YOU FOLLOW film review by Adoption Today

       Soon after I returned from the American Adoption Congress Conference (more about that experience later), I was contacted by Adoption Today‘s editor, Kim Phagan-Hansel. She asked to watch and review the film for their monthly magazine. She attended the conference but was unable to  attend my screening. I passed along our film and by my surprise, we were published in their May 2016 issue. I was only given the PDF of the article, so here is the article copied below. Please visit our website for more information about the documentary!

YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past

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Gazillion Strong
Saywhatfoo Films, 2016, 91 minutes, www.youfollowthefilm.com, $20 DVD, $10 Digital 

Eager to connect with her birth country, Nisha Grayson and several

of her friends set off on a journey to India, which they chronicle in the film,“You Follow.”In order to make the trip more meaningful,the friends decided the focus of their trip should be on helping Nisha locate her birth mother. When they arrive, they begin their mission. Along the way they run into many roadblocks and challenges, however the group continues to push forward on their mission to find Nisha’s birth mother. 

A chance encounter with a local street vendor named Tony changes everything as he decides he will take it upon himself to find Nisha’s birth mother. For more than two years, Nisha searches for her birth mother with Tony’s help, culminating with Nisha returning to India to meet her birth mother. Unfortunately, the meeting is not what Nisha had hoped for.

 “You Follow” is a glimpse into a portion of one adoptee’s mission to find the missing link, her birth family. The film shows the raw emotions of excitement, frustration, sadness and so much more as Nisha lives through the search process. The film is definitely an eye-opening opportunity to understand the mixed emotions that adoptees feel and the difficulties in living between two worlds. Woven throughout the film are interviews with various adoption professionals, adoptive parents and others involved in the adoption system. These interviews allow for a broader perspective of the adoption experience overall. The film was an official selection of the 2015 India International Film Festival and the official selection of the 2014 La Femme International Film Festival. “You Follow” is an insightful film that provides a valuable glance into the real experiences of adoptees and others touched by adoption. It’s definitely a must-see.

 — Reviewed by Kim Phagan-Hansel

 

#UnfairAndLovely

I was first introduced to the #UnfairAndLovely hashtag, movement, and social campaign by a dear friend of mine on Facebook. As soon as I read the title, I was thrilled to have my skin tone represented in a beautiful way that is spreading worldwide.  I didn’t read the article right away because I was beginning to have flashbacks of how I have experienced backlash for my dark skin from friends, strangers, and white men. But before I share those stories, I must acknowledge the women that have brought this conversation and recognition to the forefront.

If you haven’t traveled to India or any other South Asian country, then you might not be familiar with the beauty supplies that are advertised and sold in every beauty store and drug store. These products are created to perpetuate the shaming and the ideal view of beauty that lighter is better, more desirable, and can create a better life with more privileges and opportunities. The bleaching creams are made to lighten women’s skin tone, body hair, nipples, and even vaginas. Not to mention, dark skin men are also targeted with their own beauty line of bleaching products. One of the main companies that sell their products in India is called Fair and Lovely.

The woman in charge of bringing awareness and dark skin back to the global definition of beauty is Pax Jones. She wanted to ‘”combat colourism and the under-representation of people of colour in the media. We were trying to challenge the way colourism permeates our lives,’ Ms Jones told the BBC over the phone from Austin.” Jones created a photo series of her South Asian classmates, sisters Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah (seen below) back in December. Since then, women have contributed their stories of how they experienced colourism, felt ashamed, have been humiliated and dehumanized as a result of their dark skin not being seen as beautiful.

Unfair and Lovely

I have always noticed that dark skinned Indian women were rarely in movies, on magazines covers, or in the media light. If they were, then photo shop was part of their makeup. I even see it here with African America/ Black actresses being lightened up with special effects before going to print.

I have read some stories of my South Asian sisters and how they have been constantly reminded that their dark skin is not beautiful. I am sad to say that I can relate. Although I grew up within a white family, I wasn’t told to stay out of the sun or that I would have a hard time finding a husband, but I have experienced many jokes from my dear friends while growing up. Did I ever go to my parents to talk about it. No, I didn’t. I felt that they wouldn’t understand nor know what to tell me that could help bring back my self esteem. As a result of the mocking I would receive at school, I chose to stay out of the sun, I chose to lift my head up a little bit higher in pictures, and at times I chose to join in on the laughs.

Those jokes are not what really hurt the most. I remember crushing on a white classmate in high school and admitting to him how I felt. His exact words are something I will never forget, “we could never date because you are too dark.” I was heartbroken. A guy that I just got done making out with just told me that my skin tone was the reason that we could not be together. Something so little, yet such a big part of my life’s experiences that cannot be changed stood in the way of someone wanting me. That’s when I knew that I would experience this world in a completely different way.

My shame and practices subsided a few years later. I began to find pride in my dark skin due to getting compliments and just saying, “fuck it!” I began laying out in the sun more often in hopes that I would get darker. Let me tell you though, even me minding my own business, soaking up the sunlight and enjoying the heat on my body still doesn’t keep me from hearing hurtful comments. I remember just last summer, I took a day trip to the beach and as I was sitting there reading a book in the sun, a white old man had the courage to come up to me and ask me why I’m laying out in the sun because I’m already dark enough. Really? Now I have a limit on how dark I can be. I was shocked to hear such a comment from a complete stranger. He followed his insult with a compliment, but the damage had been done already.

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What’s done is done but the scars are still present. I wanted to share my experiences and the fact that being part of a white family doesn’t necessarily give me a safe place to express these experiences or provide a reflection that states that dark skin is beautiful, therefore I have looked for acceptance out in the world.

On the flip side, it was brought to my attention that an old photo of me was shared on a Facebook page, Not Fair, Very Lovely. I’m glad that I have been part of this worldwide recognition and social campaign. This is not the first campaign to recognize dark skin as also being beautiful, and I hope it’s not the last.

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I stand with all my South Asian sisters that have been dehumanized for their beautiful, dark and lovely skin!

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35783348

http://www.buzzfeed.com/niralishah/unfair-and-lovely#.btl1p8jKN5

http://mashable.com/2016/03/11/unfair-and-lovely-campaign/#41B59XM35SqZ

 

 

 

UC Merced FREE Film Screening of YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past

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Thanks to the South Asian Student Association, the Global Asia Working Group, and the Center for Humanities at UC Merced for hosting a free screening of my film, YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past. Food and refreshments will be available on a first come, first serve basis. No tickets needed.

I will be attending and available to answer any questions after the film.

I hope to see you there!

Date of Departure

As an adoptee, there are some privileges that I don’t have. One of them is truth. As I become more involved with my history, my story, my narrative, there is still a little part of me that doubts what I have been told or what I have discovered. There has, and I am sure there will always be gaps and holes in my personal story. I am hoping these gaps are not created intentionally by those that have determined my destiny and path up until now. Although, even as a 30 something adult, I have had to accept the fact there will be truths to my story that I will never be able to uncover due to secrets and reputations held by key players in my adoption. I am not alone here.

Since the release of my film, YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past, I have connected with other trans-racial adoptees via Facebook. Aspects of their adoptions come up every now and then on my feed. Over the last couple of years, there have been a common trend of other adoptees celebrating the date of arrival into their family. This date is the day that their adoption became final, when they got picked up from the airport, when they met their adoptive parents for the first, etc. However their first meeting played out, that is the day that is usually acknowledged and sometimes publicly celebrated.

For me, my date of arrival was never really important to me. I always knew that it was sometime in December. Within my family, there was no acknowledgment or celebration. I never felt the need or desire to mark that date as an anniversary or a special day. At least not until recently.

It was the acknowledgment by my fellow adoptees that got me curious one afternoon in mid December of last year. I got the intense urge to find out because I did want to honor that day of the year.

The first thing I did was call my mother. No answer. Then I called my father. No answer, so I left a message. He took a couple of days to call me back. He stated that he looked through all the paperwork that he had but my day of arrival was not mentioned anywhere. He casually suggested that I look at my Indian passport.

At that moment, a loud DUH! went through my thoughts. I happened to be sitting at my desk and my handy plastic container with all my important documents was conveniently placed next to my chair by surprise. With my dad still on the phone, I lifted the lid off and my Indian passport was on top of everything else. I opened up the pages and found the stamp from the Bombay Airport Immigration dated December 29, 1983. I flipped the page and the same date appeared on the US Immigration stamp. There it was, the date that I left my first home and arrived to my next one.

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I told my dad that today is my anniversary of when I first arrived to the US. He sounded pleased and happy of course, but I on the other hand felt the opposite. I felt sad, very sad. For me to find out my original date of arrival exactly 32 years later on the very same date was already unreal. These feelings of grief came over me. I acted like I was okay and said my goodbyes.

I sat and rode the waves of emotions for awhile. I stopped what I was currently working on at the time. I didn’t answer calls. I just sat with myself.

I cried.

I missed my first home. I missed India. I missed by birth mother. I missed a life that I could of easily had. I missed not having a choice.

Its odd, but I felt I was taken away. Almost against my will.

To think that my life could of unfolded any other way because of someone else’s decision. This someone that I will never meet and who refuses to answer any of my emails. This someone that holds so many secrets to my life so she can protect her own reputation.

Since there are so many uncertain pieces and secrets to the first six months of my life, I must hold on to the pieces that I know to be true. I can now add my date of arrival to my story.

 

 

Motherhood Transcends Humans

Motherhood hasn’t always been something I looked forward to. I mean, I do want to be a mother and I am confident that I will raise an intelligent, brave, and spiritual gifted human being, but that desire and confidence has developed in the last five years or so.

Now looking back, motherhood has always been a part of my life. I was longing for the presence of my birth mother while loving my mother who is present everyday. Does this feeling of craving my birth mother transcend beyond human beings? Of course, how could animals, insects, and mammals not have an emotional connection to their mothers? It was so obvious; I made the connection!

Since choosing a vegan lifestyle a few years ago, my energetic pull to the Universe has helped me open my heart and soul to another identical form of motherhood; motherhood that takes place in the farm industry, but is so often hindered because of the selfish desire to consume meat and dairy.

The sole purpose of a female cow on a diary farm is to be constantly raped and to give birth. To hear a mother scream and cry for her baby that is suddenly stolen from her only hours after giving birth to simply produce milk for the dairy industry is heart wrenching. The pain and yearning that that mother goes through are feelings that I cannot imagine going through myself, so why direct the feelings onto another helpless being?

The milk that the mother spends nine months producing inside of her is never given to her calf, instead its bottled up and sent to the store for human consumption. NO being should experience that pain and grief after having their child stolen for the sake of creating milk, cheese, and yogurt. These products come from grieving mothers.

Since I can relate to that pain and longing for my birth mother, I knew that I can never cause another being to feel that same grief and pining by financially supporting the dairy industry.

 

The story of Rita, a pregnant pig with 10 piglets, was smashed in a truck bound for the slaughterhouse. She was expected to die, but her mother instincts told her to escape. Rita jumped from a moving truck and was saved!! She was dropped of at Animal Place Sanctuary where she gave birth in a safe and clean space with nothing but love floating around in the air. Rita represents motherhood with the love for her children, the bravery to escape, and the fight for their lives.

Recognizing and having empathy for the bond between a mother and child is connected to my loss for my natural mother. I know the feeling of loss and separation, so I have chosen not to contribute to putting other animals, beings, mothers, and children through the same experience by choosing a vegan lifestyle.

We are all equal, with a heart, emotions, and the ability to nurture relationships with others.  Farm animals deserve to take care of their children.

#FamilyPreservation

 

 

The Casual, Not So Casual Meet and Greet Convo

Meeting new people is always so interesting, uncomfortable and invasive or me. Of course most strangers don’t know that I am adopted, but confusion seems to arise when I answer their basic questions about myself and my family. Over the years, I began to notice that I was disclosing my adoption within the first few minutes of meeting someone, only to relieve their confusion about my answers and not for my own personal desire to want to share. There have been times where I chose to leave the conversation when they get that blank stare on their face just to avoid having to tell them the missing link in my story line. In those moments, I have to decide if my adoption is going to be part of my identity or a part of me that is really no ones fucking business.

A brief conversation I had with a kind woman at my weekly mediation group proves my point. Note: personal thoughts are told in parenthesis

Her: Hello, how are you? You are awfully quiet.

Me: Yes (well, we did just get done with a 40 minute meditation session)

Her: Is this your first time here?

Me: No, I began coming last fall, but had to stop due to my school schedule. I am now able to return because my Thursday evenings are now open.

Her: Great, what are you studying?

The conversation was lead to discussing my masters program and blah, blah, blah. Then it begins.

Her: Are you from Fiji?

Me: No, I am from India.

Her: Do  you speak Indian?

Me: Do you mean Hindi? (For reals? You look to be at least 80 years old and you still think Indians speak Indian?)

Her: Oh yes, do you speak Hindi?

Me: No, I do not.

Her: Do your parents speak Hindi? (Oh shit, here we go)

Me: No, they only speak English

Her: Its amazing how families come over and lose their language, their culture, their heritage and everything that comes with being Indian. (Oh gawd, you’re right. It’s amazing and it kind of sucks)

This is when I tense up and get a reality check about my losses. I quickly analyze the situation before my next move. I seem to go through the same questions before responding. Do I feel safe? Do I want to disclose my adoption to this stranger?  Who the fuck is she? Is she on a need to know basis? Is this a learning opportunity for her? Why do I feel like this? How do I get out of this? Should I just avoid her and nod my head in agreement? What do I do?

With a sunken feeling of sadness and shame, I chose to answer with some honesty.

Me: Well, that comes with adoption. I experienced all of those losses with being a trans-racial adoptee. (There it goes, I dropped the most personal bomb)

Her: Oohh, a trans-racial adoptee?

Me: Yes, I was adopted by a white family.

Her: Oh, interesting.

She begins to tell about a family friend’s child (8 years old) and his recent awareness that his skin is darker than his mothers due to his estranged father being black. I think this is something that is not very common in her social groups, but I respect her for trying to relate. I followed her story about the importance of having dialogue around racial identity during a child’s development and that its usually due to white privilege that white parents are not having these conversations with their children of color. I blatantly said that its doing a disservice to children and during their early years of development.

So, going back to my original point… this was the first time I met this woman and I felt obligated, pressured, and stuck to go deeper with a stranger than I ever intended to just to straighten out her assumptions. Yes, I didn’t have to, and yes, I could of politely excused myself from the conversation, which I have done before. My point is that this is not the first “casual” meet and greet conversation I have had that lead to me telling more than I want. Some other triggers that take the conversation to a deeper level of intimacy is when I get asked if my parents cook Indian food, if I have family/relatives in India, or if they are surprised that I don’t have an Indian accent. I can usually avoid saying too much and I have figured a way to dodge my adoption story, but it’s rare.

I guess this shit is what comes with being adopted. I’m just glad she didn’t mention how lucky I am because then I probably would have lost my shit which is not ideal after meditating. 🙂

New York Screening of YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past

NYIf you are in the New York area on July 14th, then please join me in watching my film about my search for my birth mother in Goa, India. After the screening, I will be available to answer any questions about from the audience.

To watch the trailer and learn more about YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past, please visit youfollowthefilm.com

To purchase tickets to the New York screening, please visit wearegazillionstrong.org

Gazillion Trailer from sharmila ray on Vimeo.

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Birthday Blues

This year for my 32nd birthday, I wanted to be in a place that was unfamiliar. The joy of traveling to somewhere new was pulling at me for some time, but due to my work and school schedule I could not get away. I waited patiently and developed a plan.

I decided to pack up my whole studio apartment and stuff it all into a storage unit so I could become a nomad and to celebrate and visit family and friends all summer long. I am not sure if it was the best and most responsible choice, but I needed to take a risk and live.

My best friend, Marissa also has a birthday in June and so we decided to head to San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Republica Dominicana to celebrate for two weeks.

MarNisha

On June 11th, we set out to explore Old San Juan. We walked, talked and drank the whole afternoon. As we walked around with no agenda in mind, I noticed a large white church in the middle of the bustling city streets. We walked up the stairs and I sat in the back on a brown bench. I proceeded to give thanks for the opportunity to travel as well as many others gifts.

As I do every year, I say a little prayer for my birth mother. I send out so much love to her that in the back of my mind, I imagine her feeling the same energy and love pulsing through her core at the same time. I never missed her so much until that day. She stayed on my mind and in my heart the whole day. Even though I will probably never see her again, I just hope that she feels me and my love for her.

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Throughout the day, many feelings of loss rolled through me. Being that I was in a dominate Spanish speaking country, I couldn’t help but think about language. It wasn’t until that moment, that I really understood the loss of language through adoption. That feeling took me back to the time that I got to meet my birth mother, but was unable to converse with her privately because she did not speak English and nor did I speak Konkani. To just have a few minutes alone her was all I have ever wanted.

Those feelings of language drifted into feelings about reunion. Although, I was able to meet a woman whom I believe is my mother, I will never be reunited and actually have a relationship with her like so many of my fellow adoptees in reunion. Although, I am happy for my friends, I am also very jealous since international adoption creates a larger barrier for me to know my birth family.

Once these thoughts subsided, I stepped outside and sat on the steps to watch everybody explore. I quickly realized that the architecture in Old San Juan was very similar to Panjim, Goa. Not only the color of the buildings, but the palm trees, tropical feeling, moist humid air, the city’s ordor, the small roads, and the view of the ocean took me back to my trip to my first home. It was a special feeling to be in a place that is so similar to where I came from. It almost felt like I was suppose to be there on my birthday; to have a piece of Goa with me for the day.

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After a few days in Puerto Rico, we jumped on a tiny plane and headed towards Republica Dominicana. Our last stop on the island was Punta Cana and as soon as we arrived by bus to our Airbnb apartment, I was reminded that Goa wasn’t too far away.

punta cana

It felt good to be reminded of my first home during this birthday adventure.

I missed India and the possible life that I had no choice in leaving behind