What a communitywide Holi celebration means to two high schoolers from Bloomington-Normal
Two Bloomington-Normal high schoolers are inviting you to participate in one of their Indian culture’s most important celebrations – Holi, the Festival of Colors.
Karthika Nair and Pritha Chatterjee are seniors at Normal Community High School and co-presidents of the school’s South Asian Performing Arts club. The club is the lead sponsor of Holi Moli - A Bloomington-Normal Festival of Colors, happening from 2-6 p.m. April 8 on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington. The free event is open to the public.
Holi has a lot of mythological origins, and Nair and Chatterjee also point out its many personal meanings. It’s also a lot of fun. Powdered colors will be available for purchase, with music by Cosmic Rays, and food from Bloom Bawarchi. Attendees are asked to wear white for “for maximum display of the colorful beauty.”
“When you go there, you say, ‘Happy Holi!’ and can smear color on whoever you want,” Chatterjee said.
"There’s a notion that you have to choose either present American or present Indian. Why can’t we do both?"Pritha Chatterjee, NCHS senior
Holi carries a special significance in Bloomington-Normal, which has more Asian Indians (nearly 6,000) than any other downstate metro community in Illinois.
That created opportunities for young people like Nair and Chatterjee, who both grew up performing Indian classical dance. But they said there weren’t many opportunities to bring those cultural artforms into their school or show them off to their peers.
“When coming to school, everyone had their thing. They had sports, they had dance, they had gymnastics,” Chatterjee said. “We felt like we could never truly share what we had been doing since we were little. There was always the stigma and the subtle, passive-aggressive racism.”
So last fall for a class project, they created the South Asian Performing Arts club at NCHS. They said they were overwhelmed by the positive response, including support from their teachers.
“That’s what we’re trying to do – for the incoming freshmen, for middle-schoolers or elementary schoolers, for anyone coming into our school. They know that they have a place where they can be represented, and they can enjoy themselves in their artform in the place they are for most of the day,” Chatterjee said. “If our middle-school selves could see us right now, their jaws would be on the ground. I never thought I would be so confident in my culture and my own skin and my own artform.”
Nair, who was born in the U.S., grew up in Bloomington-Normal. She said she’s always felt comfortable in her own skin here. Even in the past year, Nair said she’s seen a positive shift toward more inclusivity at NCHS.
“Sometimes we struggle with that balance of who we are. Because we’ve grown up in an American society, but we have roots that are also Indian and South Asian,” Nair said.
“There’s a notion that you have to choose either present American or present Indian. Why can’t we do both?” Chatterjee said.
Added Nair: “Why can’t we enjoy everything we have to offer?”
Holi Moli is set for April 8 in downtown Bloomington. The South Asian Performing Arts club is collaborating with the City of Bloomington and the McLean County Museum of History on the event. Co-sponsors include Carle Health, Realtor Meenu Bhaskar, and the Parke Regency Hotel & Conference Center.