- June 3, 2020
- 7:00 pm
(US Pacific Time)
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Please Note: This live online conversation was recorded on our CIIS Public Programs YouTube Channel. It is also available on our podcast.
As he approached his 30th birthday, Sopan Deb found comfort in his day job as a writer for the New York Times and as a practicing comedian. But his stage material highlighting his South Asian culture only served to mask the insecurities borne from his family history.
Sopan knew the facts: his parents, both Indian, separately immigrated to North America in the 1960s and 1970s. They were brought together in a volatile and ultimately doomed arranged marriage and raised a family in suburban New Jersey before his father returned to India alone.
Sopan had never learned who his parents were as individuals—their ages, how many siblings they had, what they were like as children, what their favorite movies were. Theirs was an ostensibly nuclear family without any of the familial bonds. Coming of age in a mostly white suburban town, Sopan’s alienation led him to seek separation from his family and his culture, longing for the tight-knit home environment of his white friends. His desire wasn’t rooted in racism or oppression; it was born of envy and desire—for white moms who made after-school snacks, asked his friends about the girls they liked, and the teachers they didn’t. Sopan yearned for the same.
Sopan's experiences as one of the few people of color covering the Trump campaign, and subsequently as a stand-up comedian, propelled him on a dramatic journey to India to see his father—the first step in a life-altering journey to bridge the emotional distance separating him from those whose DNA he shared. His latest book, Missed Translations, beautifully and poignantly chronicles his odyssey and raises the essential questions: Is it ever too late to pick up the pieces and offer forgiveness? How do we build bridges where there was nothing before—and what happens to us, to our past and our future, if we don’t?
Join Alka Arora, Associate Professor of Women’s Spirituality at CIIS, for a conversation with Sopan about the silence and ignorance that separate us, and the blood and stories that connect us.
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Sopan Deb is a writer for the New York Times, as well as a New York City-based standup comedian. Before joining the Times, Deb was one of a handful of reporters who covered Donald Trump's presidential campaign from start to finish as a campaign embed for CBS News. He covered hundreds of rallies in more than 40 states for a year and a half and was named a “breakout media star” of the election by Politico. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for a documentary he produced for The Boston Globe called Larger Than Life, which told the story about the NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell’s complicated relationship with the city of Boston. Deb lives in New York City.
Alka Arora, PhD, is Associate Professor of Women’s Spirituality at CIIS, where she has been teaching since 2011. She also served as the department chair from 2012-2016, during which time she developed the MA program in Women, Gender, Spirituality, and Social Justice. Alka’s scholarship is focused on four interrelated areas of inquiry: spiritual activism, multiracial feminisms, vegan ecofeminism, and transformative pedagogy. She uses what she calls an integral feminist pedagogy in her teaching, inviting students to see social justice work as a form of sacred praxis.
As a first generation Indian-American woman, Alka brings to her work a lived experience of navigating differing cultural contexts. Her commitment to feminism and women’s spirituality stems in part from her own efforts to reconcile the patriarchal aspects of the Hindu tradition with its mystical teachings and reverence for the divine feminine.
Alka’s current work is focused on envisioning a fourth wave of feminism that integrates spiritual wisdom, eco-social activism, racial justice, and gender reconciliation. She is also a certified lead facilitator with Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI), a non-profit organization that draws on the power of truth-telling and dialogue to transform gender relations.