WEST ORANGE, NJ — Last week saw two foreign flags raised on the steps of the West Orange Town Hall to celebrate the Dominican Republic’s Restoration Day on Aug. 16; on Aug. 13, before the Township Council meeting; and on Aug. 15 for India’s Independence Day. At each event, residents waved the flags of the country being celebrated and shared food with their West Orange neighbors.
“We’re very fortunate in West Orange to be part of a community that lives in peace and harmony surrounded by people from all over the world,” Mayor Robert Parisi said at the Dominican Republic flag raising, echoing the same sentiments a couple of days later at the Indian flag raising celebration. “I’m very proud to be the mayor.”
Carlos Michelen, the ambassador from the Dominican Republic to the United Nations, attended the flag raising to commemorate his country’s Restoration Day. The Dominican Republic fought a war against Spain from 1863 to 1865 for independence after the European country colonized the Dominican Republic, which had been independent for 17 years already. The August date is when the war began. Today, it is a national holiday in the country, and is also the day the president is sworn into office every four years.
“This country consistently allows our Dominican Republic community to be ourselves,” Michelen said at the event. “I think I owe this country and this community a very hearty thank you.”
Deputy Mayor Rodolfo Rodriguez hails from the Dominican Republic, and told the West Orange Chronicle in an interview at the event that he was excited to see the flag raised at its own ceremony. The past several years have seen the red, white and blue Dominican Republic flag hoisted with other countries’ flags as part of the West Orange Hispanic Foundation’s monthlong celebration in September and October. Rodriguez is a founding member of the organization.
“This is the first time we’ve done it by itself,” he said. “We had a lot of the Dominican community from Essex County come to West Orange, which is really an honor.”
The Indian Independence Day celebration was organized for the second year by West Orange High School junior Riya Goel, who explained the importance of recognizing the holiday, which marks the day that the United Kingdom passed the Indian Independence Act of 1947, transferring legislative power to the Indian Constituent Assembly.
“This day represents that no one has control over the minds or bodies of Indians except themselves,” Goel, whose parents came to the United States from India, said at the event. “I am truly honored to represent those ideas.”
Goel’s sister, Sachi, discussed the influence of Indian culture on the western world, mentioning yoga and medical practices.
“Indian culture has had a big impact on the western world,” Sachi Goel said at the event. “Everyone here today is helping promote the Indian culture, and we’ve brought that into West Orange.”
Indian music was sung by Hari Krishnan, Geeta Sanjay, Lakshmi Anand and Radhika Rangarajan, and the Indian national anthem was sung by Divya Anand as the flag was raised. Before the ceremony ended, resident Anand Sahasram discussed the Indian independence movement and the similarities between the country and the town he lives in now.
“India is a diverse place, not unlike West Orange,” he said. “From state to state, you get incredible diversity in terms of culture and food and language. Independence was largely nonviolent, and based on the principals that Mahatma Gandhi developed.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic