Diwali – A Celebration


Gus Peterson

Diwali Banner

Camille Bugayong, Co-Editor-in-Chief

On September 25th, United Asian Voices of West Orange hosted a cultural celebration for Diwali at West Orange High School. On a cloudy and rainy-ridden day, the festival provided all the light and warmth needed to illuminate the faces of participants and guests. Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. Although in 2022, it falls on October 24th, Diwali was brought to West Orange early. 

Being asked to write a story on this event was an immersive and educational experience that highlighted some of the best aspects of West Orange. The sound of live music and excited chatter could be heard from the parking lot as guests walked in wearing eye-catching traditional attire. Vendors marked a sharp contrast against the green field and enticed guests with festive decorations and a display of each company’s offerings. In a self-guided tour, guests could visit each tent to learn about certain aspects of Diwali and Indian culture. Vendors included Diwal’oween, Charming Treasures, Jewelry by Trupti, The Pure Incense, and Rose Couture. The full list can be found at @uavwestorange on Instagram.

Vendors at Diwali – Photo by Gus Peterson

Student host Vanisha Janaki was one of the first to greet me with why it’s essential to celebrate Diwali in West Orange. “It’s hard being Asian American in America [because] there’s not many places to see other people like you and [with this event] we can show that we are here,” says Janaki. “We are part Indian, part Asian, while also being born in America.” 

The Diwali celebration puts front their best entertainers and activities to deliver as much culture as possible. An elevated stage provided guests with a view of live performances. The program included Dances by Saayani & Pankhoori Patel, Songs by UrmiMusic, Kathak Dance by Maithili Patel, and Sitar/Tabla by David Freeman & Mustafa Bhagat. The full list can be found at @uavwestorange on Instagram. Performances continued throughout the event and guests crowded around to witness a bloom of culture. 

Elixar Dance Team – Photo by Gus Peterson

Aside from being hosts and guests, a number of students from West Orange High School also participated in the event as performers. The WOHS Elixar Dance Team performed a fusion Bollywood dance. “The point of the dance is how Indian culture/music has inspired other sectors of performance,” says Krisvel Montenegro. 

Another dance team from West Orange High School created a choreography that featured a fusion of step dancing and Bollywood culture. “We came up with dances that were native to the culture in order to pay homage,” says the Optimal Precision Step Team. 

Deepa Krishna, a United Asian Voices member speaks with me about the importance of spreading Indian culture in hopes to create a global world with interplanetary World Peace. “Our culture has been in isolated pockets and we’re trying to just be known, especially all the countries on the far east side of the world,” she says. Her message ties back to how crucial it is for people in America to learn about other countries and cultures, “We want to give our kids who grew up here a chance to learn about our culture because they are just the same as every other American kid. This is a way for them to connect with their heritage and for others to recognize us as someone different but also part of the northern world.” It’s a powerful statement that floats out of the event and rings true for every participant. 

Guests at Diwali – Photo by Gus Peterson

Members of the West Orange Board of Education were spotted at the event. A conversation with Melinda Huerta, a Board member provided information on the logistics of making a community idea a reality. Huerta makes it clear that United Asian Voices led the process of organizing the event and obtaining the vendors. As for the Superintendent and Board of Education? They were solely responsible for approving the usage of the facility. 

“Obviously for us, it was a no-brainer we didn’t have to put it to a vote,” she says with a laugh. I assure her that this is something every member of West Orange will be glad to hear. 

“Any kind of celebration where it’s an organization like United Asian Voices where it’s very community focused with any type of advocacy, we are always very supportive of.  Sometimes [the Board of Education] does not necessarily say that we believe in [something] but allowing the parents, people, and community to come and do it themselves,” Huerta continues. 

Overall, the West Orange Board of Education is supportive of community involvement and allows people to come forward and celebrate cultural aspects they wish to see more of within the town. 

It is part of our mission to lift up and amplify our voices, especially in this time of hate and violence.

— Fannie Chan Jarvis

United Asian Voices achieved its goal with Diwali. I, along with many others walked away with an appreciation for Indian culture. Despite, the celebrations coming to an end, the diffusion of Asian culture and unity continues to be prevalent throughout the town.