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“Diwali is a time to let the darkness in your past go and to welcome the light of the new into your world. Diwali is a time to reconnect with our culture and heritage.”
These talks were given during a Diwali chapel service on October 26, 2022.
Ibrahim Kazi ’23 and Ford Chapman ’23:
“Hello Everyone, and welcome to our 2022 Diwali Chapel. Diwali, or the festival of lights, is seen as India’s, and many surrounding south Asian countries, largest and most widely celebrated holiday of the year. This celebration is in honor of the triumphant return of King Rama after his 14-year exile and his heroic rescue of his wife Sita from Ravana, an evil 10-headed demon. Over the course of the five-day celebration of Diwali, people will dress up in their best clothes, light up their houses with diyas, decorate their homes with rangoli, and worship Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. It is also widespread to light off fireworks throughout the night and gather with family and friends for feasts and celebrations.
Although Diwali is the “festival of lights,” candles and fireworks are not the true meaning of the light on Diwali. Diwali is the festival of “Good over Evil” and “Light over Darkness.” Homes are decorated with lanterns and candles to fill the home with the light of god, and to dispel the darkness and evil. Diwali is a time to let the darkness in your past go and to welcome the light of the new into your world. Diwali is a time to reconnect with our culture and heritage for the South Asian Affinity Group. Being away from home and family throughout the year, engrossed in St. Andrew's culture can be difficult. Diwali allows us to connect with family and reconnect with our culture. For many, Diwali is seen as a fresh start and a new beginning. In this chapel, you will hear some of the South Asian student’s experiences with Diwali and their overall identity, and what being South Asian means to them.”
Excerpt from talk given by Bellamarie Sharma ’23:
“When first coming to St. Andrew's, I was a bundle of nerves. During the first couple of days, I was anxious to start classes, make new friends, and gain independence. During introductions I was almost always asked where I was from. My first answer would always be New York City, but after getting questions about what affinity groups I was thinking of joining, I knew what they were asking.
For me, my identity always felt weird. My great grandmother on my Mom’s side immigrated here from Puerto Rico and my father is an immigrant from India. However, it was my mom’s side of the family that raised me most. While I did eat curry, go to temple, wear saris, and celebrate Diwali and other Hindu holidays, I more often ate pollo guisado, went to chapel, and celebrated Christian holidays, making me feel insufficient.
Thus, when saying I was half-Indian, I always felt like I was telling a lie. I always felt I wasn’t “Indian enough.” So when Sonal, a senior who graduated last year, reached out to me telling me to join the South Asian Affinity Group, I was conflicted.
I was nervous of being an outcast within the group because of my mixed identity. After telling her my concerns, we talked about how while everyone in the group had a South Asian background, every member had their individual differences and experiences, all of which were valid.
When I went to my first meeting, it felt pretty chaotic at first, especially since I still didn’t feel completely secure in my identity and stayed quiet in order to prevent feeling isolated. But, after listening to the conversations during meetings, and talking more with Sonal about what it means to be South Asian, I started to become and feel more comfortable about my identity. Being South Asian is more than about your heritage. It’s whatever you make of it. It’s about coming together with the larger community. It’s about supporting each other as we explore what it means to be Hindu or Muslim. I’ve come to realize that my identity isn’t a stagnant piece of history, but rather a fluid depiction of how I became the person I am today, which I can now say with pride, is a half-Puerto Rican, half-Indian female who loves to cook, both curry chicken and pollo guisado.
Excerpt from talk given by Prem Patel ’24:
“This talk took a lot of convincing for me to do with respect to opening up about topics I had never really talked about. I didn't want to come up here and talk about just the culture and food, but rather about who I am as a person and how I connect to my culture.
My parents immigrated to the US in the ‘90s. My mom, who was born and raised in Kenya, and my dad, who was born and raised in India, came to America with the thought of a better life for themselves as well as for their future. And when they had my brother and I, they did what they could to give us the best possible.
I grew up going to an Episcopal school in the city of San Francisco that went from kindergarten to eighth grade. At my school, although it was super diverse, I was the only Indian kid in my class, and was one of about six Indians in the entire school. So growing up I naturally was mostly around people of different races and backgrounds in school. The only people that I had that were Indian were my family and a few friends. And these were the people that molded me into who I am today.
Today I will be talking to you about identities—how everyone has a unique identity, and how some people might expect you to be something you're not. A person’s identity is shaped by many different aspects such as their family, culture, and their surroundings. There are also many fixed beliefs about people’s identities—also called stereotypes. There are many different stereotypes that exist and are prominent in our society today. Specifically, in my life, or for Indians, the stereotype that all our parents are doctors, we are all super good at math, or we are some sort of tech support. Personally, I’m not the best at math, my parents are not doctors, and I'm not too great with tech. Ok, but seriously, there are many stereotypes about how certain people should either act or look, and throughout my life, I haven't filled that role, and many people have pointed that out to me before, expecting me to “be it.”
While hanging out with my friends a couple years ago, we ran into a group of other kids from a different school. In a casual conversation with them, they asked me why I talked the way that I did. At the moment I wasn't sure how to respond or what to think. It was confusing. I asked him what he meant and he said that I didn't sound Indian. It was something very subtle, but I remember thinking about what he told me. Asking the question of why I didn't sound like I was Indian. He expected me to fit a stereotype of sounding a certain way, and for a while, I thought that he was right in what he thought.
He raised an important question for me and that was—did I connect with my Indian identity? That raised another question of—did I even know what my identity was? In all honesty, I didn't know what my identity was.
I felt like I had two selves, one at home, where I would speak Gujarati with my parents, eat traditional foods, and practice Hindu rituals and prayers, and a self at school, where I was just another kid. I had never connected the two identities with each other, as I never felt like they belonged together. That for some reason I was Indian at home and just another kid at school.
But, when I came to St. Andrew’s I felt like I had a place to connect these two. Meeting the people in the South Asian Affinity Group, having a safe place to talk about these identities, and being able to connect with them was meaningful. Previously struggling with my different selves and not having a bridge of people to talk to made it so I wasn’t myself.
So, I encourage all of you to ask yourself this same question about identity: If your identity is based on a stereotype placed on you or if you just struggle with facing your identities as I did, talk about it. If you take one thing away from this talk, it is don't conform to something you are not, whether that is a stereotype or a label that is placed on you. Be yourself.”
Excerpt from talk given by Nanda Pailla ’25:
“On January 10, 2007, I was the first ever child to be born in the United States in my entire family's lineage. I want to share how my family and I navigated through the United States while maintaining important beliefs.
My dad gathered just enough money to travel to the United States with my Mom, just barely getting out of the village by borrowing my grandfather’s last couple of dollars.
Once he reached the United States, it was a really tough situation for my Dad. He decided to settle down in Massachusetts, living in an apartment with my Mom and a couple friends. He struggled every day working two jobs a day, during the day working at a corner store with minimum wage, and at night working at building his own company from scratch.
Let me remind you that he didn’t know how to speak a sentence of English. He started from the beginning, but nothing was working for him, and he wanted to go back to India. He barely made enough money to live in the United States, and barely could pay off everything that he was supposed to pay off. A sudden realization kicked in for my father when he understood that he did not take the last couple of dollars from his community or travel across the world far from his family to make nothing out of it. He understood that he had to keep going, and he wanted to be financially stable enough to take care of his family and give back to the community that shaped [him] to be the person he is today. He was determined and continued to work a day shift, and a night shift, growing his IT company, and working at this corner store until his company was stable.
At this moment, my mom realized she was pregnant with me as her first child in the United States. She discovered this while my family was moving from place to place ... trying to find an affordable house to start a family. It was a struggle.
We barely had enough money to settle down in our own place. My parents were still finding difficulty in speaking the language, often causing many people to misunderstand them. Our different culture was difficult to understand because many people found it strange. Finally, when we found this small town home where I grew up, in Centerville, Virginia, my uncle and aunt decided to move into the United States with our family. In particular while growing up in the United States and learning different social cues, and the new environment, my parents made sure to keep the core values of our community in India in our household. Treating everyone with respect, being taught that patience is key in every situation, showing love and kindness whenever you can, and most importantly, that our diversity and traditions are a gift not a curse. Being born as a first generation in the United States and growing up in a full Indian household, these core values helped get me through many situations.
I tell you this story about my family in order to prove three significant points. Firstly, the tight-knit community where my family came from greatly reminds me of another tight-knit family: St. Andrew’s. We build upon each other to the best of our abilities, and no matter what, we always look out for each other.
My dad said to me as a kid, “Blood makes you related, but loyalty is what makes you family.”
Even certain best friends stick up for you no matter what, just like people in my father's village. This stuck with me through St. Andrew’s because whenever I needed one of my friends or they needed me, we were always there for each other.
Second, no matter what, don't stop working—no matter if you are doing something for your family, friends, or even for yourself—if you don't stop working at it you will reach that level of success.
Third, your diversity is a blessing and not a curse. As I look around at the chapel today, I see a diverse crowd with so much to bring into our community, which is what makes it unique from any other community around. As for me, my long name, family traditions, and my core values are not something to be ashamed of, but to be prideful in because it's what makes me, as it should for everyone.”
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