “many Gods,” converts from Hinduism to Christianity, believing it will give him more credibility and a sense of connection to his peers. He begins to eat meat and spend time at taverns, all in hopes of belonging, and assimilating with colonist ways.
As he comes of age and furthers his physician’s apprenticeship, Tony also begins to ponder questions of race and social class to no avail. He reflects:
“I would talk to Doctor Herman and try to understand the reason behind white skin and black and brown and, more important, what greater distinctions of wit, sensibility, and soul the differences in hue signified. I read and was taught by my master the new ideas put forth by men of learning in England and Europe on the workings of the bowels, the brain, the blood; the causes of migraines, melancholy, and madness, but I never got closer to understanding the real meaning behind what they called different races of men, and if such difference exists in any profound sense that really matters.”
Overall, in “The East Indian,” Tony becomes a man. He learns of the world’s cruelty and its kindness. He learns to work, play, love, hate, scheme, grieve and care for himself and others. But, like most immigrants, he still longs for home.
“For home is singular and unique. Everywhere else is but a stopping place, a bed in a stranger’s house, eating off plates not one’s own, an unfamiliar view from a casement,” Tony said.
When attempts to head West and find an ocean back to India fail, Tony accepts that returning to his motherland is unlikely and resolves that he must learn to adapt.
He worries his love interest, born in the colonies, will not relate to him, for “her heart did not ache for another place beyond the sea” and also wonders what the future of his children will be. Nevertheless, he is never defeated.
“I would thrive wherever the wind laid me,” says Tony. “[I] will be my own shelter, my landing place. Like a snail, I will carry home on my back, find it where I happen to be, make it from what I bear inside me.”
Leaving or even kidnapped from their homes with little to no hope of return, thousands of Indians faced journeys fraught with violence, condemnation and injustice trying to create new lives and identities away from their homeland in places like Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, and Jamaica. However, like Tony, they also found the strength and courage to survive and establish their own cultures and communities.
While no details are known about the real Tony East Indian, Charry weaves a compelling coming-of-age tale that takes him as well as readers across three continents.
The novel, like life itself, has fast and slow moments, but it is filled with vivid, historically accurate depictions of the colonial world and moving moments that keep you rooting for the main character’s triumph.
It is this authenticity and compassion that makes “The East Indian” an invaluable modern work. There are no known first-hand accounts of the indentured or South Asian colonists in America. The only proof of the mere existence of many are the generations that have come after them.
With several years of research put into it, Charry’s “The East Indian” serves as a rare realistic portrayal of what life may have been for these individuals; the hardships they endured, and the strength they embodied. South Asian or not, it is a rich history not only worth reading but sharing and celebrating.
To learn more about Brinda Charry and her professional work visit her website. The East Indian is now available in print and audiobooks from all major book retailers.
Featured Image: Author Brinda Charry was born and raised in India before moving to the United States for graduate school two decades ago. She considers herself “a novelist-turned-academic-returned-novelist | Photo Credit: Lisa Arnold Photography
I was taken aback when my late cousin shared this with me on the cusp of our twenties.
As a fairly modest Indo Guyanese girl raised in the Connecticut suburbs, the thought of discussing a stranger’s love life seemed not only foreign but shocking to me. Nevertheless, my cousin was always bold in this way. She took pride in the more daring aspects of our Caribbean culture with natural confidence. It was one of the things I loved and now miss most about her.
Admittedly however, it was over a decade before I started to understand some of her deeper curiosity in love, sexuality and mental health. This awakening was thanks greatly to Dr. Samosa.
In early 2020, Dr. Sarika Persaud, a New-York based, Indo Guyanese psychologist specializing in relationships, sexuality and complex trauma, took to Instagram as “Dr. Samosa,” an alias inspired by her favorite South Asian snack — and one she feels is a common thread for brown girls.
The platform became a safe space for brown girls to connect on topics like mental health, psychoanalysis, sexuality and relationships. From discussing sexual empowerment to building a strong sense of self, Dr. Persaud quietly became a confidant for those craving practical and candid insights the community shied away from.
Dr. Persaud and I sat down to talk about her journey and breaking these taboos in the South Asian society.
Her interest in psychology started as a journey of self-discovery as a pre-teen.
“I think I experienced myself as different from my peers,” she explained during our interview.
She didn’t get caught up in teenage drama and avoided certain types of relationships and people. Meanwhile, the friends she did make saw her in “this sort of teacher role.”
“I became curious about that about myself — how, in some ways, I found it beneficial to feel my feelings and have a depth people were drawn to, but also use it in ways to isolate myself,” Dr. Persaud said.
She was also beginning to identify as bisexual.
She shared, “I think I was avoiding my sexuality in some ways and psychology became a way for me to understand myself more. It’s always been this confluence of philosophy and science and even art for me.”
Growing up in Queens, New York, Dr. Persaud saw fellow Indo Caribbean women at a “very specific intersection of religion and culture.” It was the nexus of Caribbean values which welcomed sexuality and more modest Indian traditions. Caribbean influence seemed to “remove a boundary” on how Indo Caribbean women felt permitted to present themselves sexually, she explained. On one hand, after her Bharatanatyam dance classes, she saw her didis (the older girls) leave their classical moves behind for sexy Bollywood choreography and dancehall songs.
“It was exciting, like they were just beginning to find ways to express their sexuality,” she reflected. Then, around the same time, Dr. Persaud discovered a copy of the “Kama Sutra” at home and her mother was appalled. “What’s wrong with your daughter?” aunties asked.
Confused, Dr. Persaud thought “You own this. This is from our culture and it’s a Sanskrit text. It’s literally a religious text. It all seemed so powerful — and yet so many people were afraid of it.”
Something didn’t add up.
In 2013, she started a blog to bring a voice to topics like these. As word of her content spread, Dr. Persaud was met with backlash from her temple. Leaders said her blog was inappropriate and dishonorable to her community, but she stuck with it and her family stuck by her.
A few years later, when she launched Dr. Samosa to share her research and insights with a wider audience, sexuality came front and center.
“Sexuality — how you understand and honor what you want and like, and the ways you let yourself experience that pleasure — is intrinsically connected to how deserving you feel in the world,” she explained.
For example, if you think you’re worthy of a raise at work, a partner who desires you, or a family that listens to you — all can be linked back to a block in your relationship with yourself as a sexual being.
However, if you can feel confident in something as “primal, instinctual, and personal” as your sexuality, Dr. Persaud argues you lay the foundation for confidence in these other areas of your life.
Dr. Persaud says the fear of sexuality comes into play for South Asians.
“Being comfortable with your sexuality means being comfortable with your power,” she explained. “If everyone felt empowered and had a healthy relationship with themselves sexually, a lot of our relationships and hierarchies in society would change. And there are just so many people who benefit from women and marginalized communities (like LGBTQ+ and those with chronic illnesses) being disempowered,” Dr. Persaud said.
Throughout her work, Dr. Persaud has found it’s especially difficult for South Asian women to feel pride in themselves as sexual beings.
“There’s so much shame about the self and the body. Women especially are held to a double standard and it’s so confusing. If you look one way, you won’t get a husband. If you look sexual, no one will want to hire you for a job. Regardless of the South Asian ethnic group, there’s the same shame and belief that your body has to look a certain way, and if it doesn’t, you’re not desirable. Everything gets tied up in sexual shame.”
It’s undeniable that Bollywood movies have also heavily impacted many of our views on love and sex, but Dr. Persaud didn’t condemn this.
She says, “People need to realize Bollywood started from a tradition of classical drama and dance from ancient India. Those dances were meant to be explorations of dreams and mythical and philosophical ideas. Bollywood is just a continuation of that. It’s meant to be a break from reality.”
Real relationships are much more fraught and complicated than in films, but that doesn’t mean you should be ashamed of looking to Bollywood as a way to be in touch with romance and love in your life.
“They’re a fantasy,” Dr. Persaud added.
She also argued Bollywood isn’t necessarily as “censored” as many claim.
“People don’t have to watch others physically have sex or kiss to be in touch with their sensuality,” she noted. “It can be much more nuanced to see two people just embracing in a way that stirs up feelings. Like, how does it feel to have your lover’s head against your chest? Culturally, we just explore and express sexuality differently than the West.”
When it comes to becoming more comfortable with our bodies and sexual health, Dr. Persaud says it starts with self-reflection.
“Ask yourself why you’re afraid of being sexy or seen as sexual. Are you afraid your family will reject you? That you’ll be thrown out of your home? We all have different triggers, and once you identify yours, you can get to the issue underneath it all.”
Dr. Persaud encourages women to ask themselves important questions.
“If you’re afraid that if you assert your sexuality, your family will reject or not support you, how can you be more financially independent? How can you find pride in being able to take care of yourself?” She urges women to take inventory of what they like. “Look at books and movies and what you see in the world and consciously take note of what you react to. This puts you more in touch with yourself.”
When it comes to fostering open conversations with others, Dr. Persaud says to lead with vulnerability and clarity.
“If you wonder whether your friends have had sex yet and are embarrassed to ask, voice that concern. Share how you’re feeling or ask yourself why. Leading conversations with vulnerability allows people to connect a little bit more; to feel safer to share.”
“If you’re uncomfortable with something your partner does or want more of something else, talk about what you want to change and why it’s important to you. It’s not a shortcoming on their part, but rather you saying ‘this is what I need for myself. Is this something we can talk about and work on together?’”
With South Asian families, especially older relatives, things can get a bit more complex. Boundary setting is important as the family can bring out your biggest triggers.
“You need to be at a point where you own yourself,” Dr. Persaud explained. For example, if your mom finds out you were out with someone and questions you about it — “A bai? A boy?!” — you should be able to say confidently, ‘Yeah I was on a date,’ and also not feel obligated to give more details. Of course, that may not always be safe for someone younger, but at a certain age, it is OK to be private, to have that shield to protect and develop yourself and your confidence,” Dr. Persaud says.
Dr. Persaud also reinforces the importance of knowing your boundaries when reflecting on “coming out” to parents. She wanted to be open about her bi-sexuality with her parents; that she was dating — but not just men. She stresses however, one does not need to be excessively open.
“Not everyone has to come out and not everyone has to come out to everyone. You’re likely not facing anything new from your parents when coming out. If they are critical and judgmental generally in life, they’re probably going to be like that again. South Asian dads can really just be like, ‘Okay, don’t tell me you’re a sexual being,’” she laughed.
While Dr. Persaud is thankful for her parents’ acceptance, there are members of her family who’ve been less than supportive. She credits her confidence and sense of self for drowning them out.
“I’ve found the more I become comfortable with myself, the more I have this sexual energy that I can use creatively and in other good ways. If my dad rejects me, it doesn’t change that I am bisexual. Or if my mom rejects me, it’s not going to change this thing I know so deeply about myself. I’m just sharing something true. I can’t change it.”
Toward the end of our conversation, I shared with Dr. Persaud that I wondered how my own family would react to this article. I felt a bit of shame.
But she reminded me, “You can also find pride in it — ‘Yeah, I’m really proud of the fact that I’m one of the people breaking the stigma. I’m talking about something important to people’s health.’”
And she’s right, as was my dear cousin in her early ambitions. These conversations are never easy, but walking in curiosity, confidence and pride can help us find our power as South Asian women. It can help break the stigma surrounding love, sexuality and relationships in our community and their roles in our greater health.
In so many ways, sexual health and mental health are not only connected but interdependent. In fact, Dr. Persaud believes the more confident people are in their bodies and identities, the more confident they are as a whole — and the more attractive they are.
“Sexual attraction and energy comes from people being competent and peaceful and calm with themselves; knowing who they are,” she said, and the more we learn to embrace this and speak about it openly, the more we can not only grow but thrive.
For more on Dr. Sarika Persaud’s (aka Dr. Samosa) doctoral work and writing, visit her website or Instagram @doctor.samosa. For more on how to talk to your family or children about sexual health, visit sexpositivefamilies.com.
The expansion of digital content across radio, television and the internet has allowed audiences to engage with media rapidly. As technology advances, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially and people have a wealth of information at their fingertips in the blink of an eye. Since high school, Deepa Prashad was fascinated by this power of media and aspired to be an on-air personality who could interact with viewers through creative content whilst representing her Indo Caribbean heritage. After navigating the competitiveness of Canadian broadcast hosting for seven years, Prashad continues to push herself into various modalities of media and add to her growing successes, while championing others to share their own authentic content.
Self-confidence and the desire to show a different perspective on entertainment prompted Prashad to be interested in broadcasting. While initially nervous about her family’s reaction to a nontraditional career path for Indo Caribbean women, Prashad received her parents’ full support and became the first person in her family to study broadcasting at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
She began applying for television-hosting positions in her first year despite not having any experience or a finished degree, affirming, “I totally believed in myself and my capabilities.”
In an interview with Prashad, we delve into her career path, diverse representation in media and her courage to create and promote content that reflects her individuality.
How did you begin your career in hosting and digital content production?
The kids channel I watched growing up, The Family Channel, was doing a nationwide casting call for their new TV host. The host would host interstitials between shows, digital series, and do TV show and movie interviews. I didn’t have an agent at the time so I applied on my own. I was called in for my first audition ever and it was quite shocking. A room full of 10 to 15 people just observing me as I delivered lines and did mock interviews for fake shows. Two months later, I was officially cast as the host of The Family Channel!
While ecstatic about her first job, Prashad was met with racism. She stated,
Someone else, who applied for the position, made it a point to come up to me in person to say that they hoped I knew the only reason I got the job was because I was brown and the company obviously just needed to fill a quota.
Brushing the words aside, she continued hosting on The Family Channel for five years. She has also worked as an entertainment and food reporter on Canadian shows, Breakfast Television and Cityline. By advocating for herself as capable, personable and multifaceted, she did not shy away from new opportunities to advance her career and showcased herself as a leader who could resonate with broad audiences.
Wanting to explore new horizons, Prashad approached the social media company blogTO and pitched herself to be their first full-time video host focusing on Toronto food hotspots. After being hired, she visited multiple restaurants daily to host, film and edit her own content and curated personalized food videos for viewers to immerse themselves in. Prashad later forayed into the world of radio, one she never thought she would join but quickly fell in love with. She was most recently the first female voice on Toronto’s KISS 92.5 channels, The Roz and Mocha Show. Prashad enjoyed the greater flexibility of being on the radio compared to television and video hosting,
All I had to present was me. It became such a personal experience for me getting on that mic, sharing stories with listeners about the way I was raised, coming from a Guyanese household, being part of an (interfaiths marriage), [etc…] That created an incredibly strong bond between myself, our listeners and our friends that I’m so grateful for.
Tell us about your current position.
“I’m moving onto new adventures now and adding sports reporting under my belt. I will be joining BarDown | TSN to cover Formula 1, this includes doing content for TSN in the digital and TV space. I’ve never dabbled in the world of sports, so this is going to be an interesting new road for me.”
What topics are you most passionate about when creating digital content and why?
Food has to be my number one passion when it comes to digital content. Obviously I love eating and trying new things, but food is such a universal language. It connects people, it excites people and often teaches people about different cultures. I love to see how that content can generate conversations and I love to see when people admit they’ve never tried that particular food or cuisine, but added it to their list.
I also love creating Formula 1 content because Formula 1 is a massive passion of mine! I currently Twitch stream playing the Formula 1 video game F1 22. I’ve been on a pursuit to continuously learn more about the sport and to even get better at the game, because let’s be real, I’m terrible at it but I’m also OK with that!
Prashad is not immune to online mockery and negative comments about her work. When making the switch to Formula 1, she was ridiculed by some male viewers over her love of the sport and was inundated with comments like “Go back to the dishes” or “Go do laundry where you belong.” Antiquated and sexist notions about being a working woman in the media led to her looks being graded; there were comments regarding her extroverted personality and rampant discussions over her weight. There was a moment in her career where Prashad admits,
I actually wanted to make changes to myself — try to be a little less outgoing, not be so loud, change my hosting style from this incredibly bubbly style to a more laid back informative take.
Drawing on her self-belief, she soon realized that, “This doesn’t work for me. I began to appreciate all my quirks.”
Is there an area of hosting or content production that you believe you’re better at?
I really love to host digital content in particular because there’s a certain freedom that comes with it. I don’t always have to be prim and proper like sometimes I do need to do for TV. I can be me — loud, goofy, and incredibly dorky. I never want to have two different personas — one for the public eye, and then a private. On social media, what you see is exactly what you get. Digital content has allowed me to love myself even more.
Prashad plans to continue in the industry for the foreseeable future. She recognizes the impact of being an Indo Caribbean woman at the forefront of media and defines her success as “…I can continue to represent my culture and how I make others feel.” Her best moments are connecting with others through their lived experiences and offering a different lens on growing up in Canada.
How did you feel breaking into the industry as a woman of color?
What a great feeling that was, and even better, being an Indo Caribbean woman. I went through my fair share of hardships. I’ve faced racism, sexism and bullying throughout my journey of getting to where I am today. But, I have stood up for myself every single time. I will never allow myself to be walked all over. And believe me, people have attempted MANY times. But I pick myself back up and continue along my way.
I think it really hit me that I was making an impact when I started to hear from people how much they related to my childhood stories, the way I was brought up, the movies I watched as a kid. It’s those moments that made me realize I accomplished my goal.
How has your background influenced your interest in hosting and digital content production?
I never saw people like me in the media growing up. I always wanted to change that. I didn’t feel that I had anyone I could personally connect with when I watched TV. And to me that was always so mind blowing because the media, although so broad, is such a personal industry.
I have always been proud to say on air that I’m a Guyanese woman. I have made it a point to fight for more Caribbean content on air. I’ve made it a point to share stories about my family, where they came from, and even the experiences I’ve had growing up in a Guyanese family. Promoting Caribbean culture in general has always been important to me. And progress has been made! At my previous radio job, I pushed incredibly hard to start interviewing Caribbean artists and to highlight them. I had the opportunity to interview artists like Sean Paul, Kes and Konshensand those interviews aired nationally which was massive.
Prashad often infuses cultural content into her work by showcasing Indian and Caribbean food, offering Bollywood movie recommendations, detailing her trips to Guyana, talking about new music and sharing information about Caribbean events in Toronto. She does not believe that cultural content needs to be pared down for the masses but instead advocates for aspiring Indo Caribbean creators to keep releasing diverse and authentic content that is representative of themselves.
She notes that the Indo Caribbean experience is not a monolith and that,
We need more representation! What feels most authentic to you can be vastly different from other content creators. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of creating content, but the best version of content you’re going to create is when you’re being true to who you are, and having fun.
At only 27 years old, Prashad’s journey has taken her across multiple forms of media. From interviewing Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to hosting various television shows and being an online and radio voice, she continues to explore different mediums as a means of storytelling and connection. Hardships were plenty during Prashad’s rise to fame, but a steady belief in herself and a willingness to take on new endeavors with authenticity have provided her the grit to overcome challenges.
Prashad is eagerly awaiting to leap into her next digital venture and is actively commending more Indo Caribbean content creators to step into the spotlight with their own personal stories.