Source: Huffington Post
By Jesselyn Cook
Organizers say the event celebrates light over darkness to promote “love and harmony in a society that feels extremely divided at this moment.”
NEW YORK ― New York City’s iconic Times Square transformed into a vision of South Asian culture on Saturday, as thousands of revelers gathered for an early celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is the biggest and most important holiday in India. It lasts for five days, and coincides with the Hindu new year.
Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs celebrate the religious occasion every autumn in countries throughout South Asia and beyond. In the United States, major Diwali festivals have lit up communities from California to Texas to North Carolina in recent years.
The massive Times Square event ― the largest Diwali celebration outside of India ― has been growing in size since its debut in 2013, attracting large crowds including many people from the city’s numerous immigrant communities. It’s the largest South Asian ethnic event in New York City, where at least 3 million residents ― more than one-third of the population ― are foreign-born, per the Department of City Planning.
The greater New York area is home to some 717,000 Indian citizens, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates. Nationwide, people of Indian origin represent about 1 percent of the population. In fact, India is currently the largest source of new immigrants to America, surpassing Mexico and China.
Diwali at Times Square is the creation of Neeta Bhasin, president and CEO of marketing firm ASB Communications. Bhasin, who moved to the U.S. from India four decades ago, says she is dedicated to teaching people about Indian culture and traditions.
“Being an immigrant woman, I felt compelled to showcase the beauty and the richness of our culture, and what better way than bringing our incredible festival of Diwali, that celebrates the victory of light over darkness [and] knowledge over ignorance, to the center of New York, Times Square?” she asked.
She believes the annual event is “more important now than ever.” In the wake of the 2016 election, Americans have witnessed a rise in polarizing, anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric from White House officials, including President Donald Trump. One of Trump’s earliest and most controversial executive orders, widely referred to as the “travel ban,” restricts immigration and general entry to the U.S. from specific countries for purported national security purposes. Human rights groups have claimed the ban is unconstitutional and promotes xenophobia.