June 18, 2020
When 19-year-old Melvin Thanath first downloaded TikTok, he figured that it would just be another source of entertainment. But when he saw other South Asians post videos about their heritage, he felt inspired to make one himself. Last September, Thanath, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, posted a TikTok of himself saying “McChicken” in an Indian accent, and it went viral — gaining nearly 19,000 likes and over 170,000 views.
“I had no idea that there was a whole desi community on TikTok, and I saw there’s so much funny content, creative content, and it was just something that I really admired,” said Thanath (@malluvin, 44,400 followers). “I did it for fun at first, but then I saw I gained a pretty big following and people really enjoy my videos, so I kept making them.”
The world’s biggest TikTok stars have over 60 million followers. At least 13 of the top 40 accounts are by Indians — India is TikTok’s largest market with over 200 million users and videos hashtagged #desi garner more than 16 billion total views. But who are the South Asian Americans on TikTok? They tend to create TikToks about everything from their upbringings to intercultural relationships to systemic racism to showing brown girls running to their eyebrow technician after quarantine. They rope their parents into dance challenges and debate the saddest Bollywood movies. Some are funny, others serious, and like any other social media platform, the app can be divisive — especially as South Asian Americans navigate the fine line between sharing their heritage and perpetuating stereotypes.