The White Helmets

Written on Saturday, February 25th.

One news story, out of the many ridiculous ones going on these days, really stuck out to me today. The Academy Awards are this weekend, and one of the documentaries that was nominated was directed by a Syrian man. On his way to the awards ceremony, he was barred entry to LAX because he’s from Syria. As you may know, Syria is one of the seven countries that is on Trump’s executive order ban that was recently put on hold by a Washington State judge (yay WA!). However, for some reason, this man was still not allowed entry into the United States and no one knows why.

If the current events is confusing + infuriating you as much as me, then you’re probably so lost on how you can help. It feels like we’re so far removed from it all, but then something happens in your own backyard. What do we do?

First, I wanted to be educated on what’s actually going on in Syria. And what better way to do so than through the documentary by the Syrian director?! Turns out, it’s a Netflix documentary so it was really easy to find. The White Helmets is a 40 minute movie (as long as an episode of Grey’s Anatomy) that follows a few members of the volunteer-driven organization, the White Helmets, that rescues victims of air strikes and violence in Syria and neighboring countries. This movie gives you a direct view into civilians’ lives in Syria today, and shows the true selflessness of so many of its residents. The volunteers don’t care what side you’re on, what your politics or religion are, they are there to rescue + protect. Their selflessness and courage is truly mind-blowing, and it’s even more impactful when you realize that they all had “normal” jobs — tailor, blacksmith, etc. — before the civil war made it too difficult to lead a life other than survival.

Next time you turn on Netflix and are about to start another episode of Parks + Recreation, take a second and navigate to The White Helmets. I promise it will be the most informative, inspiring 40 minutes you will experience. And if you can and are willing to do so, please donate to this amazing organization so they can continue doing what we only wish we had the courage to do.

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What I Should’ve Said

I was looking forward to this dermatologist appointment because I had to wait over a month to even see the doctor. I was going in for a check-up on acne and scarring, nothing too serious but something I wanted to eradicate from my body – pretty routine stuff for most young people. I was seated in the patient room wearing a paper gown, talking to the doctor and assistant about why I came in. As part of filing out the medical forms (I assume), the doctor asked me what I do. I replied, “Software engineer”. He asked, “Where?”. I answered, “At Amazon,” with a slight laugh. A lot of people around Seattle are engineers, and a lot of those engineers work at Amazon, so I was probably one of his many patients.

I assumed that was it, but then I got that question that I really only expected to get from Uber drivers, “Where are you originally from?” I was kind of confused. I honestly only attributed this question to people who either recently immigrated to America, were South Asian themselves, or just not used to seeing non-white Americans enough that they felt compelled to ask me that question. I would naively categorize the latter as not very educated, because how else could you go through so much of your life only seeing one type of people in this vastly diverse country?

But no, it was my dermatologist from a super fancy and expensive clinic near the University of Washington asking me this question. I answered, “From here”. That wasn’t the answer he wanted, so he kept probing, “Where here? Seattle?”. I said, “Yes, I grew up here.” Now I would have expected that conversation to just end there or for him to make a remark about growing up and working in the same city. But instead, of course, he had to say, “Oh wow, Seattle’s just becoming this huge melting pot hasn’t it? A large part due to Amazon. They’re just bringing people in from all over the world.”

And that was it.

I didn’t say anything at the moment and continued with the appointment as if nothing had happened. But what I wish I said is something around this:

I don’t dress differently, I don’t talk differently, I have documentation showing that I am a working citizen, and the only difference I can see between me and yourself is the color of my skin. You asking me where I’m originally from means that you don’t believe that I belong here. I must have come from somewhere else. Put yourself in my shoes for a minute — what if every time you met someone new they asked you in casual conversation  where you were really from? They are asking you that because, for some reason, you look like an outsider. But you never get asked that because you’re white. And maybe you didn’t “mean” it that way, but if you think about why you asked me that question, it’s because you wanted to figure out where I came from and how I ended up here. You expect there to be an answer other than, “My family’s American. I’m an American.” And because I’m brown, it’s not an offensive question in most people’s eyes. But to me, it is. Because I’m an American, and I have shown no signs of being from any other place or country except for you assuming that my skin color isn’t “normal”. Also, Seattle, and America in general, isn’t just becoming a melting pot because of these big companies — the foundation of this nation has been to bring all types of people together from all over the world to live together under a free and just democracy. Just because your family came over at a different time than mine doesn’t make us any less American than you.

Now I don’t mean to come off as super aggressive or sensitive, which is mainly why I didn’t say anything to his face. But finding the right words to show that I’m uncomfortable by his question and for us to come to an understanding as to why is hard to do, especially in situations that you don’t expect. If you don’t think this happens that much and I’m overreacting, maybe I am. And to everyone, including myself, it’s important to catch yourself when you think that question about others — maybe you see someone at a mall, on the street, at work, driving your Uber. But instead of wondering, or asking, where they’re originally/really/actually from, remind yourself that even if the color of their skin, or their outfit, or their accent is different than yours, they belong here as much as you do.

Let’s Talk About Race

NOTE: This is a thought piece with no attempt at providing a solution. I’m sharing my experiences and thoughts with you in hopes of sparking positive conversation. 

With all the talk about race, especially with the upcoming election, I’ve honestly not wanted to get too involved in discussions about it. Sure, I’m aware of the Black Lives Matter movement + all of the horrible, horrible murders of innocent black men that lead to this massive push for change. I also very vocally oppose Donald Trump’s candidacy, mostly because of the hate-filled racist remarks he’s made throughout his campaign. Even though I feel sad or mad, I’ll push aside those feelings because the subject is so touchy. This past weekend, I finally got that push to write about it.

I just finished watching a new Netflix documentary, 13TH. Named after the 13th amendment that abolished slavery, the documentary looks into how race relations in America have progressed since slavery — the answer is, not much at all. It finds that at every new era, the policies change to fit the times. This gives us our current form of modern slavery, mass incarceration. I won’t get too into the details, but I highly recommend that you watch this movie. It moved me to tears, not just because of the terrifying stats and graphics, but also because of how little I am doing to make it better.

I feel like my first step to being able to do something about it is for me to see how racial inequality has affected my own life, and make it better from there. As a first-generation American, I am proud of my Indianness my family has fused with the Americanness I’ve grown up around. It wasn’t always easy, especially for my parents, to figure out how to balance the two vastly different cultures, but we’ve figured it out along with the millions of other first-generation Indian-American families. By growing up in Washington State, one of the most Democratic + progressive states in the country, I went the majority of my life without facing any obvious racial discrimination or injustice. Joining Indian groups + surrounding myself with Indian friends definitely helped. Even now, living in downtown Seattle, I see so much diversity that I sometimes forget that there’s any difference between me and the person walking next to me on the street.

And yet, I’m always reminded that I’m not a full American by none other than Uber drivers. Even as an American-born citizen who has grown up in this country my entire life, I get asked, “Where are you from?”. I’m sure none of my white friends has ever been asked this question. I usually respond with, “Here. I grew up in Seattle.” Instead of leaving it at that, they’ll continue, “No, but where are you really from?”. It’s as if there is no way that I could actually be from America because of the color of my skin. At this point, I know what they’re getting at but continue answering with the truth, “I’m from America. I was born + brought up here.” Then, the driver will usually chuckle or have a slight smile, acknowledging that I’m a silly first-generation child who chooses not to identify by their race. “Ok then, where is your family from?”. And finally, they get their answer, “My parents moved here from India.” The conversation will rest, with the driver getting the answer he wanted and expected.

Now, I’m not saying that I experienced any form of racial discrimination. I am not being treated differently because of the color of my skin (or so I hope). But what’s interesting about this exchange each time (yes, this happens multiple times with different drivers), is that regardless of where I was born, how good my American accent is, what I wear, how I act, I am not seen as an American. When we live in a country that boasts diversity + inclusion and is built on immigrants yet anyone that is not white is immediately recognized for not belonging, I find it very difficult to believe that any sort of progress will be made on demolishing racial injustice anytime soon. If this is what it feels like to be black in America, with not just Uber drivers but everyone pointing out that you’re different, I can’t even imagine living through that.

If you’ve watched the documentary, please share your thoughts. How much was new information to you? What are steps you or your community is taking to make it better? How can we help?

Getting Lasik: How + Why I Did It

Guys, I finally did it!! I’ve been talking about getting Lasik for a few years now but was never sure if it was worth it or not. Let me tell you — it’s definitely worth it. I couldn’t find anything describing the actual experience of getting Lasik before I had my surgery, and I think it would have really calmed my + my family’s nerves if we knew what it was like. If you want to know what Lasik is really like, here’s my experience getting the surgery!

Why Did I Do It?

  • To get signed off by your eye doctor to get Lasik, your power needs to stabilize for the past few years. My power had stabilized to -4.0 in both eyes for the last 6 years, so I knew I would be safe.
  • I wear (or wore, hehe) daily contacts on both of my eyes, which comes out to about $110 each month for the contacts. The surgery itself cost $4300 (I’ll go into that later), which equates to buying contacts for a little over 3 years. I’d already been wearing contacts for 11 years, so it was worth the investment.
  • I’d talked to TONS of family + friends who had gotten the surgery, and a few eye doctors and surgeons. Everyone who got Lasik done wishes they had gotten it done sooner, and the doctors reiterated how safe + non-intrusive the surgery is.
  • I’ve been on a streak of just doing things I keep talking about doing (aka Mitra Loves), so why not?!

Getting The A-OK

  • Get an appointment with your eye doctor + let them know you want to get Lasik. My eye doctor had been asking me if I wanted the surgery for a few years now, so he was super excited about it! WARNING: Your eyes will be super dilated after this appointment! I was practically useless for the rest of the day without being able to look at screens or go out in the light.
  • If they sign off, ask them for a list of recommended facilities + surgeons, and ask them to send your info over to those facilities ASAP. My surgeon already had a list of 4-5 clinics that he recommended. It didn’t hurt that he personally knew a few of the surgeons, so I felt super comfortable going to them.
  • Call the facilities! Since Lasik is such a quick operation, they usually have a ton of openings + can fit you in as soon as the next week. The clinic I chose even provided pre-surgery check-ups as a double check, but I chose to just book the appointment right away. I was surprised that I could get it done so soon, but it made it even easier to just take the plunge!

Before The Surgery

  • Get someone to be there during + after your surgery. You will need them to drive you back home + it’s always nice having a friend there! Since the clinic was close to my parents’ house, I decided to stay there the day of + after my surgery, so my dad + boyfriend (who came along to see if I was ok before getting Lasik himself) accompanied me.
  • Go through the info that your clinic provides + ask your people to look at it, too. This was super useful since my dad + boyfriend could remind me about my post-op todos.
  • Enjoy your last week as ‘4 Eyes’! Contacts can change the shape of your cornea, so you have to wear glasses for the week leading up to surgery. It was kind of bittersweet, knowing it was the last time I’d be waking up + going to sleep with blurry vision.
  • Decide what type of Lasik you want to get — blade or laser. I chose laser because it was more precise + less prone to human error, plus it’s the newer, proven technology. Because of that, it was more expensive of a surgery. For both eyes, my surgery was $3600 + $700 for the follow-up appointments for a grand total of $4300. As I said before, worth it.

It’s Lasik Day!

It took literally. 10. minutes.

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  • The majority of your appointment (about 2 hours) will be for pre-op tests, just to make sure that nothing’s changed since you booked your appointment. It was a lot of staring into blinking lights, waiting, staring some more, and more waiting.
  • I finally went in to the room where the people with glasses went, meaning I was about to get Lasik! But hold up…there’s more waiting! They gave me a surgical cap + put numbing drops in my eyes. This is the point where my dad started praying intensely + I got super fidgety. Fun all around.
  • The surgeon came out to meet me before the actual surgery, which was super nice of him. He wanted to meet my dad + boyfriend + make sure that I was ready.
  • Before going into the surgery, they went over the post-op info. That included each of the drops I needed to take at what time intervals, the dos and don’ts post surgery, etc.

The Surgery

  • I went in with a nurse (who put more numbing drops in my eyes) + sat down in the chair. They gave my dad + boyfriend the option to watch in a viewing room, but my dad chose not to watch. My boyfriend said he was covering his face half the time so…does it count? They started surgery almost immediately.
  • They kept my eyelids apart with a metal eyelash curler look-a-like. It didn’t hurt or feel uncomfortable at all.
  • Here’s the worst part — the eye holder thingy. They put this plastic thing around my eyeball that’s meant to keep it in place. It didn’t hurt as much as I could feel pressure was being put on my eye/head which was slightly uncomfortable. They make you stare at this red light (obvi there’s staring at a light) to keep the eye in place.
  • You’re then put under the laser — note that I couldn’t actually see, smell, or hear the laser. All I heard was the surgeon counting down from 15, during which the laser was creating the flap on my eye.
  • As soon as the flap was done, they opened it and it was super blurry. Then, they did the actual Lasik part, I guess. All I know is it smelled like burning hair for a few seconds, and then I assume they put the flap back on, because then I could SEE! They put on a protective lens (no power) for extra protection + to help the flap connect + heal.

Post Surgery

  • Both eyes were done in 10 minutes! As soon as I got up I could see, and it was SO. WEIRD. Cool. But weird. I went home right after + started my drops.
  • For the first week you will have medical drops to put in every few hours, but the artificial tears will be your best friend. Since your eyes just went through a little something something, they’ll tend to be super dry, especially when starting at a screen for a long time or when waking up. You can buy huge boxes of the artificial tears at any drugstore, + I strongly recommend keeping a few with you at all times.
  • Nothing getting in your eyes for the next week (at least)! That includes wind, dust, make-up, sweat (oh no, guess no working out!), etc. You’ll have these super sexy goggles + sunglasses to wear (hint: they’re not actually sexy). But hey, you can see so who cares!

All in all, I’d strongly recommend the surgery if it’s cost-efficient for you + you’re just sick of waking up + not being able to see. I’m loving it so far + can’t wait to frame my glasses in a shadow box to mark the 18 years I’ve been reliant on those babies. Hope this helps calm your nerves + be more informed before making this decision! It’s probably one of the best one’s I’ve ever made.

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My Lasik Recovery Crew (Guest Appearance: The Sexy Goggles)

Cultural Norms: In the Kitchen

PSA: I’m a first-generation, 23 year old (at the time of this post) Indian American, and this is my first rant on this blog. Ever!

My parents moved here a year before I was born, and we’ve lived in the States ever since. Over the years, our family has built an amazing inner circle of relatives + family friends — our own little Indian family! As the oldest child, I was the test kid for my parents. There were the simple, everyday questions: do they talk to me English or Tamil, our native language? How do I split my time between soccer practice and Hindustani music class? Should we eat Indian food or pizza for dinner?

Then there were the tougher situations. One in particular stuck out to me today. Typically, the women of the family are the homemakers and the men are the breadwinners. As someone who is constantly surrounded by South Asian families, I see the gap between the two genders even more. No matter whose house we’re at, the women all gather in the kitchen and start preparing the food + taking care of the children. The men gather in the living room + start chatting. I never really thought it was that weird until I got older and I didn’t fit in the “kids” category anymore. The men started having limited, polite conversations with me + the women would ask me to help in the kitchen. If I went to sit down with my dad in the group of men, there would be silence. If I asked my mom why she wasn’t sitting down + talking, she just said she had to take care of everything else.

I’ve asked my parents why this is the case. If my mom won’t even be home for dinner, why does she still cook for us? When we have a dinner party, why is it weird for my dad to help out in the kitchen? I know this runs both ways, because I’ve also seen men make fun of each other if one of them is helping out with the family or house.

As a millennial raised in America, I am a proud feminist + think it’s important that people don’t act on predefined roles based on gender. When I see my parents, who are intelligent, successful people who respect each other, I see that they and their friends are held down by these preconceived “norms”. When the answer for “Why are you doing this” is nothing other than “Because I’m supposed to”, isn’t that a problem? But I realized that I grew up in a society that is completely different from what my parents grew up in, and it’s so much harder to break those societal expectations that have been ingrained in us since we were little.

I don’t really know if there’s a fix to this, or if there even should be one, but I do know that my parents and their friends are really good people. They came to a new country with little to no material goods + a lot of hope, and created lives for themselves and their families. Even though there have been bumps along the way, I think they’ve done an amazing job at raising a bicultural family. And I’ll definitely still find things annoying with the Indian culture and how I think things should be, but there’s never a right or wrong approach to living your life. As long as you’re happy, right?

What are some things that are cultural norms for you + your family that are hard to deal with? Share with me!