At BHAV, we believe in empowering women to find unique ways to embrace their cultural heritage. We started 'The Culture Connection' to explore the impact (both good and bad) of heritage on a variety of incredible women, and understand how it continues to play an influential role in their lives. We invite you to join us on this journey, with the hope that you find value in these conversations.
Manasi (@manasiarya) is a special education teacher and an artist that channels her pride of Indian culture into her artwork. Her message is simple: Embrace your identity and don't be shy about it! This didn't come easy for Manasi growing up in the states and coming from a rich Indian heritage but also exposure to western culture. Read on to learn about her struggles and how she overcame them and is not looking back!
On Her South Asian Heritage:
What's your background?
I am Indian. I was born in India and I came to America a few months after I was born.
How has, or currently does your heritage play a role in your life?
My heritage plays an extremely large role in my life. I had a very hard time in high school balancing the two different identities I had, being Indian and also American. I really wanted to be involved in Desi (Indian) related things in college. I joined the Rass (Indian dance) team and was part of many Indian organizations because I wanted to feel a connection to my Indian identity that I never embraced in high school. Now, as an adult, my heritage is the most important thing about me and also something that I'm most proud of. I now embrace my culture and explain as much as I can to others whenever I can. I definitely have Indian inspired furniture and arts around my apartment. I always wear something that embraces my culture. Lately, I have been wearing a name necklace that is in Telugu which is my mother tongue. It's my last name Arya and I really love wearing it. Along with that, I also wear anklets to embrace my culture.
You started uploading your art on Instagram to promote Indian culture and sending the message for other South Asian women to embrace their heritage in the way they feel comfortable. The response has been positive and you even sell your artwork through Etsy. How has your art helped you take a closer look at some of the hardships you faced growing up in a multicultural society? What advice do you have for the young South Asian females who are growing up in a similar situation?
I think I've always had these hardships and I've always thought about it, but now I have a voice that I can share. I know that a lot of people resonate with me and also go through the same things because we are all Americans with a different cultural background. I find it really important to share those stories because it's important for people to know that you're not alone. I definitely think that my art has helped me self reflect on the things that may have caused me harm when I was younger. And I'm very thankful for having this platform because I created something beautiful out of something that may have been very difficult for me. One piece of advice I would have for females in this situation is to literally follow accounts that make you happy. I wish I had the representation in social media the way that you do right now, and I think slowly every day there are more people that are coming into this space. That's a really awesome thing. Also be the change; literally. I have learned and grown so much from high school and I really wish my high school self would have known that I would be so confident in who I am right now.
You are a special education teacher and pursuing a Master's in the same field! Have you incorporated your art into the curriculum and what are your thoughts about this? Do you feel your art, which promotes embracing heritage, can help the youth who may be struggling with identity issues?
Because I am a special education teacher I do have the freedom to create my own lessons and curriculum. However, I do not have the ability to incorporate art in the curriculum. It's mostly based on how the student likes the arts and it's a motivation for them. Behavior incentives where they can trade in points are in coins to earn drawing at the end of the week. I have one student who really loves art and it's a really great motivation to help him do things that he does not like as much. I drew this dog-man figure that he really likes and inside each shape of the dog-man, I put an additional problem where he did coloring based on the respective answer.
I think art can help students identify with who they are. Many of my students are black and I think using art as their form of therapy can lead to helping with their identities a lot in their future. I know for me and many of my friends regardless of background, we always resonate with art and stories that other people have shared.
What do you love most about South Asian fashion?
I really love how it makes you feel elegant and beautiful all at the same time. Each piece has a lot of history, and I think that that is so beautiful. I think my favorite piece growing up was this beautiful red sari my mom had with beautiful gold flowers on it and details. It was really beautiful and I remember my mom wearing it growing up and loving it so much. And when I got a little older I got to where it and did an illustration of it too.
What's your favorite thing in your closet right now?
This is so difficult because I love everything that I have. I can't do too much of the fashion type of things because I am working in the school and I can't be experimental. I think anything that has a fun pattern on pants. But I think my favorite fine right now is this jacket that I got from Zara. I've been wanting a trench coat and found a ruby colored one that makes me feel so confident and also I just cannot stop wearing it.
What's your go-to cocktail, spirit or drink?
Iced coffee 24/7 all the time.
What are you currently watching?
I'm watching the show 'Make It or Break It'. It's an old show but it's amazing'.
Name of the best book you've read in a while?
A really great book that I have been reading recently is called "Whistling the Racism." I actually had to read it for my program. With everything going on in the world specially in 2020, it was apparent that a lot of education was needed in terms of racism and everything of that sort.
Morning person or night owl?
I am Night Owl but also a morning person after coffee.
What's 1 small thing you couldn't give up (daily ritual, accessory/personal item, etc.)?
One thing I wouldn't be able to give up is my personal time that I have every single day. Now that I live alone I always have time to reflect better on myself as much as I can.