Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Story of Me

Hello! My name is Anant Pai and I'm a junior at Harvard studying Applied Math with a focus in Sociology. Writing this introduction has been hard-- how do you say enough but not too much? I'll save you the excruciating details of my happy childhood and my family's immigrating to the States from India. Let's just get to it.

It all began one SoCal-sunny weekend afternoon. Let me be clear, California is an exceptionally diverse and generally welcoming place. Walking down the streets of Redlands, you’ll often stumble upon the syllables of a foreign language, whether Spanish or Tagalog or one that you’ve never heard before. But in my suburban utopia, when there’s racism, it’s not so overt. California breeds a subtler, quieter racism, one that’s hard to acknowledge and even harder to call out. That is, it’s quiet until it’s not anymore.
Brown people have been swept up in a wave of Islamophobia since the twin towers; as a light-skinned English-speaking person, this is not something that I’d had to experience, at least not in a jarring way. It all changed that afternoon, when I was walking down the street with a turban-wearing friend. Someone in a car passing by rolled down the window and shouted, “Go to hell, terrorists!” I was shocked. How could the community that had taught me the meaning of diversity and acceptance be so cruel to one of its own? I was angry. How was it fair that my friend had heard this so many times that he was used to it? He claimed he’d heard way worse. I was sad. Why did he have to endure this for the single reason of the God he chose?
This incident didn’t fit neatly into my stupid, dumb, and happy understanding of Redlands, but once I’d found this piece in the puzzle, the rest fell neatly into place. I became attuned to the way that race plays into our daily lives, how in math class students made jokes about the Asian girl obviously getting the highest score; numbers ran in her blood. I became frustrated with the racially charged history lectures when the teacher would seat the black kids in the back of the classroom just to prove a point. I became aware of the segregated friend cliques that so easily defined Redlands High School.
It was years before I decided to actually do something about it; well, I guess two years to be precise. I started a club on campus called Cultures for Youth to give students a space to talk about race, share their culture, and correct misunderstandings. It was exhausting and often thankless, but working to fix something I felt so strongly about left me exhilaratingly alive. Cultures for Youth expanded, to the point that we had an ABC7 news piece written about us.
Fast-forward four years, to today. Cultures for Youth is still thriving at Redlands High School, and through the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations I remain as engaged in this work as I’ve ever been before.
In the last four years, a lot has changed with the world and with me. Race relations work has taught me about the effect that one voice and one person can have. It’s taught me about how to have difficult conversations. It’s taught me that oftentimes, the things worth fighting for are the hardest to accomplish.
This is my story. There are times when it’s been hard and when I’ve made mistakes, but ultimately, it’s one that I’m proud of.

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