Birmingham-Southern Students Discuss How They Celebrate Their Indian Culture
Dressed in colorful dupattas over black leggings and t-shirts, nine girls stand on stage ready to present an elaborate performance in front of a sold-out auditorium. Fast-paced music blares over the speakers, and the girls carry out a dance designed to emphasize the song’s lyrics. Colorful neon lights cover the stage and flash along to the music’s beat as the girls flawlessly execute their dance with huge smiles on their faces. This was the scene at a recent Diwali festival attended by various Indian Birmingham-Southern students.
Indian culture at Birmingham-Southern is relatively new, but it is constantly becoming more prominent. With more Indian students enrolled than in previous years, students are coming together to unite and celebrate their shared culture in various ways. Together, these students are honoring their heritage while simultaneously educating others about it.
Daveena Patel and Shivani Patel, both seniors at BSC, have been friends since elementary school. This early connection is their experience with the majority of their fellow Indian schoolmates, although they are particularly close with each other. According to Shivani, the two girls personally know all of the Indian students at BSC—approximately 20 students.
“The Indian community is really growing here,” Shivani says. “Indian culture isn’t as prominent at BSC as it is at schools like UAB. I think before our class entered BSC it was pretty much non-existent. It’s slowly rising but still not as common within the BSC community.”
The most noted way that these students celebrate their culture at BSC is through the Diwali festival that is put on by the Cross Cultural Committee and Love Asia, two organizations that specialize in diversity and the celebration of various cultures. Diwali is the start of a New Year; it is an annual 5-day festival of lights during October that ends with the New Year based on the Lunar Calendar. The festival is about good overcoming evil and light overcoming darkness. The BSC community holds a 1-night event each year to celebrate this holiday. It is open to all students and offers a variety of Indian foods, henna tattoos, and a special Bollywood dance performance. Other than this event, however, there are few opportunities to engage in Indian culture at BSC.
“There is not much else that the Love Asia club puts on in relation to Indian culture,” Daveena says. “But some of my friends and I go to events in the Birmingham area. I am very close to my family, and my parents are very active in the Birmingham Indian community, so we go to a lot of events. Diwali means that it is the start of a New Year. It is a time for family and friends to come together, which means so much to me. It is hard to get to see everyone, especially being in college.”
One reason that BSC does not have more Indian-centered events is that several of these students are very active on campus. Both Daveena and Shivani hold positions in their sorority and are members of various honor societies. Other students, such as Shivkumar Desai, Divya Desai, and Shibani Chakrabarty, held presidency in Greek organizations.
“[Because I’m] involved in other things on campus, I’m not as involved in [Indian culture] as fellow Indians are,” Daveena says. “We all spend time together as much as we can to maintain bonds we have had for a while now. There is an unspoken bond that all of us Indians on campus have with each other.”
Because of its large presence of Indian students, UAB offers a greater variety of ways to engage in Indian culture than does BSC. BSC students commonly participate in these events. Recently, UAB’s Indian Cultural Association (ICA) held its annual Diwali show at the Alys Stephens Center at which groups from the Birmingham area could perform. Several Indian girls from BSC formed a group and danced in this event. Additionally, UAB’s Asian American Organization holds its annual “Taste of India” every spring at which different dance teams travel from all over the United States to compete. The same group of girls has competed in this event several times.
Although their journey at BSC is almost completed, both Daveena and Shivani are thankful for the friendships and memories they have accumulated through Birmingham’s Indian culture.
“I might be biased,” Shivani says, “but I think my culture and religion is very colorful, and it’s a culture that everyone should get a chance to experience. Everyone knows that Indian festivals are big, so it’s worth experiencing.”