Year-end blogs! Always reflective and exciting!
It’s exactly a week before the New Year and I still can’t believe that it’s been only four months since I started working for the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) as an advocacy professional.
And exactly a week after starting the role this past August, I represented HAF at a round-table discussion at the BAPS Hruday Milan or Unity Forum here in Sacramento. It was my very first official assignment and needless to say I was excited to represent HAF and learn about community grassroots advocacy on the ground.
The main discussion in the round-table was about how all Hindus are united in spite of following varied traditions, sampradayas/ spiritual lineage or even gurus. Hinduism is a pluralistic, highly diverse faith that gives complete freedom to the devotee over their chosen path of bhakti or devotion. But in the midst of this diversity, a few basic tenets or beliefs bind us all like Indwelling Divinity, Murti pooja or Worship of a physical manifestation of the Divine, Karma, and Universal Brotherhood or Vasudaiva Kutumbakam. And this commonality of beliefs manifested in beautiful, unique ways is what makes the global Hindu diaspora so colorful, diverse and a model minority wherever they go.
In the US, Hindu Americans are some of the most engaged, successful, hard-working members of their communities. The Hindu American identity is like a thriving, strong banyan tree or vata vriksh. A wonderful mix of unshakable strong roots in our culture and faith as a Hindu while spreading out branches across all professions and walks of life as an American. I often think of us, global Hindus as sugar or honey- we add sweetness to everything we are mixed into.
How do we appreciate and acknowledge the beauty of this amazing synergy? This is where advocacy and having a professional voice for Hindus helps!
Welcome to one of my most rewarding assignments as the CA Regional Director at HAF- thanks to HAF’s ground-breaking work in having October recognized as the Hindu American Awareness and Appreciation Month (HAAAM) as far back as 2013 and now spearheading it as part of the global Hindu Heritage month campaign.
I am very happy to share that HAF has facilitated seven HAAAM proclamations for the month of October, across seven cities in Greater Sacramento – Davis, West Sacramento, Sacramento, Folsom, Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights and Rocklin city, in addition to two Diwali proclamations.
HAAAM proclamations are granted by the Mayor at special ceremonies in City Council meetings and are a symbol of appreciation for all that our Hindu American communities have done in their cities. They provide an excellent opportunity for us to showcase all of our Hindu organizations, our sewa or service and our civic and community engagements, thus proudly writing our own narratives. HAAAM proclamations also enable us to spread awareness about rising Hinduphobia. In short, they celebrate our past and present and set the tone for the future.
Receiving the proclamations at the city council meetings along with my fellow Hindu Americans was both exciting and extremely gratifying. Hindu Americans have made Greater Sacramento county their home for decades. And thanks to their engagement and hard work, it is now a thriving ecosystem,with a wealth of employment, art, science, technological opportunities and activities. During the proclamation ceremonies, I was joined by community members representing organizations like HSS, Chinmaya Mission, Swadhyay, FOGS ( Federation of Gujarati Associations of North America), Sewa and Annapoorna Foundation which continue to do exemplary work in charity and giving back unconditionally.
Receiving the proclamations for the very first time, on behalf of the community will be a life-long memory!
The Rancho Cordova and Davis proclamations stand out in particular. At the Rancho Cordova city council, I was thrilled to receive the proclamation as a woman of color/Asian American/ Hindu American, from Siri Pulipati, the first woman of color/ first Asian American/ first Hindu American city council woman.
At the Davis city council, the mother and teacher in me was thrilled to be joined by many proud Hindu American youth attending college at UC Davis. Their pride and belief in their faith and roots was so inspiring and heartening. I had riveting conversations with all of the youth as to what these proclamations mean to them and what it means to be a Hindu American on campus.
And yes, of special mention is the Elk Gove HAAAM and Diwali proclamations enabled by active community member and HAF patron, Bhavin Parikh. Bhavin ji arranged a spectacular Diwali ceremony with nearly 900 attendees on a weekday evening including many officials like the Elk Grove Mayor. Proclamations were gifted to the community and cultural diversity of the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Americans was showcased. Everyone was served yummy, mouth-watering free Indian dinner! The Elk Grove ceremony was a telling example of the generosity and contributions of the Greater Sacramento Hindu American communities. I was spell-bound to say the least!
Apart from the HAAAM proclamations, we also received Diwali proclamations from several city councils. Diwali proclamations officially recognize Diwali or the Festival of Lights as a significant celebration for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains across all constituencies. We were thrilled to have Sacramento city council woman Lisa Kaplan and Rockin city council woman Jill Gayaldo present us HAAAM and Diwali proclamations during our joint Diwali celebration in early December, which coincided with SewaDiwali’s Samarop or Closing ceremony.
The Samarop ceremony highlighted the month-long charity efforts of the Greater Sacramento Hindu communities: 8528 lbs of food were distributed to 18 food pantries in 16 cities across 7 counties in Greater Sacramento!
Both the city council women acknowledged this gargantuan community effort and lauded the diversity and beauty of the Greater Sacramento Hindu American communities. They also joined us in eating yummy Indian food and celebrating Diwali through fun-filled activities, thus walking the talk on integrating and celebrating diverse communities.
While receiving these proclamations , I have often wondered about what it is to be a Hindu American advocacy professional? Does it mean working for the cause of only Hindus in America or could it possibly include other global Hindus as well? HAF once again answered this question for me, by inviting one of Pakistan’s leading human rights activists, Ramesh Jaipal on a national tour to the US this past September. Ramesh ji arrived in Sacramento on the very first day of the holy festival of Navratri or nine nights of celebration of the universal feminine shakti/strength.
The entire week that followed shall remain etched in my memory forever. I must admit that I did see a walking, talking avatar or manifestation of shakti or strength, while working with Ramesh ji. We met up with many stakeholders and community members to discuss minority human rights issues in Pakistan. Ramesh ji also joined me in the Rancho Cordova city HAAAM proclamation. What a double celebration that turned out to be! His presence made the proclamation ceremony feel like a global celebration of Hindus and their rich heritage, no matter where they are.
The icing on the cake of Ramesh ji’s tour was our attendance of Garba and Dandiya events organized by the Gujarati Samaj of Greater Sacramento. As Ramesh ji and I danced around the murti of Goddess Durga along with many other devotees in the auditorium, I felt a deep sense of belonging to the Pakistani Hindus, though continents away. Our common traditions, culture and eternal faith is such a strong bond, one that inspires us to always protect it.
In short, as I reflect back on all the work around the HAAAM and Diwali proclamations, I am filled with pride and even more conviction as an advocacy professional, to advance the rights and representation of Hindu Americans and global Hindu minorities. As much as the proclamations were a celebration of HAF and of my Hindu communities, it was also a celebration of me and my unique journey as a Hindu American woman, a mother, a teacher and an HR professional ultimately culminating in my current dream role at HAF.
In the New Year in 2024, I look forward to engaging and rewarding work, adding color and vigor to my beautiful state of California while advocating endlessly for my Hindu American communities. After all, as our First Lady of the United States, a diplomat and an activist, Eleanor Roosevelt, rightly put it, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”