AAPI Heritage Month Q&A Series: Amanda Immidisetti
AAPI Heritage Month commemorates Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that have contributed to America’s rich history and success. Growing up as an Asian American/Pacific Islander can be considered a collective experience that can impact each an every one of us in a variety of ways. Our cultural identity shapes a facet of who we are and I am happy to be featuring a variety of strong voices that will share their experience as an Asian American/Pacific Islander in America. I hope that this series helps you connect with your own heritage and reminds you to be proud of where you come from!
Today, I’m sharing a relatable experience from my friend and former Rutgers Equestrian teammate, Amanda Immidisetti. Amanda has been so supportive and always brightened my day back on those cold horse show mornings. I am so proud of her as she embarks on her medical school journey this summer. She’s been working so hard and it shows! Let’s get into it!
Q: What ethnicity are you?
Indian. I was born in NJ and both of my parents immigrated to the United States from Andhra Pradesh, India.
Q: Do you speak your language?
Yes, I am fluent in Telugu.
Q: Were you always proud of your heritage or did you initially reject it?
When I was really young, there were a some elements of my culture that I felt were “other” and wanted to eliminate so I could fit in with my friends. I went to a predominantly Caucasian elementary school and there were definitely a few times where I wondered why I had idli (a south indian lentil cake) in my lunch box instead of something “normal” like PB&J!
Q: When did you being to truly embrace your heritage and why?
I was fortunate that my parents were able to take me on several trips to India while I was growing up. Being completely immersed in the culture and surrounded by my cousins who introduced me to Indian street foods, music, movies, temples, clothes and arts allowed me to intimately experience and appreciate my culture. I built fond memories of India and found myself nostalgic after I returned home.
Q: What do you consider to be the best parts of your heritage and culture?
The clothes! Who doesn’t love to dress up in a super EXTRA sari or lehnga? I also love how vegetarian/ vegan friendly traditional Indian food is. In the part of South India I visited, meat isn’t consumed in every meal (or even every day!). There are also substantial populations in India that don’t eat meat due to religious reasons. As a result, their agricultural system is completely different (and more sustainable) than the factory farming system we see today in America.
Q: What was the first experience where you felt that demarcation of being a minority/different?
I learned English from my parents, who spoke with a pretty heavy Indian accent at that time. I would go to school and mispronounce everything and kids are cruel, so I picked up on that feeling of “otherness” pretty quickly. Also, I asked what the Super Bowl was in 4th grade since football wasn’t a thing in my household. The whole class had something to say about that! My accent improved significantly but I’m still pretty clueless about football. Can’t win them all!
Q: How did growing up as an Asian American/Pacific Islander affect your relationship with your parents?
I think any first generation American with immigrant parents will feel some strain in this relationship. There are certain culture gaps that you have to work hard to bridge, which can be extremely challenging and will make you feel isolated from your peers who don’t have these issues. There are still times when my parents don’t agree with my decisions due to cultural differences. It can be extremely difficult to forge your own path without constant approval from your parents but it ultimately renders you a tough cookie and an individual thinker.
Q: Did you have any Asian American/Pacific Islander role models growing up in media (i.e. movies/TV/music/books, etc.)? Did this affect your self-image?
Bollywood has this strange ideal of beauty where they cast the lightest skinned women they can find into high profile roles. It led to this extremely toxic phenomenon where being fair is the ideal that women and girls are to strive for. When I was in India, I noticed multiple skin bleaching creams being sold over the counter, which is just horrible. I didn’t really grow up immersed in Bollywood so I never felt that my self-image was impacted. However, being a darker skinned brown girl, I roll my eyes at the way we’re portrayed in media produced in our own motherland.
Q: How do you feel about the rise of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in media today?
Representation is great! It’s always meaningful to see someone from your background in mainstream media. Another interesting aspect of this is that Asian Americans are branching out from career paths that may be pushed on them (doctor, engineer, etc.) into things like film, literature, and fashion. I love seeing Indian kids who have all the options on the table. I was very lucky that my parents always encouraged me to pursue whichever career I found interesting and didn’t push anything on me. Ironically, I still chose the stereotypical path of wanting to be a doctor, but options are nice!
Q: If you could give your younger self advice regarding growing up Asian American/Pacific Islander, what would it be?
Try to engage in activities at your local cultural organizations or whichever watering hole your family is a part of. Having a few friends from a similar background goes a long way. You’ll have someone to appreciate the culture with and understands some of the challenges you may be facing.
Q: How do you connect with your heritage and culture today?
I make time to tag along with my parents when they go to cultural events. I recently attended a traditional Telugu wedding with them, and it was so interesting to see the various ceremonies. I’ve been to other Indian weddings in the past, but there is so much variation between different sub-cultures in India, so the Telugu one felt completely novel. I also jump on any excuse to get dressed up in Indian clothes now. It used to feel so cumbersome as a child but is such a fun change of pace as an adult. Oh, and I frequently go to Sunday Indian buffets with my parents, which is just the best. Considering I was a kid who hated Indian lunch boxes, I sure do love to indulge in naan!
About Amanda Immidisetti
Amanda is an aspiring physician who will begin medical school in August 2019. She currently works at a biotechnology startup that develops oncology therapeutics. Outside of her professional life, she loves to ride horses, travel and cook. Over the past year, she has been experimenting with plant based recipes and frequently shares meal ideas on Instagram. Much to the chagrin of her landlords, she is an animal lover. She currently has a sassy dwarf rabbit and two parakeets.