This is not what you might expect to see inside a small Lutheran Church on a Saturday night. In fact, you might be surprised to see this happening anywhere this side of India. Kids running around, laughing, dressing up, and creating works of art. Professional level dancing. Beautful instrumental and vocal music. And lots of food!
But on a recent Saturday, around 80 members of a community organization called Bhindeshi gathered for an evening celebration called Basantotsav. Anuja De, and the team of leaders of Bhindeshi describe the group as, “A local and closely connected immigrant community from Bothell who represents the rich and diversified culture of India. We also believe in diversity irrespective of race, cast, creed, and religion.” Immigrant communities coming together for cultural celebrations is not new in this area or anywhere, but the mission of Bhindeshi goes beyond the occasional celebration of festivals and holidays.
And on this night, their dream of gathering with their Bengali speaking friends and neighbors was realized in a spectacular way. They explained to me their twofold desires of Basantotsav- first, to pass on their cultural richness to their children through cultural activities and second, to teach their children become better humans by helping them become more aware of the people around them. For Bhindeshi, the passing on cultural heritage goes hand in hand with passing onto their children how to care for others and seek the well being of the entire community.
“We want to maintain and encourage the uplifting of traditional Indian cultural and societal values for all future generations away from the native land,” one leader says. “But it is also important for our children to understand what it means to be a part of and contribute to the community in which they are living.” This was evident at their event where some children dressed in costumes of the Hindu god Krishna while others dressed up like ninjas and princesses. Plenty of Bengali, their native language, was spoken alongside the English that their kids use in school and adults use with their English-speaking neighbors.
Just as important as fostering a close connection among community members is the goal of serving and giving back to their community. “We are trying to make the world a better place for everyone by serving the neighborhood in every possible way,” De explains.” Multiple people spoke to me about joining with neighbors to help people in need through food collections, giving of time and resources, and finding other ways to serve in the world.
After a delicious meal of goat and rice, some beautiful music, and a program by the children, Basantotsav ended with the entire group joining together in dance. At that point, I, a 30-something white man who is a relative newcomer to Indian culture, thanked the group for their generous hospitality that made me feel like an honored guest.
“Guest?” someone replied, “you are no guest. You are a part of us now.”