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Love, Totes, and Kurkure: an Afternoon with the South Asian Mentor Program

By: Hana Ahmed ’23

By: Hana Ahmed ’23

On Thursday, Oct. 10 the 5C South Asian Mentor Program (SAMP) met in the Smith Campus Center’s SAMP Space for an hour of tote bag decorating and discussion about the topic of love and desirability as it relates to the South Asian community. With Bollywood songs playing in the background, mentors and mentees conversed over classic desi snacks, blank canvas bags, fabric markers and paint.

SAMP is a student run program meant to support first years and establish a community for South Asian students, faculty members, and staff at the 5Cs. It aims to create a safe space for those who identify as South Asian to openly share their thoughts about relevant subjects like love and desirability (which had the added bonus of allowing for the pun “DESI-rability”), and to enjoy each other’s company through engaging activities such as personalizing tote bags and nostalgically munching on Kurkure and Magic Masala Lays.

“We thought that love and desirability would be something first year students would be interested in talking about,” said Sofia Ahmed SC ’21, a current SAMP head mentor.
“Understanding power dynamics and conventional beauty standards can help us gain a better understanding of our interpersonal interactions and relationships.”

Through this session, SAMP mentors aimed to probe the ways that constructs of beauty interact with the South Asian population in America – Claremont specifically – by asking students to consider how South Asians are represented in the media in terms of attractiveness.

It’s noticeable that brown people are rarely the stars of Hollywood rom-coms, or the love interests in Western movies and TV shows. And unfortunately, it’s not only the Western world doing the white-washing‒the same can be said about Fair & Lovely, an Indian cosmetic line notorious for propagating the notion of darker skin being less attractive in order to sell skin-lightening products to India’s naturally brown population of women.

“Because Claremont is a predominantly white institution and we exist in a white dominated society, what is considered desirable is often rooted in whiteness,” Ahmed said. “In the South Asian community, it’s important for us to reflect on both how these and different cultural dynamics shape the way South Asian students experience love and desirability.”

Not all points of the discussion were negative, however. Students noted that major milestones for LGBTQ+ representation have been made in South Asian media. In the last year alone, Bollywood released its first film to center a lesbian romance, called Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (“How I Felt When I Saw That Girl”).

“We wanted to reach first year students and facilitate a productive dialogue,” Ahmed said. “Although these topics can be difficult to talk about, we were happy to be able to forge a space to have this kind of conversation. It was really wonderful to see first year South Asian students creating connections and being in community with one another.” Ahmed joined SAMP as a mentee during her freshman year, and is now a junior and in her first year of being a head mentor.

Whether you came to SAMP’s love and desirability talk for free totes and desi treats, or for intriguing conversation about the role of romance in the South Asian community, this event served as a relaxing get-together that emphasized insightful discussion and inclusivity. If you missed out this time, don’t despair‒ SAMP plans to host workshops and activities throughout the year, including a joint retreat with SASA (the South Asian Student Association) and an art exhibition called Untold Stories that will be showcased in collaboration with AAMP (Pomona’s Asian American Mentor Program) and ISMP (the International Student Mentor Program). Stay tuned for more opportunities to delve into the South Asian identity!