By: Stephanie Herr ’17
January 4th Excursions
The first day in Delhi has me feeling admiration for the people here. The sight of people hauling carts full of items to sell in order to make a living, the seamless flow of traffic on heavily congested roads, and the similarities rather than the differences are unending.
Today’s first stop was at the M marketplace near our hotel. The marketplace gave me my first glimpse of everyday life here in India. I heard the sound of horns honking when weaving through traffic and smelled food being prepared in small restaurants or on street carts. I saw and walked past stores that sold clothing, food, cellphones, or other various items. Something that caught my eye wasn’t actually being sold, it was rather part of the culture here. That item that stood out to me was a string tied with chili peppers hanging outside a store door to ward off evil spirits and bad energy. This was of interest to me because in the Hmong culture we do the same thing to ward off evil spirits; we either place chili peppers by the door or we place red corn by the doorway. The picture below shows the chili peppers I saw that was hanging outside of one of the stores at M marketplace.
Above photo: Chili peppers hang outside a store to ward off evil spirits and bad energy.
After the visit to M marketplace, the next stop was the Crafts Museum in Delhi. This museum was filled with beautiful replicas of traditional Indian homes found throughout India, artwork from local artisans, and a collection of saris from throughout India. The most memorable aspect of the visit to the museum was when I walked through the exhibit with the saris from different regions of India. Before this visit, I didn’t realize that different regions of India had different makes of saris. The talk Donna Hauer gave at the Global Studies meeting immediately came to my mind after this because it talks about “ah-ha moments” and learning that you didn’t know that you didn’t know something. This moment was definitely one of those moments where I realized that I didn’t know that I didn’t know saris differed across India depending on the region you reside in. Having learned from this cultural experience reminded me of traditional Hmong attire and how it differs depending on the region you’re from.
The next stop that I reflected a lot on was the visit to Iskon Temple. I am absolutely amazed at beauty and architecture of the temple on both the inside and outside of the building. The chandelier inside the temple was the most memorable physical aspect of the visit because it stretched above the ceiling forming a flower as pictured below. I did have a moment here that wasn’t so great when an individual said, “Ching-Chong-Chi” directly to me in passing. I find this to be incredibly racist and it made me uncomfortable, but the person who said it in passing probably said to either: try and connect with me, make fun of my nationality, or the individual didn’t know that saying that can be offensive. This particular experience has been no different than any of the racial experiences I’ve had in the United States; now, it’s just occurring across the world. It’s made me realize racism definitely crosses borders and being treated as a second class citizen due to my physical appearance happens anywhere. This racist experience is not something I’ll hold against all Indians or the one Indian who said this to me; it’s not an experience I’ll use to generalize all Indians with either. To me, it’s rather an experience that reminds me of my socially constructed role as an Asian-American woman where I’m solely treated a certain way due to the color of my skin, shape of my almond eyes, or length and color of my hair. These are all physical appearances others will use to judge me and treat me based on their preconceived notions of me; all which could be based on their own personal experiences with people who have the same physical appearances I do.
Above photo: picture of the chandelier inside the Ishkon Temple.
Overall, the first day in Delhi has allowed me to do a lot of reflecting on my identities as an Asian-American and as a Hmong person. Today has allowed me to see the vast similarities and the difficulties I face with other cultures beyond the borders of the United States. Most importantly, today has given me the opportunity to be fully immersed in the Indian culture through the exploration of local markets, temples, and people-to-people experiences. I wouldn’t want to change any of my experiences today because they all allowed me to see the beauty of the Indian culture and also allowed me to see what still needs to be worked on here like racism.