Mindy Kaling: Navigating Multicultural Life in the United States

Mindy Kaling via Instagram

Mindy Kaling is an Indian-American actress, comedian, writer, producer and director. She is known for starring as Kelly Kapoor in the NBC show “The Office” and many other shows and movies. She even created, produced, and starred in her own comedy series “The Mindy Project.”

In an interview with a news agency, Mindy Kaling opened up on growing up Indian in the U.S. and what it was like being the only woman of color in the Hollywood acting industry.

Mindy Kaling (via Instagram)
Mindy Kaling (via Instagram)

It was a lot of unfair responsibility when everything one says is a representation of all women and all minorities because you are the only minority and the only woman in the room.

Kaling and her cultural background

Vera Mindy Chokalingam (a.k.a Mindy Kaling) was born on June 24, 1979, in Cambridge, Mass. Both of her parents are from India. Her mom (Swati Chokalingam) is a gynecologist while her dad (Avu Chokalingam) is an architect. Kaling’s family emigrated to the United States the same year she was born.

Kaling has said she has never been called Vera. Instead, her parents called her Mindy with the intention of setting her up with a “cute American name” for their daughter. Kaling’s father is Tamil-born and raised in Chennai, the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Her mother, who passed away in 2012, was Bengali from Mumbai.

Kaling’s parents are both Third Culture Adults (TCAs) who lived in India and Nigeria and eventually emigrated to the United States. Born a U.S. citizen, Kaling’s parents fully immersed her in Indian culture.

Mindy Kaling (Image via Instagram)
Mindy Kaling at the premiere of season 3 of ‘Never Have I Ever’ (Image via Instagram)

Kaling is an open book in regards to being a multicultural woman and involves many of her personal experiences in her shows. For example, her Netflix series “Never Have I Ever” is based on her experience growing up with multiple cultures.

In an interview with NPR, Kaling discusses her assimilation with U.S. life, stating:

Now, 14 years since I first moved here, I have arrived at a middle ground when it comes to my cultural identity. Early on, I wouldn’t bring up India or my upbringing unless asked. Now I make it a point to do so.

Her struggle with culture

While Kaling has always been transparent about her feelings towards her culture and faith, she struggles with the definition of “American” and how it relates to her “return to heritage.” In the same NPR interview, she goes into depth about her journey of welcoming more of her Hindu heritage into her life today. For example, she decided to have a Mundan ceremony for her new son — shaving a Hindu baby’s head as a symbol of freedom from its past life.

Mindy Kaling (Image via Instagram)
Mindy Kaling (Image via Instagram)

Changing her name was also a decision to aid her assimilation to the United States, going as far as doing stand-up comedy referencing the trouble pronouncing her last name, Chokalingam and making jokes about it part of her comedy routine.

I just don’t want my kid to learn how to be an Indian from a Bombay Palace menu on my fridge.

Mindy Kaling

Throughout her career, Kaling has given multicultural women a platform to feel at ease about their roots and adjustment to life in the United States and what that means for each and every person.

Her own mother was surprised when Mindy started implementing traditions from their Hindu roots stating: “Mindy, I’m very happy you want to be more Indian. We weren’t sure you’d ever want that.”

Mindy Kaling via Instagram

Kaling makes it a point to wear Indian fabrics and saris more often, partly because she enjoys wearing them and partly because it’s a way to open up conversations around cultural differences.

I’m also trying to get my American husband to learn my mother tongue, Bengali, but that’s a work in progress.

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