February 2, 2014

BHOWMICK | Brown Girls: We Have Arrived

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I felt a bit torn as I sat down to write this column –– it felt a bit like shameless self-promotion. Nevertheless, in the past year and a half of college, I couldn’t help but notice the formidable role that South Asian women play on campus and the extent to which their presence has molded the way we think of the college community: The brown girl is an almost indispensable character today, and this was not always the case. It is this observation that motivates me to write a column about the likes of me, the brown girls. (Excuse the political incorrectness of the term.)

When I made the momentous decision to leave India and come as far as Ithaca for college, I was very nervous that I would constitute a microscopic minority. To be quite honest, it’s trying enough to deal with the ramifications of being from what was (until pretty recently) a third-world country. Being a woman from a country like this makes you feel negligible, hidden in the shadows. The Indian woman is significant in India, for sure, but she has hardly crossed anyone’s mind as a fierce or resplendent force in the international community. She is usually considered demure, conservative and largely inconsequential. She’s known as an excellent coder and very insightful. However, in the past few years, the brown woman has transformed into a sensational leader. This is something I have noticed both at and beyond Cornell.

In India, women still face grotesque realities like dowry, a serious paucity of opportunities and a society that still hesitates to invest confidence in them. However, it is heartening to see that so many of of us brown women are doing exemplary things across the world. Recently, it’s as if the South Asian woman has decided to embrace the spirit of Beyoncé. If I had to drop the names of inspirational brown women, this column would never end. But there is the ravishing Anchal Joseph who stole the show on the seventh cycle of America’s Next Top Model. There is the incredible Rachel Roy who is responsible for Michelle Obama’s swanky wardrobe, and there’s the musical goddess Norah Jones. Also, there are an overwhelmingly large number of brazen faces in the world of politics, diplomacy and, obviously, in Silicon Valley. The brown woman has always been intelligent, but now, she has the confidence to own her talents.

I have seen this transformation occur at Cornell as well. At times, I still feel intimidated by being an international student. But in the past few months, I have met several South Asian women at Cornell who are venturing out of their comfort zones. They are joining Greek life, despite the notion that brown girls are not socially adventurous. At Cornell, she is everywhere from an a capella group to the weightlifting team; she is represented in Panhellenic leadership and has established an exceptional presence on campus.

So maybe the brown girl “revolution” isn’t the biggest new thing to watch out for, but it’s definitely one of the next big things brewing both at Cornell and across the world. Our generation of South Asian women, us brown girls, are crystallizing the kind of lives our mothers wished they could have lead. And from the perspective of someone who has seen firsthand the best and worst prospects that exist for women of South Asian origin, I find this to be incredibly reassuring. I can safely state that we have broken the South Asian woman stereotype: Stereotypes, like rules, are meant to be broken. The brown girl has arrived, and she is here to stay.

Aditi Bhowmick is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected] Abstruse Musings appears alternate Mondays this semester.