Perhaps it is the Valentine’s Day gift that will mend the broken hearts of Sepia Mutiny fans around the country. The Aerogram,
a website created by three former ‘Mutineers’, launched on February 14
in hopes of re-energizing the South Asian American community.
Strategically, co-founders, SAJA member Lakshmi Gandhi, Kishwer Vikaas and Pavani Yalamanchili, created a Twitter and Facebook page prior to launching the site.
“That really showed us that there was a need for a site like ours,” Pavani said. Currently they have more than 400 Twitter followers, and more than 150 Facebook page ‘likes’.
“We really wanted people to familiarize themselves with our voice and the topics that we were interested in before we rolled out the website.” Gandhi said.
Their blog posts aren’t small potatoes either-- since the site’s launch The Aerogram has written several widely-shared posts about various South Asian topics. The writing is punchy and energetic, and shows a newfound sense of what it means to cover the South Asian-American experience.
Monday’s blog post about HBO ‘Girls’ star Lena Dunham’s visit to India and her sympathy for all the stray dogs rather than the “poverty-stricken people,” brought a lot of eyeballs to the website. And after a black and white photo of rapper Kanye West posing with comedian Aziz Ansari and his family surfaced around on the interwebs, The Aerogram posted a delightful breakdown of who’s who in the photograph.
We talked to the founders of The Aerogram shortly after the site launched, to learn about how they came up with this new blog, and their thoughts on blogging about South Asian Americans in a ‘post-Mutiny’ blogosphere.
Q: How did the site come together?
Kishwer: We were all writing together for Sepia Munity and we had all kept in touch. In December I met up with Lakshmi at the Asian American Writers Workshop and we talked about how much we missed writing for SM and how we really wanted to carve out a space on the web.
Pavani: I was really excited to hear from them, because I really missed contributing to SM, especially when I came across interesting and South Asian things from television and film.
Q: How did you all come up with the name ‘The Aerogram’?
Lakshmi: We were all trying to find something that we could all identify with as South Asian Americans. Kishwer eventually came up with the name 'The Aerogram'. We all remember getting the blue aerogram envelope in the mail from India and your relatives filling in every inch of space. So we thought this is like that, in that you are getting all your news in one tiny space.
Kishwer: For me, I
remember we would send these letters back and forth from here to
Pakistan. And we all remembered those little blue envelopes--and we
thought that would translate really well with our audience.
Pavani: I remember my entire family would all write on the one envelope and my mom would let me write a line in the letter to my aunt. It’s funny because I looked it up on Wikipedia and in late 2006 the postal service got rid of the areogram letter/envelopes-- so now this is a little bit of a nostalgic thing that everyone can relate to.
Q: Was there a hesitation to start a South Asian American site like this especially after the end of Sepia Mutiny?
Pavani: My first thought was, ‘Yes, there are other South Asian focused publications out there and there is a place for them, so why not us?’ A lot of the sites that are out there right now are segmented. I’m Indian-American, but I’m interested in other South Asian Americans in the U.S. So we make it a point to be focused on the broader South Asian community.
Kishwer: I felt like there needs to be a website that really reflects the diversity of the South Asian-American culture. What you see now--everything is so boxed up-- you have India Ink, India Real Time. As a Pakistani-American I didn’t feel like I fit into any of those boxes and I felt like something was missing. In the last seven months alone, you've had a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Sunando Sen pushed off a subway platform in New York City and the Philadelphia Mummers parade, where one group marched in 'Indianface.' While some of these incidents were hotly debated on Twitter and Facebook timelines, not all of the media coverage included a South Asian perspective. Enter The Aerogram. A space to facilitate, curate and archive these discussions.
Lakshmi: It's tricky because Sepia Mutiny had it's own distinct identity and we all came onto Sepia Mutiny towards the tail of its time. So none of us were part of those bloggers on SM that people really identified with. So we all wanted to create our own identities in that respect. I mean the good thing is, is that Sepia Mutiny taught me how to be a blogger. It was probably the biggest audience I’ve ever written for as a blogger. So it got me attuned to the issues that people really care about. In that way Sepia Mutiny helped shape this site to some degree.
If you have a blog post idea for The Aerogram, send pitches to [email protected]