My Journey Begins

       The most common question I get asked by people – job interviewers, friends, acquaintances, and sometime even strangers – is: What’s your story?. That question in and of itself has multiple layers, so figuring out the right way to answer that is very difficult. I never know how I should answer the question. Do I answer in a superficial, generic way, or should I delve into the depths of my soul and share exactly who I am and what my story is? I usually start with a brief description of my family and the background/culture I come from. However, as thesis not a small part of my identity, keeping it succinct and brief proves to be very challenging.

            I am a child of two immigrant parents. Both my mother and my father traveled from India to America to make a name and a life for themselves. My mother moved as an eleven year old and my father came at the age of 26, after marrying my mother. Having had traditional Indian values ingrained into them their entire lives, living in America was difficult for them. Parenting my brother and I was difficult as well because they wanted us to be in touch with our Indian culture, but they also  acknowledged that we were American. As a kid, I lived two lives. Both extremely different and similar at the same time. At home, I was an Indian kid. I learned Indian classical dance, Bollywood, and Bhangra; I ate Indian food almost every night for dinner; I wore Indian clothes; I watched Bollywood movies; and I spoke/listened to different languages on a daily basis. At school and out in public, I was American. I spoke english; I ate PB&Js; I wore American clothes; I listened to American music; I learned Jazz, Hip Hop and Ballet. Balancing these two lives was exhausting. I was always so ashamed of my culture and my background that I tried hard to assimilate with my “American” friends. After getting bullied in elementary school, a school that was filled with majority white kids, for food that “smelled like and looked like poo poo,” I begged my mom to let me bring “normal sandwiches.” I tried my hardest to make sure my “poop”  colored skin did not set me apart from my friends, that I listened to my mom when she told me to use skin bleaching cream on my face. After constantly having to correct people’s pronunciation of my “abnormal” name, I shortened it to Shal, so it would be easier for other people. I distinctly remember asking my dad if I could change my name from Shalini Avasarala to something “normal” like Ashley Smith, not realizing how special having such a unique name would mean to me. I chipped away piece after piece of who I was so others would feel more comfortable about the aspects of my person that stood out as different to them. It was only when I got to college that I realized just how stupid I was for trying to erase parts of myself, that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my background. While my background is different and problematic in several ways, the Indian culture is a beautiful and colorful culture. And once I began to embrace  it, I truly understood what it meant to love where I come from.
The next thing I think about in regards to describing story is: passion. What I am passionate about, what inspires me, and who inspires me. Looking back over these last 21 years, I can see how my goals, dreams, passions, and ambitions have drastically changed. Growing up with a Pediatric Cardiologist as a father I was inspired from a young age to help others. I, like most children, wanted to be just like him, as hardworking and passionate about his job and career. I wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror and feel a sense of pride in myself. And for me, that was following in the footsteps of my father and pursuing a career that would help fix the hearts of babies. However, my second year of college brought that long-time dream to a quick close. I realized that the dream I had, was not mine. I was striving to please other people in my life and living out the dreams they never were able to live, rather than pleasing myself and living my own dreams. After some serious soul searching, counseling, and experimenting with different subjects and courses, I decided to switch paths from the medical field and go into Law/Political Science. Almost instantaneously there was an upward trend in my grades, in my interest in school, and my overall passion for all things regarding equity and equality for all human beings. That was it, I thought I had found my dream job: an ACLU lawyer representing marginalized communities. Almost as quickly as I found my passion, I was convinced (or slightly brainwashed) by my parents that civil rights lawyers never make much money. And while I truly believe money is not the most important thing in life, I had to grudgingly accept that it matters a lot in regards to my future plans. So I soul searched, again. I asked myself questions like: what do I mostly talk about with my friends, what do I think about most days, etc. And boom, I had it: Media. I love music, tv, movies, social media, and everything that goes into the legal aspects of creating art of any kind. Entertainment law is where I found a niche that was perfect for me, so I added a Media Studies Minor and began to explore the intersection of various media and law.
Now that I have described my background and what I want in my future, does that mean that I am done describing my life story? Do I include past friendships and relationships? Do they hold importance in regards to who I am today? I personally believe that answer is yes. I like to think that we all learn and grow from our past mistakes; we work on ourselves to make sure we do not make those mistakes again. For me, my past relationships, be them romantic or platonic, have taught me so much about myself. I have learned to accept my flaws, because I am human and not perfect, and work on being unapologetically myself in every relationship in my life. Yes, I make mistakes now and then and slip back to my old petty ways of dealing with situations, but I AM HUMAN, so I come to terms with my mistakes, and learn to move on and not make them again. I have learned that the most important things in life are happiness, love, and confidence, all of which I strive to have and give on a daily basis.
So there, this is who I am, my life story: A first generation American kid with two Indian parents who has struggled to find herself and her true passion in life.

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