The vibrant Indian community in New Jersey has been connecting Indians for decades by promoting our culture and heritage in America, says Anthea Fernandes
Right across from the Hudson river, facing the New York City skyline, lies Jersey City, replete with a young, diverse and enthusiastic Indian community. Gorge on great Indian food; live in Brooklyn, Manhattan or in north New Jersey, lovingly called “Jersey”; step on to Newark Avenue at Journal Square – and rest assured, you will think you are in India.
Indians first arrived in the US in 1820 and now represent the second-largest immigrant population in the country, with the most number of skilled work visas. Alka Patel, a resident of Jersey City, has lived here for the past 30 years. “We come from humble beginnings. It was my parents who moved here first, and 10 years later, my husband and I followed,” says Patel. She runs her own food business while her children hold steady jobs in banks, and her brother is a doctor. “New Jersey has really opened doors for us,” she says. “All my relatives are here now. I visited Gujarat, my home, only to get my son married.”
The Indian population boomed in New Jersey since 1970. A new law (the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965) which opened doors to more people from countries outside Europe, was passed, resulting in many Indian professionals, including but not limited to engineers and doctors, finding their way into New Jersey and New York. Between 2007 and 2008, the Indian foreign-born population surpassed the Chinese and Hong Kong-born population to become the third largest immigrant group in the United States, after immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines.
A trip to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, near Princeton, is a must. This temple sits on a 162-acre plot and on tentative completion of the entire complex in 2020, it will easily be the biggest temple in the world, by area. Built by 2,000 artisans from Rajasthan in 4.7 million man hours, the temple aims to serve as a place of appreciation of Indian art, culture and religion for several generations to come. “We have about 1,500 to 3,000 visitors every weekend, depending on the time of the year,” says Nisha K, a volunteer working at the temple.
Tip: If seeking peace, quiet and great photo opportunities, visit in the early mornings or just before it closes for the day. One building is almost complete and open to devotees; however, the rest of the complex is still under construction.
Cultural Associations and Events
Most ethnic groups have their local associations – from the Gujarati Samaj of Tri-State and the New Jersey Tamil Sangam to the Kerala Association of New Jersey and the Telugu Fine Arts Society. These organise a number of events across the state, the largest being Garba, organised by the Patel Brothers (a famous grocery chain). The Garden State Puja Committee organises Durga puja every year, which includes energetic musical performances and dramas. Its mantra is to touch the lives of children who are in need and preserve the heritage of India and Bengal.
Another interesting micro community is the Mangalorean Catholic Association, EC Inc, which established itself as a charitable organisation. Though they hold social events, the main purpose of this association is philanthropy. Rodney Quadros, a member of the organisation, says, “We have initiated a programme ‘for the kids – by the kids’, where we teach our youth how to make a difference in the lives of children who need their support back home in India. We do not just organise events but have a greater social responsibility, which we are achieving through our programmes.”
Mona Panjwani, the brain behind Sparkles Events, which brings to life festivals ranging from Holi and Diwali to Karwa Chauth, says, “Our aim is to bring the community together, celebrate and fill the void of being so far away from our country. People look forward to such events, as they get a taste of celebrations back home.”
India Day Parade
The annual parade in New York City, held on the weekend after August 15 ever since 1981, is the godfather of all events, combining various cultures and presenting the progress of India to the diversified ethnic communities in the city. It is organised by the Federation of Indian Associations of the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, one of the largest esteemed umbrella organisations in the Indian community, and is today the largest India Day parade in the world, where groups from all over the Tri-State area join in, complete with floats and performances. If you are lucky, you may even spot a superstar!
Tip: Come prepared! The parade begins at noon and the programmes go on till 6 pm! Pick a spot near Madison Avenue and 24th St for best views!
So, welcome to this hotspot of Indian culture in the land that is New Jersey!