Indian-Americans in Chicagoland launch national museum celebrating heritage

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Left, tech entrepreneur Jai Shekhawat addresses the audience at the Dec. 1 brunch in downtown Chicago where the new National Indo-American Museum’s launch was announced; Right, Sekhawat introduces Chicago-based IT entrepreneur Sam Pitroda. (Photos: NIAM)

The Chicago-based Indo-American Heritage Museum went national Dec. 1, announcing its rebranding as the ‘National Indo-American Museum’.

The IAHM said in a Dec. 11, press release that the newly named organization was launched at a private brunch in downtown Chicago, attended by members of the museum’s Board of Trustees, its associate board, advisory council, board alumni, long-time patrons and their guests who gathered to celebrate the milestone event and the work that the museum has done.

“The first and only institution of its kind in the country, NIAM (formerly IAHM) has worked extensively at the grassroots level, to preserve the history and promote understanding of the diversity, contributions and culture of Indian Americans,” the press release said.

Since its incorporation as a 501(c)3 in 2008, the museum has held several exhibitions and collaborations with leading Chicago institutions, such as the Field Museum and the University of Chicago.

Chicago-based IT entrepreneur, Sam Pitroda, who served as advisor to the Indian Prime Minister for various technology missions, spoke at the event about why the time for a National Indo-American Museum is now, and why Chicago is the right place for it.

“The Indian community in America today is characterized by beauty, diversity, chaos, confusion, the Gandhian values of truth, freedom, equality and justice,” Pitroda is quoted saying at the event, in the press release. “We are planting an important seed today and with the vast technological resources at our disposal, we can make a big difference together,” Pitroda said, adding, “Our children’s children will see and remember what we did here and now. Chicago has very deep roots with the Indian community and so I’m very glad that NIAM was established here and not anywhere else.”

The President of NIAM, Padma Rangaswamy, spoke about the museum’s vision.

“Since 2008, we have been documenting and preserving the history of our community, conducting educational and cultural programs that celebrate all facets of Indian American culture, collecting immigrant stories, and showcasing the achievements of Indian Americans and their contribution to the building of America,” Rangaswamy said. “But we always knew that we were part of a larger, more comprehensive narrative that included Indian Americans beyond Chicagoland.  Today we embrace our national possibilities, our national destiny and announce our rebirth as the National Indo-American Museum.”

The recently formed Associate Board, comprises primarily second generation Indian Americans, headed by Sanjiv Gajiwala who conducted the program.  He spoke of how, as second generation Indians, “our stories and experiences are different, not tied as much to our mother-tongue or community (as most immigrants are), but more tuned to the idea of how to pay respect to  our parents who came here and made the way for us. Our work lies in recognizing, collecting, telling these stories, defining what it means to be Indian-American today and connecting with more of the community.”

Archana Kumar, chief of staff to the CEO and chief of strategy at Northern Trust, a sponsor of the event, spoke about their employees and their growing centers in India, and how the work of the museum fits their belief in nurturing cultural and social roots.

Entrepreneur Jai Shekhawat, founder of Fieldglass Inc., and trustee of the Field Museum, is also a member of NIAM’s Advisory Council.  He spoke of being impressed by the vision and dedication of what was then the Indo-American Heritage Museum team. “This is definitely an idea whose time has come!”he said.

Rangaswamy recognized NIAM’s special benefactors, Dr. Umang and Paragi Patel and thanked them for their generosity in donating a building to serve as a home for the museum.

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