No curry in the dorm room!
[WARNING: CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT]
But even at home, she could never be her true self. Her parents tried to deny her budding passion. They didn't believe she could build a successful career as an artist, and refused to help pay for her college tuition. Maria met them halfway and took creative advertising instead.
Entering college, she assumed she escaped the confines of high-school racism - until she met her campus roommate.
Listen to Maria's deeply personal story of cultural tension and racism and how she used her experience as a catalyst to become the international artist she is today.
Facing racism as a child
As a kid, Maria struggled to fit in. She was often picked on by her peers. In particular, walking home from school became extremely stressful. White kids laughed while throwing snowballs at her, calling her "paki".
"And I just kinda turned around, and was like, why are you guys throwing snowballs, and they just kept laughing, and continued to do it, so I walked really fast and started running home, this isn't worth it," she recalls.
And I just kinda turned around, and was like, why are you guys throwing snowballs, and they just kept laughing, and continued to do it, so I walked really fast and started running home, this isn't worth it.
Even though she was bullied on a regular basis, Maria was afraid of telling her parents. She thought that they wouldn't take her seriously. "They came from a country where being discriminated for the colour of your skin was not a thing because we were all brown. So nobody would pick on you, nobody would throw snowballs at you, or do anything like that. So if I told them I was being picked on at school, they would just be like, no you weren't, you're lying," she said.
So she turned to her only outlet - drawing. It became her therapy. She drew comic panels based on her life and the kids that bullied her. But in this version, "the story shouldn't end with calling me a paki, the story should really end with me throwing something at the person's face. And then everybody just laughing at them, and me winning at the end, because it's my comic…"
As she grew older, art became more than just a channel to express her frustrations - it became her passion. She'd come home from school, go to her room, and start drawing. But her parents didn't approve of all the time she was spending on her artwork.
One evening, her mom walked into her room and said, "This is a huge waste of time, it's been 13 years, I'm tired of this, you're wasting your time. I didn't bring you into this country for this."
Then, her mom proceeded to tear down all the artwork that Maria had drawn and proudly taped to her walls. Maria begged her to stop, but her mom felt that her daughter's budding passion was becoming a distraction from her schoolwork.
This is a huge waste of time, it's been 13 years, I'm tired of this, you're wasting your time. I didn't bring you into this country for this.
"I don't want to see this on your wall ever again. You're making a mess of your room, this isn't how you should be behaving, you should really be studying, and working on your homework, and she just left," she told Maria.
After Maria realized that she couldn't convince her parents to be supportive of her love for art, she kept quiet, and instead, found ways to draw in secrecy.
By the time she finished high school, Maria and her parents came to a compromise by allowing her take creative advertising at Seneca College. And when she stepped onto campus, she assumed that the racism she faced as a child was a thing of the past, until she met her roommate.
Maria recalls, "She goes, 'okay well, just before we talk about anything, just like rule number one, umm, I don't like a lot of curry. I don't like my house smelling like curry, so can you just not make a lot of curry in the house?'"
It took months before the two roommates really broke the ice. And, unfortunately, the racism Maria experienced when they first met wasn't a one off. It was a constant thread during her time at campus.
'I love exotic women. I love Indian women, they're so exotic. They're so attractive, and just so exotic.' And I'm standing there like this literally has zero percent to do with my GPA or my courses.
At one point, Maria met with her program coordinator, who blatantly told her that he was attracted to her.
She remembers him saying, "'I love exotic women. I love Indian women, they're so exotic. They're so attractive, and just so exotic.' And I'm standing there like this literally has zero percent to do with my GPA or my courses. This is something that, I should probably tell him to stop, but he kept going."
Reconnecting with her roots
As she continued through college, Maria really started missing home. She missed her family, her food, and her Bollywood movies. She grew tired, and felt disconnected with the lifestyle at college.
"Everybody is wearing the same stuff, and going to the same parties with the same people drinking the same alcohol, you kinda become this mundane person who is just existing in this bubble of fratness," she remembers.
So naturally, she turned to the only way she knew how to confidently express herself - her love for art.
"Art wasn't exactly a way for me to vent on racism, it was more of a way for me to reconnect with my culture, using the culture that I was forced to assimilate to."
Art wasn't exactly a way for me to vent on racism, it was more of a way for me to reconnect with my culture...
She started drawing illustrations, poking fun at racism and her culture. These drawings ultimately helped Maria develop the online persona she is today - Hatecopy. She has a huge social media following of tens of thousands of people, many of them South Asian women, young and old, who relate to her art and her experience.
EXTRA | What happens when love gets caught in the middle of a clash of cultures during college?
There's another layer of this struggle that we didn't get into with Maria's story. What happens when you throw love into that already stressful dynamic?
Meet Chris and Cindy, a couple who continue dating in college despite strong disapproval from their parents. Chris is white, and Cindy is Chinese. And for them, keeping their relationship a secret has made their love even stronger.
Hear how the couple has dealt with the struggles of being in an interracial relationship.