A guest post by Namratha Kandula
South Asian women in the house! It was a first on WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate. I had been invited to be a guest on the Afternoon Shift, where we would be discussing health and preventative care in ethnic communities. As we sat there, I realized that all of us–the host, Niala Boodhoo, the other guest Haleema Shah, and I–were all South Asian women.
“Is this a first?” I asked. Yes, it was! And at that moment, I was struck by this funny and, in some ways, remarkable moment. Here we were, three young(ish) first-generation immigrants, having a public conversation on Chicago Public Radio about immigrant health. Immigrant health is my topic of expertise, as I have been a clinician and scientist for more than 10 years. It was incredibly empowering because I was able to tell all of Chicago and beyond about the challenges that immigrants face regarding preventative health, and what should be done about them.
Men and the majority culture drive so much of public opinion and discourse. As a Northwestern University Public Voices Fellow, I have been reminded over and over again to “own your ideas.” For so long, I was unsure if my work and my ideas would be considered important enough to write and speak about in the public arena. My ideas were mostly confined to grants from the National Institutes of Health, academic papers, and talks at conferences. The problem with confining your ideas within a narrow space is that you can forget: Why do you do what you do, what does it mean, why does it matter?
Thanks to the mentors in the program, EJ Graff and Michele Weldon, I was barely nervous about my first radio appearance. When we went live on the air, I realized the depth of my expertise in immigrant health and that this topic was of great interest to many people. I spoke about the challenges that immigrant communities face in accessing health care and prevention programs, and even more importantly, I felt a surge of confidence when I offered my ideas about possible solutions. Because of what I learned through the Public Voices program, I savored the opportunity of having my voice joining those of Niala Boodhoo and Haleema Shah, as well as all the other women and minorities who are finding their space in public discourse. Women and minorities in the house!