An idea for bridging cultures that began in a Secaucus dining room several years ago finally came to fruition in August, and is now poised to reach into every home in town.
Rajesh Nagpal, a native of Mumbai, India, who has lived with his wife and children in Secaucus for more than six years, knew the town prided itself for being small, civic minded, and community-oriented. Still, he believed a majority of residents didn’t really know their South Asian neighbors.
“I decided we should come up with something, a community group. This way we can show all the people of Secaucus what India is made up of and what our culture and traditions are,” Nagpal said. Thus, the idea for the Indian Caucus of Secaucus was born.
The fledgling group sees itself as a meeting place and gathering space – hence the inclusion of the word “caucus” in its name – for non-Asians in Secaucus to learn more about India and Indian-Americans in town.
“You know, India is multi-cultural country. It’s not just one culture.” – Sheetal Nagpal
She said some groups that run programs out of the temple are more worship-oriented, and aren’t set up to introduce non-Indians to Indian culture.
“You know, India is multi-cultural country. It’s not just one culture,” Sheetal stated. “Non-Indians are, I think aware of the food. They like the food, I think, because of the spices. And they like the clothing that’s associated with India. But that’s really just a little bit of what India is all about.”
To help introduce the larger Secaucus community to “what India is all about,” the caucus held its debut event in June, when India celebrated the 63rd anniversary of its independence from British rule. About 500 people showed up to support the event, a turnout the group’s planning committee of 16 considered to be a success.
With that event behind them, the group is now planning its next event – a Diwali party, a celebration held throughout India to commemorate God’s victory over evil. The event is planned for Oct. 23.
“Diwali is a huge festival in India and it follows Navratri, a nine day festival of lights,” Nagpal explained. “These two festivals represent to battle between good and evil. Navratri represents the battle itself. Diwali represents the death of evil.”
Although these are uniquely Indian celebrations and festivals, the Nagpals noted that they both draw from universal themes that can be appreciated by people of all cultures and faiths, a fact they hope will draw residents to the day-long event.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun, with lots of music and refreshments,” Sheetal Nagpal said. “So, I think people will find it interesting, and not intimidating. It won’t just be for the Indian community.”
Although introducing the greater Secaucus community to Indian folkways is a main goal of the caucus, so too is serving the unique needs of the local Indian community, Sheetal Nagpal noted.
“Eventually, if we have the opportunity, we’d like to set up workshops at health fairs for our community so that their health concerns can be addressed,” she said. “Also, there are people who have problems with their visas and sometimes they have difficulty getting answers from the Indian consulate, which is located in New York. So, we’d like to be able to help people with those types of issues, too.”
Passing Indian traditions and culture on to Indian American children is also a priority. As is common in many immigrant communities, the Nagpals said they’ve noticed that many Indian American children don’t speak Hindi, India’s national language, and are as unfamiliar with the country’s traditions as their non-Indian friends.
“I guess, Sheetal said, “you could say we’re really about opening up India to everybody who wants to learn more about our culture.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.