Interview & photos by Vivek Shraya.
Anupa Mistry is the girl I would have admired from a distance in high school, thinking omg she is so cool.
Well not really, because in high school I was doing the whole distancing myself from other brown kids, trying to find my niche as white people’s #1 token brown friend. Living in Toronto for the past twelve years, where I am surrounded by brilliant brown women, has helped undo this internalized racism—women like Anupa.
Anupa is basically the brown girl I wish I was. And because I can’t be, I am frequently retweeting and liking her shizz instead. No one has Anupa’s body of work: Spin, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Gawker, Jezebel, Vice, Hazlitt, Toronto Life, and it goes on. But more importantly, no one has her voice. Her perspective. I look forward to new Anupa reviews and articles, and often re-read sentences in awe, absorbing them like art.
Read Anupa art for yourself below.
How does being a woman of colour inform how you style yourself?
I don’t know if it directly informs how I style myself, but I do know that I carry some baggage from childhood re: not ‘blending in.’ And I think that maybe I’ve carried that response into adulthood, so I sometimes find myself wanting to be in stark contrast to any super homogenous/white space I might find myself in. This means I’ll be like ‘k, gonna wear Timb boots to the bougie reading,’ or my Kanye and Outkast tees to work. Over the past four years, my style has primarily reverted back to high school; I like ripped things and oversized tees, hoop earrings, Docs and sneakers, athletic wear and 5-panel hats.
Authenticity is such a fraught concept, but I idealize my high school self so much because it was the last time I was in a predominantly non-white environment.
Oh, and I started wearing more lipstick after A$AP Rocky was quoted saying that dark-skinned women shouldn’t wear red lipstick.
We talked about your recent reclamation of the sari. Can you say more about this?
I wouldn’t say it’s a reclamation; I’ve worn saris to religious and family gatherings since I was a teenager, it’s just more visible now cos of social media, I guess. Saris are flattering on all body types.
Saris are a way for me to connect to the women in my family — after all these years I still can’t tie one myself, so getting my mom or an aunt to help brings me physically closer to people I care about. Saris look good on the ‘gram, and wearing one is a way for me to really perform being an Indian woman, something I don’t always get to do and that feels important in the time of self-publishing and amidst digital movements like #ReclaimTheBindi.
Also, I really like the contrast between my personal style and the dripped up look of a sari.
What was it like growing up Brampton? Can you discuss #BramptonGirls?
As a kid I couldn’t wait to leave Brampton but I’ve developed a real fondness for my hometown because it’s such a unique place. #BramptonGirls is this hashtag that was trending on Toronto Twitter a few years ago. People still use it occasionally, but back when it first popped it was just this series of terrible slut-shaming, sexist jokes.
I think a lot of it has to do with this latent insecurity about Brampton’s reputation within the GTA; it’s this very visibly ethnic suburb and solidly working/middle class.
I mean, I get playing the dozens but it bothered me that the meme placed a real emphasis on young women and their supposedly deviant behaviour, and how this intersects with race/class. I like to rep #BramptonGirls when I can to counter all of that dumb shit. And let’s also be very clear: Brampton is overrun by waste men.
What/who inspired you to be a writer?
Hip-hop. I grew up reading The Source, XXL and Danyel Smith-era VIBE. I also loved POUND, this Canadian rap magazine co-created by my friend Rodrigo Bascunan. It’s no longer around but it was so important for me to see this beautiful, smart rap mag that was made in Canada. I also came up during MuchMusic’s heyday, when the VJs were diverse and knew their shit.
I wanted to be like Monika Deol, I just didn’t think I was cute enough to be on TV. LOL.
I have often found it challenging wanting to include my parents in my artistic journey but not being able to share a lot of my work because of the content. How much of your writing do you share with your family?
Not much. And I wouldn’t say they express much interest either. It’s mutual indifference! Also, my parents just really don’t give a shit about Western pop culture. As a kid, my intelligence was definitely nurtured but going to school and learning was an expectation, not exceptional, and I always wonder how I would’ve turned out if my parents were like other parents and thought I was the neatest, smartest kid ever! They know I write a lot and are super supportive (I’m pretty sure my mom creeps me on social media). I’ll tell them when I’m on the radio or in the newspaper — not when I write a great review of a footwork record for Pitchfork.
We discussed our mutual desire to “infiltrate.” Can you say more about what this means for you? What have been some of your successes in infiltrating as a writer/journalist? What have been your biggest challenges?
Doesn’t everyone think that high saturation of diasporas is the most interesting thing about Toronto? I mean, this idea of infiltrating mainstream media was mostly about presenting an honest image of this city and country. Successes? All of the relationships I’ve built with like-minded souls, whether its because I’ve written about them or just found something connective in their work. Challenges: infiltrating.
We also discussed how often at the core of your work is highlighting Toronto. Why is this city so important to you?
Everyone touts Toronto’s diversity on this very superficial level. My family is from the UK so growing up I’d watch TV shows like Goodness, Gracious Me or films like Bhaji on the Beach and Bend It Like Beckham, and just be in awe that brown people were doing that stuff. Throughout undergrad, I streamed BBC 1Xtra and Asian Network like it was gospel.
Toronto is capable of sourcing so much art and culture from its nonwhite populace and yet…..
M.I.A. or Arundhati Roy.
Kanye maroon velour jump suit vs. Drake baby blue velour jump suit?
Baby blue velour like its 1999, dun know.
Interview & photos by Vivek Shraya.