Name: Arpita Sharma
Places Lived: USA and India
Hobbies: Art, Filmmaking, Taekwondo, Cycling
Favorite Movie: Anastasia
Arpita Sharma is a researcher, artist, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. As a data analyst at the University of Southern California Equity Research Institute, Arpita tells stories using data to help activists, philanthropists, policymakers, and academics tackle social issues. She is the founder of Citizen Play, an artistic venture providing tools to help people play, notice, and celebrate their experiences. An emerging filmmaker, Arpita experiments with creating short narratives and journalistic-style videos to raise awareness of social inequities and mental health issues. She recently started a YouTube channel called Rethink Desi to explore these issues further within the South Asian community. Ultimately, her goal is to use her skills to build empathy and bring more truth and accountability to systems that have left many marginalized across the United States. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and her website.
On the impact of Citizen Play:
“As we age, we may have trouble being vulnerable and sharing our feelings in relationships with others. Instead, we try to solve problems alone, isolate ourselves, or use unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb our feelings, leaving hurts unaddressed for long periods. We may also have a hard time reaching out and connecting with others due to cultural barriers or cultural norms. Our products (currently greeting cards) help people communicate how they feel during tense conversations, recognize and express words they haven’t been able to say, celebrate immigrant cultures and experiences, and honor themselves. We hope the cards will help self-reflect and create spaces for people to be vulnerable with themselves and each other.
Our cards have two purposes. First, they are playful and childlike. The goal is to make people feel comfortable expressing their raw, unfiltered emotions. The cards can help with talking through difficult situations with oneself when one is feeling stuck or lost. Our second purpose is to recognize and celebrate the experiences of immigrant communities who often do not receive cards that applaud them for overcoming extensive challenges. Our goals are to play, have fun, maybe make some money, and create a sustainable business that helps people! We currently send out a weekly newsletter sharing research, creative ideas, and her latest projects. If you would like to sign up, you can do so here.
On her future goals:
“My future goals are to continue building a career as a researcher, artist, and filmmaker. I hope to continue working on meaningful projects that support and uplift those who feel left behind. I am particularly interested in data journalism and have been working on a few short films which will come out in the next few months. If folks are interested in seeing them, they can sign up for my newsletter or follow my Instagram account.”
On conducting research tied to activism and social justice:
As a data analyst at the University of Southern California Equity Research Institute, I help make tools, such as the National Equity Atlas, Bay Area Equity Atlas, California Immigrant Data Portal. Further, I have the privilege of creating reports that help philanthropists, nonprofit leaders, and local policymakers create a more inclusive economy and address inequities in race, gender, immigration status. I am specifically interested in researching racial inequities in entrepreneurship and access to capital and looking at work through a gender and disability lens. Our work at the Center has helped increase funding towards community organizing groups, and our data often uplifts challenges that underserved communities face.”
On her experiences as a first generation immigrant:
“My perspectives as a first-generation Indian woman have been largely shaped by my relationships with my parents and brother. My parents worked as cashiers at a gas station in San Bernardino for most of their working life. They are hard-working and loving people who immigrated to the USA from India with my brother, Akshat, and me as children. My brother had a genetic disability and passed away at the age of 26. For the last several years of his life, he was paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator. Both my parents considered themselves extremely privileged to have access to resources for Akshat that would not have been available to our family in India without overwhelming financial strain. Examples of such resources include MediCal, doctors, and nurses to care for him throughout his life as his disease progressed and facilities and assistance for his education. These life experiences have profoundly shaped my life. I feel lucky that my work now helps share data and create reports that increase awareness of the structural barriers that currently keep others trapped in a cycle of generational poverty.”
On how Rethink Desi can empower the South Asian community:
“I hope that Rethink Desi allows the Desi community to open up the floor to non-standard narratives that will breathe life and truth into our interconnected history and future. We must support South Asian Americans who struggle with physical and mental health issues and don’t fit a model minority narrative to join the conversation about what it means to be successful. These non-standard narratives will strengthen our communities by expanding our understanding of what it means to grow up as a South Asian in the United States. I hope that as we continue to grow, Rethink Desi becomes a platform for that.”
I feel lucky that my work increases awareness of the structural barriers that currently keep others trapped in a cycle of generational poverty.Arpita Sharma, MPP & MUP