Concluding thoughts on thesis

My thesis on documenting Indian American history reflects almost two years of work. I have always been a lover of history and the institutions and media that exist to preserve it. Being Indian American, the people and their culture have intrigued me for personal reasons, as well as academic motives. The rapid growth of this population and its assimilation into American society are topics worth exploring. Indian Americans have come a long way since they started arriving to America in the 19th century. They are now a sizable and successful community in this country and it is time they start honoring the journey that has gotten them this far.

Working with the Smithsonian Institution’s Indian American Heritage Project brought on its share of challenges and opportunities. At times, it was difficult to reconcile the design vision I had with the realities of working with a client who came with a set of requirements and limitations. However, these challenges were more than offset by knowledge that I was partnering with such a reputable institution on an effort that will live well beyond the pages of a paper.

I am now done with thesis (and my degree at Pratt!), but I have plans to continue working with the IAHP over the next year, and perhaps even longer, as they plan the opening of the Beyond Bollywood exhibition, raise awareness among Indian Americans and develop new initiatives.

Final thesis exhibition at Pratt

Final thesis exhibition at Pratt

Final work for the Smithsonian’s IAHP

The IAHP didn’t have a large enough budget to spend on a designer. As such, no branding for the exhibition’s marketing collateral had been set, and the materials in circulation did not have a cohesive look or a well-executed design. The department had not been successful in getting a significant number of submissions. The goal of my design work is to encourage contributions and raise general awareness that an exhibition on Indian American history was being planned. So, without further ado, here are the pieces I completed for the IAHP.


In addition to the above, I updated the Facebook profile page for the IAHP that is consistent with the new designs. The Facebook page serves as a place for younger Indian Americans to learn about the IAHP and the exhibition, as well submit their photos and stories directly to the APA.

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 3.27.38 PM

A survey’s results


In order to understand how Indian Americans feel about their history, heritage and living in the United States, I conducted a survey over the spring that ultimately collected 151 responses. The survey was designed to have a different set of questions for Indian immigrants and first or later-generation Indian Americans who were either born in the U.S. or had spent the majority of their lives here. After answering a few basic demographic questions (e.g., age, sex, country of birth, current location), the survey takers were split into two groups. Immigrants answered questions regarding the reasons they came to the U.S., what their early experiences were like, and how they felt today about living in the U.S. The first-generation Indian Americans were asked questions about growing up between two cultures and how this influenced their lives.

Both groups were asked open-ended questions on the unique experiences they faced in the U.S. and how they identify themselves between their two cultures. The last section of the survey asked all of the participants their opinions on documenting Indian American history, particularly whether they felt it was important and if they were willing to participate in any relevant efforts. The results of the survey provided valuable insights on present day Indian Americans. For my thesis exhibition, I designed an infographic showing the most compelling results, alongside interesting historical facts.

My photography for the Smithsonian

Back when I was planning to design a digital archive, I had started to take photos around New York City of Indian American events. In April and August, the city had two annual parades, one honoring Sikhs, and another for Indian Independence Day. The IAHP is looking for community-generated content, so when I mentioned that I had taken photographs to Masum, she asked if I would like feature some of them in the future exhibition. Of course, I said yes! The photos selected are shown above.

Decision to work with the IAHP

Smithsonian APAC Logo

At the end of Thesis I, I had been leaning towards designing a digital archive of Indian American artifacts curated by my friends and family. Once I spoke with Masum, I decided to change direction.

The IAHP presented a wonderful opportunity to pursue my thesis in a live setting, and on a much larger scale. I was attracted to the IAHP’s efforts to build an exhibition that was partially curated through the contributions of Indian Americans. Their desire to create a digital multimedia archive of artifacts was one I shared. My research supported that a participatory archive of factual records was the best way to document a collective cultural history.

The IAHP is groundbreaking because it is the first significant effort on a national scale and by a federal organization to document Indian American history. The Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846 and today, is the world’s largest museum and research complex with 19 museums, 9 research centers and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world.

Once I gave Masum an overview of my thesis and she spoke with me about their needs, we both concluded that it would be mutually beneficent to work together. The IAHP became my client and we agreed that I would deliver the following over the next few months:

Beyond Bollywood Exhibition
1. Design an exhibition logo
2. Create a branding system
3. Design postcards as a for photo and story submissions
4. Design posters to posters to raise awareness of the future exhibition
Indian American Heritage Project
1. Design a logo
2. Redesign the website
3. Assist with several social media marketing efforts

Learning about the Smithsonian’s IAHP

Over the summer, I learned that the Smithsonian Institution’s American Pacific Asian Center (APA) was working on an initiative – the Indian American Heritage Project (IAHP) – to chronicle the experience of immigrants from India and Indian Americans in the U.S. To learn more about the effort, I sought out Masum Momaya, who had just come on board as the new curator. After exchanging a few emails, we spoke on the phone today.

I learned that the key components of the IAHP include a traveling exhibition, public programs, a curriculum guide for youth, an interactive website, and artifacts donated to the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. The most significant component of the IAHP is its planned exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. It is scheduled to open in late 2013 and occupy a 5,000 square feet space at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

The exhibition’s goal is to explore the heritage, daily experience, and diverse political, professional and cultural contributions of Indian immigrants and their descendants in the U.S. Included in the exhibition, will be historical and contemporary images and several dozen artifacts, including those documenting histories of discrimination and resistance, those conveying daily experiences and those symbolizing achievements across the professions. Many of these artifacts will be collected directly from the public through personal contributions. Music and visual art works providing commentary on the Indian American experience will also form a critical component of the exhibition.

Among the specific topics to be covered are: early (late 1800’s-1900’s) immigrant experiences, struggles for citizenship in the first half of the 20th century, professional contributions from the 1960’s and beyond, organizing for labor rights, women’s rights and labor rights and cultural contributions through food, music, dance and in the entertainment industry.

After a one year tenure at the Smithsonian, Beyond Bollywood will travel to about 15 sites throughout the country to reach Indian American communities. A part of the exhibition, consisting mostly of the multimedia artifacts will be maintained online on the IAHP website.

Thesis I Presentation

Earlier this month, I presented the culmination of my Thesis I efforts in front of Pratt’s graduate Communications Design faculty. I received great feedback and lots of encouragement from the audience. My full presentation, which outlines my research findings, conclusions and next steps is below:

Pratt Thesis I Presentation

Documenting a Diaspora

Thesis I is well underway…so ready or not, it is time to commit to a topic. After much internal debate between two ideas that I’ve thought a lot about since taking Directed Research, one has emerged as the winner. I have decided to work on documenting the Indian diaspora in the U.S. over improving of financial Literacy.

While both ideas were near to my heart, I wanted to work on the one where I could clearly see a design-oriented solution. Ideally, at this stage in thesis, the student is not supposed to be thinking about solutions. But practically speaking, we have a year (actually, less – only two semesters) to research, write and design. I didn’t want to run the risk of having a great paper only to realize that a design-oriented solution is not possible. With that, here is a brief introduction to my thesis idea:

Images, words and physical objects can serve as collective memories for people who share common experiences. With the advent of technology, new opportunities arise to document these shared experiences for future generations.  

One of the most collective experiences in human history is that of migration, or diaspora. The South Asian diaspora from the Indian Subcontinent, which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, refers to the movement of these countries’ people to the United Kingdom, Europe, United States, Canada, Australia and other countries in Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Within this movement, the largest migration has been the Indian diaspora, which is estimated to be around 30 million people in only the last 100 years. Today, the U.S. has the largest population of Indians outside of India – almost 3.2 million people.

The experiences of Indian immigrants in the U.S., as those of any immigrant group in any country, have been shaped by struggles to survive, assimilate and succeed in a new place, while attempting to maintain a connection to their Indian identity. As the diaspora generation in the U.S. ages, it becomes evident that their experiences were unique to their lifetimes. A comprehensive archive of their history does not exist and so, it runs the risk of becoming diluted with time.

For future descendants, such an archive would provide a rich insight into their ancestors’ changing experiences as time went by. Ideally, it would spark a dialogue on the role of history in the creation of  Indian American identities and communities in the U.S. And most importantly, it would ensure that the stories of the Indian diaspora are preserved for future generations. Today, a significant opportunity exists to harness digital and social media to create a participatory archive using text, images and multimedia.

Hello again

The beginning of summer was quite hectic for me. The day after spring semester classes ended, my shoulder decided to wage war on me. A surgery, two summer classes, starting rehab and a much needed R&R vacation in Cabo, Mexico later, I’m back. Oh, and the fall semester is halfway done. My biggest projects this semester have been design a personal portfolio site and coming up with a toursim campaign for the country, Laos.

I am no where closer to figuring out what I want to do for my thesis, which officially starts with Thesis I class next semester. Here’s hoping winter break will spark inspiration.

Financial Literacy

Jeff Parker, Florida Today

I missed this New York Times article by Paul Sullivan on money camps for kids, but my classmate Kelly was thoughtful enough to share it with me in class today. Thanks Kelly! I’ve been toying with a few ideas for my thesis. At the moment, my most well-thought out topic is documenting the South Asian diaspora, but I’m not fully committed to it yet. I realize I have commitment issues (hah), but articles like this make my mind spin in a different direction…

According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, most teachers do not feel equipped to teach students about personal finance, even when states require it. A study published in 2009 by two researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, called “Teachers’ Background and Capacity to Teach Personal Finance,” found that 80 percent of states had some sort of requirement for personal financial education, but that most teachers did not feel qualified to teach a financial literacy course. [Paul Sullivan, NYT)

The 2008 credit crisis occurred for many reasons. Many mistakes were made, ones that shouldn’t be repeated. Scarily enough, I’ve come across many people, who to this day, can’t articulate what went wrong, just that it ended badly.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Enough said.

You could argue that my background makes it easier for me to understand, but the concepts involved aren’t exactly rocket science. The problem lies in our schools and universities – they don’t offer any sort of financial education other than to those majoring in finance. And even then, it’s a lot of market theory, not practical, real-life sense.

I’ve seen college students bounce checks and rack up huge credit card bills. I’ve worked with people who contribute to their 401(k)s without any understanding of what a stock is. Subsequently, they were the ones hurt the most when credit card rates went through the roof and retirement portfolios took a nosedive.

I believe that learning about the ancient Romans, making sentence diagrams and understanding molecular biology are an important of education. But so is financial literacy. Yet, it isn’t being taught. Thousands of Americans were taken in by dishonest brokers and banks in the lead up to the crisis. I strongly believe that not as many would have taken on risky mortgages if they had basic financial knowledge.

I think design can play a role in teaching people of all ages basic financial concepts. It’s something I’m interested in exploring more, even if it’s not for my thesis…