Last Thanksgiving, I was with my family when one of my cousins showed me a meme on his computer. “It’s from this Facebook meme page called ‘Subtle Curry Traits’, have you heard of it?” I raised an eyebrow in confusion, as he added: “You’ll love it, it’s basically just memes about being brown.” I was tentatively intrigued, already thrown off by the name of the page. The meme, a video playfully mocking the way the Indian accent changes the spelling of English words, was indeed hilarious.
My cousin added me to the page, and for the rest of Thanksgiving break, we kept referencing and showing each other memes from the page. When I got back home, I immediately added my closest brown friends at Case Western Reserve University to it, and we began the endless spiral of being on a meme page. The page floods your timeline, you tag your friends in memes you find relatable, they tag you in memes they find relatable, and on and on it goes.
In the passing months since then, I’ve watched the page explode in size. Last time I checked, it had over 266,000 members. Almost every brown person I am friends with on Facebook is on it. Seeing that—and the never-ending stream of unbelievably relatable memes—has filled me with immense joy. Memes about the struggles of relating to your white peers, strict parenting, Bollywood movies from our childhood, traditional Indian food and the incredible pressure we all feel from our families to succeed. It can be hard to hold on to these aspects of your identity when you are expressing them to people who cannot relate.
Even at a school like CWRU, which has a massive South Asian population, these topics never seem to make it into my everyday conversations. The brown community here, in my experience, is too focused on academics, stressing out about the next exam, the next paper or post-graduation endeavors to ever make a tag-yourself meme about Kal Ho Naa Ho—Shahrukh Khan is the greatest of all time, or GOAT, sorry not sorry.
With spaces like Subtle Curry Traits, we can escape the suffocating pressure of the outside world. With a few clicks, we can be connected to a massive community of people just like us, making jokes that only make sense to us because they reflect our stories. It’s the stories we never got to tell, the laughs we never got to find and, even if we can’t make them in person, we can nurture them online.
The community is international, just as this struggle is international. The six biggest countries of origin for the page’s members are, in order of size: Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, India and the United Kingdom. Right there, you see the scars of empire, the international diaspora of an ethnicity, setting roots thousands of miles apart. But even as forces beyond our control have separated us, we remain connected. We remain in touch, laughing and bonding, never forgetting who we truly are.
I had mixed feelings about “Subtle Curry Traits” when I first heard the name. I instantly thought of every time, out of ignorance or malice, someone used curry as a byword for my ethnicity. Every time I was told I smelled like curry, every time I was made to feel small for bringing Indian food to school for lunch, every time I was asked if I was allowed to eat anything other than curry for dinner.
But I’ve grown to love the name. In a society that finds ways to package up entire cultures into bite sized pieces for mass consumption, the page’s refusal to let curry be a term of mockery, instead proudly reclaiming the term, gives me strength. At this point, brown culture in the United States has been increasingly reduced to chai tea lattes, hot yoga and samosas.
Subtle Curry Traits is unapologetically brown, with all the depth and detail, every hill and valley that comes with that. And that’s exactly why I love it.
Viral Mistry is a fourth-year biology and cognitive science double major who is also minoring in chemistry, history, and philosophy. He wears many figurative hats around campus, but if you ever see him, you can guarantee he’d rather be in bed reading a good book.