DiversifYA: Nisha Sharma

coffee cup love Award-winning author Nisha Sharma was raised in the countryside of Northeast, Pennsylvania. With very little to do in a small town, Nisha filled her spare time with eighties music, Bollywood movies, and lots of romance novels. When she ran out of romances to read at her local library, she started writing sequels to her favorites and she’s been writing ever since. After law school and an MFA, Nisha settled in central New Jersey where she is surrounded by books and movie theaters that play Bollywood movies all the time. Her young adult romance ‘My So-Called Bollywood Life’ comes out in Spring 2017 with Crown Books for Young Readers. In the meantime, you can find her at www.nisha-sharma.com or on Twitter and Instagram @nishawrites.

1. How do you identify yourself?

I identify myself as an Indian American. My mother came to America when she was 13, and my father came over after he and my mother had an arranged marriage. I was the first child on both sides of the family to be born in the United States.

2. What did it feel like growing up Indian American? 

As an Indian American from rural Pennsylvania, most people expect me to have stories about cultural identity confusion, but I was extraordinary lucky to have never wrestled with that as part of my self-discovery process. My friends accepted me for who I was, and most of them weren’t from the same Indian community. The students in school didn’t ridicule me for my skin color, my religion, and my beliefs. In fact, the only time I experienced any sort of prejudice was when a teacher in my Catholic elementary school referred to my religion as ‘paganism’. My mother dealt with that comment, and the school, very quickly. I think she and my father were a huge part of why I didn’t experience a cultural identity struggle. They always used to treat prejudices or racism as the fault of the other person, not our fault. So to this day, if someone makes an idiot comment about my Indian American heritage, I automatically think they have the problem. That type of self-awareness started really young.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

I think the biggest challenge of being Indian American is finding diverse friends or people who have an understanding of cultural quirks. For example, my mother makes it no secret on Facebook that she wants me married ASAP. Why? Part of growing up Indian is adopting the mindset that a person’s life doesn’t start until marriage and children. (Insert rant on independence and feminism here) Whenever I tell someone that my mom signed me up for Match.com on her own (true story) they don’t understand why I put up with it, and why I can’t just stop talking to her. The response I always give is: well, she’s my mother. And this is what Indian mother’s do. That answer doesn’t really resonate with a lot of people who haven’t grown up with the same background.

The perks are so many that I don’t even know where to start. Let’s see…well, we have awesome ethnic food all the time. We get to wear fun clothes and yoga pants because we straddle the cultural line like that. Whenever we’re looking for a movie to watch, we have more than one language selection to choose from. And let’s face it, Indians totally know how to party. Our weddings are like, a week long.

4. What do you wish people knew about being Indian American?

Moving to New Jersey after law school was the biggest eye opener for me, because I realized that people really do have stereotypes about Indian Americans based solely on what they see in the media. We are either slutty liberals who reject our culture completely, or we are uber religious conservative freaks. I wish more people realized that the majority of us are actually in the grey scale, kind of like everyone else in the world. We have extremists on both sides, but a lot of us just respect our parents, go to temple when we have to, eat meat all the time, and actually date before we even think about marriage.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

For the love of god people, a lot of us actually don’t have jobs that involve, finance, IT, 7-11, cab driving or my personal favorite, med school. (Says the daughter of a 9th generation physician, the sister of a pharmacist and financial advisor).

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Do your research! I think people are starting to treat diversity like a trend, and to get their books out, they are skimping on the research and using stereotypes and the media’s portrayal as a way to develop characters. Not only does it do a disservice to the book, but it also does a disservice to the need for more diversity in fiction. You’re hurting the cause, not helping it. Research/understanding is key!

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