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Rebels With a Cause: 4 Indian American Young Women in Teen Vogue’s Annual ’21 Under 21 List’

Rebels With a Cause: 4 Indian American Young Women in Teen Vogue’s Annual ’21 Under 21 List’

  • Akshaya Dinesh, Aarna Dixit, Mehtaab Kaur, and Pareen Mhatre are named for imagining “a bolder future for themselves and those around them,” by “influencing policy, breaking barriers or simply daring to dream.”

Four young Indian American women are in Teen Vogue’s annual 21 Under 21 list, for “shaping the future — whether it’s by influencing policy, breaking barriers, or simply daring to imagine a bolder future for themselves and those around them.” Named in the list are Akshaya Dinesh, Aarna Dixit, Mehtaab Kaur, and Pareen Mhatre. 

The youngsters in the list “aren’t accepting the status quo,” the magazine says, “instead when they see a problem, they fix it; [when they see inequality], they address it; and [when they see] systematic failure, they address it.” And, “in a time when the world around us can seem overwhelming and negative, some of these young people’s spark lies in their sheer ability to create joy.”

Twenty-one-year-old “Tech Champion” Akshaya Dinesh of New Jersey, got her start in the tech world after teaching herself Java on YouTube in eighth grade. She didn’t discover her true passion for coding until she attended her first hackathon. She dropped out of Stanford after realizing that creating more accessible online communities would help empower other young people to grow their careers. 

At 19, she created Ladder, an online platform where college students and alumni can create communities to help each other. The idea came to her after seeing her peers struggle to land internships and jobs during the pandemic Teen Vogue says that since its launch in April 2020, “35,000 college students have used Ladder for help with job searches, resumes, internships, and scholarship applications.” 

Dinesh is now focusing on launching her second company, Spellbound—a product she believes will change how people communicate online in the future. Her advice for young people is to “lean into your specific skills and expertise and use it to your advantage — you’d be surprised how far that can take you.”

Aarna Dixit, 18 is an anti-sexual violence activist from Portland, Oregon, who was raised with the values to empower those around her. Her journey in activism began when she founded Students Against Sexual Oppression, a youth-led sexual violence advocacy coalition, during her sophomore year of high school. 

Since then, she has worked in mental health, sexual violence and political advocacy, from being a peer-led sex educator with Planned Parenthood, a crisis line volunteer at the Oregon Youthline to working with various political campaigns and non-profit initiatives. But her passion for anti-sexual violence advocacy started in eighth grade, when she read “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman, and reading about the horrors of sexual violence, she took it upon herself to make a change. 

In November 2019, Dixit gave a TedX Youth Talk on the importance of sexual violence allyship, and later became a 2020 HERLead Fellow on the merit of her advocacy. 

Despite her passion, Teen Vogue says Dixit’s journey hasn’t been without roadblocks. “My biggest challenge has been my perfectionism, and my need to do everything and be the best at it,” she told Teen Vogue. “It’s good to set high standards for yourself, but sometimes that leads to not loving yourself when you don’t meet those standards, or not thinking you’re worthy.”

Like many teenagers, Mehtaab Kaur of California got hooked on TikTok, thanks to the lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. But instead of posting self-made dance and silly videos, she used the app to create a social movement, which is even more relevant today, nearly a year-and-a-half after its creation. 

After seeing anti-abortion groups gain traction with TikTok’s young, impressionable audience, Kaur sent an email to hundreds of reproductive rights organizations. According to the Daily Beast, Kaur, in her email, warned the pro-choice groups and activists to “capitalize” on the “serious, untapped potential” of TikTok to counter the pro-lifers, and reach out to the youngsters. Mehtaab has been credited with starting “AbortionTok,” or TikToks that educate about abortion and access to it. 

Kaur emailed organizations like “the Guttmacher Institute, multiple abortion funds and every branch of NARAL and Planned Parenthood she could find to create accounts and start posting videos.” Additionally, she gave them instructions on the preferred length of the video, as well as suggested that they put someone young in charge of that task. “I don’t mean to push a sense of urgency, but I cannot allow pro-life organizations to blatantly spread lies on an app that is comprised of so many younger, and impressionable children/teens,” she wrote, the Daily Beast report said.

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“I was just some [teen] sitting in my bedroom sending emails to people because I was passionate, and it’s become this huge movement with a lot of impact,” she says. “Keep fighting, because other people will be inspired by your energy and you will create something larger than yourself.”

In April this year, Pareen Mhatre, 21, testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee about what it’s like to spend your entire life in a country that you may be forced to leave behind. Mhatre is one of 200,000 Documented Dreamers, young adults living in immigration limbo after they were brought to the U.S as children by parents on long-term visas.

Mhatre has lived in Iowa since she was 4 months old, but when she turned 21, she aged out of her status as a dependent visa-holder and had to register as a foreign student. “I was always scared to speak up about my immigration status,” she told Teen Vogue. “It’s weighed me down.”

After she joined Improve the Dream, “a youth-led advocacy organization that advocates for children of long-term visa holders,” she told Teen Vogue that she got a sense of community and a purpose. She serves as communications manager and immigration advocate at Improve the Dream. “I have had to learn the intricacies of the immigration system, learn the alphabet soup of different kinds of visas, and worry about my uncertain future,” she says. “Because of this, I hope I can play a small role in making the world a better and safer place for future Dreamers.” 

She is currently pursuing a biomedical engineering degree at the University of Iowa with a minor in business administration. Her research involves studying the viscosity of blood. She also works as a communications and marketing assistant at the University of Iowa Technology Institute.

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