I arrived in D.C. with apprehension, fearing the monotony of the city’s architecture, its patchwork, its metro, its buildings, its politically minded people stuck in their own ideas but appearing and sounding just like his/her cubicle mate. I feared the thick webs of bureaucracy, the tangled nets of sophisticated jargon, the pretentious postures and speech, the greedy and temporary exchanges of business cards, the handshakes that were just a little too firm…
Most of all…I feared that I wouldn’t be able to fake it well enough to survive. That the South Asian American scholar next to me would see right through the ignorance and the fact that I didn’t even know what South Asian American meant.
I am leaving D.C. hoping that I will cross paths with this THINK TANK of a city one day again. From the first few weeks to the last, I have been blessed to have met amazing progressive risk taking South Asian leaders who valued the sacrifices their parents had made to bring them to this country and give them the opportunity to serve and be served, to progress and be progressed, to change and be changed in a city that would welcome and encourage that. While there are thick webs of bureaucracy, tangled nets of sophisticated jargon, some pretentious speeches, and even slightly superficial meetings with countless residents (that’s just the name of the game), it says a lot that there are people in this city that continue to stay amongst all of that because they have held true to something greater than their individual identities- the identity of being a United States citizen. These leaders have come to a point where they have grasped and acknowledged what that fully means to them-partaking in civil service through work in law, the military, congress, government agencies, and volunteering etc., because living in this country doesn’t simply mean benefitting from its assets but rather adding to it for this generation and generations to come.
While faking it would have probably got me a few more business cards, maybe a headline in a local newspaper- it wouldn’t have nearly made as lasting of an impact as embracing my identity as a Sri Lankan, Christian, Michigan, MPH, woman student (just to name a few identities I associate myself with) and taking pride in it. I, like everyone around me, has a perspective to offer and a community that wants to hear it (whether that be a cultural community, faith-based, sporting, neighborhood, school, the list goes on…). That fact alone has empowered me this past summer and has shown me that faking it in my community of South Asians would cause more reason for alarm than satisfaction, and simply embracing my identity can encourage those who may have had the same fears I did when I had first arrived. I think if anything, I’ve learned, that many South Asians can smell dishonesty from miles away because we’ve been taught to manipulate our thoughts and ways into positions that don’t mean anything to us- and the funny thing is- we usually work hard enough to achieve them. Unfortunately, I think fear of survival will actually be something these supposedly “successful” folk face compared to those who follow a path that sets their minds in drive, that sets their ambitions on fire, that sets their goals to unimaginable heights.
Being a scholar of the Washington Leadership Program has been a huge blessing for me this past summer – and I owe a huge thanks to Harin and Nisha for understanding the values of their communities and their culture, setting up platforms for discussion, and allowing me to see the same due to their efforts. Additionally- the leaders around me- Guatam, Priya, Hira, Sapna, Shirin, Kalyan, Aseem, and Waleed- don’t forget that you are all are motivated thoughtful South Asian American change makers! I can’t wait to see you all in 10 years , making strides, and buying dinners for the WLP scholars of 2023! :)
- Dayani Waas WLP 2013 Alum