Diwali, the festival of lights, is jostling for the spotlight with all things dark and eerie. This October, Halloween arrived on the heels of Diwali with not a day’s distance between them. The two festivals mandate décor mania, but with contrary motifs! As an immigrant proud of my Indian heritage while embracing all things American, I wonder if there can be a confluence of cultures given the pull of opposing elements.
Rummaging through my stock of Diwali and Halloween decorations I imagine the absurdity of ghosts and ghouls roaming our front yard while cheery festoons complete with pastiche flowers and bells dangle over doorways. As always, where I see a conundrum my daughter envisions opportunity. She is tickled at the prospect of back-to-back shindigs. “I’m so lucky,” she gushes, giddy with excitement, “I get to celebrate two festivals instead of one!” For her, it has never been a matter of choosing between two affiliations. America gives her the freedom to not have to make such a choice. She embodies an implicit acceptance of both identities, a fluid duality that makes her singular in appearance and spirit.
We spend the next few hours planning her Halloween costume, resizing a gossamer Indian ensemble for Diwali, and shopping for paraphernalia and provisions. Along the way, I indulge my nostalgia for things I once thought of as having left behind forever. Amazon, may the blessings of Ganesha (the rotund Hindu elephant god) be upon them, proffers everything from decorative “diya” lamps and silver coins embossed with images of Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), to varicolored sand for “rangoli” (intricate floor patterns). On Zazzle.com, we select a beautiful greeting card from a splendid array of Indian prints and patterns. We buy curry powder and Basmati rice at our regular grocery store along with bags of candy corn. Finally, we head to the post office to purchase the recently-released Forever Diwali stamp! The Indian in me is thriving in America.
Immigrants are not the disease that America needs to wall itself against, as Mr. Trump suggests. We are the hands that cure disease, paint picket fences, defend the country, plow the fields, build satellites. A family feast at Thanksgiving, a merry tree at Christmas, a backyard egg hunt at Easter — we partake in all, and bring more reasons for all to revel — Diwali, Eid, Chinese New Year celebrations, Greek festivals, Cinco De Mayo and many more. We are the salsa verde on your chip, Mr. Trump, the Aleppo pepper in your kebab.
The official calendar at my son’s school (a venerated academic institution in Atlanta) marks all multicultural festivals during the year. Come fall, the school hosts an alfresco celebration of cultures and cuisines under the umbrella of “World Fest.” To me, this is indicative of being accepted in a foreign land. It is a testimony of more than ethnic and religious “tolerance,” it is a resounding vote for inclusion. Here we drown out the undertones of xenophobia and racism with a chorus of kinship.
A few years ago when we moved into our all-white neighborhood, we invited everyone on our street for an Indian feast on Diwali. We decorated our home with lamps and lights and everyone came — children and parents, empty-nesters and grandparents — all curious and congratulatory. Our home was full of laughter, and our hearts were full of joy for having shared our special day with new friends. Friends we now think of as family. If my daughter runs out of sugar while baking cookies, she dashes off to the adjacent house with an empty bowl, just as she would have done if her aunt were living next door.
My daughter and I position four pumpkins by our front door and arrange a spangled web of orange lights on the hedges along the entrance. She is quick to point out that the color of the lights is perfect for both the occasions. Watching the saffron bulbs sparkle under the black cape of the night sky she is struck by a sudden flash of inspiration.
“We should carve that fat pumpkin as a Ganesha!”
Will she suggest making a tandoori turkey for Thanksgiving? I wonder.