Student Article #5: For the Joy of Sharing

Butterflies and Moths

By Swetha Santhanakrishnan
Class 11 Student, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, New Jersey, USA

Foreword by Venkat
This writing is a special one, not just for the refined attention to a sensitive topic but also for the beautiful choice of title that says it all! It is true that we identify ourselves with those who have similar interests, looks, beliefs and aspirations especially when we are young and not yet clear on our own identity. Life itself in a way parallels the life cycle of the moth or butterfly. As we grow wiser, we distinguish the butterflies from the moths and later find that there is no difference between them in the feelings, needs and the will to achieve. So it doesn’t matter after all where we come from or how we look just as the various colored candies ultimately expose the same sugary, sweet soul. And this sets one free in its truest sense indeed. The truths about under-representation, minorities, feeling secluded etc. are like butterflies and moths. One cannot catch it just by jumping on them or by chasing. It needs that quiet pause and attention from a distance to observe what is going on. A great one to feature among the articles here and thanks to Swetha for this contribution.

Explore Swetha’s experience and the touching message in words that hit straight yet gentle in the way it builds on itself!

Swetha Santhanakrishnan is in the 11th grade at West Windsor Plainsboro High School North in New Jersey. She is looking forward to applying to college in the upcoming year and is hoping to pursue medicine eventually. In her free time she likes to read, listen to music, and spend time with her friends and family.

Butterflies and Moths

A butterfly that has never seen another butterfly mistakenly believes it’s a moth. How many times have you been comforted by finding someone you can relate to? How many times have you felt more empowered to share your thoughts when someone similar to you is in the audience? How many times have you sat on the edge of your seat eagerly watching the hero, who looks just like you, save the day? For many of you, there probably have been countless experiences like these. However, for most South Asians in America like myself, that experience remains unknown. Representation, especially in the media, is incredibly important because it provides an accurate model of the diverse demographic in American society.

Currently, South Asians remain severely underrepresented in the media. According to the latest Gracenote Inclusion Analytics, the representation for South Asian males is 2.3% and only 0.3% for South Asian females. Underrepresentation can lead to low self-esteem and negative perceptions, especially for growing impressionable children. When South Asian children grow up watching those who look like them only play supporting characters that lack a developed personality, they may start to limit themselves to the role of those characters in real life as well. They are likely to develop a fixed mindset that they are no more than an extra in the background. No more than the dazzling hero’s friend that becomes irrelevant towards the end of the story. We learn by watching. From a very young age, South Asian children subconsciously learn that they are never the star of the show mainly because they have never seen it.

However, simply having more representation is not enough; rightful representation is the key. I am South-Asian. Specifically, I am Indian-American. My parents first immigrated to the United States in the late 90s, and I have lived in New Jersey for my whole life. Growing up, I, like any other normal kid, watched Disney Channel. On Disney Channel, I would watch a show called Jessie which was popular at the time. This show, along with Phineas and Ferb, were the only shows that featured an Indian kid, namely Ravi from Jessie and Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb. These characters are essentially cut from the same cloth. They embody the same personality traits: nerdy, socially awkward, unattractive, and bullied by those around them. As I watched these characters who looked exactly like me and shared the same culture as me, I started to bind myself to these stereotypes. I grew up convinced that being nerdy, awkward, unattractive and bullied was what I was destined for, who I am or who I was supposed to be.

Since then, I have learned to separate myself from these twisted portrayals and embrace who I really am. This is partly due to the recent wave of South Asian representation in the media. Kids growing up in today’s society have incredible examples of South Asian people who empower them. Examples like Kumail Najiani’s character as Kingo, the first Indian superhero; Hasan Minhaj who took the world by storm with his comedy, and his famous talk show Patriot Act; Maitreyi Ramakrishnan who starred in the show Never Have I Ever which showcased a Tamil speaking family just like mine; Mindy Khaling and The Mindy Project; and many more that are appearing every day. These creators and artists using their platform to advocate for more and better South Asian representation is much needed and groundbreaking. It is no longer a rare sight to see a South Asian character in the art around me. The little girl in me that once believed that her wings would always be gray and stunted now sees her big and strong wings shimmering with color and designs. It is exciting and exhilarating to witness the heights to which these new generations of south asian children will rise. After all, butterflies should never mistake themselves to be moths.

By Swetha Santhanakrishnan
Class 11 Student, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, New Jersey, USA


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C.I.SIVASUBRAMANIAN
April 6, 2022 10:17 am

Good thoughts in an young mind.