East Meets West

In Do, November 2016 by Alexandra DrosuLeave a Comment

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A national exhibition spotlights the local culture of the Triangle Indian American community

family-with-car-1970s-1This month a new (and free) Smithsonian exhibit will arrive to the City of Raleigh Museum—Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. But unlike many traveling exhibits, this one will incorporate a local focus, including oral histories, photographs, artifacts and videos of how Indian Americans have impacted the Triangle area.

“We wanted to take the national story and tell our local story. What traditions they keep? What new traditions are made?” says historian Ernest Dollar, lead of the museum. During research, they flipped through old 1920’s NC State yearbooks and stumbled across an Indian man by the name Ramkrishna Jivatode. The team tracked down Jivatode’s family, who now lives in New Jersey, and discovered a rich and intimate portrait

“He was kind of a local celebrity, and earned the love of the community,” says Dollar. Jivatode had spent time working with Ghandi before coming to the U.S. and talked about his experiences with the leader. His own father disowned him once he married a local girl and yet the marriage didn’t protect him from the U.S. government either. After his visa ran out, they wanted to expel him. The community rallied around Jivatode and sent letters all the way up to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but their efforts were fruitless. Instead, the family went to Jamaica during WWII, but eventually made their way back to Raleigh, where Jivatode spent the rest of his life.

However, Jivatode is but one story. Many more illustrate the diversity, changing identity and cultural impact of Indian Americas in the Triangle area: A significant opportunity for the local community in Raleigh.

“I hope people take away from the exhibit the value that the Indian American community has brought to the United States and here in North Carolina, from an economic perspective, the cultural perspective; the tremendous successes that this community has had, just all across the board in all walks of life,” says Steve Rao, Mayor Pro Temp of Morrisville.

“The exhibit goes beyond stereotypes and traditional misconceptions,” adds Dollar. “Indian Americans helped shape American history for 200 years; they diversified culture, they are hip hop artists and LGBTQ advocates.”

When American Indians first moved to the Triangle area, they had a tenuous hold on the culture of their homeland—no Indian restaurants, ethnic stores or Skype to communicate with family back home. But today’s Indian youth, as well as the Triangle community at large, can now learn and participate in this country’s colorful and delicious culture, and the exhibit will showcase these elements as well.

The museum will hold yoga events several times a month in the museum gallery, while the exhibit is going on. They will also present dance workshops, a Sari fashion show (illustrating how the garment has evolved over the years) and, partnering with local restaurants, a food event showcasing the culinary fusion of east and west.

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