Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (2023)

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Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (1)

Wie is Raj Tawney?

If you ask Raj Tawney who he is, the millennial journalist and writer will describe himself as "Son. Brother. Husband. Writer. Bon viveur. Vanguard. Rebel. Free spirit. Fiery soul. Hungry heart.The whole human.”

But go to "the whole manwasn't easy for the Indian, Puerto Rican, and Italian-American boy growing up on Long Island, at a time when brown families like his were a minority, often caught up in the crosshairs of white ignorance.

It took time, perseverance and a culinary quest for Raj Tawney to learn to wear his multi-ethnic identity like a second skin. It's a remarkable journey - one that Tawney documents in her debut novel, A Colorful Palate. The memoir follows his multicultural family's journey to assimilation through their traditions, tastes and food adventures. It's a contemporary coming-of-age story in which Tawney tackles personal burning questions about race and identity through poignant, heartfelt moments centered on delicious meals. It also contains delicious recipes.

Raj Tawney shared his story with India Currents.

"Colorful palateit's all about my Indian, Puerto Rican, and Italian-American upbringing and the themes that tie my complex heritage together. I truly believe this book will impact our culture given the many themes it explores, including race, identity, family, and food.”

Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (2)

Family and food

As a child, Tawney learned the importance of food as a cross-cultural bridge when he began helping his mother and grandmother in the kitchen.

"I loved getting my hands dirty, but in those moments I could ask questions about who these women were and what those dishes represented for their individual journeys."

His Puerto Rican grandmother mastered Italian food to be accepted by her Italian American husband's family. His Puerto Rican and Italian-American mother learned Indian cuisine from Gopi, her Indian mother-in-law, not only to learn about the beautiful culture, but also to gain respect in a community that is not quick to accept foreigners.

“These women were rebels,” says Tawney. "I appreciate the flow of smells, the beads of sweat on our foreheads and the flavors that have enriched my being. And I am still hungry to understand more."

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Mumbaija to Bronxa

Tawney's parents, Roop and Loretta, met in New York in the 1970s. Roop, who is from Mumbai, arrived as a student in 1976. Loretta is from the Bronx. Her mother Elsie was Puerto Rican and her father Anthony was Italian American.

"In the late 1970s, my parents were two hard-working kids who met by chance through mutual friends and immediately hit it off."

Roop lived in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, went to school, and sold fake IDs in Times Square to make ends meet. Loretta worked at a travel agency in Manhattan, was in a hurry and paid her own way to see the world.

She loved Roop's culture and community, Tawney says, even though their cultural differences have caused a lot of pain and friction over the years. But "there was also beauty in their desire to build a complete life together."

Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (3)

Total freaks offer a culinary olive branch

Tawney and his brother Ravi grew up in suburban Long Island, where life was less integrated and marred by invisible segregation. He remembers that he and Ravi were noticed at school and in the neighborhood because of their "foreign" names, olive skin and shaggy eyebrows.

"We were total freaks from the other kids' perspective."

As a multi-ethnic family, they weren't always welcome - and not just by whites. The Indian-American desi community also did not accept the Tawney mix.

"Ravi and I never felt completely welcome because we weren't real Indians, didn't speak the language of my father's people and weren't passionately involved in the activities."

Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (4)

But to Tawney's credit that his parents persevere. Food was a powerful gateway to people's hearts, sometimes serving as a cultural olive branch. His Puerto Rican and Italian-American mother made curry at least a few times a week. They would invite people. Slowly but surely, their friends became fond of the chana masala, dahl or chicken curry that his mother cooked for them.

"The food helped open their minds. My mother's Indian cooking was part of her own journey, which I talk about in the book."

From succulent tandoori chicken to adorable arroz con habichuelas to mouth-watering spaghetti and meatballs, Tawney shares his family recipes along with intimate stories he's heard in the kitchen playing sous chef, to hundreds of recipes that span not only continents, but also your own personal include recipes. history attached.

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An extraordinary superhero

However, immigrants and intercultural children still struggle with identity issues. Tawney says he did it when he was younger. Given the multi-ethnic blend he inherited,“I never felt one ethnicity. I always saw myself as an outsider and was often treated as such."

Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (5)

But over the years he came to realize that this multicultural mix gave him a special advantage in his view of the world.

“It took me more than three decades on earth to realize my beautiful individuality. I was able to hold multiple perspectives at once and this ability enabled my heart to have more compassion for others. My unique identity almost became my superhero.”

The concept of belonging will forever be foreign to him, Tawney reveals: "I started loving myself because I'm an exception."

A matter of identity

If his own experience of understanding his place in the world has taught him anything, it's this.Forgive yourself," says Tawney, as it can take you a long time to "know who you are. Honestly, you may never know. I am not the person I was twenty, ten or five years ago, or even six months ago. I'm starting to accept that it's okay to doubt yourself. You don't have to have a meaningful life. It's okay to experiment with your appearance, your identity and how you define yourself.”

"Self-discovery is part of life, and if your mind is open and curious, you will always evolve and redefine who you are."

Tawney believes it is important for multi-ethnic children to understand where they come from by asking questions of the elders in their lives. “The stories they share can provide insight into who you are and where you are going. And if they don't want to dig into the past, do your own research. History opens doors."

Combat bias one bite at a time

Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (6)

Growing up in America's melting pot, Tawney learned to counter racism with a simple tactic: practice kindness. Being kind, he says, takes less effort than being angry, rude, bitter, frustrated, or violent.

Food can also be a bridge builder. Tawney says eating food from a cultural or ethnic group that you fear or know nothing about can provide insight into the inner lives of those perceived as different. “These dishes represent warmth, generosity, understanding, food and connection for an entire nation. Those bites will destroy fear and hostility.”

Why did he write The Colorful Palate?

Tawney began writing the book after receiving a series of letters from people thanking him for helping them feel seen, following a series of essays he published in major media outlets.

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“While their mix usually varied wildly, the concepts remained consistent: family, food, art, history and love. I was motivated to tell the stories of millions of Americans with my story.”

But he admits that the process of writing The Colorful Palate left him emotionally exhausted. After finishing a draft chapter, he read it to his wife, Michelle, and sometimes cried afterwards. "It was an exhausting experience," says Tawney, not necessarily because returning to the subject was difficult, but because "some moments were so beautiful that I regret it terribly. I hope the book will have a positive impact on our broader culture.”

Mixed race pronouns

Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (7)

As a mixed-race person, Tawney says she sometimes feels threatened by the purity and wholeness that some people consider cultural norms. "I felt incomplete and impure just being born, but that's only if I let others define me."

But he embraced his roots, knowing that the roots of most cultures are the same: family, food, art, history and love.

“These elements are common in all three of my cultures. Money, greed, war, prejudice, and violence are never the dominant factors – they are the result of outside forces trying to damage and invade the sanctity of the culture.”

As he grew, Tawney says, he learned not only how to define himself, but also how to defend the beauty of his complexity.

"When life is a mess anyway, I decide to take the top off my kitchen blender and let it rip (metaphorically speaking, of course!)"

Raj Tawney's debut memoirThe Colorful Palate: A Flavorful Journey Through the Mixed American Experiencewill be available October 3 from Fordham University Press.

Elkreveal coverin February, and it was already excitingzujativan Lydije Bastianich, Johna Leguizama, Junota Diaza, Neeme Avashie, Wajahata Alija en Krishnandua Raya.

Raj Tawney is Indian, Puerto Rican and Italian. He wrote a book about it (8)

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