South Asian Performing Arts club offers outlet, showcases student heritage

The South Asian Performing Arts club offers an outlet to showcase Community students’ diverse cultural heritage.

The organization’s co-presidents Pritha Chartterjee and Karthika Nair said they launched the club in response to a lack of recognition and appreciation of South Asian cultures. The club aims to showcase art forms, the pair said, from countries like Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Maldives.

Nair, who has danced Kuchipudi and Kathak — classic Indian dance forms — since the age of six, felt a need for students to showcase their cultures at Community. The senior felt students deserved appreciation for the time, effort and dedication they invest in the art forms of their cultures.

“I’ve never felt like there was an outlet for that at school,” Nair said, “or even a community that cared.”

The school community, instead of celebrating South Asian culture, Chartterjee said, has influenced South Asian students to “detach from their roots.”

In middle school, Chartterjee and Nair said they were “trying to fit in with the people around us, trying to be someone they [weren’t].”

Instead of celebrating their heritage, Chartterjee said, they saw their peers mocking it, “separating themselves … just so they [could] fit in.”

“We kind of want to squash stereotypes that a lot of South Asian kids feel when they try to embrace their culture,” Chartterjee said.

High school, Nair said, offered the opportunity to visit other schools and network with students across the nation — an “eye-opening” experience.

“There are other places where these kids are accepted for what they are doing,” Nair said. “They’re not hiding it.”

The organization’s goal, Nair said, is to make students of South Asian descent “feel that all the talents they have matter, and put them into a space where they can celebrate their culture.”

The club meetings will showcase dance performances, “singing, theater, instruments and maybe even circus acts,” Chartterjee said.

The club’s start, Nair said, was revealing.

From “people we were very close with,” Nair said, “we found a lot of talents that we just didn’t know about.”

“I just feel like that’s so important to see in your school that people actually care about what you’re doing,” Nair said.

The group’s first meeting occurred during Diwali, a religious festival celebrated in the Hindu, Sikh and Jain religions.

“I think it was very meaningful that the first club meeting took place on Diwali, Diwali is all about choosing knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness,” Chatterjee said.

During the week of the five-day religious festival, members of Community’s South Asian population celebrated by wearing “South Asian attire” to school.

“There’s a beauty in seeing something you celebrate with your family being seen all over the school,” Chatterjee said.

The experience, though, was “bittersweet” for Chartterjee.

“You kind of wish that you’ve had that throughout your time in public school,” they said. “Not that you’re about to graduate, that’s when it all starts.”

Chartterjee hopes the organization can help educate non-South Asian students, they hope that in this Community, South Asian events are treated like Western events.

The organization is planning on community outreach — visiting middle schools to spread South Asian cultural awareness and is planning to end the year with a community event hosted in partnership with the McLean County Indian Association.

Chatterjee hopes the club, created as a Sociology class project, continues to grow at Community after their graduation this year.