RIYA KATARIA, 16
Riya Kataria, from Fremont, California, spoke her first words at six months of age. She discovered the word “revolution” at the age of five. She notes that from that moment, she knew it was up to the youth to start a revolution. Kataria competes in numerous state and national speech and debate competitions, and has always been in awe of the power of words. Kataria is a peer resource and proponent of voice amplification. She founded PFA Institute, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing the best public speaking education to elementary and middle school students to encourage youth to make their voices heard.
Kataria attributes her affinity and advocacy for writing to her childhood in a household that encouraged curiosity and the literary arts. Though she is mainly a poet and a novelist, Kataria has discovered the importance of political writing in the last few years. Kataria points out we are scared of alienation so we do not talk and utilize the power of words. Instead, we copy and paste social media statuses and links instead of intentionally creating meaningful change. While this fear is real, it is misplaced. Kataria believes that the fear must be shifted to a fear of complacency, and the recognition that if nobody speaks up, the world will never change.
Kataria hopes to attend the University of Chicago after graduation, with a major in Political Science. She plans to earn her law degree, with an emphasis in civil rights law and ultimately wants to earn a representative role in the executive branch of our government. Her biggest goal? To be the youngest senator in history at the age of twenty-six.
by Riya Kataria
they say i was lucky to be born brown.
apparently, the sweetness of my skin just about rivals brown sugar and the golden in my eyes at sundown just drips the word priceless.
thankfully my mom’s habits of feeding me at every waking moment translates into dips and curves where your fingers can feel like god as they run through my valleys.
i smell of mango. the king of the fruits is so fitting imprinting itself on the queen, you say.
my name means two things. singer. smile.
but when you let it drop from your lips like a deadweight, making room for something (read: someone) else, i think less of musical opera and more of soap, in two ways.
first i think of soap operas, loud and stubborn and sharp as knives. the other type of soap is the one i want to wash your mouth with when you say my name less like a song and more like a drug, a curse.
my name has not become a smile or song. at the very best it is a grimace and at its very worst it is nails on a chalkboard (secretly i think my ancestors are the ones scratching it, ashamed of letting myself associate with those who let my name simmer on their tongue)
i am the product of a country within a country, brown within white, eating burgers for lunch and chana masala for dinner. i am born of music dripping from my throat, and swallowed away for rough, coarse vernacular that i will never truly understand.
they say that the worst thing is to have the color of your skin be the reason you are widely hated.
but for a moment sometimes, i wish my brown sugar skin and golden eyes and body’s valleys and queen’s smell would repulse, turn you away like an unwanted houseguest.
sometimes i wish that my brown would be the color that turns you away instead of turns you on and i wish sometimes that i was much too hated than my body much too loved.
my body is honey and the sweet, sickening smell just seems to call your name.
only for you, people know how to say it correctly.