- Those named to list of “incredible group of girls and femmes” include Anika Chebrolu, Megha “Bootleg Megz” Rethin and Sarvani Kunapareddy.
Four young girls of Indian origin are among Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21, “an incredible group of girls and femmes who have worked against the odds to innovate, create, connect, and inspire.” Listed among the young trailblazers are scientist Anika Chebrolu, 14; actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, 18; TikTok star Megha “Bootleg Megz” Rethin, 20, and immigration advocate Sarvani Kunapareddy, 17.
As 2020 draws to a close, the magazine salutes these young girls who are committed to building a better future. Talking about the surge in youth activism purred by the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd, the magazine says: “Young people have been at the forefront of this moment, marching in the streets, rallying our communities, and talking to our parents about racism.” It also honors their resilience. “But amid all this tragedy, there has also been resilience,” the magazine says. “While we continue to work to keep one another safe and speak out against injustice, we have found joy and community too; we continue to be pioneers and support one another in a time of need.”
Anika Chebrolu of Frisco, Texas, won the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She won the prize for her discovery that could provide a potential therapy to Covid-19. The 3M Young Scientist Challenge is the nation’s premier science competition for grades 5-8 “In a year that was defined by loss with no end in sight, this teen took matters into her own hands,” Teen Vogue editor Samita Mukhapadyay writes. According to CNN, Anika’s invention “uses in-silico methodology to discover a lead molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” This holds potential for COVID-19 treatments down the line. Chebrolu who had already been working on a cure for the flu when the pandemic hit, told Teen Vogue that “science has always been a big part of my life.” Chebrolu told the magazine that she wants girls who want to enter the STEM field to believe in themselves. “While STEM may be male-dominated, I feel that a lot of us, as girls, limit ourselves by not challenging the status quo, by creating our own imaginary boundaries.”
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is the star of Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever.” She plays Devi Vishwakumar, a first-generation Indian American growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley. Devi, a high school sophomore, is coping with her father’s death and struggling with her identity, while also trying to navigate the high school social scene. The series, co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, is loosely based on Kaling’s years growing up. Ramakrishnan’s “compelling portrayal of Devi thrust her into the spotlight and into our hearts,” Teen Vogue says. The teenager who was born and raised in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, told the magazine that it’s exciting to see how her family from around the world is engaging with the show. “Even when they didn’t understand the language or even [the] context, to have their kids translate it for them and support me has been super amazing.” Ramakrishnan, 18, has a few words of advice to anyone else who wants to make an impact like she has: “No matter where you want to create change, you’ve got to start with yourself. Do your research and dive deep. Really be confident in yourself, the idea that you can make change, and just be your own best friend. Support and be kind to yourself through whatever you are facing.”
Bangalore-based Megha “Bootleg Megz” Rethin started posting more regularly on TikTok during quarantine “just out of sheer boredom.” Since joining the platform a little over a year ago, the 20-year-old has amassed more than 600,000 followers due to her charming, funny, and often relatable content, the Teen Vogue says. Rethin told the magazine that “it’s incredible to me that anyone has an interest in my sporadic verbal diarrhea.”Along with creating viral videos, Rethin says she’s also working on original music (spoiler: her voice is incredible) and film scripts. She hopes that by becoming “courageous in [her] authenticity” on her newfound platform, young girls and femmes will be inspired when they watch her content — especially those who have often been overlooked. “Growing up, I never saw anybody who looked or sounded like me on any major platform. I took that to mean I would always be an outsider to the world of media,” she says. “But through this journey, I’ve learned that people are interested in my most authentic self. There is an ever-growing space in media for creators, and the best way to fill it is for everyone to take part.”
Seventeen-year-old Sarvani Kunapareddy’s dream of going into the medical field after college was halted by the green card backlog. “Everything seemed to boil down to one thing: my visa status,” she told Teen Vogue.“Learning about this at a younger age than most helped prepare me for the worst before it arrived. The green card backlog affects hundreds of thousands of students like me, and I realized that I had to speak up.” Kunapareddy of St. Louis, Missouri, found Hidden Dream, a platform to raise awareness, support, and create community for those in the U.S. immigration system. In addition to offering resources and tips, they built the Hidden Dream inaugural scholarship. “The system that stopped me from applying to scholarships fueled me to save at least one dreamer from the despair I felt not being able to control my future,” she says.