The Association of Indians in America (AIA) celebrated its golden jubilee on December 1 at Garden City Hotel in Long Island, New York.
This year, AIA elected its first female president, Dr. Urmilesh Arya, while Ravishankar Bhooplapur was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening, where nearly 400 AIA members were present along with Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY, 3rd District), Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL, 8th District), Consul General Ambassador Sandeep Chakravorty, Mrs. Taruna Chakravorty and Bollywood Star Anupam Kher.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated AIA by sending a special message of greetings at the occasion and applauded the organization for “delivering a pioneering role in the promotion of the interests of the Indian community in America and in celebrating the unique identity and culture of the community.”
The evening started with an invocation by Geeta Setia, followed by the American national anthem by Riti Sunshine Bhalla, a TV host and medical student and the Indian national anthem.
President Arya highlighted the achievements of the organization over the last 50 years including:
- The launch of Diwali celebrations in New York and at the White House
- A nationwide voter registration drive with the participation of U.S. President Gerald Ford and several congressional leaders
- A successful campaign to get the USPS to issue a Diwali stamp
- A charitable initiative by raising substantial amount of funds to help India during the Bhopal Gas leak and the Floods in Bengal
- Obtaining minority status to benefit small businesses owned by Indians to secure government contracts
- Project India’s relief work for victims of natural, industrial and other disasters and its partnership with NGOs in India to combat AIDS
Dr. Arya also spoke of the many challenges for the community and stressed that AIA’s future goals and aspirations should not be on the back of other ethnic groups.
The prevention and treatment of blindness among underprivileged children and women empowerment in remote villages of India are among the future goals of AIA.
Keynote speaker Congressman Krishnamoorthi stressed on the community’s participation in the political process, while the program included a brief excerpt from Varinder Bhalla’s TV interview with U.S. President Gerald Ford as part of the voter registration drive undertaken by AIA in 1984.
Ambassador Chakravorty applauded AIA for its achievements and committed all assistance of the Consulate in furthering the goals of the organization.
He also highlighted how the relationship between Indian Americans has strengthened in the past few decades and it will continue to do so.
Ambassador Chakravorty added that by the year 2030, India will have the fourth largest GDP and will thrive in information technology, medicine, research and defense.
Stressing the growing importance the Indian people in America, Congressman Suozzi said that in earlier times, there were three I’s that were important, representing the people of Ireland, Israel and Italy, but now the fourth I representing the Indians is equally important.
Anupam Kher entertained the audience with the narratives of his childhood struggles and stressed that his earlier failures only strengthened his resolve to pursue and achieve his goals.
Dr. Narinder Kukar, a past president of AIA and a past trustee of the board, was recognized with the lifetime achievement award for his dedicated and untiring contributions to the organization.
He told the audience how much AIA has grown in the past 50 years and highlighted some of the great work the organization has done including some charitable acts to help those who have been affected by national disasters, as well as working to remove Indians to be labeled as “Caucasians” on the US Census.
Dr. Kukar also spoke about how much the organization has grown in the past 10 years, now with local chapters from New York to California.
Dr. Arthur Klein, the President of Mount Sinai Health Network was presented a special AIA Honor Award.