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At age 7, my daughter has a joy in her Brown skin that I still have to work for

"Hair Twins" author Raakhee Mirchandani marvels at her little girl's strong sense of identity and belonging.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

My 7-year-old daughter Satya takes up a lot of space in the world. Literally. Her stuff is everywhere.

Every surface of the apartment is covered in the things that fill her life: notebooks, my vintage copies of "The Baby-Sitters Club," squishies, scrunchies and parandis. Bindis share space with slime and graphic novels, side by side, all of them equal parts of what this little girl is made of.

Raakhee Mirchandani's daughter Satya
Author Raakhee Mirchandani's daughter, SatyaCourtesy Raakhee Mirchandani

Growing up, my closets were separated. I had one for Indian clothes, another for “regular” clothes, as I called them. As if the shimmering lehengas and embroidered kurtas somehow deemed the wearer irregular. I had two sets of friends, school friends and Sindhi friends, and the two never met. I didn’t mean for it to be that way, but I had feet planted in two worlds, albeit on awkward, uneven footing.

There were the Indian bits: my parents, Sindhi classes, summer vacation, Kathak dancing, Bollywood songs, dinner, Gurdwara, Mandir, our potluck group, our names. And there was the other stuff: school, soccer, No Doubt concerts, lunch and trips to the mall. My entire existence felt like it hinged on keeping it all divided, my big Brown secret.

Raakhee Mirchandani with her husband and daughter
Raakhee Mirchandani with her husband and daughterCourtesy Raakhee Mirchandani

Satya’s experience is not mine.

In first grade, she has a joy in her skin that I still have to work for. Her Brown crayon is well worn, evidence of accurately colored family portraits. She is proud of herself, her father’s turban and her mother’s name. She tells everyone who will listen about her trip to India, her Punjabi classes and that her braids aren’t just beautiful, they reflect her faith.

Recently another first grade Mama told me that her daughter wanted to braid her blonde hair in “long, beautiful braids, like Satya’s.” It made me ugly cry, right there, on the park bench.

Raakhee Mirchandani's daughter's hair in a long braid
Raakhee Mirchandani's daughter's braided hair holds deep significance.Courtesy Raakhee Mirchandani

Last week, Satya’s teacher sent me photos of her, in front of the class sharing about Vaisakhi, a harvest festival celebrated in Punjab, India. She told them about how we celebrate the festival to welcome spring, but also to mark the formation of the Sikh faith. She did it in an orange kurta, matching parandi and a big red bindi. (It was unplanned; we had done a virtual family share the week prior with resources from the Sikh Coalition.)

"Hair Twins" book cover
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

I wrote "Hair Twins" to share the story of my family: my husband Agan, a turban wearing Sikh, and my Satya, a little Sikh girl. It’s a celebration of the bond they share, father and daughter, and a window into our family and our tradition. (As part of their religion, Sikhism, both Agan and Satya don’t cut their hair.) Some of our favorite times together are the simple moments when we do Satya's hair, time that is just for us, to talk, to watch old Punjabi music videos or to deliberate on the perfect rubber band and scrunchie choice.

This book is a heartsong. It represents who we are as a family, our lived Brown joy, on full display for all to feel. My deepest wish for this book is that everyone who reads "Hair Twins" feels connected to the relationship between the father and daughter. And I hope, above all else, that readers of all ages see "Hair Twins" as an invitation to share their story, and all of who they are, with the world.