Assistant Professor of Journalism & Mass Communications
Washington & Lee University
Media, Race, and Gender Self-Designed Major
Indira Somani '92 didn't have an easy childhood. She remembers standing on
the playground in Springfield, Illinois, as her classmates did a pow-wow dance
around her -- not understanding that she was East Indian, not Native American
Indian. She remembers high school, when homecoming fell on the holiday of Diwali. Her father forbade her from attending the dance. She stayed in her room and refused to participate with her family in the Hindu celebration.
Coming to terms with her Indian heritage as a second-generation American, as well as her struggle to stay connected to Indian culture and her extended family after her father's death, are the themes explored in Crossing Lines, a documentary co-produced by Somani and Leena Jayaswal. Crossing Lines is being broadcast on public television stations throughout the U.S.
Somani's interest in filmmaking developed at Knox, where she had an internship her junior year at the Chicago CBS affiliate WBBM, through the Urban Studies Program. For her senior project, she produced her first documentary, which focused on international students on the Knox campus and the adjustments they had to make when they came to school in the U.S.
She went on to receive her masters from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and her Ph.D. from the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. She has 10 years of broadcast journalism experience, including writer and producer of financial broadcasts for CNBC and senior producer for Early Today on NBC.
She is now assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at Washington and Lee University. "Ironically, I'm teaching a new course called Media, Race, and Gender (the name of her independent major at Knox)," she says. "It feels like I've come full circle."
Somani's parents migrated to the United States as students in the 1960s. Being born and brought up in the U.S., Somani led an American life. But at home, her world was Indian because of her father's immense love for India and Indian culture. When her father died suddenly in 2002, Somani says, "I felt lost. My father was my connection to India."
The filming of Crossing Lines began in 2004, when she visited her extended family in India for the first time after her father's death. She worried that they wouldn't accept her because she was in her 30s and still single. She worried that she wouldn't be able to communicate because she didn't know Hindi.
She didn't need to worry. Somani was showered with affection by members of her far-flung family. They looked together through old photo albums -- alternately laughing and weeping together as they grieved for the man that meant so much to them all.
"It was hard to leave," says Somini. "When I think of India, I think of the unconditional love that I have. I think of a very poor country, but not poor in culture, and certainly not poor in family. For once I was seeing India through my eyes, not my parents' eyes."
Detailed listings and more information about Crossing Lines are available at www.crossinglinesthefilm.com.