South Jordan • Utahns celebrated Indian Independence Day this year with a special zest. It was the first time the close-knit Indian community hosted the annual festivities in their new cultural center in South Jordan.
And, although the featured speaker Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Nirupama Rao was not able to make it, the event was filled with music, singing, dancing, food and even a brief speech by N. Parthasarathi, who heads the consulate general of India in San Francisco.
"It is you people who are enhancing the prestige of India," he told them, praising their contributions to American society. "You are part and parcel of the mainstream."
An audience of all ages punctuated Parthansarathi's comments with energetic applause. Children bounced on their parents' laps, and performers waited giddily beside the stage for their turn.
The celebration honored the beginning of India's 66th year of independence from British rule on Aug. 15, 1947. But the people who turned out for the Utah celebration clearly were just as proud of their adopted country. Many of the children had one cheek painted with an Indian flag and the other with an American flag.
Sanjay Sharma said this year's celebration had double the expected turnout. Past ones were held at the International Peace Garden in Salt Lake City, but the community enjoyed its new home at the culture center, which opened last year, he said.
"They still care," Sharma said of attendees with roots in India like himself. "It still means a lot to them to be connected with India while living their American lives.
"This is not just for Indians,"added the engineer, a graduate of the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. "It's for anyone who wants to know about Indians."
This year's Independence Day celebration comes at a time of challenges for Indians everywhere. Last month, problems with the rapidly growing nation's power grid failed, leaving 600 million people without electricity.
Last month Rao, India's ambassador to the United States for nearly a year, visited the Wisconsin town where a white supremacist killed six worshippers at a Sikh temple, including four citizens of India, the faith's birthplace.
She told a reporter from National Public Radio that the incident, though tragic, would highlight the "eternal optimism" of Sikhs, "the sunshine of their minds" that makes them look ahead, heal and be tolerant in the face of tragedy. Rao also said it would prompt an important conversation.
"I think we all have to be like [what] the word Sikh means," she said in the interview, "lifelong learners about the purpose of human life and why violence is so negative and futile."