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Akash Nagaraja

A recent graduate from the University of Rhode Island, Akash shares his perspective and hope for the future.

A: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

AN: I am 23 years old, born in New Milford and grew up in Bethel, Connecticut. I graduated after 4 years at URI with a civil engineering degree. I’ve been living in Providence now for a year with roommates and work as a project engineer for a construction company.

A. Did you always want to become a civil engineer?

AN: Growing up as an Asian American, there’s a lot of pressure that comes from your parents and that definitely influenced what I wanted to study. I had accounting and finance in mind. I have interest in sports such as basketball and football, I like to hike and go to the beach, but I have to think of what to do for my future.

A. Have you visited India?

AN: I traveled there when I was little. I was supposed to go to my cousins wedding but couldn’t go because of COVID.

A. Do you relate to the Indian culture?

AN: My mom is very religious, is in a prayer group and practices Hindu. We go to the temple every year. I have those beliefs instilled in me but I’m not very religious and it doesn’t define me. It’s part of who I am but I don’t practice it on an everyday basis. My dad was born and grew up in Connecticut. My mom was born in India. I have friends of all races. I connect with both my American and Indian culture.

I grew up in a predominantly white environment but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not myself. URI is predominantly white so most of my best friends are white. There is a gap in a way but I’m used to it. I don’t think about it, only when I’m in a different environment.

A: Do you feel like yourself more around colored people?

AN: Yes

A: What ethnicity do you identify with?

AN: Indian and I consider myself Asian.

A: What do you think of the term people of color?

AN: Anyone who is not White. I like to think we are all one and there shouldn’t be a label but we are a diverse country. It’s inevitable. For example in the work force, employers hire people of color to show diversity but I think you should hire the best person for the job regardless of color. It’s the world we live in especially in this country.

A: What are some of the stereotypes of Indian people?

AN: Alluded to my parents putting pressure upon you, you have to be in the medical field, engineer, etc. At a gas station, 7 Eleven of course there’s an Indian working there. In middle school you hear the terrorist jokes mostly of the Muslim population. People automatically put me in that group because I look like someone from the Middle East and my skin color. It’s not as prevalent now as when I was growing up. It didn’t make me feel good but it is what it is.

With cancel culture now, people are afraid to say what they think. If you have a different opinion people label you as a racist. I feel all politicians are corrupt. They just spew things you want to hear and they don't really care. They say age group of 18- 35, 40 year olds makes up the majority of this country, so why do we have to choose from two 70 year plus old white men?

I’m optimistic and hopeful but I’m a realist at the same time. Not everything is going to change and happen overnight and it’s going to take a really long time. I just want to see equality and no judgment.

If you think of Compton or Oakland, they’re thought of it as the hood, the ghetto, and people think they’re bad people and they’re not. It’s been like that for years, there’s no help or support in the communities. It extends back for so long.

I think education in general, we need reform and I think it will go a long way for the future generations. If everyone is more school you don't learn about so many things that you can have opinions of, you only learn what they want to teach.

A: What are your plans for the future?

AN: Finding your dream job is rare but at the end of the day I want to make sure I’m financially comfortable. I eventually want to own properties in real estate in different parts of the country or the world and travel. I want to get a Master’s degree or MBA eventually. I like construction management aspect in civil engineering, but I don’t want to restrict myself to one field. I’m open to different opportunities.

In today’s society, they make it that you need a degree in order to be successful. But there are trades and those are good skills to have.

Back to being an Asian American you have to get a college education get a degree and get a good job. If you don’t attain that you feel like a failure.

I can always make my own way. You got to do what makes you happy. My dad grew up in the Northeast but it doesn’t mean I have to also. Eventually I want to move outside of the Northeast.

A: What message do you want to impart about Asians?

AN: We still have a voice. There are things we experience that are just not talked about. The struggles we go through are important. All the pressure from our parents pays off.

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