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Suraj Kandukuri highlights South Asian American voices through his award-winning podcast.
Here to bust the model minority myth around South Asian Americans is Suraj Kandukuri with his Brown People We Know podcast, an interview podcast about the nontraditional paths and shared experiences of the South Asian American diaspora and winner of Lions Share’s 2021 Lion Awards for podcast of the year.
Last year, while Kandukuri was watching comedian Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King stand-up special, it hit him that there was very little media coverage of “third culture” kids. A recent graduate of the University of Michigan (he received his MBA), Kandukuri started Brown People We Know while doing a remote internship for PricewaterhouseCoopers at his parents’ house in Apex in an effort to offer more of that third-culture representation he noticed was missing from a lot of mainstream media.
“From the perspective of movies, you have Hollywood and Bollywood—the American experience and the Indian experience, so to speak,” Kandukuri says. “But you don’t have very much that intersects the two.”
BPWK was originally going to be a conversational podcast with him and his friend chatting about famous South Asian Americans (individuals with ancestry from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, among others), but when they couldn’t get their schedules to line up, Kandukuri had his friend on as his first guest and it became an interview show.
Kandukuri has since interviewed a plethora of both well-known and lesser-known South Asian Americans, including Michelin-starred chef Surbhi Sahni; professional tap dancer Vikas Arun; rapper Kunal Patel (aka “Kaly”); and Bobby Mukkamala, a board member for the American Medical Association. The podcast gives South Asian Americans whose stories have not been intensely covered in the past a chance to get their voices out there while also shattering stereotypes around South Asians in America.
Additionally, Kandukuri says it’s very important for him to ask his guests questions not just about how they’ve retained South Asian culture and how being South Asian has impacted them in America, but about their “thing”—dancing, being a chef, etc. “That ultimately leads to interesting conversation in and of itself, but relates back to identity,” he says.
It’s all part of Kandukuri’s three main goals for BPWK: dispelling external stereotypes about South Asian Americans, reducing internal social pressures within the community to follow a certain path (“A lot of this has to do with the fact that I’ve found a lot of happiness in taking a less traditional path,” he says), and connecting members of the diaspora.
Despite the fact that Indians are the second largest population in the world, Kandukuri had only three other Indian students at his high school in Wisconsin. He says the experience of being one of the less than 10 South Asians out of nearly 2,000 students at his school was isolating in a way.
“This goes back to the idea of third-culture kid representation in media,” Kandukuri says. “When you see this podcast of people that are like you, even if you end up living in a place where you maybe feel physically isolated from other people of the diaspora, you don’t feel alone because you’re able to engage with other people that have similar experiences as you, either through social media, or even just by listening to these conversations.”
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