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The Universal Grain



Natasha Fernandez (Interviewer): “Hey, I’m Natasha Fernandez reporting for Global Girlhood- an organization dedicated to empowering women of all ages, backgrounds and identities through authentic storytelling. I’m here with Allison and Sandhya, the two founders of the podcast series, The Universal Grain. First and foremost- why don't you tell us a little bit about yourselves and the Universal Grain itself?”

Sandhya Ganesan (Interviewee): “My name is Sandhya, I am an American Indian and I'm second generation. I am a junior in high school and I live in California; Allison and I one night were, we talk about this in one of our episodes, but we one night were sitting on FaceTime and we were talking, like ‘Hey, it would be so great to record our conversations, because we have such good conversations sometimes, and that's exactly what happened. And so we, we created The Universal Grain, and the name is-the name is very deep I guess, so the Universal Grain, we think is rice. Rice was actually, the year of rice is actually 2004, when we were both born so that's a nice coincidence and, we think that rice is universally used across all cultures and it's a staple of many Asian cultures which is what issues we focus on and so we think that it's really like such a blank canvas, yet at the end of the day it is the same grain and that kind of is something that we should apply to all Races; like we're all at the end of the day humans and we can share experiences, and see how they're similar.”

Allison Li (Interviewee): “I very much agree with what Sandhya said. I’m Allison, I am a first-generation Chinese-American, I also live in California and am a junior in high school. For me, The Universal Grain was a way of sharing my story and hopefully allowing people to understand our experiences and maybe if they don't, then learn different perspectives of the world, and we found that so important, especially me being Chinese-American and Sandhya being Indian-American, I think it really bridges and breaks that stereotype of ‘Asians are one way or Asians are another way’ and it shows these two different perspectives. Sometimes they’re very different, they’re very contrasting and it’s even interesting to me sometimes to see those and I think more thant that, The Universal Grain, especially the name, it is a bridge between cultures. It’s ‘although we are different in so many ways, although we all carry unique names and traditions, at the end of the day we are one human race and we do all fight for the same things we live on the same Earth, and rice just happens to be one of the coolest bridges we could find for that.”

Natasha Fernandez (Interviewer):”That’s really powerful,I really like that analogy. Regarding the creation of your podcast, you created this in late June- about three months into the nation’s quarantine period as a result of Covid-19, one month after the death of George Floyd and the ascending of Black Lives Matter, and during a time where systemic racism, xenophobia and stereotypes were and continue to be dissected and re-examined, all of which you have talked about in your episodes. In this era of knowledge, empowerment and enlightenment, would you say this has further motivated the establishment of The Universal Grain, or was this something in the making for a while now?”

Allison Li (Interviewee): “I think, for me at least, this was always something that we wanted to do; we wanted to share experiences but I definitely do think with the recent circumstances that have been pushed onto us, it furthered our idea that we need to put our perspectives out there and share our beliefs especially during times like these.”

Sandhya Ganesan (Interviewee): “For me, our first episode was black lives matter, which is something that I have, like it's- it's such an important topic to me, it’s just, like it's so important for me to be an ally, to you know, the Black American community, and black people in general. So that was like, when we wanted to start The Universal Grain, that was when we had like our idea meeting, that was the first thing that I pitched because I think that it's so important and with the whole racial reckoning that still going on but started when we were about to start a podcast, I think it just showed how important that diversifying the voices in like the social sphere is. Like, the protests- they reached people of all ages, they encourage people of all ages, like it showed how Americans or just people in general can use their voice to speak up for change and to be an ally, and I think that that's what The Universal Grain is trying to do as well, as we're trying to diversify the perspectives that people have, because if we don't then no one knows what other people are going through; like we're not in each other's heads so talking about it and sharing your perspective and amplifying the perspectives of others is something that's so crucial and I think that the a podcast is a great medium to do that through.”

Natasha Fernandez (Interviewer): Thank you for sharing that! We personally believe that the most vital influences and experiences happen when we’re kids, being that we’re highly impressionable at the time; tell me about your childhoods because I know you’ve spoken about that in your episodes, and if you can think of a time where you felt particularly aware of your gender or race or how it lead you to be treated, and was there a figure or influence in your life who taught you the importance of empowerment?”

Sandhya Ganesan (Interviewee): “Okay I'll go: So for me, I guess being brown in Orange County was… a trip, like I remember seeing my- I actually wasn't in my fifth grade picture, fun fact, I was in India at the time and it was raining on the day of it so I thought that I dodged a bullet or whatever, but I realized when looking at that picture I would have been one of the only brown people in that picture and I think like that idea of me sticking out as a sore thumb has always made me kind of self-conscious of like what I say what I do like because I feel that people will notice me more just because my skin color is darker. It just puts a spotlight on me that I don't necessarily want and I've had I've had like that I'm sure that anyone, like immigrants has had that experience where it's like ‘oh what’s this?’ and people make those assumptions about you, like you eat Indian food every single day or like your parents are wanting you to go into STEM or something and so we talked about that a lot on the podcast. Like breaking those stereotypes and those assumptions and the model minority myth and like all of that stuff so I've had my fair experience with that because I think that living in a community where it's like so sheltered almost, has- like I'm the person that some people come to to make the assumptions, to enforce the stereotypes on and that kind of stuff so that's shaped a lot of my perspective in terms of like making sure that no one else feels that way making sure that people think that they're normal and just showing people how like diversity is a good thing we shouldn't be shying away from like diversifying your friend group or diversify the food you eat or diversifying the shows you watch. That has been really important for me because I think cultural appreciation is something that everyone should have.

Allison Li (Interviewee): “Sandhya and I actually went to the same elementary school, so I was in that fifth grade picture. But I guess in parallel to her situation- well fortunately I have never felt many of the things Sandhya has and I'm so grateful for that and you know, I will forever feel blessed that I never went through those things- but in my own struggle, for me it was elementary school, and a lot of my peers were not Asian, most of them Caucasian, and so weirdly I call it my ‘child identity crisis’ that I talked about this in one of the episodes of our podcast, but it was me thinking that I was white. Like, I knew I was Asian and when I looked in the mirror I knew I was Asian, but when I was around my peers I didn't think I was any different from them, and it didn't really start hitting me until middle school when someone actually made like a joke about it, and I faced a little bit of discrimination within parents just judging me, rather than my character, but judging me for my race, and I think that was a time when I realized that I was different. But especially with the help of the podcast since we're talking about these stories so much, I've come to appreciate that you know I don't have to be the same all the time and that people who do have those assumptions about me, I'm trying to educate them now.”

Natasha Fernandez (Interviewer): “I know, your podcast has done wonders for me. It’s definitely helped me in realizing how I can be a better ally and like you said, we went to the same middle school and it was just insane realizing all those systemic things being like wow, people have these stereotypes towards Asian and female communities too and it’s just insane. Okay so, actually you brought up your influence, so lastly; I’m positive aspiring activists and girls seeking a source of vocal representation and an outlet of relatability have found your podcast and growing platform to be of comfort but also inspiration. So do you have any advice for girls who are currently also trying to empower themselves especially during the time of mass political and social division?

Sandhya Ganesan (Interviewee): “Okay this is going to be rough because I haven't like written my message fully and I don't have anything prepared, but something that inspired me in our podcast and in our messaging was like Ali said, you have this like identity crisis when you're not the same as everyone else in your school, and I had a point in time there was nothing that I wanted more than to have blue eyes, white skin and white hair cuz I- or blonde hair, not white hair, because I thought that would be the thing that would make me happy; it would make me fit in society, it would make me have friends, I can all of this stuff, and I think that's the most important thing and the thing that also I can see has been affecting politics has been affecting all the things are going on in our world is identity. Your own identity is something that is going to be precious to you like for your whole life. It’s something that you were given and it's something that- I mean I can't change the way I look, I can't change my skin color and I can't change those things, so you have to learn how to accept it at an early age and changing it is not going to, changing it is not the way to go. Accepting it and learning to love yourself is the biggest thing and that sounds so cheesy but it's so true. If you accept your identity and if you are open about it, like if you learn to love yourself enough where you are able to share everything, you'll be able to share your perspectives in the political sphere and that diversifies everyone else's opinions right? It shares like ‘oh! This is a problem for someone and I've never had this problem, I'm glad you shared like thank you for sharing your experiences, being comfortable with your experience and being comfortable with your identity.’ So I think that if there's one thing that someone of, I guess a girl like my age or a girl who is of Indian American descent, they should be proud of the fact that they're from like a culturally rich background, they are a woman, they’re different, and they should embrace that and not be shying away from it no matter what other people look like or talk like around.”

Natasha Fernandez (Interviewer): “Wow that’s beautiful”

Allison Li (Interviewee):”For me, I would think in such tumultuous times, things are changing so fast and the world keeps spinning and sometimes it seems like it’s hard to keep up, my biggest advice is to stand your ground; keep your opinions and learn, grow and never shy away from an argument, never shy away from the opportunity to learn more, the opportunity to change those opinions but also standing up for like Sandhya said, your identity. Not being ashamed of things because you’re different, because at the end of the day there are no two people that are the same and that's the beauty of you know living in this world. And especially as a girl or as someone growing up as a female, it can be degrading sometimes thinking that your opportunities can be different because of your gender. But rather than letting that discourage you, let that be something that you're proud of, you know and I guess true equality can only be aspired to in this world. My greatest hope is that someday we’ll reach it in every aspect of our society, but until then we keep pushing and we do what's right and we continue looking forward and seeing the optimistic side of things because if you are persistent your dreams will come.”

Natasha Fernandez (Interviewer):”I love that; Alright, well I think that concludes the interview. It was wonderful being able to have this opportunity to hear your story and how you are contributing to empowerment in both the female and Asian communities, so double win; thank you so much for your time guys!”

Sandhya (Interviewee): I realize that we didn’t answer your empowerment question; I would just say that because I’ve been thinking that like “white” is the way to get happy, I found my identity through social media in a way because there have been so many Indian American women who are just like, they're so comfortable with their identity and they're proud of their culture and I think that that kind of, like it was it was a good effect of the influencer trend almost. That's who I would say what inspires me, all those women and then all the women in politics obviously.``

Allison Li (Interviewee): “I’d say who inspired me, it’s cliche but my mom. My mom and my grandma, my maternal grandma, they’ve defied so many female stereotypes. My grandma,she never went to school but now she learned to learn to read and write and speak on her own and so when she was eleven, her mom died, so she was taking care of her younger siblings. So I think looking to women like that and seeing their stories and how they made it out really gives me hope and faith that I can do great things in this world too because if there's a will, there’s a way. And more than that, I think almost in parallel to Sandhya, although not completely the same, I found a lot of my Asian identity through friends who are Asian and who had, you know gone through that and I'm not sure what or who their influencers were but seeing them be confident really made me want to have that same kind of energy because I saw how happy they were, and when I looked at them I didn't think there was anything wrong with you know, feeling those kinds of things and I hope one day maybe I can inspire somebody to be comfortable in their own skin and be happy with their identity.”

Natasha Fernandez (Interviewer): “I’m positive you already are. Thank you so much for his interview guys, it means the world to me.”


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