Exhibition provides unique insight to the struggles and accomplishments of Indian Americans

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Exhibition provides unique insight to the struggles and accomplishments of Indian Americans
Decorated Indian tabla player Pandit Shankar Ghosh and noted Indian classical vocalist Shrimati Sanjukta Ghosh with Vikram (Boomba) Ghosh at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, Lagunita, Calif., ca. 1970. Photo courtesy of the Ali Akbar Khan Foundation.

SEATTLE, WA.- Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, on view at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry explores the rich heritage and diverse contributions of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans in the United States. From the builders of some of America's earliest railroads and farms, to civil rights pioneers, to digital technology entrepreneurs, Indian Americans have long been an inextricable part of American life.

Making its Northwest premier at MOHAI, Beyond Bollywood uses photography, artifacts, and audio stories to tell a uniquely American story. The exhibition was created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and is presented in Seattle by MOHAI.

Amy Bhatt, co-author of Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest, curated MOHAI’s locally focused addition with insight provided by the museum’s Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation Community Advisory Committee. The exhibit’s presentation at MOHAI includes a look into the Northwest’s Indian American community, highlighting key moments in our region’s history and compelling stories of Northwest Indian American pioneers.

“This exhibit is just a snapshot of the deep roots and many contributions that the Indian American community has made in the Pacific Northwest,” said Bhatt. “We hope that Beyond Bollywood will encourage visitors to learn more about the rich and layered history of this community, particularly about its struggles and successes.”

Even though the coastal cities of the Pacific Northwest were among the earliest ports of entry, the region is often underrepresented in histories of Indian American immigration. From Bellingham’s farming communities to the growing cities of the Eastside, to the heart of downtown Seattle and south to Kent, the Pacific Northwest has been a microcosm of both the challenges faced by Indians as they entered American life, as well as a space of integration and acceptance.

Structured in a combination of thematic sections, the first section of the exhibit explores the diversity of this community. India and Indian Americans are as diverse as America itself -- where ancient history and rituals, global consumer culture, and a wide range of socio-economic spectrums meet in dynamic and surprising constellations.

The exhibit’s second thematic section explores working lives including images and artifacts illustrating an array of contemporary and historic industries to which Indian Americans contribute—from Pacific Northwest-focused industries like agriculture and tech, to nationally-relevant areas like hotels, science and biomedical fields.

The third section focuses on arts and culture. India is no stranger to America, especially when it comes to popular culture. And although Bollywood now has center stage, it is just one vision of India in the American imagination.

This section also examines the amount and tenure of arts and culture contributions from Pacific Northwest Indian Americans. Although some organizations have existed in the region for several decades, new ones with a focus on the Indian diaspora or second (or third) generations are growing as the community expands.

The final thematic section of the exhibit explores stories of people within the Indian American community claiming space for themselves, and the tensions and struggles they face. Today, many Indian Americans are an integral part of the political landscape in the Pacific Northwest. Breaking away from ethnic and gender stereotypes, Washington State has seen a landmark number of Indian American women elected to city councils, state legislature, and to the U.S. Congress. Many of these representatives carry forth a message of equality and social justice.

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