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Diwali 2022: An All-American Affair as Politicians Join Celebrations Courting Indian Americans

Diwali 2022: An All-American Affair as Politicians Join Celebrations Courting Indian Americans

  • From the White House to the first Diwali Mela in Edison, New Jersey, to the Diwali Dusshera fair in Sugar Land, Texas, festivities highlighted the significance of the Indian American community in the American landscape.

From the east coast to the west and in between, Indian Americans came out in large numbers to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. This year’s celebrations were special not only because of the easing of Covid restrictions but also because of the scope of the celebration. 

From the White House to the iconic Times Square and World Trade Center in New York and the first Diwali Mela in Edison, New Jersey, to the Diwali Dusshera fair in Sugar Land, Texas, festivities highlighted the significance of the community in the American landscape. However, it was not just these landmark events that commemorated the annual festival. Mainstream stores like Costco sold fireworks and Indian sweet boxes, and some city hoardings, banks and other small businesses acknowledged the festival.

The celebrations got a lot sweeter thanks to India’s nail-biting win against Pakistan during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2022 match at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Oct. 23, and the installation of Rishi Sunak as U.K’s prime minister. Many politicians and celebrities congratulated team India and Sunak on Twitter and thanked them for making the festivities more special.

Several lawmakers including Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthy (D-Ill.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Bob Melendez of New Jersey, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, joined the community in celebrating Diwali across the country reflecting on their contributions and the relevance of the festival of lights in the contemporary world. 

At the White House, a diverse group of more than 200 Indian Americans attended a Diwali reception on Oct. 24. Dressed in their festive best, officials, elected lawmakers, actors, activists and representatives of various organizations mingled with each other at the biggest Diwali celebration ever to be held in the White House. First Lady Jill Biden thanked the Indian American community for helping “light our way forward, with courage and kindness, with persistence and faith, with love.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, center; New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, left; and Neeta Bhasin, president & CEO of Diwali at Times Square, light diyas at the Diwali at Times Square celebration, Oct. 15. Top photo: Beto O’Rourke, Democratic candidate for Texas governor, center, with artists and performers at the Dussehra and Diwali Mela in Sugar Land, Oct. 16.

In his address, Biden thanked the community for making the festival of lights a joyous part of American culture. “We are honored to host you. This is the first Diwali reception of this scale in the White House ever to be held. We have more Asian Americans than ever before in history and we want to thank you for making the Diwali celebration a joyous part of American culture,” Biden said. 

Harris recalled “fond memories” of celebrating Diwali as a child. Like many of you, we would go to India about every other year, avoiding monsoon season, and we would go for Diwali … My mother would give us lit sparklers, and we would go into the streets to celebrate this very important occasion.” She said the holiday represents hope to her. “Diwali reminds us to see the light in our world, in each other, and in ourselves.”

Celebrity Chef Padma Lakshmi dancing at Vanity Fair’s Diwali party.

Earlier in the month, Harris hosted a Diwali party at the U.S. Naval Observatory, her official residence, as did Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department. 

The same day as Harris’ party, Oct. 21, former President Trump attended a Diwali celebration hosted by the Republican Hindu Coalition at Mar-a-Lago.

 “Wonderful to be with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago tonight to celebrate Diwali,” tweeted Ohio State Senator Neera Antani. “As we celebrate this Diwali, we will always fight for light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over if (sic) ignorance.”

Immigration attorney Netra Chavan also attend the event.

In Texas, the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, celebrated Diwali with members of the Indian-American community living in the state at his official residence in Austin on Sunday. “Tonight, Cecilia & I celebrated Diwali at the Governor’s Mansion. We welcomed friends as we lit Diwali lamps & celebrated the victory of light over darkness, goodness over evil, & hope over despair. Happy Diwali to those celebrating the Festival of Lights!,” Abbott tweeted with pictures of the Diwali event. Dressed in ethnic Indian attire they also lit the traditional lamp to celebrate the festival.

Meanwhile, in Sugar Land, Abbott’s opponent in the gubernatorial race, Beto O’Rourke also was spotted at a Diwali event on Oct. 16. Beto was seen with members of the Indian American community at Sugar Land. “Happy Diwali! Together, we will ensure that light, love, and goodness always prevail. Great to be with everyone in Sugar Land tonight. Thanks for having me,” Beto said in a tweet.

The festive season began late last month with the start of the Navratri festival. People attended several Garba events as well as Durga puja celebrations hosted across the country. Some Diwali celebrations began early as well. In New York, the Association of Indo Americans held its annual Diwali Mela on Oct. 7 at the South Street Seaport with cultural dance performances, vendor booths and entertainment. The California chapter of the group held a similar celebration at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, Pleasanton, Oct. 15. On Oct. 12, the Desai Foundation hosted their annual Diwali On The Hudson fundraising event that brought together the who’s who of New York’s South Asian influencer scene. The foundation raised over $150,000 at the ninth edition of the event. 

A few days later, in Times Square, Mayor Eric Adams, Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar and India’s Consul General in New York Randhir Jaiswal celebrated the festival of lights along with hundreds of Indian Americans. 

The who’s who of New York were seen at Gracie Mansion for a Diwali celebration hosted by Adams. He urged people to “live in the spirit” of Lord Ram, Sita and Diwali. “There’s too much darkness,” he said. “We have been engulfed in the desire to just find places we disagree,” he added. “Let’s live in the spirit of Ram, let’s live in the spirit of Sita. Let’s live in the spirit of Diwali. Let’s live up to what this holiday represents and then we will know that we have fulfilled our responsibility and obligation.”

The celebration came just a week after the decision to declare the festival of lights a public holiday in New York City public schools. Rajkumar, the first South Asian-American woman ever to be elected to a state office in New York, introduced legislation in the state capital that makes room for Diwali in the school calendar. Adams made the announcement on Oct. 21, alongside Schools Chancellor David Banks and state Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar. “It is long overdue to say to our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist students and communities that we see you, we acknowledge you,” Adams said at the conference. 

On Long Island, New York, State Sen. Anna M. Kaplan (D-Port Washington) joined the Indian Community of Manhasset for their 7th Annual Diwali Celebration on the rooftop at Mint in Garden City. The annual tradition brings together dozens of families and local leaders from the Manhasset community to celebrate the festival of lights with cultural performances, music, dance, delicious food, and a raffle supported by local small businesses. I had a wonderful time celebrating Diwali at the Indian Community of Manhasset’s 7th Annual Diwali Celebration. It was an honor being a part of this beautiful tradition that brings families from our community together to celebrate this important heritage and culture. Thank you so much to the organizers and all the student performers who did such a great job. I’m looking forward to coming back next year!”

Indian Americans in the tristate area were also treated to a digital animation displaying Diwali imagery on the iconic World Trade Center. The display was curated by the South Asia Engagement Foundation in collaboration with Durst Organization and ran continuously from Oct. 22-24 from sunset until 2 am. On Oct. 22, the New York Police Department (NYPD) performed the ceremonial color guard in honor of the festival. The community gathered outside and also said a prayer for peace, harmony and prosperity for the country.

Celebrities were behind either. Many like Lilly Singh, Cal Penn, Jay Shetty, Jay Sean, Sendhil Ramamurthy, and others shared their photos from the White House Diwali. 

Notable New Yorkers like Kelly Ripa, Padma Lakshmi, Jay Sean, New York-based designer Bibhu Mohapatra, and Sarita Choudhury attended a Diwali party hosted by Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones at the Pierre Hotel. 

Fashion designer Prabal Gurung, Indian fashion designer duo of Falguni and Shane Peacock, and Kal Penn were the co-hosts of the party which was “a luminous spotlight on South Asian culture, fashion, food, dance, and music,” as reported by Vogue magazine. “Guests took the ‘South Asian Black Tie’ dress code seriously, wearing magnificent lehengas, jewels, sherwanis, and suits,” the Vogue report added. 

Nick Jonas posted on Twitter a Diwali Pooja photo with his wife and daughter. 

Sundar Pichai spent Diwali by watching the last three overs of the India-Pakistan match again.

Actor John Cena wished his followers on Twitter. “We should always strive to find the best in ourselves, the truth in our conversations, and the light in others. Wishing everyone who celebrate a happy, healthy, and safe Diwali!”

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