This one simple act of mustering courage and standing up to defend her culture has further exhilarated her to not get weighed down and not to be embarrassed to defend her culture.
Ankita Mishra’s parents moved to the U.S. in the 70s and brought her up like every immigrant parent bring up their children—keeping them close to their roots. Mishra in her article on the Brown Girl Magazine writes, “They have educated me in many subjects — my own Bihari and Hindu background, physics, world religions, cooking, and the urgent art of not questioning authority and keeping my mouth shut.” regardless of million temptations, she keeps mum instead of coming back with some sarcastic remark because of social conditioning. She further writes:
“Though I pride myself on being outspoken, I stop right before the punchline. There is a moment, right before I give someone what they’re due when I retract. It’s the same invisible line my parents give up at, the aunties and uncles whose brazen voices dim to a whisper in mere seconds when a cheery, Midwestern voice asks them to spell their name over the phone.”
Until recently, when she went to House of Yes in New York, she just could not stay mum in view of an intriguingly-decorated VIP bathroom. Terming the scene as the “price of silence” she saw the bathroom decorated with ornamented images of Hindu gods and goddesses. She says that as long as we Indians keep quiet, our Hindu festivals and holidays will continue being a European and American accessory.
But not the one to be weighed down, Mishra penned a sharp biting letter to the venue’s public mail after sharing her experience on the social media platform.
She further writes that as a “queer woman of color” she is accustomed to “silence her voice” to maintain the “public peace”. However, Mishra’s recent trip to the venue disappointed her. Behind the DJ booth, Mishra visited one of the private bathrooms and was shocked to see Shiva on one of the tissue dispensers. She then spotted many more images of gods and goddesses inside the toilet, with that of Kali right above the toilet.
She describes her ordeal by saying, “I was inside a temple, but it was all wrong– I was wearing shoes, I was peeing, and my ass was out. But facing such blatant cultural appropriation when I was relaxed, a little drunk, and surrounded by people I felt championed by was too jarring to ignore.”
She highlights how purity and cleanliness are “compulsive rules” in Indian families and how one learns basic respect around Indian deities right from childhood. Thus, a bathroom is really an inappropriate place to paint images of Indian divinities.
Mishra reveals how western capitalism still exploits South Asian, Buddhist, and Hindu cultures under the guise of sexual exploration and spiritual awakening. She questions, “Our culture is not a ticket to your self-discovery. India was under colonial rule for 200 years and I, frankly, am tired of how uneducated America seems to be about that. Do you think you would even be in that yoga class if it hadn’t been perfectly packaged for you to consume?”
One of the reason to point out this cultural appropriation as Mishra explains is that people who would use the VIP bathrooms are the ones with money and power and consequently “does not even fully take in the fact that an entire ancient culture and religion is being reduced to a playscape for their vices and routine board meetings.”
She further expresses her displeasure by questioning “As I sat on the toilet, I thought “Is it possible that my culture is again being dehumanized and treated like an accessory of white culture, here on Jefferson Street?”
She politely requested to take down the bathroom décor. She concluded by saying, “My true desire is to see the bathroom taken down. My parents would not have had the courage to stand up for what is right, but I as their daughter, do. Your mission statement is one that touts inclusivity, positivity, and safety. Please don’t make me lose faith in the ability we all have to right some wrongs and truly hear each other out.”
Mishra’s letter was warmly responded by Kae Burke, co-founder and creative director at House of Yes who conceived the bathroom décor idea. She expressed her heartfelt apologies for not researching thoroughly the culture and history that inspired her before commencing the décor.
Burke promised that the bathroom décor would be redone and changed at the earliest.
Kae Burke’s response and Ankita Mishra’s letter can be read here.