Collection, Indian American

Donate Shoes to the “Beyond Bollywood” Exhibition

Donate a pair of shoes to the exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation.

Want to be part of Beyond Bollywood? Donate a pair of new or gently worn shoes. They can be for any season, style, age, and gender. But please do not mail us your shoes, first send us photos of the shoes to indianamerican@si.edu. You will be contacted via email if your shoes are selected.

Please note that submissions are not guaranteed in the exhibition. There is no compensation for the donation and shoes will not be returned if they are chosen.

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Art, Exhibitions, Indian American

Call for Art Submissions

The Indian American Heritage Project of Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center is looking for artists to create works that use the visual of the H1-B visa as a motif or inspiration and comment upon the experience of temporary and tenuous immigration status for Indian immigrants in the United States.  Themes such as migration, transnational identity, diaspora, economy, outsourcing and the role and reach of technology can also be explored.

Concepts are due
Midnight, March 31

Final works should be no larger than 6’ by 6’ and must mount on a gallery wall.  All media are welcome, including:

  • Graphic Design
  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Printing
  • Collage
  • Photography
  • Mixed Media

Interested artists should submit a concept, including a detailed written description and sketches/images by midnight EST on Sunday, March 31, 2013 to Curator Masum Momaya at MomayaM@si.edu with the subject line “H1-B”.

Upon review of concept submissions by Smithsonian curatorial staff, a small number of artists will be asked to create the final work and submit digital representations of it by 5pm EST on Friday, May 31,2013.

Digital representations will be displayed by Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center in an online gallery, and the winning work will be featured in an upcoming exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation at the National Museum of Natural History from December 2013 through January 2015.

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Indian American, Intern Update

Intern Update: 2013 Indiaspora Inaugural Ball

Click on the image to view more photos.

By Sara Schreck, Spring 2013 intern

The Indiaspora Inaugural Ball was a success and a chance to highlight Indian American accomplishments and presence in America under a long-deserved spotlight. Various VIPs glided along the red carpet and spoke into waiting microphones. It was a great debut party for Indian Americans, who—at 3 million strong—are becoming a political force in U.S. politics.

Among the VIP guests were Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate India Caucus; Congressman Joseph Crowley, co-chair at the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans; the Honorable Nirupama Rao, Indian Ambassador to the U.S.; and Congressman Ami Bera, a newly elected member from California. Indian Americans from all fields were represented such as technology, politics, government, academia, and business.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) was asked by the founder of Indiaspora, M.R. Rangaswami, to promote another first for Indian Americans: the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project, an initiative about an American story yet to be told—that of Indian immigrants and their descendants. The Project is anchored by a groundbreaking exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. This exhibition takes visitors beyond the spectacle of Bollywood cinema, which is globally popular. Exotic and romantic stereotypes of India are broken by a rich history of Indian immigration to the U.S. and numerous ways in which Indian Americans have shaped America. Beyond Bollywood will open at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in late 2013.

The President did not attend the ball, but his half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng (wife of Konrad Ng, APAC Director) made a surprise appearance. “It is certainly a reflection of how important India is and how important Indian Americans are to the fabric of this nation. I would just like to celebrate all of the contributions—artistic, political, and so much more of the community,” she remarked. A video clip of her response can be viewed here at 04:25.

APAC staff and interns were available at an information table to answer questions and introduce the exhibition to ball attendees. There was also an opportunity for attendees to enter a sweepstakes to win a private exhibition tour of Beyond Bollywood. A banner featuring an iconic photograph of the first Asian American Congressman, Dalip Singh Saund (with then Senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson) was near the table for guests to pose with. To see photographs from the evening, click here.

To learn more about the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project and Beyond Bollywood, please visit http://apa.si.edu/indianamerican

While federal funding is a mainstay of the Smithsonian, the Asian Pacific American Center receives no direct funds from Congress and relies on financial donations to fund its initiatives, including the Indian American Heritage Project. If you would like to make a donation to the Project, visit http://indianamerican.si.edu/donation.asp. It is fast, easy, and secure!

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Indian American

Press Release: TV Asia Network Named Media Sponsor for Beyond Bollywood

Official Press Release

TV Asia Network Named Media Sponsor for Exhibit on Indian American History and Culture

TV Asia network has teamed up with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center as the media sponsor for the upcoming exhibition, “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation.” This exhibition for the center will bring to life the rich history of immigrants from India and Indian Americans in the United States and detail their many contributions to America. Through a collection of photographs, artifacts, videos, interactive stations and stories, visitors will learn about the Indian American experience and the many dynamic roles they have played in shaping American society and culture.

“The Indian American story has yet to be fully told,” said Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. “Visitors of all ages will leave the exhibition with a deeper understanding of this vibrant community as they strive to realize life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in America. This exhibition is about celebrating a community that embodies the American spirit.”

“Beyond Bollywood” is scheduled to open in late 2013, and it will occupy more than 5,000 square feet of space at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Over a two-year period the exhibition is expected to draw more than 7 million visitors before embarking on a national tour in 2015. “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation” is the largest project undertaken by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in its 15-year history, and the first to focus on Indian American culture.

“The success of this initiative relies greatly on our ability to engage the public in the months leading up to the exhibition opening,” said Ng. “By partnering with TV Asia, we have taken an important step in increasing the public’s knowledge and understanding of this exhibition.”

“Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation” is a project of monumental significance to our community and TV Asia,” said H.R. Shah, chairman and CEO of TV Asia. “As a media sponsor we are honored and excited to be a part of this program.”

TV Asia is celebrating its 20th year in United States with a headquarters in New Jersey, and it is a part of the growth of the Indian American community. The “Beyond Bollywood” exhibition supplements TV Asia’s mission to promote and celebrate the community and its achievements in the United States.

“There is still some public perception that we as Indian Americans are foreigners or outsiders in the United States,” said Masum Momaya, curator of the exhibition. “But history shows the opposite is true. We’ve been here since the earliest days of the nation and had our hands in building it to what it is today—politically, professionally and culturally. TV Asia connects to the Indian American community day in and day out.”

About Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Established in 1997, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center produces programs and exhibitions about the Asian Pacific American experience and works in partnership with organizations across the Smithsonian and beyond to enrich collections and activities about the Asian Pacific American experience. It shares the challenges and stories of America’s fastest-growing communities. It connects treasures and scholars with the public, celebrates long-lived traditions and explores contemporary expressions. The stories it tells are vital to a deeper understanding of the nation and a richer appreciation of Asian Pacific cultures.

For information about the center, visit http://apa.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

About TV Asia

TV Asia is an Edison, New Jersey based Pay TV Channel serving over South Asians across the United States and Canada on Dish Satellite & IPTV Platforms and on major Cable systems such as Time Warner, Comcast Xfinity, Cablevision, Cox, Charter, on Telco providers Verizon FIOS and AT&T U Verse and on Rogers Cable and Bell IPTV in Toronto Canada. TV Asia’s mission is to highlight South Asian Talent in the U.S. and Canada and promote our rich heritage in the arts, religion, sports and culture and inspire the current generation to uphold and carry forward the rich and ancient ideals of our glorious past. Visit www.tvasiausa.com for more information.

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Indian American, Staff Update

Beyond Bollywood Q&A with Masum Momaya

Click to download the PDF of this issue.

The following text is from the September 2012 issue of India Review, a publication of the Embassy of India, Washington, D.C.


In September 2013, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program will open Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. Beyond Bollywood will celebrate the history, art, and culture of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans, and showcase the vitality of the Indian diaspora.

Dr. Masum Momaya succeeded Dr. Pawan Dhingra as the new curator of the Indian American Heritage Project in June 2012. She was earlier a curator at the International Museum of Women and engaged in curatorial work for the Indo-American Heritage Museum. She is also a recipient of a National Science Foundation Research Fellowship.

In a candid conversation with India Review (IR), Dr. Momaya talks about Beyond Bollywood and the future plans of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program.


IR: What can people expect to see when they visit Beyond Bollywood?

MM: Something amazing, I hope. The exhibition will highlight the defining vibrancy of the Indian-American community: sights, colors, energy, tastes, and diversity. While much of the exhibition will feature iconic images, music, art and artifacts to tell stories about innovation and achievement, it will also recognize our struggles as a community and our many civic and political contributions to the United States; this is an aspect of American history that is not well known by the general public.

IR: Will the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program organize events around the exhibition?

MM: Absolutely. Beyond Bollywood is the starting point for a larger conversation about the Indian American experience. From 2013-2014, we are planning a wide variety of public programs — an Inside the Actors Studio conversation with an Indian American actor, a film screening, dance and music performances, a book reading, a demonstration and tasting with an Indian American chef, a hip hop/spoken word evening, a comedy night, and hopefully much more.

IR: Will Beyond Bollywood travel or do you have to come to Washington, D.C.?

MM: After a one-year tenure at the Smithsonian, Beyond Bollywood will travel to venues across the country for 3-5 years. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) will organize the tour of the traveling version of the exhibition. In addition to the more than 7 million visitors who will see the exhibition at the Smithsonian, we estimate that an additional 100,000 people will be able to experience Beyond Bollywood when it tours across the nation. The exhibition will also have an interactive website.

IR: How can our readers be a part of this effort?

MM: We are still raising funds for the exhibition and looking for supporters. And we are looking for photographs! We are crowdsourcing the story of Indian Americans and asking Indian Americans across the country to share their story. We recently launched a campaign to collect family photos. I hope people will be willing to be part of this effort at collective storytelling and upload their photos to our Facebook page or send them to IndianAmerican@si.edu. Photos should include the submitter’s name or family’s name, the year that the photo was taken, and the occasion.

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Indian American, South Asian

Remembering Balbir Singh Sodhi

By Masum Momaya, Curator
Spring 2012 intern Christine Chou contributed to the research and writing.

Balbir Singh Sodhi

Rana Singh Sodhi holds a photo of his murdered brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi, in the film “A Dream in Doubt” (2007). He was shot and killed at his gas station in Mesa, Arizona, on September 15, 2001. Sodhi is widely considered to be the first hate crime murder victim in the wake of 9/11. Photo by Andrew Ramsammy / ITVS.

Eleven years ago, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed while standing outside the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona.  His death was the first of many reported attacks targeting Arab and South Asian immigrants and Americans in the wake of September 11th, 2001.

The oldest of eight brothers, Balbir Singh Sodhi immigrated to the United States from India in 1987 with a diploma in mechanical engineering.  Indeed, the beginning of Balbir’s story is characteristic of the South Asian immigrant experience.  He lived in Los Angeles, where he worked as a taxi driver, before moving to San Francisco and later Arizona. In 2000, Balbir opened a small business, his gas station, and was known among the community for his generosity. He kept candy for children who visited his store and provided gas at no charge for customers going through difficult times.

Earlier this year, Rana Singh Sodhi kindly donated some personal effects of his older brother, Balbir, to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  Among the artifacts include a journal that contains his business records, a diary entry written one day before his death, and a blue turban worn by him, which will be on display during the 2013 Smithsonian exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation.

The exhibition will explore the history, daily life experiences and professional, political and cultural contributions of Indian immigrants and their descendants.  The story behind objects such as the turban represents the shared struggle faced by immigrants of many ethnic and religious backgrounds as they strive for acceptance in a new land.  The memory of Balbir, and others like him, remain part of American history in a post-September 11th world.

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HomeSpun, Indian American

Happy Indian Independence Day!

On this anniversary of India’s independence, as an Indian American I am thrilled to be part of a project at the Smithsonian that will be the first exhibition to recognize our incredible legacy. Just as our ancestors fought for the right to determine their own destiny, this exhibition will allow us to tell our own stories.

Today, we launch a campaign that invites you to share your photographs. When immigrants from India started settling in the U.S. during the early 1900s, most all popular images of these pioneers repeated the exotic stereotypes of the Orient that were already in wide circulation. For example, the Chicago-based McLaughlin Coffee Company marketed trading cards (pictured right) with highly exotic “East Indians” whose imagery was far from the lived experience of Indian immigrants in America at the time. While some may consider these representations to be from a different era, they continue to influence the popular understanding of Indian identity. I feel that more can be said about Indian immigrants and Indian Americans when images such as those in Hollywood films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom continue without an exhibition and curriculum to tell our story.

How to Submit:
1. Upload to our Facebook page or send them to homespun@si.edu

2. Identify what is going in and who is in the photo

3. Identify where the photo was taken and when

A picture is worth a thousand words. Share your family photos and contribute to our collective storytelling. Upload photos to our Facebook page, send them to homespun@si.edu, or mail it to the address below. Please include your name or your family’s name, the year the photo was taken, and the occasion. We will be accepting submissions until September 15, 2012.

Join and like our campaign on Facebook. Your connection with us on this social platform will encourage everyone to be part of this project. Click here to learn more about the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project.

Happy Independence Day!

Warm regards,
Masum Momaya, Curator

Mailing Address:

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program
Capital Gallery
Suite 7065, MRC: 516
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

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HomeSpun, Indian American, Staff Update

Pawan Dhingra’s Latest Book

Life Behind the Lobby by Pawan Dhingra

By Aaron Sayama, Summer 2012 Intern

Pawan Dhingra is the founding curator for the HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project and is the Chair of the Department of Sociology at Tufts University. His latest book, Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream, examines the relationship between the Indian American motelier and the idea of American exceptionalism.

Drawing from first-hand field research, Dr. Dhingra fuses Indian American motelier narratives with various theoretical perspectives to create a balanced and full portrayal of Indian Americans in the motel industry. Dr. Dhingra deftly explores the different means Indian Americans create professional appearances to sustain the growth of their local businesses.

The book concludes with Dr. Dhingra calling for the reassessment of three main threads uncovered while conducting research: the narratives of success, immigrant adaptation, and regionalism. These threads of research follow traditional and received logic about how and why immigrants succeed within America: the utilization of ethnic networks, the notion that attainment—of education, of income—leads to adaptation, and the role regions play in constructing the lives of immigrants. Indeed, Dhingra’s insightful call for a more nuanced approach to how “immigrants construct meanings about and navigate their environment” leaves open the door to more scholarship that complicates the traditional, vertical trajectory of the entrepreneurial immigrant.

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HomeSpun, Indian American

Happy Diwali!

Diwali at the Mandir by Amyn Kassam

Above: Diwali celebrations at the Mandir (Hindu temple) in Missouri City, Texas. Photo by Amyn Kassam (Flickr).

Diwali, the festival of lights, was celebrated by more than 2 million American Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs on October 26, 2011.  It’s observed on the last day of the lunar calendar to celebrate the beginning of a new year. A traditional candle or “diya” is lit to symbolize victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.

From the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program (APAP), we wish you and your family a Happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year!

HomeSpun is a national initiative of the APAP chronicling the stories of immigrants from India and later generations in the US.  Share your favorite Diwali memories on HomeSpun’s Facebook page.

Note: Photo above is from Flickr, a photo sharing website, within the photographer’s specified creative commons license conditions of use. 

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HomeSpun, Indian American, Intern Update

“Sim Sim Salabim!” Insight into Indian Mysticism

By Ted Young, Summer 2011 HomeSpun intern.

If I relied on nothing else other than popular culture to inform me about Indians and Indian Americans I would think that they all have mystical powers somehow related to their religious beliefs… Oh yeah, also they love to dance. Until this summer, when I started doing research for HomeSpun, I never really questioned where these images came from. I am a little ashamed to admit it, but as critical as I am as a Chinese American of the representation of my own ethnic group in the media, I really did not question the ones I saw of Indian Americans. I just accepted that all Indians and Indian Americans had some form of superpower.

Interning here at the Smithsonian APA Program and doing research for the HomeSpun project has opened my eyes to just how ingrained these mystic Indian ideas were in my mind. While researching a range of topics for HomeSpun, from the history of the American circus to the Microsoft Cricket Club, I have been completely fascinated by how India has captured the American imagination.

Indians have long been associated with a certain level of mysticism and magic. Apparently, Indians were considered naturally mystical because 19th century American magicians could not figure out the “Indian Rope Trick” where you can watch here. Though accounts of this trick vary, the basic trick is when the magician makes a rope go up vertically and has a boy climb it. The more outrageous versions of the story have the magician climbing the rope after the boy, cutting him up, and then putting him back together. Despite the numerous published accounts of this trick, audiences have traveled to India to observe it themselves, and huge monetary offers made to learn the secret, American magicians could not figure out how the trick was done. Some tried to explain it as hypnotism while others went as far to claim the trick did not even exist!  While the part about the boy disappearing or being cut up and put together is clearly a stretch, to put it mildly, the basic trick of making the rope stand up straight is not. While American magicians could not figure out how this trick was done, they still brushed the trick off as amateur. However, this never stopped them from pursuing ways of imitating it in the United States. The elusiveness of the trick’s secret just increased the trick’s mysticism and the sense of magic and mystery of India.

The mystery and magic associated with India is as embedded in America as deeply as apple pie. From Johnny Quest to Johnny Carson, American cultural icons have been able to tap into the realm of magic by associating with Indians. Jonny Quest had his Hadji, Carson had his Carnac, and even today Homer Simpson has his Apu. The relation between Indians and mysticism transcends generations. Apparently, secrets remain in India that they just won’t share with the rest of us. It allows them to make rope grow into the air, grants them psychic powers, and as any devote Simpsons fan will tell you, allows them to succeed in the realms of small business.

Hadji from Jonny Quest, Johnny Carson as "Carnic", and Apu from The Simpsons.

Hadji from Jonny Quest, Johnny Carson as "Carnic", and Apu from The Simpsons.

The frustration of not being able to figure out one magic trick is just a small glimpse of the legacy of Indian mysticism in American culture. Personally, I do not even think that the trick is all that impressive, but that could be because I have grown up in an age of computer generated special effects. Seeing a rope stand up by itself does not hold a candle to giant transforming robots fighting each other or Robert Downey Jr. flying around and blowing stuff up or even my smart phone for that matter. Still, the impact of this one trick on American popular culture is astounding. Besides, I still cannot figure out how it’s done.

“Sim Sim Salabim” is what Hadji would say to do magic on the Jonny Quest television show. It has no real meaning or ties to any language.

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