Cultural identity, diversity and what it means to be an American were just some of the themes Arundathi Nair explored during her documentary, “Out of Many, One and Out of One, Many.”
The Laramie High School junior’s documentary won second place in the West division of C-SPAN’s StudentCam competition, but she said her main takeaway was what it helped her learn about her own American identity.
All the videos entries nationwide had to answer the question, “What does it mean to be American?” Nair said initially narrowing down a documentary idea that was both uniquely American and not too politically charged was a challenge, in-part due to her own personal feelings about being American.
“I think it was really difficult for me to think about the theme,” Nair said. “I never really considered myself one way or the other — in terms of being American — because both of my parents are from India, and just in general we have a very international family. Most of my life I’ve spent here, but I feel very Indian.”
As she started the interviews with professors and researchers from the University of Wyoming and began to hear different perspectives on what it means to be American from naturalized citizens, immigrants and Native Americans, Nair said the documentary topic of national identity started finding her.
“I think that’s the most fun part, when you find your story,” Nair said.
Nair has placed in some way in the four years she’s entered documentaries in the competition. While placing is exciting, Nair said the process of making the video and exploring that year’s theme always becomes the bigger takeaway — especially this year.
“I know it’s cliché, but [the documentary] helped me think about my identity,” Nair said. “I never really had thought that much about whether I feel American or not, so that was very different this year. Hearing I had placed was fun, it was nice to know, but I think I got the majority out of it when I finished the documentary.”
Quoting one of her interviewees, Nair said she learned that being American is more than “apple pies, baseball and hot dogs.”
“I like that idea that you can be very different things and still be American,” Nair said. “I can be American and Indian and Hindu and all of those types of things.”
The 2019 StudentCam competition saw 6,318 students submitting 2,923 videos, according to a C-SPAN news release. The grand prize, first place and second place winners from the different regions split a total of $100,000; Nair received $1,500 for her second-place documentary.
Nair’s six-minute documentary will air on C-SPAN today starting at 6:50 a.m. and running periodically after.