Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

When a Sari is Subversive

In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, stories abound of mothers and the sacrifices they’ve made for their children (a shout-out to my mom, Alita, on her way back from Manila to the U.S.!). NPR producer Madhulika Sikka joins the Mother’s Day tributes with an elegant essay about her mother and her unintentionally subversive act of wearing a sari. Her immigrant mother’s choice of dress ran counter to the culture of assimilation. Writes Sikka:

In family pictures from the playground, we look a little “fresh off the boat,” but there’s Mom in her sari. Posing at the Eiffel Tower with her très chic cat’s eyes sunglasses, she’s wearing a sari. She might be wearing shoes, socks, and a heavy overcoat, but always a sari. And this was in a pre-multicultural Europe where a sari or hijab might have been looked on as something truly exotic and otherworldly.

It’s amazing to witness how a simple choice in clothing can be something of power, and defiant of the cultural hegemony of the West.

In an interview for The Progressive several years ago, notable writer and activist Arundhati Roy also praiseed the beauty of the Indian garment when discussing her nation’s resistance to globalization:

Q: Still, I sense some optimism on your part about what you call the “inherent anarchy” of India to resist the tide of globalization.

Roy: The only thing worth globalizing is dissent, but I don’t know whether to be optimistic or not. When I’m outside the cities I do feel optimistic. There is such grandeur in India and so much beauty. I don’t know whether they can kill it. I want to think they can’t. I don’t think that there is anything as beautiful as a sari.

Fashion’s something that intrigues me. I’m not talking about the shallow American idea of style; I’m thinking about the way that clothing can be political. For example, I don’t understand fashionistas or the corporatization and big business of the industry, but I am drawn to the reactions that clothing incites. Punk, for example? Saris? How about business suits and skirts? What message do kids send with their pants on the ground (I realize I’ve moved from thinking like a kid to being middle-aged).

Another example: t-shirts with personal beliefs printed on them banned from high school, like the gay teen in Memphis who was sent home from his public school. So much seems to be said when we tacitly approve of young people branding themselves for corporations rather than dressing for social change.

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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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