Recently TC shared the work of Meena Serendib. Her video “An Open Love Letter to the Tamil Man” struck a chord with many, and we wanted to know more about this talented artist. Read our exclusive interview below!
TamilCulture: Born in England and raised in California, how has Sri Lanka been a presence in your life?
Meena Serendib: Both of my parents had moved to England during the course of their studies. I was born there and we moved to California when I was 3. I was born in 1983, so I grew up hearing heart-achingly reminiscent stories about Jaffna and had a constant awareness of the war.
The first time we went back, I was 6. It was during the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) period and we were going up to Jaffna for a wedding. I had an absolute ball! I loved running around with the neighborhood kids, being cosseted by family. Although there was a Tamil community in California at the time, it was small and I grew up without any extended family.
Even at that age though, I could feel the tension. I remember seeing soldiers on the train and my Amma telling me to keep my mouth shut so they wouldn’t know we were foreigners. We went back semi-frequently after that and every summer between 2002 and 2004. After 2004, it wasn’t until 2010 that I was able to go back again.
TC: How did you pursue dancing and acting?
MS: Dancing started in local Kalai Vizhas and such. I actually didn’t start formal Bharatanatyam training until I was 12. Acting also started in local culture shows and continued in high school.
My career started with the typical hustle. My first 3 years out of college, I was waiting tables at night, auditioning and taking classes during the day. The best thing that ever happened to my career was getting fired from my restaurant job. (I’d had a rough night and had maybe been a little too sassy.)
After that, energetically something shifted and my career started blossoming. I certainly haven’t “made it”. But I am what we call a “working actress”, which means I don’t have any other employment and I’ve been able to sustain myself entirely through acting.
I’ve pursued dance semi-professionally and dance with a great group of girls in the Taal Dance Collective. We have different backgrounds (Kuchipudi, Mohini Attam, Bharatanatyam, and Kathak), so we fuse them in our choreography and have had some wonderful opportunities in commercials, television, and gigging with artists like Karsh Kale, Cheb i Sabbah, and the Midival Punditz.
TC: Did you always know that you wanted to work in these industries?
MS: I had no clue that I wanted work in this field! When I applied to universities, I actually planned to be a French and International Studies double major. I was going to work for the UN or something and change the world. In the middle of my senior year, I won a drama competition and the result was that I got to perform my piece in front of 1,600 people.
The piece I performed was an excerpt of an eye-witness account of the ’83 riots. My heart was so alive in that moment and I was struck by how dynamic storytelling can be as an agent of change. I wanted to feel that alive, always. I had already been accepted to UCLA, so that’s where I went. The School of Theatre, Film, and Television is quite competitive and I had been accepted into the College of Letters and Sciences, so I still had to audition to switch in. I was actually in Vanni when I found out that I had been accepted into the program.
TC: Where did the inspiration come from for “An Open Love Letter to the Tamil Man”?
MS: This is a painful question to answer. Growing up, I was always far too outspoken and brash to really fit into our community. I couldn’t imagine that any Tamil man would want to be with me, let alone that I would find one who was liberal enough for me. As I state in the poem, it really all started with the events of 2009. That was when I began to stop relying on someone else to save us. If I don’t work to protect our culture, to learn our language, and to cherish our memories, then I am as much responsible as any other factor for our destruction. And I realized how much I yearned to create that future with a partner who was a Tamil man.
Find out more about Meena’s upcoming projects here!
—Nive Thambithurai, Editor (Entertainment, Spotlight)