Anita Chhiba is the creative force behind Diet Paratha, an online platform championing South Asian culture and community across the diaspora. She says the beauty of the platform is that it showcases South Asian people "free of cultural restraints, just being really good at what they do creatively."
On Monday night, Chhiba brought the platform to life with the first ever Diet Paratha event in New Zealand, at Auckland's QT rooftop. The evening, dubbed Diet Paratha Family Meeting, invited a host of South Asian creatives to meet, connect, and build a creative community together - something Chhiba says she hasn't really seen in New Zealand before, and one of the main reasons she wanted to put the event on.
"I just felt like I really wanted to do it, I hadn't experienced anything like it in New Zealand. There's plenty of creative people here but there's nothing uniting us, that's really lacking in Auckland. I wanted to connect the community here and create legitimate opportunities for South Asian creatives so we're the ones telling our own stories."
The event was organised in collaboration with the Viaduct Harbour and featured a panel discussion curated and hosted by Chhiba, exploring the journeys of four South Asian creatives navigating racism, colour and culture in their respective industries. Speakers included Vogue India's Head of Editorial Megha Kapoor, trans advocate and content creator Kris Fox, writer and accessibility advocate Latifa Daud, and RNZ's Conversations With My Immigrant Parents podcast host Saraid de Silva.
"The way I chose the panel, I tried to think about stories that I resonated with. Megha's for me was massive, Vogue is just such a massive publication and she's made it at the top, so I'm really pleased for her and that story inspires me. Saraid, what she did with making her dreams come true by using a government fund, that's a really incredible story. People don't know you can get government funds, just telling that story is powerful, and the work she's doing is just amazing."
Chhiba said it was important to involve South Asian talent in the entire process of putting the event on, from organising menus and doing makeup, to photographing the night and ushering people in.
"I didn't want this to be a performative thing. A diversity event means nothing if there's no representation behind the scenes. Prince did all the food, he's like Young Chef of the Year 2021, Latifa was a cultural consultant, Rae and Sarika did the makeup, my cousins Kalisha and Akshay were working on the door, my aunty Mala did the facemasks.
"That just felt really meaningful, and I think it was a great example of how other brands can follow suit as to how to platform a community in a non-performative way. There's so much performative activism here, in terms of true allyship the brands just don't get it.
Chhiba believes there's a cultural barrier holding South Asian creatives back a bit in terms of banding together and collaborating creatively. Much of it, she said, is ingrained in the culture of growing up South Asian in New Zealand.
"It starts when you're a kid and you're conditioned to believe there's something off about other people. Growing up, if you're Gujarati, you only associate with other Gujarati people. We've got these unconscious biases and we're too scared to come together, we don't unite like other communities do. And then New Zealand's also really bad for tall poppy syndrome, because of the sheer size of New Zealand, it's so small, so if you do something people are gonna see it, and it's just really hard to put yourself out there creatively."
Chhiba hopes Diet Paratha can empower South Asian creatives to collaborate in more meaningful ways and strengthen the community in New Zealand, so that one day, putting those creative projects out into the world won't feel as stressful. And after Monday's Family Meeting, she's feeling good about the future.
"I was so happy to see everybody come together, the response was so meaningful, it felt like I had accomplished what I'd set out to achieve by hosting an event in Auckland. The future feels really hopeful with the younger generation of South Asian creatives."