The Columns

W&L Professor and Filmmaker Explores Her Indian Heritage

— by on September 3rd, 2008

Like most second-generation ethnic Americans, Indira Somani, newly-arrived assistant professor of journalism at Washington and Lee University, has struggled with identity issues. Being born and brought up in the Midwest, Somani led an American life, but at home her world was Indian because of her father’s immense love for India and Indian culture.

Unlike others in her situation, Somani took the challenges and conflicts she faced and co-produced a 30 minute documentary titled “Crossing Lines” with her colleague Leena Jayaswal, an assistant professor of Film and Media Arts at American University. It will be shown in Washington D.C. at the Ninth Annual D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival on September 28. It has also been distributed to over 100 PBS stations by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association, and has already aired on 20 stations around the country. It has screened at film festivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and more.

“It was an overwhelming experience to make this film, and I feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to do it,” says Somani.

The film takes you on a journey to India, where Somani visits her father’s extended family for the first time after his death, and explores how she tries to stay connected to Indian culture and her extended family. It is the story of how one daughter pays tribute to her father in all that he’s taught her about India, Indian culture and family. It’s a unique story about the relationship of an Indian father and his American born Indian daughter.

Brian Richardson, department head of journalism and mass communication, calls “Crossing Lines” a wonderfully engaging work. “It offers a rare combination of insights that resonate universally from an intensely personal perspective,” he says. “We are pleased to have Indira Somani joining our faculty. She will no doubt enrich our students’ education enormously.”

Somani brings 10 years of broadcast journalism experience as a producer to the classroom, most notably with CNBC, and network affiliate stations in Washington, D.C., Norfolk, South Bend, Ind., and Springfield, Ill.

She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, an M.S.J. from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University and a B.A. in media, race and gender (independent major) from Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. 

Details of the documentary film can be viewed at www.crossinglinesthefilm.com.