Arshi Chowdhury: The rising Bengali American TikToker you should know
How Arshi is finding her voice without a niche on TikTok: Bangla, K-Pop, ukulele, singing, makeup, & more.
By Samia Abbasi & Renuka Garg
The South Asian content creation scene has flourished in 2020, giving way to so many talented content creators, cultural knowledge sharing, and more nuanced discussion on the South Asian experience. The epicenter of this change? TikTok. South Asian Gen Z TikTokers have been helping young South Asians embrace and celebrate their culture, through their confidence, humor, storytelling and creativity. One such TikToker we admire is Arshi Chowdhury (@arshichow). Based in Florida, Arshi is a Bengali-American TikToker with over 51,000 followers who has created a powerful and niche-less presence on TikTok—from fierce makeup transitions, to unpacking social issues, to talking about her love for K-Pop. We sat down with Arshi to learn about how she embraces her Bengali-American identity, how she started making Bangla language TikToks, and her advice for first-time content creators (hint: just do it!).
Q1. Tell us about yourself, Arshi!
I am a 23-year-old Bengali-American, and I recently graduated with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Health Disparities in Society. I have many miscellaneous interests: singing, playing ukulele, makeup, K-Pop, DIY projects, learning and talking about different languages, and having discussions about various social topics. I am featured in a Bangla x English x Hindi mashup "In My Dreams" by ALLiMiin! You can stream it here on YouTube and here on Spotify.
I really love singing. My mom was lowkey my singing teacher growing up. She taught me the basics when I was little. I don't think I could live without music; I need music in my life. I feel like I've improved with practice, because I wasn't always good at it. Like, when I watch videos from when I was younger, I was not a good singer at all, haha. For 3 years of college, I was actually in a South Asian fusion acapella group called Gator Awaaz, and it was really cool to perform at school events.
Q2. How did you get into TikTok? What kinds of TikToks do you make?
My 17-year old sister made me get a TikTok account at the end of last year. And, as you can imagine, it sucked me in really quick. At first, I didn’t make any videos and would just scroll for hours. I’ve always enjoyed making content on the internet, but I was never able to gain a following or anything. So, this is the first time where people are actually watching the videos I make. It’s kind of nerve-wracking but still really fun.
My content isn’t very niche. I feel like a lot of accounts have their focuses, but I have a lot of interests that I like to show in my TikToks.
I enjoy watching funny and clever TikToks, especially the different challenges that pop up. The things that people come up with are amazing. When it comes to TikTok trends, I love doing transition makeup looks.
In college, my roommate was an English major, and we would have late night discussion unpacking different topics and social issues. So, she’s the one who really got me into ‘unpacking’ topics on TikTok.
Q3. We really love that TikTok where you explain why calling Bengali-Americans ‘white-washed’ is wrong if they can't speak Bangla. How did you start sharing about Bangla on TikTok?
I actually started making videos about Bangla whenever I was in the mood for it. I started talking about it back in April, because I was alone in my apartment. And just think about a lot of things. I really wanted to talk about the similarities between Korean and Bangla, because I've also been learning Korean for a while. And knowing Bangla has helped me with my pronunciation in Korean, because a lot of the sounds and vowels are similar to sounds in Bangla, that don't exist in English. So, I kind of started by making videos comparing those 2 languages.
Then, people started asking me to make more Bangla videos, because they don't see a lot of people talking about it.
And I was like, “Hmmm, this is a good opportunity for me to spread some awareness about Bangla.” We don't have that much representation on social media platforms.
Q4. Can you teach us something about Bangla?
In Bangla, there are a lot of words that are pretty similar in Hindi; but the ‘S’ sounds in Hindi are kind of like ‘Sh’ sounds in Bangla. The first thing that comes to mind is that ‘Suraj’ means ‘Sun,’ in Hindi but in Bangla, it’s ‘Shurjo’. There’s also the whole ‘Saree’ v. ‘Sharee’ debate. Basically, on TikTok, I kept on calling sarees, ‘sharees,’ because that’s what we call it in Bangla. And people were like, “Why are you saying it like that? That’s not right!” And I was like, “Well…I’m Bengali. That’s how we say it.”
Q5. What does your Bengali-American identity mean to you?
Growing up, l was always involved in the Bengali community. My mom is a singer, so we would perform at Bengali cultural programs in South Florida. So, I've always loved performing and learning Bangla songs. My grandma made it a point to teach me how to read Bangla—which is why I feel confident in my ability to make Bangla language videos, to some extent.
I've never really had any issues embracing my culture. I’ve always liked sharing my culture, and learning about other people's cultures, too.
I've always been around a very diverse population. We have people from all different cultures in my hometown. So, nobody really found it weird if you shared your culture or anything. I also didn't really feel the need to fit in, when I was growing up. It wasn’t that I felt left out—I was just picky about who I clicked with, haha.
Q6. What’s your perspective on South Asian cultural appreciation on TikTok?
It's really amazing whenever I see any sort of South Asian content creator go viral for their content—not just popular in the South Asian community but in general on TikTok. I never saw much of that growing up. Like if there was South Asian representation in the media, it was always just within the South Asian community, right? There wasn't much exposure to people of other cultures.
So, I love that TikTok makes it easy for videos by POC content creators to spread and be able to share their culture with others.
I feel like I haven't seen any other social media platform do it as effectively as TikTok.
Q7. What are you looking forward to in the future?
Honestly, this year with the pandemic has just been really tough. I feel like we can all relate to that. I had a lot of plans that I couldn't follow through with because of the pandemic. Right now, I'm in this weird limbo and trying to work towards my next steps. I’m applying to Master's programs in Public Health this year, and I’m really excited about that. For a long time, I tried to convince myself to go into medicine. But I was never really passionate about it. I’ve always been good at science, so medicine was always a viable option. I decided not to pursue it, and I don’t regret it. I’m just figuring things out right now! Nobody wrote a manual on ‘how to live your life the most successfully.’
Q8. What advice do you have for first-time content creators?
If you're trying to be creative on the internet or spread the word about something, I think the most important thing is to not let other people’s words get to you too much.
If you feel confident in what you’re posting and it’s something that you enjoy, just go ahead and do it.
“It’s not that deep, to be honest,” —that’s what I keep telling myself— “Some people just like to troll on the internet.” And I try to ignore them. Creating content on social media is such a good opportunity to share what you’re passionate about.