WO teen honors Indian roots through event

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Residents gathered on the front steps of Town Hall to celebrate Indian Independence Day, raising India’s flag in a ceremony organized by 14–year-old Riya Goel on Wednesday, Aug. 15. The event brought members of West Orange’s Indian community together, something Goel said she hadn’t often seen.

“I didn’t think the Indian community was strong enough, so I thought it was something I needed to do,” Goel said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “Hopefully we can make it a yearly thing.”

To prepare for the event, Goel went to Mayor Robert Parisi with the idea. During an interview with the Chronicle at the event, Parisi said the event was easy to support.

“She came to me with her mom with a bunch of ideas and she put it all together,” Parisi said. “She’s an impressive young girl. It’s hard not to support a kid who’s that passionate about something.”

A rising sophomore at West Orange High School, Goel said she wanted to bring the Indian community in West Orange together.

“We have a lot of people in the community, but it wasn’t really together,” she said. “So this was the perfect opportunity. Anyone who is interested can come; I was trying to bring more awareness to the community. People can network here and get to know each other.”

The event came a week after the town held a similar one for Jamaica’s Independence Day. The West Orange Hispanic Foundation has also held flag-raising events for various nations. Parisi said that the town wants to support as many groups in town as possible.

“We’re happy to support the different community groups and do what we can to help them,” Parisi said. “We’ve been talking to the Human Relations Commission about possibly creating a committee for something like this. But this was all Riya’s idea and she put it together, so we were happy to support it.”

Shreya and Divya Anand sang the American national anthem to open the ceremony, and then Goel’s younger sister, Sachi, spoke about her Indian heritage.

“I have never forgotten my Indian roots,” Sachi Goel, a rising sixth-grader, said at the event, describing her second grade class’ end-of-year party for which her mother made Indian food for her classmates. “My mom used to give me Indian food in my lunch and my friends would make fun of it because it was different. But eventually they even started sampling it. If someone gave me the choice to another culture, I would still pick Indian.”

Residents Jay and Soni Shah attended the celebration and said it was a good way to bring the local Indian population together.

“It’s a growing population in the township, and around the state and country” Jay Shah told the Chronicle at the event. “So it’s important to have a celebration like this.”

“It’s important to recognize other countries and cultures,” Soni Shah said. “West Orange is great about it; they always encourage things like this. We’ve lived here for almost 20 years and we love it.”

Sangeeta Badlani, another resident in attendance, said that West Orange had held the event in the past, but one had not been organized in several years.

“This is a great event, I’m very proud of them,” Badlani said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event of Riya and Sachi Goel. “I remember coming to these years ago and we had a good turnout. Now Riya has the baton, hopefully she can keep it going.”

“Knowing people who look like you and speak like you is important,” Riya Goel said. “It’s important to establish those connections. The young people can get to know the old people who look like them. I want to do as much for the country of my roots as I can.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic