NIAM Launched in Chicago with Prominent Community Supporters
December 11, 2018
On Sat, Dec 01, 2018, the Chicago based ‘Indo-American Heritage Museum’ (IAHM) went national and announced its rebranding as the ‘National Indo-American Museum’ (NIAM).
At a private brunch event in downtown Chicago, members of the museum’s Board of Trustees, its associate board, advisory council, board alumni, long-time patrons and their distinguished guests 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. Since its incorporation as a 501(c)3 in 2008, the museum has been conducting a variety of successful and highly regarded programs, exhibitions and collaborations with leading Chicago institutions such as the Field Museum and the University of Chicago.
The legendary Sam Pitroda, inventor, entrepreneur, and policy maker, who started his career as a telecom engineer in the 60’s and has served as advisor to the Indian Prime Minister for various technology missions spoke passionately about why the time for a National Indo-American Museum is now, and why Chicago is the right place for it. He narrated about how when he migrated from India to America 55 years ago, the Indian community here was so sparse, spread out and alien, that his tiny wedding ceremony was covered by a local news channel at the time! In his words, “The Indian community in America today is characterized by beauty, diversity, chaos, confusion, the Gandhian values of truth, freedom, equality and justice. We are planting an important seed today and with the vast technological resources at our disposal, we can make a big difference together. 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.”
NIAM president Padma Rangaswamy presented the audience with the museum’s bold new vision of becoming the national repository of the entire spectrum of the Indian American experience with new partnerships to expand its work across the country.
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 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.
Padma Rangaswamy said, “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. 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.”
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. She invited everyone to help NIAM preserve the Indian American contribution to the fabric of American life.
Lakshmi Menon, a trustee and co-founder of the museum, along with Dorothie Shah and Padma Rangaswamy, elaborated on the museum’s vision, “As a Chicago institution, we make no little plans. We will have more than text on walls or objects under glass. We look to the corporate pioneers, the technology wizards, and the artistic talent here today to bring the Indian American story alive and spark a connection between the visitor and what he or she is looking at. We are a grass-roots museum, we grew organically from the needs of the community, we will be responsive to their needs and stay relevant. We will be more than a passive receptacle for the past, we will be an active force for the better.”
Sujaya Rupani, NIAM trustee, closed the program, thanking the guests for joining in celebration of the museum’s new identity and sharing in the vision and passion for the future.