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What it Means to be South Asian?

Five students on their shared identity, commonalities, and differences.

By Featured, SAIC

One of the noteworthy paradigm shifts in recent times is the emergence of and significant impact South Asian communities are having on reshaping American culture, and society. Whether it’s Mindy Kaling revolutionizing entertainment, DJ Rekha making the nation dance on Bhangra, or Prem Pariyar’s social change endeavor in the Bay Area, South Asians are making their presence felt.

Which begs the questions: Does a South Asian identity really exist? Do people from the sub—continent (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, and Maldives) have more commonness than differences? Is this perceived identity a political creation? 

At the first picnic of Namaste SAIC, the school’s South Asian student group, we asked these questions to a bunch of South Asian students, and here’s what they had to say:

Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

“To be South Asian is to be loud and proud. We are family-oriented, no matter how far we are from our homeland. We love to visit them. We love celebrating our festivals. But I still think we can do more to embrace our culture.”

— Ravinshu Sagar (MDDO, 2025)


Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

“To be South Asian is to constantly learn. There’s so much diversity within our communities. So we are always learning about and from each other. One of the things that makes us different from other cultures is also our family dynamics. From my experience, families mostly stick together. Families are always there, for better or worse. They always show up.

— Tanya Ramakrishnan, (BFA, 2026)


Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

“It’s like being from a region that is super colorful and vibrant. It’s a place full of culture. It’s a region that has so much history to it. However, I don’t think there’s a collective South Asian identity. As a community, we are very segregated. But I understand why people associate themselves with this identity. When you are living in a place that doesn’t have enough people of the same culture, you kind of look for people who are somehow similar. And since there’s a lot of commonness with the groups from South Asia, it reminds people of their home. And perhaps that’s why everywhere we go, we look out for South Asians.”

— Shriangi Gupta (BFA, 2026)


Photo by Nitya Mehrotra


“Every South Asian culture is different. Even in the same country, you will find people practicing different cultures. But collectively, our cultural upbringing and lifestyle are so different from Western societies. For us, respecting each other is very important. There will never be a day when we disrespect elders. 

— Vidhi Doshi (BFA, 2026)


Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

“For me being South Asian is to be respectful towards everyone, whether they are younger or older than me. I think it also has to do with our ideas of morality. Most of us are very giving. We look out for each other. I think we love being in groups; we are very communal. And that’s why the first thing most of us do, is to look for other South Asians because there are a lot of language similarities, cultural similarities, and just this usual understanding that we all are going through this assimilation phase. Our struggles are similar as we all are marginalized in most of the spaces here.

— Muskaan Dhingra (BFA, 2024)

Ankit Khadgi (MAVCS 2024) is a Nepali queer storyteller based in Chicago. He hates people who eat momo with ketchup and mayonnaise and drink Chai Tea.
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