Mixed Desis - A Journey of Identity and Belonging in Multicultural America

Banner-Mixed Desis
Banner-Mixed Desis

America is a beautiful melting pot of cultures, cuisines, and customs from all around the world, to which the South Asian community – citizens from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Afghanistan – has added their contribution over many decades.

According to a 2020 U.S. census data, the population of South Asians in America stands at approximately 19.9 million, witnessing the South Asian community emerging as a prominent demographic group in the country. From a modest presence of 34,933 individuals in 1860 to nearly 20 million in 2020, this trajectory reflects a story of resilience, perseverance, and achievement for the community.

Amongst this South Asian community, there has emerged a fascinating smaller yet growing community of Mixed-South Asians – people from South Asia who married and had kids with partners from non-South Asian backgrounds.

There are many notable mixed-South Asians such as American astronaut Sunita Williams, American media personality Liza Koshy, popular British-Indian actress Katrina Kaif, and many others who bring the best of the cultures that they belong to.

Snuita Williams, Katrina Kaif, Liza Koshy: Mixed Desis

At the same time, for many people from multi-racial backgrounds, navigating questions of identity can be a complex and deeply personal journey. Straddling multiple racial and cultural backgrounds, they can grapple with questions of belonging and acceptance. 

According to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly six-in-ten multi-racial adults say they have experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly because of their racial or ethnic background. Additionally, multi-racial individuals may face challenges in finding community and cultural connection, particularly if their mixed heritage is not widely represented or understood. 

Meet a mother-son duo who collaborated to bring these issues to the forefront of the South Asian community. Punita Khanna and her son, Rahul Yates, have co-authored a heart-touching book, Mixed Desis: Stories of Multiracial South Asians

Book Mixed Desis

‘Desi’ is a Hindi-term for a person of South Asian birth or descent. In this book, the mother-son team interviewed over sixty individuals, either in interracial marriages or multiracial South Asians, to share their experiences of navigating between cultures. 

Their book thoughtfully delves into the intricate tapestry of identity and belonging experienced by individuals of mixed South Asian heritage. Drawing from personal experiences and two decades of research, the contributors from mixed-racial marriages or birth share the challenges, triumphs, and unique perspectives of navigating multiple racial and cultural backgrounds within the South Asian diaspora.

Rahul’s story is also highlighted in the book. He expresses, “The inspiration for this book comes from my own lived experiences. As a racially ambiguous, mixed-race individual, I have grown up feeling like there is no place where I belong. I founded HumSub GlobalTEEN (HSGT) (HumSub means “All of Us” in Hindi) as a way to be involved in the online multiracial and multicultural community. Through HSGT, I discovered what it feels like to be truly understood by others. I met other young people interested in race-related issues, interviewed thought leaders who have dedicated much of their lives to unpacking their identities, and had the opportunity to freely share my voice with others.”

Rahul Yates
Rahul Yates, Co-Author of Mixed Desis

Punita was born in India, raised in Chicago, and met her White husband, John, in Los Angeles. With her husband of European descent, Punita navigated the complexities of raising a child with mixed South Asian heritage. Recognizing the lack of community for multicultural and multiracial South Asian families, she embarked on a quest to connect with others facing similar challenges. 

John, Rahul and Punita
John, Rahul and Punita

Speaking to IndianDiaspora.org, Punita shares, “This book is the result of two decades of my search for a community for our multicultural family. 

As she watched Rahul grapple with his identity and belonging during his teenage years, she discussed her own experience of not finding a multicultural South Asian community. With Punita’s decades long research and Rahul’s experience with HSGT, they decided to write a book specifically for the multicultural and multiracial South Asian community. Through interviews and research, they gathered stories and insights from interested individuals navigating the intersection of multiple cultures and backgrounds.

We believe that hearing other people’s stories allows for one’s own reflection – use our contributor’s experiences to embrace the same decisions or as guidance to forge your own path”, says Punita.

"Mixed Desis” promises to spark conversations and inspire reflection on the rich diversity of the South Asian diaspora in America. Through the author's candid storytelling and deep exploration of identity, readers are invited to delve into the nuanced experiences of being mixed-race in a multicultural society. "Mixed Desis" serves as a testament to the resilience, diversity, and beauty of the human experience, transcending boundaries of race and culture to celebrate the richness of our shared humanity. 

In a world where identity is often complex and multifaceted, "Mixed Desis" offers a powerful exploration of what it means to navigate the intersections of race, culture, and heritage. Through personal narratives, statistical insights, and reflective commentary, the book invites readers to embrace the diversity within themselves and the world around them. As the South Asian diaspora continues to evolve and intersect with other cultures, "Mixed Desis" stands as a beacon of understanding and acceptance in an increasingly interconnected world.

More about Rahul and Punita

Rahul Yates is a student at Harvard College majoring in Economics and South Asian Studies. While exploring his own multiracial background of Indian and White, Rahul founded https://www.humsubglobalteen.com/, a platform dedicated to building community for mixed-race youth. 

Rahul is an outspoken advocate for multiracial and multicultural youth through his presentations and other engagements. He hopes that Mixed Desis fosters more community among multiracial South Asians and brings awareness to their unique experiences within the fast-growing mixed-race population. 

In his free time, Rahul enjoys dancing and performed his Bharata Natyam Arangetram in August 2023. He is also a member of the Harvard Bhangra team.

Punita Khanna is a mother, wife, author, breast cancer advocate, healthcare executive, and philanthropist. 

Punita and John’s multicultural family represents the changing face of the Global Indian. By marrying outside of her South Asian community, Punita belongs to an increasing group of individuals who are in interracial marriages. 

While raising Rahul, Punita sought to provide him with a solid foundation of both the Indian and American cultures. This desire led her to search for a multicultural South Asian community raising multiracial children. When unable to find one, Punita and Rahul embarked on their own exploration of identity and belonging. Mixed Desis is a culmination of these efforts, showcasing the diversity of the Indian Diaspora. 

Punita has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago, an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management and a Fundraising Certificate from UCLA.

You can purchase Mixed Desis on Amazon here.