FREMONT — Thirty years ago, when Dr. Romesh Japra first moved to Fremont from his native India, he was one of only three Indian physicians in the city’s Washington Hospital. There was nary an Indian restaurant in sight — the closest was in Emeryville, he recalled — and, forget about Hindu temples or Hindi-language movie theaters showing Bollywood films.
“If you saw (another Indian person) in Berkeley or Oakland or San Francisco, we used to get excited and invite them over,” he said. “It was very rare. And, especially in Fremont, there were not that many.”
Americans didn’t understand the bright colors of Indian clothing or the spice-infused foods packed for his kids’ lunches at school. His kids saw the words, “Go back to India,” scrawled on the chalkboards in class.
Other doctors told nurses while he was on shift, “Don’t let that brown doctor treat my patient,” even when those patients were in dire need of help, the cardiologist said.
“I would watch them dying in front of me of a heart attack, and they still wouldn’t consult me,” he said. “But rather than being discriminated, we felt we should become part of the problem itself — change it from the inside.”
It was against that backdrop that India Day began in 1993. It was an outgrowth of an annual conference that had begun years earlier, Japra said, which sought to convene parents and children to discuss the difficulties of living between two cultures, how to grow business entrepreneurship, and physical and emotional wellness.
Now, in its 26th year, India Day has morphed into a week-long festival, complete with a dance competition, a film festival and free two-day fair with food, a spotlight on wellness, and vendors and booths for companies and community organizations.
It’s no longer “India Day,” but “Festival of Globe.” It showcases not only Indian culture, but also Chinese arts and other immigrant groups — a reflection of the growing Indian population in the Bay Area and its influence in business and politics, Japra said.
There were more than 219,000 Indian-born residents living in the Bay Area in 2016, according to the Migration Policy Institute’s analysis of U.S. Census data, which doesn’t include U.S.-born citizens of Indian descent.
With Indian-born representatives on city councils, in the mayor’s seat and in the state house, Japra said the days of feeling like a second-class citizen have faded away. Not to mention the fact that there are now 200 Indian doctors at Washington Hospital, dozens of Indian restaurants, grocery stores, Indian clothing shops and the Cine Grand Fremont 7, which almost exclusively showcases Indian-made films.
“There’s everything here,” said Somya Bansal.
She moved to Fremont from India three years ago to join her husband, Shobit Agarwal, who had immigrated to the United States some seven years earlier, living first in Boston and then Portland, Oregon, before settling in Fremont.
“I wasn’t expecting so much Indian culture,” she said. “It was great to see so many Indians here.”
The parade was a first for her and her husband, she said. They were eager to celebrate India’s Independence Day, on August 15, with the festival, which showcased a bit of music, dance and culture from many of India’s 29 states — each with their own languages, style of dress and history.
There were Tamil drummers and Garba dancers, singers crooning Bengali songs and more — all mixed in with American parade staples: firetrucks, police officers on motorcycles and vintage Thunderbirds and Mustangs toting dignitaries, who waved to the crowd as they passed.
“It’s just a great way to support the community and show pride in our culture,” said Rishi Saran, a Newark native who’s been attending the parade since it started. His parents immigrated from India in the 1970s, he said, and he learned about Indian culture through them.
Now, he wants to pass on that culture to his daughter, Rachel, 3. “It’s a good way to teach her about our culture, too.”
And, in the end, Japra said, that’s the goal.
“Even our children are getting more involved and engaged. They see that we are not trying to just be on our own,” he said. “We are accepting other communities, and we are trying to help them and empower them, as well, and not just empower our own.”
- Fatties, it's time to fight back: If you're judged obese, you're a second-class citizen at best
- Gay singer Elton John 'fed up' with being treated like 'second-class citizen' in the U.S.
- Let’s ensure that no Hoosier’s citizenship is second class
- N.J. gay unions 'second class'
- Taliban strike Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, the second assault on NATO forces in two days
- A second shot at historic Bethpage Black: My day at the U.S. Open
- What a mess India has made with onions, sugar … wouldn’t AI do a better job?
- Rohit Sharma’s fine start as Test opener is good news for India
- Restaurant Entrance Doesn’t Work All Damn Day To Be Called ‘Other Door’
- On St. Patrick's Day, I'll give Mayor Bloomberg a pass on Irish drinking joke