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69th annual India Republic Day celebration; Benefit concert at St. Andrew Episcopal Church

We didn't have to stay for the actual dinner at the 69th annual India Republic Day celebration on Saturday evening, January 20th, because the appetizers served before the program were just so good that, as usual, we ate too much and therefore were not hungry when the grand buffet was served later in the evening; in fact, we felt quite full when we finally went to bed that night a couple of hours after we left to go home. If the hour was not so late, we would have detoured over our gym for a good hour on the exercise bike.

Besides the good food, we always like attending this celebration put on by the Federation of India Community Associations of NE Ohio (FICA) because the people are so nice and there is abundant talent on display regarding the artistic performances. This year, for instance, we were fascinated when Mr. Sheerang Datar energetically played a gleeful song titled "Roup Tera Mastana" on an instrument that we had never seen before called the "pianica" which was a small keyboard with an attached hose from which its player blows air into it as he/she fingers the keys.

Nevertheless, there was an air of sadness about it this year because Dr. Mohan Bafna, one of the leaders of the Indian community both in Cleveland and the United States, had passed away just a few weeks earlier. When our friend, Dr. Chittaranjan Jain, accepted a distinguished service award for his "lifelong and continued service to FICA" he said that the late Dr. Bofna was "a visionary leader and a patriarch of the Indian Community of Northeast Ohio."

In a memoriam by Mr. Raghav Sharma that appeared in the souvenir booklet for the event, it was written that, "at any given moment, there are nearly ten thousand students in schools Dr. Bafna helped establish. Countless poor and destitute people receive medical treatment because of his donations to hospitals in India and America. The Greater Cleveland Indian community exists because of him and a few like-minded people. All of this was done not out of idle do-goodery or a desire for self-gratification but rather out of instinct, an innate desire to live humbly and help others."

Despite the sadness, there was still was enthusiasm amongst the members of FICA because Ms. Ritu Mahna, its new President, had proven to be a very effective leader. In fact, during his introduction of her, Mr. Yatish Desai called Ms. Mahna "an avatar of professionalism."

Indeed when the "chief guest" who was Mr. Sandeep  Chakravorty, Consul General of India stationed in New York, gave his address he smiled as he recalled that when he met Ms. Mahna at an event at the Ariel Center last year, she urged him to come back to Cleveland to attend the India Republic Day celebration in such a way that he just couldn't say no. Consul General Chakravorty has only held his post since August, 2017 and his goal was to visit Ohio and all surrounding areas quite often. When we shook hands with him, the Consul General told us that he had also met Ms. Wong at the event at the Ariel Center and asked us to be sure to say hello to her.

Among the positive things that FICA arranged to take place within the year were a very successful golf outing that generated much needed funds; new initiatives from "Project Seva" which was provided services to the needy for over twenty years; a promising coming together between FICA and WRHS to document Indian history in Northeast Ohio; and perhaps most importantly, as stated in the booklet, "for the first time, the sister organizations came together to discuss the future of Asian Indian community in NE Ohio, the need to stand united behind the Indian flag and plans for building a community center."

Another issue that is widely discussed in the India community at this time is immigration. In his message that, of course, appeared in the booklet, Mr. Sudarshan R. Sathe, the Chairperson of the Board of FICA, wrote that it is an initiative that is "close to my heart" and went on to express his view that it is a priority to keep "the door open to immigrants from India. Indian diaspora in the U.S. is of highly educated and entrepreneurial individuals, who are well meaning and grateful to be in the United States. Our community has enriched the American fabric in countless ways. But now with the anti-immigrant fervor in the air, we need to speak with decision makers with one voice to distinguish ourselves. Otherwise, we will not be nourished by the stream of talent from India as we have always had. The student enrollment is down considerably causing harm to both sides. The skilled folks are not getting their H1B visas and it is incumbent on those of us already here, to keep those pathways open for succeeding generations. We don't want to be the ones who "pull up the bridge" once we are here."

The next day was Sunday, January 21st, and our only event was a benefit concert at St. Andrew Episcopal Church on Little Moutain Road in Mentor in order to raise funds for the sanctuary project that has been taking place there. As we know, since the last part of 2017, St. Andrew's has given sanctuary to an undocumented woman and her two sons, both U.S. born. This woman came to the United States around 15 years ago in search of a better life and has proven to be a law-abiding citizen. Yet circumstances involving a routine traffic stop brought her to the attention of ICE so she faced the prospect of deportation and possibly having to leave her two sons behind. Accordingly, she and her sons were allowed to move into St. Andrew; to be sure, ICE could legally come in an haul her out but, since a church is involved, the act of doing so would create a more-than-sizable uproar and tremendously bad publicity.

Thus on this Sunday afternoon about 50 people gathered to hear four musicians share their talents and to have an enjoy an early dinner of deliciously homecooked Hispanic cuisine. All the funds raised were directed to providing comforts and food for the family that the church was housing.

The first musician to perform was Ms. Michelle Gaw who we have seen before at the "Root Cafe" in Lakewood. She played her guitar and sang several songs including one that appears on YouTube titled "Dandelions". She stopped once to say that it is "really good to see all these good people come together for a good cause and listen silently to music. These are scary times right now and this makes me feel better."

Ms. Kelsey Fisher, Program Manager for HOLA, spoke for a moment about the U.S. Congressional blitz that is taking place over the next few days in which concerned people would visit their U.S. Congressperson's office on an hourly basis (different people each hour, each day) and make a plea to preserve DACA and make a case for comprehensive immigration reform.

Reverend Lisa O'Rear, the Rector of St. Andrew, then introduced the next two artists who were Mr. Shawn Brewster (singer and guitarist) and Ms. Shelby Sangdhl (cello). She credited Mr. Brewster for helping to come up with the idea to do this concert. Mr. Brewster said that it sometimes feels like these efforts are comparable to one cup of water in the big pond but we must not be discouraged because what is going on here involves "real family and real family is close to home."

The last person to perform was Mr. Ray Flanagan who Reverend O'Rear lovingly termed a "guitar savant who keeps growing." Among his selections was a song inspired by the revitalization of the Collinwood/Waterloo area. Regarding the MLK day celebration that took place the previous week, Mr. Flanagan said that he believed MLK should be one of everyone's heroes and how the marches that he conducted were a starting point for the mentality of change. On an upbeat note, he maintained that the "wheels are in motion and there's nothing we can do about it. We're on the move man!"

Reverend O'Rear thanked all of the artists who contributed to the success of this event by saying that they were all wonderful human beings who give of their hearts in each performance. As for all of us in attendance, she said that this was all about building community and we are all in this together.

One of the parishioners of St. Andrew went one step further by contending that "we are blessed to take care of this family."


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC





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