Through her grief, an Indian American photographer rediscovers her heritage
Published May 9, 2023 at 4:12 AM MDT
Editor's note: May marks Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which celebrates the histories of Americans hailing from across the Asian continent and from the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. NPR's Picture Show will be bringing stories from these communities to our audience this month.
I developed this photo essay, Roots Hanging from the Banyan Tree, over the past three years. Photography became my therapy as I grappled with loss, grief and racial reckoning over the course of the pandemic. Searching for my identity as an Indian American woman became intertwined with the struggle to ground myself after losing my grandmother to COVID-19.
After her passing, my understanding of life and death shifted. In conversations with my mother, I learned that we both felt a sudden severance of our roots. In my grief, I grasped for memories of a simpler time. I connected with the Patil family, hoping to find a semblance of my childhood in their homes. Through documenting their daily lives, recollections of cultural rituals from my childhood began to flood back in. I also found that I was not alone in my experiences and fears of losing my connection with my heritage.
These images represent my experiences growing up between two cultures while navigating girlhood and early adulthood. I saw myself in the Patil family's young children. While looking back through my old family albums, I found that our shared rituals and experiences were nearly identical. I suddenly felt less isolated in my experience as an Indian American and as a third-culture woman.
In their home, I was able to revisit memories as a young adult and recognize the beautiful aspects of the Indian American experience. What began as my thesis work grew into a labor of love that has shown me that my roots and cultural connection have been with me all along. As children of a diaspora, our cultural roots continue to grow and spread, but the soil is ours — we flourish where we are planted.
Maansi Srivastava (she/they) is an Indian American documentary photographer and photo editor focusing on widespread social issues through a lens of family and community. She previously worked at the Washington Post and NPR. This June, she'll begin a yearlong photography fellowship at the New York Times. See more of Maansi's work on her website, maansi.photos, or on Instagram, @maansi.photo.
Zach Thompson copy edited this piece.
Grace Widyatmadja oversaw production of this piece.
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