dmahadevan

Why am I here?
This to me was a very broad question. ‘Here’ could start from a very philosophical point of view of being the world or the universe itself. At this level I am at the level of humanity, we can all ask the same question. The following few interpretations of the word ‘here’ stems from my intersectional identity as an immigrant, dance practitioner who is a PhD candidate in Performance Studies and now a Mellon public scholar.
Thus, for an immigrant like me, ‘here’ could mean the United States. What am I doing here in the United States instead of being in India where I was born and raised? It is almost like I feel the need to explain my presence in the United States. I tend to immediately place myself in a subordinate position when answering this question. The repeated instructions that we were given by people who have ‘been there done that’ on what to say to the immigration officer at the SFO international airport comes to me. ’Answer only things that you are asked,’ ‘Be clear on the dates,’ ‘Appear smart, confident and friendly,’ This time when I flew into SFO international airport in January was the first time I returned from my trip to India with a US passport. I stood in a different line, but for some reason I had not grown out of the fear of rejection that the place and setting recreated for me. I had to tell myself to calm down and walk ahead, for now I am a citizen.
For a dance practitioner who is very vested in my field of practice – a little represented dance form from India, the university setting can also act as a ‘here.’ What are you a traditional Indian dance practitioner and teacher doing in an University setting? In the last four years, I have tried to grow out of this feeling, of being an imposter, but I must admit that it has not left me at all. I find the need to constantly perform or put on an academic identity to feel accepted. The ‘practice as research’ designated emphasis with in the Performance Studies graduate celebrates the work of performers like me who strive to connect the world of practice and research. But it isn’t simple as I am the only woman of color in my department, it took me time to assimilate, I am alright now.
Lastly, I am working with the California Arts Council on a project that I will know and understand hopefully only on May 4th, during my first meeting with the team. At every seminar of ours, I ask that question, why am I here? What am I doing amongst these people who know what they are going to do with their public scholarship?
Well all the above pondering only problematized the word ‘here’ for me, I have not yet gotten into the ‘why’ part of the question. I came to this country as a spouse of IT professional. The US immigration act of 1965 allowed people like me to accompany our spouses to this country. I like institutionalized learning. It gives me a system that I lack on my own. As much as I feel home schooling is a fantastic idea and concept, it seems too romantic a possibility for someone like me. I need deadlines, I need structure but I realize it has curtailed the urge in me to digress from the ‘path.’ However, now I am a PhD candidate in Performance. I am a practitioner and that is the reason why I am here. I am a practitioner who wants to cross over to text, critical theory and learn a vocabulary that adds to my current embodied mode of expression. I want to enquire the politics behind my being, my intersectionality and relearn my dance with a keen awareness of my self.
What am I doing in the public scholarship cohort? I am here because my life and work is deeply invested in my engagement with community. I am a teacher, and community leader. I work with second generation immigrant children, predominantly girls between 6 and 30 years of age. These girls and their families are not from under served communities. They are immigrants who are living the American dream- own a house, college educated, have a solid insurance plan, and have a decent bank account. My engagement with them and the community they belong involves exposing them to this privilege while foregrounding their identities as second generation immigrant female students of a little represented dance tradition in the diaspora. The experience I gained in doing this role, I believe might have earned me a place in this cohort- why am I part of this seminar?