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#Sareenotsorry movement fights xenophobia on social media

#Sareenotsorry is taking over social media, but what is the meaning behind it? TODAY spoke to Tanya Rawal, the activist who started it all.
/ Source: TODAY

"Sorry not Sorry" is a phrase that has taken social media by storm. It’s a witty way of being proud of who you are — whatever that entails. Now a spin-off is making its way from Instagram accounts into the political arena.

Tanya Rawal is an adjunct professor at the University of California Riverside. She's the woman behind the movement to embrace traditional Indian clothing with the hashtag "#sareenotsorry."

Rawal chose to celebrate her identity with the most apparent symbol of her nationality: the saree.

Sarees (also spelled “saris”) are elaborate pieces of clothing that drape around the body traditionally worn by South Asian women.

Rawal says everything they stand for is powerful.

"[It’s] such a useful piece of clothing," Rawal said. "I've seen women carry a baby with that piece. I've seen women carry their food with it. It's this really functional piece of fabric you can wear that speaks to how women are. We can do so many things and still be a woman at the same time. It's miraculous."

Rawal started the hashtag, or way of categorizing things on social media, after returning from India with a plethora of vintage sarees from her family members. #Sareenotsorry made it easy to see what she was up to.

She had no idea the catchy saying would have a larger meaning.

Earlier this month, 50 women participated in a flashmob in Dehli, India mall — dressed in the brightly colored pieces. The video has made its way to a number of social media accounts using Rawal’s phrase, #sareenotsorry.

The hashtag quickly went viral and women across the United States are proudly wearing their sarees.

It’s prompted another movement: the #100sareepact. It’s main goal is to bring about acceptance in the workplace and encourages women to wear sarees to work 100 times before December.

"I actually grew up with two closets: my Indian closet and my American closet,” Rawal said.

Her hope is that #sareenotsorry will promote intersectionality, and help women embrace the hyphen in being “Indian-American.”

"[As] a minority, I'm going to be looked at and stared at anyway, so I want you to see something that's going to make you think twice about this fabric that stands between me and you," Rawal told

The hashtag’s popularity comes in the midst of the upcoming presidential election that’s spurred much debate about immigration, cultural appropriation and xenophobia.

Most recently ASOS, a British online fashion and beauty store, was the subject of scrutiny for selling bindis advertised on white women.

In a personal essay on originally intended for her students, Rawal explains why #sareenotsorry is so important.

As a professor at a school near the American-Mexican border, Rawal says #sareenotsorry is not just for Indian women or for fashion, but for all minorities.

“It's time we stop apologizing for our skin color, language and culture," she said.

There is beauty in every lifestyle and Tanya Rawal is out to prove it — one beautifully made garment at a time.