Maybe you know him as Beck, the shaggy–haired hunk from Nickelodeon’s Victorious. Or, maybe you think of Danny Desai, the innocent but troubled teen from ABC Family’s Twisted. Either way, actor Avan Jogia is getting attention after releasing his first book, Mixed Feelings, a collection of poems and stories centered around the experiences of people of mixed descent.
Almost one hundred undergraduate and graduate students packed into the upstairs conference room of Penn’s bookstore on Sept. 27 to hear Jogia read from and talk about Mixed Feelings. A couple hours before, I had the privilege of speaking to Jogia over the phone about his career, artistic background, and inspiration for the book.
Jogia, who is now 27 with short hair, is half Indian and half Irish–English. Originally, he set out to write a collection of poems based on only his own experiences, but soon realized that the book would benefit from a variety of perspectives. Jogia set up an email account, through which he solicited people's stories about their mixed identities. Almost immediately, he had thousands of notifications in his inbox.
“I realized the collective mixed experience is so similar,” Jogia said. “It doesn’t matter what the racial background of those mixed–nesses are. We are all unified in the similarities of the experience.”
As a lifelong poet, Jogia decided to convert both his own stories and those he received from others into poetry. "I think scars around race are so close to the heart and sensitive," he explained. "Being able to sit and read and meditate on a feeling or an idea by yourself is a great way directly to feel and interpret your feelings about your racial identity.” Through the writing of his book, Jogia did much of this meditation and reflection.
Mixed Feelings touches on the subjects of family, politics, and inclusion in a world that often wants to exclude people of mixed descent. By being open about the hardships he faced as a mixed person, Jogia encouraged others to be equally vulnerable about their own experience—ultimately, this openness is what Mixed Feelings was born from.
Jogia hopes that Mixed Feelings will fill a void that he noticed growing up: the lack of representation of mixed cultures in mass media.
“I never had anything that I could point to that I could be like, ‘Hey, this is what the mixed experience is,’” Jogia said. “So, if it offers that, that to me is like the goal here, to be at least a little bit of a framework or a guideline, or at least ask the right questions that might inspire you to define or figure out who you are.”
Because of his prolific acting career, Jogia recognizes that he has a fanbase through which he can share an important message and incite discussion.
“I don’t want to be peddling fucking face creams to these people,” Jogia said. “If I’m making something, then I want people to take note of it or be interested in it. I want them to walk away with something—not like clear skin.”
“Although clear skin is great," Jogia added.
Since the release of Mixed Feelings on Sept. 17, Jogia said that all the feedback he has received about the book has been “incredible.” At every reading so far, people have approached Jogia with their own stories about mixed heritage, expressing what the book means to them and sometimes even crying.
While Jogia understands that much of his fanbase stems from his acting career in Victorious and Twisted, he appreciates the opportunity to engage in these meaningful conversations with fans.
“Most of the people who grew up with Victorious are now 22,” Jogia said. “They’re now talking and being faced with issues that I always wanted to speak to them about, but it wasn’t the time. Now that they're in college and advocating and in the streets marching and pissed off about the world, we can start having that conversation.”