By Sumiti Mehta
I am a brown-skinned woman born and raised in the Indian subcontinent. I have been in the United States for more than a decade now. Right now, I am finding it to be an odd time in the U.S., a time when despite the diverse population and progressive culture—gender, race and color of skin still matters.
My experience as a woman of color here, in California, was somewhat complicated leading up to becoming the first Indian woman appointed to take the position of Parks, Youth and Enrichment Commissioner for District 1 in Sacramento. Moreover, I was appointed by Mayor pro tem, Angelique Ashby, who happens to be the only woman in the City Council. As I reflect, I wanted to share some of the things that I did to reach my goals as a woman of color.
Let your behavior dismiss stereotypes
Stereotypes or other pre-conceived notions that people have about women of color may not go away any time soon. I have often been labeled simply because of my accent. Speaking in different accent in English was one of my roadblocks. I decided to stay positive and continued to prove myself with my actions. Thanks to the help of an amazing lady, Rachel Minnick (Executive Director of Reading Partners, Sacramento) I was able to learn the accent and phonics of American English language (through volunteer workshops). This enabled me to volunteer as a tutor for students who struggled with reading and I was able to help in my son’s classroom.
Challenge yourself to speak up
In the beginning, speaking at meetings or events was nerve-wracking for me as the thought of people judging my accent made me self-conscious. But now, I find myself speaking up with confidence. I trust that I have the knowledge and experience to express myself and make things happen in a resourceful way.
Get used to being uncomfortable
Being a woman of color at fundraising/community events or even at a PTA meeting was often uncomfortable as there would be very few others like me. The lack of representation made it challenging for others to understand the tussles I would face. I started to look for bright side, which was that even being in an uncomfortable situation, I was still able to bring out the best in me.
Be persistent and keep showing up
Initially, there were numerous occasions/events where I would consider not volunteering or where I wanted to skip a PTA meeting or event because I was feeling overwhelmed. But, I quickly realized the importance of being persistent. So, I cast my fears aside and pressed on with attending PTA events and kept volunteering in schools and within the community.
Find your perfect balance
Find your perfect balance, the things that connect with your skills and interests. This is essential, especially for a woman of color. The truth is, more often than not, you will have to work harder to prove your capability. Plus, using your core skills and interests will always give you the edge.
Share experiences and mentor other women of color
Always share your experiences to help other women to understand you better. I wish I had someone who would have gone through similar experiences, that was there to help me, mentor me and prepare me with ways to fit in seamlessly and handle some of the situations I faced.
As a women in general, it should be our duty to mentor and heal one another, no matter what the color of our skin is, as most of us, on some level have experienced prejudice. We have to support, listen and appreciate our unique experiences.
My hope is that the next generation will see things differently and experience no prejudice (be it color or gender) not just in America, but across the world.
(Sumiti would like to extend a special thanks to some women who have empowered her on many occasions: Rachel Minnick, Danielle Marshal, Giao Villalobos, Sharon Maccini.)
Sumiti Mehta is a Natomas based mother of two boys (ages 7 and 13 years old). She is a very involved member of the community and has served on several Natomas Unified School District committees. She has been nominated numerous times for N Factor Community awards for her work with kids in schools and the community. She has also made guest appearances on ABC 10’s digital series, “Moms Explain All”.