South Asian Unity Week builds back community


Photo Courtesy of ndian Student Association

South Asian students dance Garba at the Union ballroom on Saturday. The Indian Student Association hosted events for South Asian Unity Week.

By Shreya Rathi, Contributing Writer

The music roared in the Union ballroom as hundreds of South Asian students, decked out in traditional Indian clothing, jumped and twirled, performing a dance called GarbaIt was a blockbuster ending to the eventful South Asian Unity Week, hosted by the Indian Student Association.

However, the liveliness and euphoria of Garba on Saturday night starkly contrasted the negative change that has occurred in the South Asian community over the past year, which is part of what Unity Week sought to address. The events began on Tuesday with a discussion called Chit Chat Chai.

“After COVID-19 and all the hardships our community went through — whether that be Asian hate, general health concerns, India’s COVID-19 surge — I felt it was important to use (Chit Chat Chai) to bring the Indian community together,” said Payal Patel, one of the vice presidents of the Indian Student Association. “We talked about the issues in our community together and things that went on during the pandemic.”

The discourse about problems plaguing the Indian community at the start of the week soon shifted gears to appreciation for those who made the most of it — especially those at the University — with an event called Flowers on the Quad. 

“We gave (flowers) out to members of our organization to let them know that we appreciate them for all that they do,” Patel said.

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    The festive part of the week began on Friday with Food Fest, where Indian catering was offered at the Ikenberry Commons.

    “I feel like the best way to bond our community is through food, and I’m sure a lot of people are missing home at this point,” Patel said.

    Patel said Garba was the pinnacle of the event, and the immense turnout showcased how important it was to students. Garba is more than just another “hype” social event with catchy music and dancing. She said it’s a vital link to South Asian culture.

    “Being online for a full year, I was mainly at home with my parents,” said Ankith Desai.

    “I was able to connect to my family’s festivals, but not really with people of my own age and my own background, so this is a way for me to connect with people with like-minded backgrounds,” Desai said.  

    The desire to maintain connectivity to students who share Indian culture and eagerness to attend cultural events has become amplified as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “I mean, we couldn’t go to big events like this during the pandemic, so it’s nice to have this back,” said Raj Patel. “The feeling, I miss it, so it’s good to come back here and see everyone come together.”

    Patel said he feels fortunate the University has measures in place to make large events like Garba night possible in spite of the ongoing pandemic. 

    “Especially with the (University) testing and Safer Illinois App, it’s easier to monitor and track COVID-19 cases among our members, so although there were a lot of people, we still made sure there was COVID-19 testing done the day before (Garba), and there were mask mandates at some of our events,” Patel said. “We tried to make sure our events had a lot of safety precautions in place, so people could enjoy themselves with health and safety still very much present.”

    Patel said she looks forward to hosting other cultural events this semester — especially for Diwali. 

    “Every year we host a Diwali night showcase, where we have a bunch of acts done by dance teams on campus and singing teams,” Patel said.“Last year we were able to do that virtually and the same excitement was there, so we’re expecting a huge turnout, and we’re really excited to bring the community together again for this event.”


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