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With Over 1,200 Attendees, Odia Convention in Suburban Chicago was a Blast

With Over 1,200 Attendees, Odia Convention in Suburban Chicago was a Blast

  • The OSA convention is vital to Odias' cultural and emotional integration. Let us continue the celebration.

I just returned from attending the 54th Odisha Society of the Americas (OSA) convention in Lombard, a suburb of Chicago, July 6- 10, 2023. Last year, it was in the capital city of Sacramento, the golden state of California. Since 1969, the OSA convention has been taking place on July 4 weekend, moving from one city to another in North America. This year, the convention took place the weekend following July 4th with about 1,200 attendees. For three days, the Westin Hotel, Lombard, was full of colors, music, dance, and non-stop fun.

OSA was established in 1969 by a few stalwart Odias to recreate their homeland, celebrate feasts and festivals and pass down the culture and heritage to the next generation. These visionaries were nostalgic for their home left behind and the familiar food, e.g., pakhalaMachha bhaja (fish fry)Saag (spinach), and dalma. They missed speaking Odia and the familiar Odia songs, music, and dance and were worried their children would be deprived of these cultural values. Today, the organization is about 2,000 families strong.

Organizers of the OSA convention have been working for almost a year to feed and entertain the attendees. The local chapter served five meals daily: breakfast, lunch, evening snacks, dinner, and late-night tiffin. The food was sumptuous, and there was a cozy feel even with so many people. The cultural programs showcasing Odisha, seminars, and various contests for the young mind were crowd-pullers. 

Manaranjan Pattanayak and his wife, Minati, OSA attendees since 1970, told me they come to OSA to see friends. Otherwise, “Why would an 86-year-old come to this meeting”? The first question they discuss among friends is how the children are doing then their children. Pattanayak is happy that OSA has come a long way since its inception. It is much bigger and more grand. The heartening thing is that the children ask their parents, are we going to OSA next year? OSA has established a continuity of Odia culture in the ever-changing diaspora. Old-timers Dr. Uma Mishra and his wife Shanti Mishra took pride in saying they rarely miss a convention. Another old-timer told me that attending the convention is like returning to her natal home. After three days, it is hard to go back to the routine. 

One of the exciting features of the convention was activities by the next-generation Odias. Seminars on health care, the Budding Scientist Contest, How to Write One Song, Mental Health, Modern Odia Family in the Diaspora, Higher Education in Odisha and the Diaspora, and Odisha’s Economic development, among many others, were very informative and educational. A meaningful forum was the connection between the grandparents and grandchildren.

 The informal activities are always fun. We had started antakshari, an impromptu singing game, in 2014 at the OSA convention in Columbus, Ohio. Around midnight after the cultural programs and Mehfil, some of us got together in the hotel lobby to play antakshari with the old and new songs (Bollywood, Odia, folk songs). We sang every night till about 4 am, totally losing the sense of time.

We made lifelong friends at the convention, even though many of them we hardly knew initially.  

I talked with many children. After they arrive at the convention, they forget their parents, hang out with people of their age group, make instant friends, and stay in touch. Some mothers told me that their daughters, in their 20s, have made friends and plan to meet at the next convention in Nashville in 2024.

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I was pleased to see children and youth engaged in conversations with one another and genuinely had a good time. Once they marry outside their community, they become absent. There were a few non-Odias who accompanied their Odia spouses and family. But their number is much smaller. Older adults come here to hang out with their old friends. Tani Purohit, a recently retired school teacher from Canada, said, “Coming to OSA is rediscovering her Odia identity and connecting with the culture.” 

It was encouraging to see talented young people from various walks of life organized booths to showcase their art, textile design, and paintings. One highlight was to see journalists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, dancers, and musicians from Odisha who came to perform at the convention.  

In the contemporary globalized world, even though people are connected through technology, they need face-to-face interaction for cultural and emotional satisfaction. Seeing the older people and the next generation of Odias come to the OSA convention annually to revitalize themselves by visiting extended family and friends under one roof is heartening. Going to OSA may be expensive, especially with long-distance travel, accommodation, and food. Still, each year, the number of attendees is more significant than the previous year. What does it say? The OSA convention is vital to Odias’ cultural and emotional integration. Let us continue the celebration.

Annapurna Devi Pandey teaches Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and was a postdoctoral fellow in social anthropology at Cambridge University, the U.K. Her current research interests include diaspora studies, South Asian religions, and immigrant women’s identity making in the diaspora in California. In 2017-18 she received a Fulbright scholarship for fieldwork in India. Dr. Pandey is also an accomplished documentary filmmaker. Her 2018 award-winning documentary “Road to Zuni,” dealt with the importance of oral traditions among Native Americans.

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