"Indian Matchmaking” Made Me Appreciate My Caribbean Roots
Written by: Yasmine Singh
When I was a child, there wasn't much representation of my culture. My family is from Trinidad, and I was born in the United States. I barely saw anyone on TV or in movies that I could relate to.
On the rare occasion that I did, it was usually in Bollywood movies, or the Indian characters on TV and in movies that represented various stereotypes. Either way, I felt underrepresented. Having a somewhat complicated identity, both Indian and Caribbean, I never knew where I fit in. I didn’t feel Indian or Caribbean enough, and when I tried to explain why my family looked Indian but didn’t seem Indian to others, it was confusing. I barely understood it myself. I was made to feel like a watered-down Indian because of my Caribbean roots. Now when I look back, I realize how representation would have made a big difference in my life when I was younger.
Seeing others like me would have made it so much easier to accept my culture as a whole instead of separately.
So naturally when I saw everyone buzzing about a new Netflix series called Indian Matchmaking, I was excited to dive in. I thought finally I’d see a modern representation of my culture. Perhaps even a fusion of both of my identities. However, instead I learned that not all representation is good and I also learned to really appreciate my complicated identity.
Indian Matchmaking is a reality show on Netflix that follows matchmaker Sima Tap-Aria as she guides her clients in the United States and India in the arranged marriage process. When I heard the show would feature American and Indian clients, I was excited to see this fusion. I even heard there would be a Guyanese-American client, fuelling my desire to watch. But I barely made it through three episodes. A huge part of representation is putting a spotlight on people or a group of people who don’t get enough exposure. Representation should help end the spread of negative stereotypes and instead highlight the realities of that culture accurately. However, I quickly found that Indian Matchmaking promoted negative stereotypes of the Indian culture such as caste-based discrimination. It also minimized the Indo-Caribbean experience. The premise of the show is for each client to find someone who fits very strict standards based on traditional Indian standards and stereotypes. Potential matches were judged on the fairness of their skin, occupation, and social status.
The show felt like a caricature of Indian culture rather than a reality show.
Instead of Indian Matchmaking showcasing the diversity Indians have to offer, it only showcased all the negative aspects of Indian culture that are outdated and problematic. It pushed the idea that Indians are backwards. It played on the negative stereotypes of Indians that have been around for years. The show wasn’t inclusive and instead I felt it divided Indians. Especially people who didn’t identify as fully Indian like cast member Nadia Jagessar who is a Guyanese-American client. She was told her Guyanese roots would negatively affect her chances of making a match because she wasn’t fully Indian. The show reminded me of why I always felt that my identity was complicated. What Nadia experienced as a result of her Guyanese roots, I too have experienced because of my Trinidadian roots.
I was made to feel less than by outdated Indian representation like what was being shown on Indian Matchmaking.
The show romanticized all the negative aspects of arranged marriage and Indian culture. The show furthers this idea that certain kinds of Indians are desirable and I had to realize that I couldn't fall victim to that any longer. The stereotypes that so many are used to associating with Indian culture may be entertaining to some because it’s what society has become comfortable with— but it just made me angry.
Indian Matchmaking opened my eyes to how much my Caribbean roots fused with my Indian roots were something to appreciate rather than feel confused about. Not seeing my Caribbean roots being represented on the show made me sad. I couldn’t imagine that part of myself being erased just so I could fit into an image of what an ideal Indian was expected to be. Seeing how cast members and potential matches were treated and judged by their appearance and status made me realize how important it is to have accurate representation, not just any representation.
My story is a part of the Indian story, not a hiccup or mistake.
Indian Matchmaking uses a tired script of the Indian experience that has been used over and over again. It is a small part of Indian culture, yet this agenda is pushed as if it is meant to represent Indian culture as a whole. After watching only three episodes, I knew I had to push for more representation and more stories to be shared. Indian Matchmaking inspired me to come out of the shadows of feeling less than for not being Indian enough, and to feel more whole.