Our origin story was shared by our CEO Upasna Kakroo on the Brandanew blog and is reposted here now for those interested in the work produced by Peerbagh.
After a near 20-year career in marketing, strategy, and communications, I’m working hard to create more meaning in my life. With many months of deliberation, I’m stepping in to lead a social organization committed to children’s storytelling leaning heavily on South-Asian stories as base frameworks. As a parent and a professional, Peerbagh has drawn me in from the very beginning.
I was born and raised in India, with a lot of privilege (my caste, education) and a sufficient dose of trauma (as a Kashmiri Pandit). Through these years, just like many South-Asian women from the diaspora I have consistently heard variations of “how is your English so good”, “non-native English speakers can’t do ABC”, “I didn’t know you were feeling this [negative]”, “you must be the tech person.”
Constantly being talked over in meetings, and not trusted, creates a vicious cycle of self-doubt, and represents a true cement barrier. Most diversity and inclusion programs fail women of color. They often hide behind white women (or Asian men) as representative samples of diversity.
Not so far back, I was in a meeting where someone said creative work from non-native English speakers is not good. I’ve heard variations of this before, but this time, as a parent, it hit differently.
What does native speaker even mean? Someone who can’t speak a lick of another language or sustain a variation? At this point in 2023, native is a political construct with colonial baggage.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this problem space. Here are some stats to mull over:
Here are the gaps Peerbagh sees and hopes to find solutions for:
- According to one analysis, 95 percent of American fiction books published between 1950 and 2018 were written by white people.
- 70% lead characters in children’s and young adult books are white or animals.
- Less than 10% books for K-12 education are written by authors of color.
- On the other hand, the demographics have shifted in the US too. 54% students in American schools (K-12) identify as diverse, and in cities 15% identify as English learners. In Canada 50% student report getting bullied due to their ethnicities. Many children often code switch between home and school. Several kids go through silent periods at school. Kids often get exposed to stereotypical notions like you must be good at math, and music because you are Asian. Parents content with their own stereotypes as well.
- Still, many kids live in homogenous cultural bubbles. This means that their first true engagement with a diverse culture may happen at a point of conflict.
Peerbagh is imagining a different world where all stories matter
We must commit to sharing with our children diverse experiences and cultures that they learn from. So they develop ideas that are freeing, and do not put them in stereotypical boxes stifling creativity. Our stories need to shift. We need to find ways to raise our kids in a world where they feel seen and their stories are heard. It’s not okay to leave it up to them to find a way to belong while holding no space for them to engage or show up as their full selves. We can simply not accept a world with colonial hangovers. We need to do better, for ourselves, and our children.
From the vantage point of a person who has risen in the system that has systemic biases, what tools and systems could I offer to help level the playing field? Luckily, I met with a volunteer-led children’s magazine team in Montreal to bring into fruition what we have named Peerbagh. Peerbagh is composed of two words: Peer meaning wise or a spiritual guide, and bagh meaning garden, so it translates to the garden of the wise. We create storytelling workshops, toolkits, story capsules, and children’s books inspired by South-Asian storytelling forms, and shine a light on the South-Asian diaspora to help support inclusion and belonging.
If you’re reading this and wondering how to support our social organization, yes, please! This is not work we can do alone.
How you can support Peerbagh
- Amplify, share, and engage with our work. This is your way to seek out voices that are routinely underrepresented or underestimated.
- As parents, talk to your schools, libraries, and other social institutions about stocking books from the South-Asian diaspora. Connect us with them so we can share books, toolkits, workshops to find a way to scale this work.
- Connect us with people, organizations, and groups who we can partner with to scale and innovate together. If you are from the diaspora and have something to say, drop a note!
- Listen more intently to your colleagues experiencing things differently than you. Get diverse speakers for internal events instead of always going with safe choices.
- Volunteer and be a part of this work. Find details here.
- Donate to support our programs. Find details here. We are incorporated in Austin, Texas as an independent 501c3, so your donations are tax-exempt.
Lots of people in my life have created the space for me to think freely, and not accept anything less than truly inclusive environments at work or home. I can only pay it forward.