An estimated 3,000 people enjoyed a taste of that diversity at the Chatpati Mela on August 22, at the Jackson Heights Green Alliance’s Play Street on 78th Street, organized by Chhaya Community Development Corporation, an organization that helps new immigrants with housing issues since 2000, and has expanded its mandate to doing original research on South Asian communities in the Big Apple.
At the Mela, activists showcased the work of their non-profit organizations and artists displayed their talents as crowds browsed food-stalls and watched performers tracing their origin to the India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet, as well as the Indo-Caribbean cultures in the Western Hemisphere.
“When outsiders think of South Asia, they think of Bollywood. Our cultures are so much more than that,” Afreen Alam, executive director of Chhaya CDC, told the media. The Chatpati Mela celebrates the vibrancy and diversity of New York’s fastest growing immigrant communities, she said. “Our mela captures the layers, the complexity and the dimensions of our cultures,” Alam added.
Chhaya CDC gave out Community Leadership Awards at the event to notable artists, activists, and partners, including Neha Gautam, documentarian and senior trainer at Global Kids; HeartBeat NYC, a youth empowerment, non-governmental organization helping lead earthquake recovery efforts in Nepal; and The Times Ledger newspaper of Queens for highlighting local issues. Groups that performed included Phiroj Syangden and Friends, Chandra Banerjee’s Dance Group, NYC Bhangra, Sharmin Rimu, Virsa Our Tradition, Habibi Express, South Asian Youth Action dance group, and Cholsum Doegar. There was a fashion show, a flash mob, and a paani puri (golgappa) eating contest, a bhangra lesson, children’s art activities, and raffles giving away a television set and much more, a press release from Chhaya said.
Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, presented the Community Leadership Awards. “Chatpati Mela is truly one of my favorite events of the year for the way it brings the community in this neighborhood and the South Asian community together for food and celebration,” Agarwal is quoted saying. She said her office “wants to be an ally” to local groups and “would like to provide you with the resources with your ongoing work.”
Representatives from Chhaya’s partner organizations who attended the event included Queens Museum of Arts, Legal Aid Society, the Business Center for New Americans, Sanctuary for Families, Adhunika Foundation, Acha Sisterhood Himalayan Organization, Grow NYC, Solar One, and Sapna NYC.
There’s more to India and South Asia than Bollywood say organizers of the 5th Annual Chatpati Mela, a festival that celebrates the diversity of the countries from where a large group of new immigrants come to live in New York City, particularly in Queens, N.Y.
According to the organizers, the Mela also showed how youth adapt their ancestral cultures to the ethos of New York. “The younger South Asian generation takes on the traditional music, song and dance and interprets it their own way. That’s how you actually preserve the culture and grow it,” she added. Compared to the state of tension and even enmity in the South Asian Subcontinent between various countries, New York helps experiment with unity, she indicated. “One of our goals is to unite our communities and show how closely we work with each other. New York City brings us together and shows us how to do that,” Alam said.