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Week Explores South Asian Heritage
Four dance-troupe members participate in an Indian dance-off as part of Mondays celebration of South Asian Heritage week. Photo by Kimberly Lajcik

Week Explores South Asian Heritage

South Asian Heritage Week at UCLA. Article from the Daily Bruin.



This article was first published in the Daily Bruin, 1/15/08.

By Tulika Bose

After Ravi Deo finished preparing to host a performance of classical Indian music, he said he realized how grateful he was for what he says is a strong South Asian base at UCLA and the university’s cultural acceptance,

Deo, a fifth-year ethnomusicology student, was helping to plan the performance as part of the annual South Asian Heritage week, which is a series of cultural events designed to unite various South Asian students.

Monday’s event, co-hosted for the first time by the Indian Student Union and the Pakistani Student Association, consisted of an extravagant banquet with entertainment including exotic foods and energetic dancing.

In the tradition of classic Bollywood ritz, members of various South Asian organizations strutted down the catwalk in traditional South Asian garb, complete with pulsating music and eye-dazzling colors.

“Being South Asian at UCLA is a privilege. ... It feels great to display our cultural aspects, like our food and our clothing,” said Shehzad Feerasta, the union treasurer for the Pakistani Student Association and a third-year electrical engineering student.

In fact, the lavish display of food, culture and dance that constitutes the banquet is said to bring in more and more people each year.

“It’s kind of a landmark event,” said Vyasa Murthy, a fourth-year biology and political science student and the performing arts director for the Indian Student Union.

“We’re going to have a fashion show and a dance-off. We had over 100 people at the event last year, and we’re hoping for more this year.”

Murthy said the three South Asian dance groups at UCLA – Nashaa, the Hindi film dance team; Chak De Phatte, the UCLA Bhangra team; and Bataaka Nu Shaak, the Raas team – would be competing for the title of the best South Asian dance team at UCLA.

Other plans for the celebration of South Asian culture this week include a religious forum on Tuesday, an open mic night on Wednesday, and finally a night of Indian classical music hosted by the South Asian Music Association on Thursday.

The week-long event is hosted by an array of South Asian student groups, including the Hindu Students Council, Muslim Students Association, and the South Asian Music Association.

“Our goal is to promote understanding and appreciation of traditional South Asian performing artists,” said Deo, who is a founding member of SAMA.

Deo said the show would feature 12 artists performing classical South Asian arts ranging from sitar to Bharatnatyam, a traditional form of dance that hails from South India.

“The event was very successful last year. We had over 300 people,” Deo said.

Deo added that the campus’ diversity and willingness to be open to alternate forms of cultural expression allowed for the success of the program.

In fact, other representatives of South Asian musical groups, such as the South Asian a Cappella Group, agree the atmosphere at UCLA helps to perpetuate cultural awareness

“Being South Asian is a great experience at UCLA. You don’t feel like a minority, and it’s easy to keep in touch with your cultural heritage,” said Sushil Jain, a fourth-year psychobiology student and founding member of the group.

“I’m involved in Indian classical music obviously, but I’ll admit that Bollywood movies are a pretty big part of my life.”

But being part of the South Asian community at UCLA is not all about celebrations and dinner banquets.

Pooja Patel, the founder of the South Asian Undergraduate Law student’s society and a fourth year economics student, said it is the responsibility of South Asians in America to help their respective communities.

“South Asians are overlooked minorities. I’m from Gujarat, and a lot of South Asians in America forget their roots in Asia.”

It is through programs like South Asian Heritage Week, however, that these students are able to come together in a powerful display of unity and cultural support for what is one of the largest minorities at UCLA.