Last week, the UIUC campus was alight with Diwali, the Indian festival of lights that has become a global celebration for the diaspora and their adopted communities, with President Obama also sending his greetings on the occasion. On campus, from being a small festival celebrated by Indian students, it has grown into a large celebration, with various organizations jostling for space to host events. The Asian American Cultural Center got the prime spot on Diwali day itself, organizing a lighting of the Ikenberry Commons Quad and great Indian food in the dining hall. While my organization, IGSA, was fortunate to be a partner, we also managed to enjoy some of the great food. What impressed me most was the fact that the Indian food had the longest line - we've come very far from being a backward, forgotten country in Asia.
The undergraduate ISA followed that up with their Diwali Night, a closed-door event with performances and dinner. It has always impressed me how familiar the Indian-American kids are with what is basically their parents' culture, which they continue to hold as their own, together with their American identity. Indeed, for them, there is no contradiction with being Americans and celebrating Indian culture in America. That was an inspiration for IGSA, the graduate association, to organize our signature Diwali on the Quad. Despite the hiccups because of the new team in the RSO office that's changed all the rules, it went off perfectly and made for some truly memorable pictures. For me, the best part was explaining to a Chinese student that we were going to light the Quad with candles, only to be told, "Oh! You're celebrating Diwali!"
There are some private events by the Indian Cultural Society of Urbana-Champaign, the faculty and resident association that also keeps the light of their homeland alive. All-in-all, Diwali has come to symbolize a unity of Indian people, of all nationalities. Because being Indian is not about holding an Indian passport - it is a philosophy that transcends time and space.