Deepavali: On Culture and Community

It was a pleasure to be invited to the Oklahoma City Tamil Association Deepavali Festival this past weekend. In any new social situation there always exists, for me anyway, a feeling of uneasiness. As social creatures, there is always that unconscious (sometimes conscious) desire for us to be accepted. Also, having majored in anthropology, I have this concern about undue intrusion in other people’s lives. However, it turns out that all my worries were merely a product of my own culture and not theirs. My husband, son and I were the only non Tamil family present, and yet we were welcomed with warmth and generosity.
Even the children ran up to my son and immediately wanted to play. Everyone seemed genuinely excited that we were there and they were more than happy to share their festival with us.

The beautiful sense of community we encountered was not only wonderful for us, but also holds a vital purpose for the people of the Tamil community in the Oklahoma City area. The Oklahoma City Tamil Association and cultural associations like it, all preserve aspects of culture that their members have left behind. The members are all of south Indian birth and are migrants to the United States with American children. The Oklahoma City Tamil Association provides lessons in traditional language, dance and music as well as community events and opportunities for these children to experience their parents’ culture. So often when we see children in a culture born to parents of another culture, there is the danger of cultural loss. Try as parents might to pass on their customs to their children, the children are ultimately a product of the society they are most exposed to.

If the Oklahoma City Tamil Association did not exist, I am afraid these children would have much less experience with south Indian culture. Most do not go back to visit enough for it to have a real impact on them. It really is amazing to have these pockets of culture that are so needed in our modern world. They provide a social pillar for those that have left their culture behind and a link for their children. They also provide others with the opportunity to gain a broader world-view and much needed sense of community, regardless of cultural boundaries

All images copyright: Catherine Carter 2015