Many Americans think of India as a homogeneous entity, but Indians have a different perspective. All Indians do not look alike, talk alike, dress alike, or even eat and drink alike. India’s astonishing diversity enriches not just India but our community in the U.S. as well. This fact results in a dizzying array of Indian associations, cultural, religious, and political groups, where shifting and sometimes conflicting alliances are common.
Amid this hustle and bustle stands the Indo-American Community Federation (IACF), a symbol of unity and friendship. Its board of directors has been unchanged for 15 years. IACF’s events are attended by many leading Indian organizations. Once a year, it brings an unmatched array of elected officials at all levels face to face with the rich diversity of Indian groups in the Bay Area.
The organization’s founder and chairman, Jeevan Zutshi, founded the nonprofit organization in 1993 to foster cultural exchange in the Indian community and to raise the community’s profile in mainstream politics.
The group’s annual event, Unity Dinner, began in 2002 when the board of directors felt that the fall of the Twin Towers would herald a new era in American history, where all Americans regardless of ethnicity or political beliefs would coalesce to rid the world of terrorism. They felt that it was important for Asians to demonstrate their resolve to work together toward this goal, by a concrete and visible action.
The response from dozens of Bay Area ethnic organizations and elected representatives at city, county, state and federal levels was immense. Over 400 people attended the first event, representing many major associations in the Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Hispanic, Afghan, and Bangladeshi communities, along with mayors and other senior officials from Fremont, Newark, Union City and Milpitas, and California state legislators and senators, and congressmen elected from these areas.
The IACF has held a Unity Dinner every year since, featuring keynote speakers who have achieved excellence in many walks of life, ranking up to the First Lady of California, Sharon Davis. The dinners have recognized dozens of worthy activists and leaders by judiciously chosen awards, featured informative and moving but quite brief speeches, and entertained hundreds with a diversity rarely found in other events. The organizers have made a special effort to reach beyond Indian culture, in terms of cuisine, music and dance, while retaining a distinctively Indian flavor.
This year’s event will feature keynote speaker Mohammad H. Qayoumi, president, California State University, East Bay; emcee Jim Wieder, former Channer 4 anchor; 10th anniversary honorees: Ro Khanna and Ash Kalra (rising stars of Indo-American community); India Currents (Vandana Kumar) for Excellence in Journalism. Entertainment will be provided by Dance Identity, and dancing and music by DJ Bitzy.n