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House Parties, Palak Paneer, and Politics

Chinmaya Andukuri, Austin, TX.

 

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There comes a point during adolescence - somewhere between freshman orientation, driving for the first time and listening to speeches during graduation - at which you question yourself.

You question your authority, your credibility, your accomplishments, and above all, your identity. You get lost in the nuances of what you’re supposed to be, who you’re supposed to talk to and what you should think.

All too often, society plays these ideas off as the familiar rambling of an angsty teenager.

I’m Chinmaya Andukuri. I’m a sixteen-year old Indian-American social entrepreneur.

I’ve grown up with boiled daal and buttered tortillas in paper trays, arguments over board games and the TV remote in the upstairs bedroom, and corner rooms full of dads talking about politics virtually every Saturday for my entire life. The idea that my parents’ childhoods proceeded in a relatively similar way (though it was over 9,000 miles away) is comforting, but it raises a simple question as well.

Why?

Why didn’t growing up in a new age of liberal education and cultural freedom affect me or the other kids at every Indian house party?

Social activism, in whatever form it may have come, wasn’t meant for a sixteen-year old kid in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh in the 80s. At my age, my dad furloughed six months of tenth grade to take care of my grandma’s tuberculosis and my grandpa’s high blood pressure problems. Cultural constraints created a bubble that restricted him to focus on school and family, but nothing else. The social convention he subscribed to is best defined with five words - leave politics to the politicians.

The question I ask isn’t why my dad and I have had the same domestic experiences early in life - rather, it’s more about the cultural sentiments that stem from those experiences. House parties have become as significant a part of my identity as they were for him, but so have the things I’ve seen, read, heard and thought. In the environment I’ve grown up in, I’ve never felt completely safe discussing certain things. I’m afraid to tell my aunts and cousins about my entrepreneurial aspirations, and to this day I haven’t heard a single conversation about white supremacy or anti-black violence.

It doesn’t take very much of this restriction for a teenager to stop taking oneself seriously. Am I even allowed to call myself a social entrepreneur? How much laughter should I expect to hear from that corner room of dads crowded around a coffee table when I tell them I want to explore the world of the humanities and work on social development projects for the World Bank?

Fortunately, my parents confronted me about everything before I had the opportunity to let these thoughts destroy my confidence. What had grown to be my primary concern - figuring out how to tell my parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents who I wanted to be and then how to be okay with it - deflated into a simple, “Do whatever makes you happy,” and a soft smile.

My parents will, undoubtedly, always support me in my decisions in regards to school, social life and the footprint I'm trying to leave on our world. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same luck.

But what I can say is that I will always support whoever I can in their endeavors to make their voice heard. If people can't take themselves seriously, they can’t expect anyone else to.

I’m Chinmaya Andukuri. I’m a sixteen-year old Indian-American social entrepreneur.

I want to be loud.

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