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With Festival Of India, A Closer Look At A Growing Population In Charlotte

In this file photo from 2014, more than 900 artists performed during the two-day Festival of India in uptown Charlotte.
Tasnim Shamma
In this file photo from 2014, more than 900 artists performed during the two-day Festival of India in uptown Charlotte.

As Charlotte grows, so does its diversity. Indians represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the population. It’s doubled since 2010, to more than 20,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Indian heritage and customs will be celebrated uptown this weekend during the annual Festival of India.

On All Things Considered, WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn spoke with Vinay Sawhney about the festival and the growth of Charlotte’s Indian community. He came to Charlotte from India when he was 13.

Vinay Sawhney--There were probably four or five families and we knew them all. Finding anyone then of our Indian heritage was a thrilling experience and they became our immediate friends.

Gwendolyn Glenn--You were in school then. What was that experience like?

VS-They had never seen many people from India and few foreigners in the Charlotte market or from foreign countries, especially India, so people found me to be somebody different. They were welcoming, embraced us with open arms and wanted to know about our past and country but they saw India as very poor and thought we lived in huts without cars and thought we rode elephants and didn’t have good transportation. They were not familiar with India at all

GG- Now I’m sure it’s much different from those days?

VS--Yes, my goodness. We have seen since the Y2K phenomena. We were all worried about all the computers crashing so there was a surge of tech people to help prevent that computer crash and so that started a big surge of Indian people coming into America and many came to Charlotte because of that.

GG-So why Charlotte?

VS--We have a lot of industry and banking here and it provided the opportunity for them to be productive and make money

indian_spices_1.jpg
Credit India Association of Charlotte
Demonstrations on medicinal and culinary uses of herbs and spices will be held during the 2018 Festival of India Aug. 11-12

GG--When you first came here it was hard to find Indian food and other things you were familiar with back home. How has that aspect of it evolved?

VS-We used to have to order groceries by mail, shipped from Philadelphia, New York, some of the lentils, flour and spices and things were not available here.

GG--What is it like now?

VS--It’s amazing now. We have so many grocery stores that have everything available here.

GG—And restaurants?

VS--No doubt about it. Twenty years ago we had one restaurant and it was not the best in town by our taste but since then there are at least 30 restaurants and grocery wise there are at least a half a dozen grocery stores.

GG--Lets shift gears and talk about issues facing the Indian community that they are concerned about.

VS--Their concerns are like a lot of others, their kids, future, stability and being part of the community and feeling and belonging here is really important to them and so they want to remain active and part of the community here and at the same time preserve their culture. Our heritage is rich and goes back thousands of years and there’s a desire to preserve it and make sure our kids know about our heritage and culture.

GG--Is the culture addressed in their education, their schools here

VS—The culture has to be addressed at home. It is not the job of the school to address our culture, so a lot of effort goes into getting children to participate in our festivals and things that we do that’s generally how we preserve our culture.

GG—Is the Indian community politically active these days. Charlotte has a city council member who is of Indian heritage, Dimple Ajmera. How active was the Indian community in her campaign and in helping her get elected?

VS—The Indian community is becoming more and more politically active. They  know to make a difference has to be done through political means. Ajmera had a lot of support from our Indian community. She reps our city well and her focus is on the city more than just our community but if we need our voice to be heard she can channel that and be our spokesperson and she is just a phone call away.

GG--Let’s talk of the festival coming up. What can people expect to see and will it be different from past years?

VS—The festival keeps evolving. We brought a lot of stuff to the street. We’ll have about 28 souvenir vendors selling clothing and jewlery7 and about 21 food vendors on streets and have a couple of performance stages outside so people in the city, visiting or runners or walkers or in hotels will get a good flavor on the streets. But when you got to Blumenthal, we got exhibitions worth checking out, some about the architecture of India, about the religions of India and a new one this year is about Indian food and different spices and we’ll also do Yoga demonstrations and you can get Henna on your hands of learn to tie a Sari.

india_festival_1.jpg
Credit India Association of Charlotte
Nearly 30 food vendors will be at the Festival of India Aug. 11-12, offering dishes from various regions of the country.

GG--What about the food. Will there be more of a variety this year.

VS--We got 28 vendors so there should be variety from different parts of the country. Indian food is so diverse. The Northern and Southern parts’ food is different, each state has its own food and you will see popular varieties and find any food you want.

GG--What about the crowd. In past years, it’s been basically Indians. You don’t see many other races—African Americans, Hispanics, whites. Are you doing something to reach out to others to come to the festival?

VS—Yes, we’re advertising through and trying to find as many vendors as we can to attract more people and being on the street is probably the biggest thing we can do. People will see us. We’re seeing more diversity coming into the festival but it’s just taking some time.

Listen to the full interview above.   

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