Living in a land that is far away from our “home,” in the midst of another culture, busy with the day-to-day mundane work and home tasks, the Non Resident Indian (NRI) community in this “land of opportunities” has been yearning for a place of their own: just to come together, to discuss, share their thoughts and ideas and learn from one another, to have a platform which will pass on their culture and traditions to their children and grand children, and to nourish the feeling of belonging to a group.
These longings, shared by people, who have been endowed with a clear vision and commitment to generously share their ideas, skills, resources, and time, for the larger good of the community, gave birth to The Kerala Center. After a quarter century it was founded, The Kerala Center, now, come to be known as The Indian American Civic and Cultural Center, located in Elmont, Long Island, New York has come a long way, in living out these dreams and aspirations of a community that has made the United States their adopted homeland.
The Indian American Kerala Cultural and Civic Center honored five Indian American Malayalees for their outstanding achievements in their field of specialization or for their service to the society. The awardees were selected by a committee consisting of four members headed by Kerala Center Board Member and Trustee Dr. Thomas Abraham.
This year’s honorees were: US Assistant Secretary Commerce Arun M Kumar for Service to the US Govt.; Ram Menon, Partner at KPMG, a global network of professional firms providing Advisory, Tax and Audit services and serves as Global Head of KPMG’s Insurance Deal Advisory practice for Corporate Leadership; Dr. Jai Radhakrishnan, Professor of Medicine at Columbia University and Clinical Chief of the Nephrology Division at the New York Presbyterian Hospital in Medicine; Dr. T.V. RajanBabu, Professor and Kiberly Chair in Chemistry at Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) in Applied Sciences and Manohar Thomas, a Malayalam writer and community activist who had been very active for over 30 years in promoting Malayalam language and literature of Kerala in US for Promoting Literary Work and Community Service.
“Kerala Center has been honoring outstanding achievers since 1991 and every year we invite nominations and the committee has to make a unanimous choice for a candidate in a category to be selected to receive the award and this year is no different from previous years in terms of their achievements,” said Dr. Abraham.
The awardees were honored at the Kerala Center’s 23rd Annual Awards Banquet on Saturday, November 5th at the World’s Fair Marina in Flushing, New York City. The chief guest for the evening was Mr. K. Devadasan Nair, Consul for Community Affairs at the Indian Consulate, who praised the commitment of the Indian community in the US to teach the culture and languages of India to the new generation.
He said he was amazed at the unity of the community after three people died in a fire in New Jersey. People came forward to contribute to meet the expenses of the funerals. He suggested to set up a permanent fund to use when such tragedies happen rather than waiting for the tragedies to raise funds.
The keynote speaker was Arun Kumar, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and leads the trade and investment promotion efforts of the U.S. Government. Kumar in his keynote address pointed out that the Indian American community represents the convergence of two important elements that will elevate US-India relationship. They are the professional and technology synergies and innovation between the two countries and also a vigorously engaged Diaspora that help to author the next chapter of the US India relationship.
These two elements, technology and people connections were the theme of a poem ‘Passage to India’ written by Walt Whitman, a century and half ago. President Obama quoted this at the dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan in January 2015: ‘The earth to be spanned, connected by network, the people to become brothers and sisters.’
The President noted how India and America are connected and networked by technology and by family including millions of Indian Americans. It is an important time for US-India relations. It is one that opens the door to a period of unprecedented cooperation, politically and commercially.
Our two countries are aligned across three dimensions: incredible growth potential, increasingly robust economic policies and newfound motivation in spurring greater trade and investment at the highest levels of both governments and among a broad set of stakeholders in both countries. Among these stakeholders are the Indian Americans..
E M Stephen, a founding member and the Executive Director of the Center, credited several individuals who have contributed their time, energy, talents and resources to the establishment and growth of the Kerala Center. He said, “From a modest beginning 18 years ago, the Center has come a long way to play a vital role in the life of the NRI community in the United States.” Over the past two decades, it has become a focal point for Indian Americans, coordinating programs, activities, and services to the members and groups of the community in the New York region. The Center has outgrown its initial objectives for which it was founded, and has become a facility that serves the various needs of the larger Indian American community.
According to Stephen, there are about 60,000 Keralites in the New York metropolitan area. A main objective of the Center has been to address the emotional and cultural, and political education of all the community members. “This Center, the way we have planned the growth of this institution, has a vision and tremendous responsibility to take care of emotional and cultural needs of our community and meanwhile prepare them to face the responsibilities of becoming a full fledged American Citizen.” Stephen, who is fully engaged in this responsibility, said, “We are perhaps a minority group now. But I feel, as a community member, we have to feel and act as a part of the mainstream by fully participating in all the activities. That is our ultimate goal.”
Every year, The Center honors nearly half a dozen Non Resident Keralites for their outstanding achievements and service to the society with the prestigious Kerala Center Annual Gala Award during a solemn ceremony. Dr. Thomas Abraham, an architect of the Kerala Center and currently a member, Boar d of Directors of the Kerala Center, said, “The Kerala Center annual gala awards are rated as the most prestigious award given from among the Malayalee community in North America. Recipients are chosen after a rigorous search and scrutiny. It has been our endeavor to honor the best, and those who are and can be role models to the rest of the community.”
Seminars are organized regularly on literary, social, and political them es at The Center. The seminars are not just a brain-storming and idea-sharing sessions, but, they challenge and invite participants to give back to the larger community. Dr. Abraham said, “While Kerala Center caters to the cultural needs of the Kerala community, its objective is broad to serve the civic and community interests of the larger Indian community. So we tailor many programs to involve the Indian American community.” Kerala Center was the venue to launch National Indian American Association for Senior Citizens in 1998 and South Asian Council for Social Services (SACSS) in the 2000. The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) also uses Kerala Center for its committee meetings as well as organizing several public forums with the center. The Kerala Center in turns serves the whole Indian community”
Photo 1: Kerala Center Awardees 2016, from l. to r.: Prof. T.V. RajanBabu, Manohar Thomas, Arun Kumar, Ram Menon and Dr. Jai Radhakrishnan
Photo 2: Kerala Center officials with awardees and dignitaries. Front row from l. to r.: Abraham Thomas, K. Devadasan Nair, Prof. T.V. RajanBabu, Manohar Thomas, Arun Kumar, Ram Menon and Dr. Jai Radhakrishnan, New York Cikty Councilman Peter Koo and Gopalan Nair