The first annual South Asian Desi party drew a large crowd on Friday, Feb. 1 at Bellingham High School. The event featured an Indian meal, Bhangra dancing and speakers including Whatcom County councilman Satpal Sidhu and Superintendent Greg Baker.
Desi is a term for the people and cultures of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia. The event was a collaborative effort between administrative intern Rav Dhillon and county council member Satpal Sidhu with the support from Isabel Meaker and the Department of Family Engagement in Bellingham Public Schools.
“We reached out to Satpal for advice and support as he is an influential and well-known leader in the South Asian community in Whatcom County,” Dhillon said. “Once we had an idea what we wanted to do for this event, we split the responsibilities with one another.”
Planning for the event began last November. The team used a variety of ways to send the message out about the event including a postcard that was mailed to families, phone calls personally inviting families to attend and asking South Asian students across all schools to spread the news.
“Being a South Asian myself, it is very important to me that our students in our district be proud of their identity and culture,” Dhillon said. “I wanted them to see how many South Asian students we have across our district and have the opportunity to connect with one another.”
Dinner and Dancing
The event on Feb. 1 welcomed nearly 100 people. Families were able to visit with school staff and enjoy an Indian meal. The meal included dal makhani (lentil soup), paneer sabji (mixed vegetables), basmati rice, butter chicken and naan bread. After dinner, guests were invited to the auditorium for entertainment and a short program. Two children from Lynden performed a Bhangra dance. After them, a Seattle-based Bhangra group led the audience in a dance lesson. They invited everyone to get on their feet, or join them on stage.
When everyone returned to their seats, Superintendent Greg Baker spoke about The Bellingham Promise with the focus on equity, diversity and inclusion and how the district is striving to strengthen their relationship with the community. He expressed his excitement to be at the event and meet with families. Dr. Baker introduced councilman Satpal Sidhu, who spoke to the crowd about the importance of parental involvement in their child’s education and to be active members of the community.
Three students from our high schools took turns sharing their experiences. The first student speaker was Nanki Barha, a freshman at Squalicum High School. Nanki previously attended private school, so this is her first year in public schools. She had to say this about her experience at Squalicum:
“Before going to Squalicum, I remember constantly worrying about what public schools would be like, but as soon as I got off my bus and began walking inside the building, I immediately felt safe. I could feel a positive vibe throughout the school. I was amazed by the kind and flexible teachers that welcomed me warmly. I was also amazed to see acceptance of all people at Squalicum.”
Nanki encouraged families to play an active role in their child’s education. She said “with higher standards, a child then has more motivation to pursue a career.”
The second student speaker was Mayhsa Deol a freshman at Sehome High School. Mayhsa moved from Sequim, Wash. last year and said she feels like she’s grown a great deal as an individual since then. She shared this with the audience:
“Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the family move to Bellingham. I feel I wouldn’t be the person I am now had I not moved out of my comfort zone. For example, Applied Physics isn’t normally the kind of class I would take and at first it was a challenge. Now, it is one of my favorite classes and I’m so happy that I took the course.”
Mayhsa encouraged her peers to venture outside their comfort zone and to participate in school activities and community events.
The final student speaker was Saniya Dhir a junior at Squalicum High School. Saniya is a member of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council. She shared these reflections with the audience:
“I feel that as a minority, we are all very connected. We bond together on every occasion, we let go of grudges and celebrate together, we aren’t afraid to stand up for one another, and we never leave anyone out. My friends have always mentioned how they find it admirable that we strive to include everyone no matter of their background or beliefs and come together as people.”
Saniya is planning an event through United Diversity to bring people together to celebrate each other’s cultures. She hopes to host it soon.
Dhillon said that she feels the first Desi party was a success and that she enjoyed seeing families connecting with each other. Furthermore, she said it was important that school and district staff experience and be part of the South Asian culture. Dhillon said that this first event was important for making connections and to begin planning what could become a very meaningful annual event to South Asian families in the future.
“My hope for future events is to have more student and parental involvement,” Dhillon said. “I hope by having the students and parents involved in planning the next community event together that we have an even bigger turnout!”