- Vivekananda’s teachings sowed the seeds for my desire to promote mutual understanding, pluralism and peace. That’s why I organized with others in the community to form the Troy Interfaith Group.
When September comes around, two dates stand out: September 11 and Sept. 21. Long before 2001, on Sept. 11, 1893, Swami Vivekananda gave a historic speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. As the Hindu representative from India at this major event of the 19th century. He opened his speech with the words “Sisters and brothers of America…”
A life-size statue of Swami Vivekananda graces the entrance of the Bharatiya Temple of Metropolitan Detroit (top photo), in my hometown of Troy, Michigan. I was often dispatched to explain to temple visitors the basics of Hinduism and the history of Hindus in America — because of my American accent and my experience in doing so since childhood… “why does your mom have a dot on her head?” My interactions with these “tour groups” were always under the gaze of this ambassador for pluralism and peace.
After the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, I took to heart Vivekananda’s exhortations: his final words in Chicago were appeals to “Help and not Fight” for “Assimilation and not Destruction” and “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.” I applied to be on the City’s Ethnic Issues Advisory (EIA) Board to better engage the diversity of my hometown. We organized many events highlighting the sights, sounds and tastes of the East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern and other ethnic groups, working with a multitude of residents and those in the region. Today, the EIA Board and its Ethni-City programs have new avatars: the Global Troy Advisory Committee organizes an International Day at the city’s annual fall festival with vibrant performances from world music and dance.
Vivekananda’s teachings sowed the seeds for my desire to promote mutual understanding, pluralism and peace. So, when I was excluded from the City of Troy’s National Day of Prayer event a few years later, I organized with others in the community to form the Troy Interfaith Group (TIG). My passion to promote interreligious dialogue stemmed in part from long conversations in the parking lot of City Hall, after our EIA Board meetings with a fellow board member and engineer. While we worked for rival auto companies, we found common ground with kids the same age, as South Asian Americans of minority faith communities. It didn’t matter that he was a Muslim from Pakistan, and I was a Hindu from India: our kids were all-American, dealing with us immigrant parents. Amin and I were both TIG cofounders and leaders who helped to define the mission: to invite all faith communities to gather, grow and give for the sake of promoting the common values of love, peace and justice among all religions locally and globally. We believe that peace among peoples and nations requires peace among the religions.
Over the last 17 years, we have had some key events: an inclusive interfaith celebration of the National Day of Prayer, community gatherings to commemorate the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, and an interfaith Thanksgiving service on the Sunday before the holiday. At Harvard University, the Pluralism Project showcases the story of the Troy Interfaith Group as an example of how we can engage our religious diversity, teaching it as a case study in their Divinity School.
Today, TIG and Global Troy have new faces at the helm, but my commitment to both groups is constant: I provide connections to TIG Secretary to the broader dharmic community, help the Chair of Global Troy find performers from the multitude of talented people in the metro Detroit region, and participate in the events as the community’s State Representative in the legislature.
This year, I took that representation to Lansing and introduced my last commemorative resolution as a member of the State House, to honor the International Day of Peace, on an extra-long session day which caused me to miss the annual TIG event at home. This year, the event featured the UN theme: End Racism. Build Peace. Along with a 24-hour call for cease fire, the UN highlighted that “achieving true peace entails much more than laying down arms. It requires the building of societies where all members feel that they can flourish. It involves creating a world in which people are treated equally, regardless of their race.”
Due to partisan rancor, I wasn’t allowed to make a floor speech. Instead I went to Facebook Live and highlighted HR 339, the importance of individual efforts for peace, and the work being done in the district to bring harmony to our neighborhoods, quoting from a 1955 song originally sung by a children’s choir: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me….
Padma Kuppa, the State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District serving her second term, is the Democratic candidate for the Michigan State Senate in District 9. A mother, an engineer from NIT Warangal, and an automotive and IT professional for over 2 decades, and a civic and interfaith leader for years, she is the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan state legislature. You can reach her at email@example.com. Learn more at ElectPadmaKuppa.com or Kuppa.housedems.com.