The year is 2008. Nick, Joe, and Kevin Jonas are taking the stage in Camp Rock, the Disney Channel Original Movie that cemented the Jonas Brothers as the network’s latest heartthrobs marketed to easily impressionable teenagers. Even before Disney came calling, 13-year-old me had already decided I was crushing on Nick, the youngest JoBro—but now, so were millions of other kids.
It was a level of fame Priyanka Chopra, another celebrity I grew up watching, knew well. By the time Camp Rock came out, she had won Miss World and appeared in an impressive 23 Indian movies. “Desi Girl”—a song from her 2008 Bollywood film Dostana, one of her most famous performances—was a power anthem that I’d secretly dance around in my room to. The Hindi lyrics translate to how beautiful and one-of-a-kind South Asian women are. They helped me feel confident in my own brown skin, just as Chopra looked in the iconic movie scene:
As an Indian-American born and raised in Pennsylvania, I do my best to embrace both my cultures. Looking back on my childhood, it was like Nick Jonas and the Disney Channel represented my American side, while Chopra’s “Desi Girl” represented my Indian roots. When news broke that they were dating, it felt like—to quote another Disney Channel favorite—the best of both worlds. Jonas had, it seemed, found his real-life desi girl.
He didn’t stop there. This past weekend, the couple confirmed their engagement with touching photos from their roka ceremony—a pre-wedding tradition for some Indians—in Mumbai, India. Chopra’s extended family and Jonas’ parents were there for the puja, a prayer ritual. Everyone wore Indian clothing, and Jonas had kumkum powder on his forehead. When non-Indian celebrities wear this so-called “red dot,” it’s often cultural appropriation. It’s so refreshing to see it worn in a situation where its historic significance hasn’t been stripped away.
It’s clear Chopra and Jonas’ future marriage will blend both their cultures, something I and plenty of people on Twitter are cheering for. Yet for some critics, their relationship remains mind-boggling to some, with one straight-up racist reportedly calling her an “Islamist terrorist agent and a traitor and the biggest gold digger on earth.” (She made a casual $10 million last year alone, for the record.)
Most of the shade, however, references their 11-year age gap, as Chopra is 36 and Jonas is 25. But would it warrant such drama if Jonas was the older one? Most people seem unfazed by the 12-year difference between Beyoncé, 36, and Jay-Z, 48—or the 11 years between Blake Lively, 30, and Ryan Reynolds, 41, for instance. Chopra and Jonas shouldn’t be treated differently. They’re both grown-ass adults who can make their own decisions about who they want to spend the rest of their lives with.
Sure, Jopra—the prevailing portmanteau on the internet, at least so far—may have made that decision faster than most fans, including myself, expected. They were first spotted together in May 2017 on the Met Gala red carpet. By May 2018, they were officially dating, and by July 2018, they were engaged. Once my initial surprise wore off, I was stoked. My childhood crush is marrying an Indian woman! How cool! At the same time, I’ve giggled at jokes about Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson’s relationship going from 0 to 60 without enough time for me to even pay rent in between. I mean, Davidson went shopping for engagement rings the day they met. Relationships moving at the speed of light might be unconventional to us regular people, but they’re not that unusual in Hollywood. Again, it’s the couple’s decision. Who are we to judge them?
Of course, what I love most about Nick and Priyanka is that their interracial relationship isn’t just about Hollywood. My mom, who grew up in India and installed a special satellite so she could continue to watch Indian TV channels in the U.S., recently asked me who this Jonas boy was. She had never heard of him until Chopra put him in the Bollywood spotlight, just as many Americans hadn’t heard of the world-famous actress until she starred in Quantico and Baywatch. No matter what you think of her acting, her work combines two massive, influential entertainment industries on opposite sides of the globe.
Yet given both their dating histories—Jonas with mostly white actresses and models; Chopra with mostly Bollywood actors—I think it’s safe to say no one saw this union coming. My mom was understandably perplexed, as were several of my friends who called it “weird” or “hard to picture.” Luckily, there’s now plenty of photographic evidence to verify that this is, in fact, a thing:
Jonas and Chopra come from different worlds and arguably different generations, but they’re not letting that stop them from building a life together. Even if they don’t work out down the line, their relationship—to me, at least—is bigger than just two individuals. I keep thinking of the 2010 sequel Camp Rock 2, where a young, curly-haired Nick serenades the girl he’s crushing on. As a teenager, I swooned over the grand romantic gesture, but deep down, I also realized that I’d probably never see someone who looked like me play the love interest in a rom-com.
Pop culture’s lack of diverse representation is slowly changing with more recent movies and TV shows—To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Crazy Rich Asians, Lion, The Big Sick, The Mindy Project, and New Girl, to name a few that merge cultures—but growing up, I mostly watched white people around the same age fall in love exclusively with each other on screen. (Unless it was a Bollywood movie.) I wonder if that’s partly why Nick and Priyanka are “hard to picture”—because they don’t look like the scripted relationships we’ve seen time and time again. To me, that’s exactly what makes their unscripted engagement worth celebrating.