AAPI Heritage Month Q&A Series: Simran Menezes
AAPI Heritage Month falls in May and 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 will be featuring someone very near and dear to me: Simran Menezes. She is a beautiful soul and a strong woman figure in my life. Not to mention my cousin is a badass investigator who can cook anything and everything. I can’t wait for you to get to know her and read about her experience as an Asian American woman below.
Q: What ethnicity are you?
Q: Do you speak your language?
Very little. In other words, no.
Q: Were you always proud of your heritage or did you initially reject it?
As a kid, there were times where I rejected my heritage due to racist and prejudiced comments made by others towards me.
Q: When did you being to truly embrace your heritage and why?
I truly began to embrace my heritage when I met my Guyanese friends in high school! They embraced my culture in their own way (more than I have ever embraced my culture myself). As a result, I felt more connected to being Indian with these particular friends. Otherwise, I was shunned out of the circle by the Indian girls who I befriended in middle school because I wasn’t deemed “Indian enough.” Due to that isolation and feeling left out, I resented my heritage at the time. A part of me felt like I didn’t belong. Thankfully, my Guyanese friends led me to befriend Indians in college which resulted in lifelong friends with whom I can relate to! I also joined an Indian dance group and performed at traditional Indian festivals during college. Food also brought me closer to my roots. I cook a lot and I enjoy making Indian dishes. Whenever I’m creating a new dish or trying out a recipe, I turn to traditional Indian spices to help me create something delicious!
Q: What do you consider to be the best parts of your heritage and culture?
The best part of my heritage and culture is definitely the food! Food is the STAPLE of Indian culture. It truly brings me closer to Indian people in general but also with my roots and my family.
Q: What was the first experience where you felt that demarcation of being a minority/different?
I knew I was different when two kids in my elementary school in New York threw a snowball at my face, called me a Hindu, laughed and ran away.
Q: How did growing up as an Asian American/Pacific Islander affect your relationship with your parents?
It was a rocky relationship with my parents growing up as an Asian American. My parents tried their hardest to stick to their traditions and beliefs, which is fine. They taught me the importance of holding onto my culture and being proud of my roots. However, after making friends with people from different parts of the world, learning about their culture and ways of life, I began to adapt to other cultures and embrace new traditions. Due to my exposure to other cultures, I taught them to become more open minded and to not be afraid of trying new things. My relationship with my parents grew stronger because of this and they are my best friends today!
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?
Most of the Asian Indian actresses and actors from my childhood played stereotypical roles in movies and TV shows. As a result, I always had this battle within myself where I felt as though I was not “Indian enough.”
Q: How do you feel about the rise of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in media today?
I AM SO PROUD that Asian Indians are making more of an appearance in American and global media today. Some of these actors and actresses include: Priyanka Chopra starring in American TV shows (“Quantico”) and movies (“Baywatch”). Lilly Singh, a.k.a. Superwoman, one of the biggest YouTube celebrities who is now starring in her own late night show on NBC. Amithab Bachchan who played a gangster in “The Great Gastby.” It’s so refreshing to see such strong individuals and role models playing such powerful roles as Indians in media today.
Q: If you could give your younger self advice regarding growing up Asian American/Pacific Islander, what would it be?
If I could give my younger self some advice, I would say that it is okay to feel like you don’t belong. This is the age to learn and adapt. Keep going, keep learning and you will eventually find your place in life. I would also tell my younger self to stop resenting Indian people (because I felt, as a child, that Indian people didn’t accept me) and start educating yourself about your culture so that you can cherish being Indian with other Indians!
Q: How do you connect with your heritage and culture today?
The way I connect with my heritage and culture today is through food and music! I am constantly cooking and trying out new dishes which helps me connect with my roots. Food is the HEART of Indian culture! I always turn to traditional Indian spices to help me make my dishes taste the best! I also listen to Indian music occasionally. Every time I listen to an Indian song, I feel nostalgic with a sense of comfort and pride. There’s nothing more soothing than a good Indian song! Finally, I attend local events that celebrate Indian holidays and festivals. These include Diwali (the festival of lights), Holi (the festival of color and renewal), Navaratri (the festival of the divine feminine where we garba; a traditional dance from Gujurat), etc. I love attending these events so that I can feel more in tune with my culture and connect with other Indian Americans!
About SIMRAN MENEZES
Simran is a young woman with a passion for food and a love for culture! Simran currently works as an Investigator with the State of Florida. Outside of work, she is either creating new dishes, trying new things or making memories with the people she loves. Simran shares her passion for food on her Instagram where anyone can follow along on her story and try her creations themselves. Simran is committed to sharing her experiences in life with the world in hopes to inspire others and maybe even find inspiration herself along the way. If you want to connect with Simran, you call follow her on Instagram: @Emerald_Sim!