Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a South Asian American in today’s political climate? Are you looking for a cultural experience that goes beyond following Padma Lakshmi on Instagram and watching Hasan Minhaj’s latest special? This AAPI Heritage Month, “South Asian Americana: The Immersive VR Experience” is coming to a museum near you. Brought to you by the team behind “Immersive Van Gogh,” this virtual reality exhibit gives visitors a chance to experience everyday racism from the perspective of South Asian Americans.
Agonized at the Academy Awards
You’re being recognized as the first South Asian woman to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards for your performance in Brown Girl, White Man. But as the white male presenter finishes reading your first name, you can tell you’re about to be upstaged by a colonizer’s take on your family name. You watch as he contorts his mouth to emit an ethnic-sounding syllable, takes a pause, then bulldozes through another creative choice. It occurs to you that, just like your character, you are simply a brown girl defined by your relationship to a white man.
Disconcerted at Dinner
You’re at a restaurant with friends, trying to figure out how to split the bill. One person declares, “I’m bad at math—someone else should do it.” Everyone nods their head and turns to you. You begrudgingly pick up the check and calculate the tip on your phone. The group ogles over your advanced math skills as you write down the total. When the waitress collects the check, your friends tell her you’re a math prodigy. Suddenly, the whole restaurant is praising your nonexistent Fields Medal. A stranger takes a nonconsensual selfie with you, and the waitress asks for your autograph on a linen napkin. Embarrassed by the situation, you go home and charge everyone extra on Venmo, but none of your friends pay you back anyways.
Ostracized at the Office
You’re fitting in a quick lunch at the office. As you pry open your Costco Tupperware, the pungent smell of fish curry and foreign spices sends a shock wave to your colleagues’ olfactory senses. One person covers her nose and gags on her chai tea latte. Another person chokes on his naan bread. Your manager drops her golden turmeric milk and passes out. The head of diversity quits on the spot. From that day onward, you take your lunch breaks from the confines of the single-occupancy gender neutral bathroom.
Perplexed at the Party
You walk into your neighbor’s house and find yourself in a full-on Indian wedding—but with white people. The women are wearing poorly draped saris and showing off their bindis. The men are sloppily recreating a dance sequence from Slumdog Millionaire. An elephant pokes its head out through the patio door. An inflatable, life-size replica of the Taj Mahal looms over the swimming pool. Your neighbor rushes over and exclaims, “We love the Indian culture so much that we made it our engagement theme! I’m sure you wouldn’t mind giving a speech and blessing us with your ethnic presence?” You decide it’s not a good time to tell them you’re Bangladeshi, not Indian.
Baffled at Book Club
You’re at your first book club meeting, excited to share your thoughts on Minor Feelings. You raise your hand to make a comment, but the facilitator picks a white woman to give her opinion on race in America. You open your mouth to respond, but a white man interjects with his feelings on cultural appropriation. You start talking once he finishes, but a direct descendent of Christopher Columbus cuts you off with her thoughts on marginalization. You raise your voice, wave your hands, and punch a wall, but everyone continues to ignore you. Finally, you give up and start heading out the door. The group abruptly stops talking and looks at you. “Don’t go,” they plead in unison. “Book club needs to fulfill its monthly diversity and inclusion quota.”
Whether you’re looking to microdose on microaggressions or do a deep dive on discrimination, this virtual experience is for you. Book your tickets before AAPI Heritage Month ends and the rest of the country goes back to ignoring South Asian Americans.