MOORHEAD — The annual Celtic Festival may be the main attraction at the Hjemkomst Center this Saturday, March 9, but the sights and sounds of another country will catch visitors’ eyes.
One-act play “Living Beyond Bollywood” will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday in the lowest gallery of the building, 202 First Ave N. The production is part of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s touring show, “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” on display in the space through the end of the month.
The show has been up since late October with about a dozen events tied to the exhibit, like fashion shows, a presentation on Indian food and decorations and various lectures on history.
The goal of the exhibit is to show the impact Indian immigrants have had on America and that India is a more complex and diverse country than what the country’s film industry, Bollywood, presents in movies.
“Immigration is a part of America. We should welcome all people,” says Anu Gaba.
She and her husband Vijay and the Indo-American Association of the Great Plains have helped supplement the exhibit to show how Indian influences have made an impact in North Dakota and Minnesota. A thousand artifacts have been collected from local Indians to help tell the story of immigration and settling into a new home.
“One of the goals of this exhibit was to dispel stereotypes and myths,” says Maureen Kelly Jonason, executive director of the HCSCC. “India is so diverse.”
The Smithsonian display explores Indian-American life from the home to the workplace in hospitals, hotels, laboratories and college campuses.
The show opens with a glimpse inside an Indian-American kitchen, with spices and kitchen implements like a pressure cooker readily available. A display of cookbooks by Fargo tastemaker Sherbanoo Aziz is also included.
One item westerners may be surprised to find in a kitchen is a shrine.
“It’s an essential place. Everyone passes through it a couple of times a day,” Anu says of the kitchen. “It’s good to thank God at that time.”
Faith is a significant part of Indian life, and a display representing the main religions of the country — Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism — stands nearby.
“Discussing religion is not taboo in India,” Anu says.
Panels from the Smithsonian highlight significant times in the Indian-American experience, from the first Indians to visit and work in America as sailors employed on British ships in the 1790s.
“I always thought Indians were very recent to America. Indians have been here for over 100 years,” Anu says.
In the early 20th century, Indians, just like Italian and Irish immigrants, helped fill the need for physical laborers in agriculture, lumber mills and on the railroads.
Many employers sought only single men, fearing a family man would be distracted from his work, so some early Indian-Americans found wives with other minorities, like Mexican women in the Southwest and African-American women on the East Coast.
Today, 1 percent of Americans, or about 3.3 million people, trace their ancestry back to India.
Still, 100 years ago the path to citizenship wasn’t easy. One panel tells the story of Bhagat Singh Thind, a U.S. Army veteran who was twice granted citizenship and twice stripped of it in the first quarter of the 20th century. The law stated, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, that only “white” immigrants could become Americans. Thind argued that ethnographers of the day considered those from north India “white.” He was eventually granted citizenship in 1936.
Two decades later, Dalip Singh Saund, of California, would become the first Indian and the first Asian-American elected to Congress in 1957.
The show also touches on the influence of Indian culture, allowing guests to listen to contemporary Indian music and watch a display on traditional Indian dance, including a costume from Anu’s personal collection. Outside the gallery space is a large display about the game of cricket.
Perhaps the biggest impact Indian culture has had on American life has been through the introduction of yoga in 1893. More than 15 million Americans have practiced the exercise.
More recently, young Indians have left their mark on the English language, winning 13 Scripps National Spelling Bees from 1999 to 2014.
In the mid-1960s, Indians first started coming to Fargo-Moorhead as students and professors. Indian doctors followed and found a niche in rural communities like Beach, Oakes and Tioga, N.D., Vijay says.
Today, 1 in 10 American Indians works in health care. Nationwide, North Dakota and Minnesota rank first and second in the percentage of doctors born in India.
The Gabas came to Fargo in 2004 to work as doctors, which they still do.
Something that eased the transition of immigration for the family was attending the annual Pangea event presented by the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, which celebrates the diverse cultures in Fargo-Moorhead.
“I always look forward to that day and tell my secretary I am not on call,” Vijay says.
The event prompted Vijay to join the board of directors of the HCSCC and work to bring in the “Beyond Bollywood” exhibit.
“After this exhibit, I feel much more at home,” Vishay says.