Indian Community Profiles: Meet your Neighbors!

The 2014 Northwest Folklife Festival is highlighting four members of the Indian community in part of our Cultural Focus program: Ramesh Gangolli, Dr. Lakshmi Gaur, Runika Nandkumar, Dr. Vijaya Rao and Aditya Uppala. From youth to matured, these representatives support and inherit the Indian community in their community of the Northwest as they continue to incorporate their traditions and values into neighborhoods.

Runika NandkumarRunika Nandkumar

Runika Nandkumar is a wife, mother, craft-maker and volunteer for several different non-profit organizations in the Northwest. She graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, India and specializes in textile design. Runika is a recent immigrant to Seattle’s Indian community. Unlike immigrants from the 60s, 70s and 80s who faced struggles with a new culture, inability to drive, as well as a lack of family and friends, recent immigrants come equipped with awareness and knowledge partly due to the internet. This year, Runika Nandkumar is showcasing talented artists at Folklife as part of the Indya Rang Bazaar as Sampada and demonstrating unique forms of artistic creation.

 1.    When did you move to the Northwest? 

It was the winter of 2008 when I was welcomed by a White Christmas to Seattle, as I stepped out of the airport after a 20 hour flight from New Delhi, India. It was an ethereal experience, waking up jetlagged in the middle of a cold winter night to inches of snow on my window sill.

2.    What brought you here?

Destiny brought me here, I would say, though the medium chosen was the world’s largest software organization which my husband was a part of, and there is no looking back now.

3.    How do you stay involved with your culture and heritage in the community?

Seattle and its Eastside neighbourhood have plenty of ethnic diversity, including a 40,000 odd Indian diaspora, so it is quite possible to bump into someone familiar ever so often. There are plenty of opportunities for creativity and intellectual stimulation when you meet the right set of people. Sampada was born out of the desire to stay connected with my inheritance, India’s art and craft at the same time offering the West an opportunity to experience authentic Indian quality products.

4.    Why is it important to you to stay involved?

My identity is deep rooted in Indian culture, especially around art, craft and embroidery apart from an array of mouth-watering cuisine from the sub-continent. As a business woman, I not only promote commerce but also use Sampada as a platform to raise cultural awareness of authentic Indian products, art and artisans and thus drive quality consciousness in consumers, given that plenty of cheap lookalikes are flooding the market.

5.    What are the major differences between the Indian community in the Northwest and other places you have lived?

From an international perspective, thought I have traveled within Southeast Asia, I have lived in only 1 country outside India, and most of my time in the US has been in the Pacific Northwest in the Seattle area. I can say that the Indian community here tries consciously to maintain ties back to its culture and nativity as they absorb the best of what the Northwest and the US have to offer. This is a positive sign of community living, especially for second generation Indians who are brought up here. You go the extra mile to keep your culture alive, which is sometimes taken for granted back home.


Aditya UppalaAditya Uppala

Aditya Uppala is a junior at Overlake High School in Redmond and President of the Indian Association of Western Washington’s Youth Board. He represents the second generation of Indians in our community who pride themselves for being bicultural- having the immense pride in being American Indian with a rich heritage and belonging to a nation that was built by immigrants themselves.

1. Is there a sense of belonging in Seattle for you?
Of course – I was born here and this is home for me. This is where I have family, friends, and communities I have grown to identify with and care for. I am proud of the Seahawks and I wait for the return of the NBA team back to its rightful place. Seattle is where I have grown up.

2. How is your life here similar to that of your family members in India?
While my sister and I have our parents as a constant in our lives, like my cousins in India, we also have an amazing group of family friends who have contributed in raising us children. Many of my Christmases and Thanksgivings are spent in homes of our family friends who have created these traditions for us second generation offspring in an effort to provide us with an awesome Indo-American childhood. So, very much like our cousins in India, we too have an extensive group of families around us who are there to help us in crises, encourage us as well as just be there for us as the “go to people”.

3. What role has Northwest Folklife played in your life?
Memorial Day weekend has always been about Folklife in our home. I remember the traditional Folklife meal of “crepes” and “funnel cakes” that my sister and I would always have at Folklife right after her dance performance at Folklife’s Colors and Cultures segment. We would wait anxiously for her dance to be done and pictures taken by the “aunties” (not just my parents) and then at least twenty of us kids would head straight to the many food booths starving. The fountain in Seattle Center would be packed and we never got tired of running through. Our Indian youth group did a flash mob there a couple years back and it was quite an experience to do Bollywood where you once watched eclectic performers entertain the crowds with music. Dance and acrobatics. Folklife has enriched our lives in Seattle both with the arts it has exposed us to as well as the platform it has provided us to explore our own roots. We always find time to be at the Folklife festival and every year we discover something unique be it in foods or music or arts.

4. You are the India Association of Western Washington’s Youth Board President for this year. How has the organization connected you with your heritage and your community?
IAWW as we call it has connected us youth not just to our roots but also to our community in Seattle. Our connection to the Indian independence, Republic Day, to our Festival of Lights ‘Diwali’ has been with events the organization has conducted every year for the Indian community here in Seattle. The most significant contribution I would say from IAWW to the youth of the Indo American community here has been the much loved Camp Bharat which celebrates the 25th year of its inception. IAWW’s Camp Bharat has every year for the past twenty five years provided the Indian community with a five day summer camp organized by youth for youth where one discovered the importance of belonging and pride in ones roots. Camp Bharat is much loved for the friendships, the leadership, and the belonging it provides us second generation youth. Kids look forward to the five days of endless sports, workshops, conversations and friendships. At the IAWW Youth Board, we have explored and enjoyed service to the greater Seattle community by participating in cooking meals for the homeless, packing food, cleaning up wastes, helping tutor and connect with youth who need the help and jn the process we have discovered the pleasure in giving not just to our own community but to the people at large. I believe we have been fortunate jn this community to have had so many platforms to explore our interests in leadership, service and learning through IAWW, Folklife and our own families.

pioneers_gaurDr. Lakshmi Gaur

Dr. Lakshmi Gaur is a scientist in the field of genomics who was recognized with one of the most prestigious award programs worldwide. After attending undergraduate school in India, she came to the United States as a Fullbright scholar and earned her PhD at the University of Washington. Lakshmi has been a patron to the India Association of Western Washington’s board since 2000 and has led as President, Director of Youth Program and Director of Social Mission Program.  Dr. Lakshmi Gaur has also been an ongoing participant of the Northwest Folklife Festival and has devoted many years to creating showcase Colors and Cultures of India.

1.    When did you move to the Northwest?

My first visit to Northwest was during Christmas 1979 – couldn’t keep away from the place longer. I moved to Seattle in April 1980.

2.    What brought you here?

Research opportunities at University of Washington

3.    How do you stay involved with your culture and heritage in the community?

The answer to such a question is a multi-layered one. One stays involved by involving oneself either directly or indirectly; directly by actively promoting and indirectly by passively patronizing the programs. I do both, as little as the effort may be. However, one has to be proud of his/her heritage and culture to do either. I believe we enrich communities by sharing our culture and acquiring influencing features from other cultures in the process.

I believe we all are creatures of habit, whether it’s food or dressing or language.  As much as we change in the process of adapting to our new environments, we still gravitate to what we were used to. The process could be very healthy for a transplanted community, as they pick the best of both worlds.

4.    Why is it important to you to stay involved?

It is important for me to stay involved because I believe I can create a common ground for the communities, the one I came from and the communities that embraced me.

Personally for me strong communities are those that are diverse yet enjoy cultural congruence. Diversity in a population often fosters tolerance, which is the key to learning that in turn breeds success. Most successful populations in the world today are populations with multi-ethnic and multi-cultural background.

5.    What are the major differences between the Indian community in the Northwest and other places you have lived?

I don’t have good yardstick to measure this, as I lived most of my life in the Northwest. The only other place I can compare is Greensboro, NC – 25 years ago. I was too busy with my two kids and profession to take part in community activities. However, there is more unity within diverse Indian communities in small cities than in big cities. Over the years Seattle area has seen a steady growth in Indian community, resulting in multiple associations purely based on language.  I like the united concept because, the great thing about India is its linguistic diversity bound with cultural thread. This is one of reasons I never cease to be a part of India Association of Western Washington.

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