The Making of “Desi” Culture on MTV
by Madhavi Mallapragada — University of Texas at Austin
April 05, 2007 – 09:00
In this video titled, "You are not an Indian," a young male addresses viewers who like him are neither just American nor Indian but desi. Wearing a t-shirt with the word "desi" written prominently in Hindi across it, the young man points out that desis are not South Asians but of South Asia. People of South Asian origin in the United States commonly refer to each other as Desi. The term means "from the homeland" and simultaneously invokes one’s identity as South Asian but also as being "outside South Asia". As the young man reminds his viewers, the difference is key. Being desi implies being critically engaged with the "realities" of India rather than uncritically celebrating the hype surrounding its contemporary global image as high-tech nation. The young man’s take on what it means to be a desi is just one of many voices featured on MTV Desi, a satellite network inaugurated by MTV in 2005 focusing on South Asian American music and youth culture. Young desis featured on the network often discuss what being desi means to them. In the process they articulate "desi" to discourses of gender, race, ethnicity, transnational alliances and cultural nationalisms. By marking itself as Desi, the network MTV Desi is positioning itself as more in tune with South Asian American youth culture than the India-centric channels that dominate the South Asian satellite TV market in the U.S.