Chhaya CDC’s Annual Chatpati Mela Celebrates “Home” through Food, Socially Engaged Art, and a Superb Line-up of South Asian Performers
Jackson Heights, NY – On Saturday, July 21st, 2018 an estimated 2,500 people attended Chhaya’s Annual Chatpati Mela, or “Street Fair” in Jackson Heights, Queens. In light of increased gentrification and displacement in the neighborhood, Chhaya CDC chose the theme of “Home” for this year’s Mela. In its work, the non-profit organization has ramped up its efforts in housing preservation, and will soon launch a small business initiative to support entrepreneurs who are struggling to stay in the neighborhood. This cultural event is an opportunity to showcase South Asian goods and performances, but also serves as a space to unify and strengthen the community.
“For 18 years Chhaya has symbolized Home for thousands. We have helped individuals and families save their home, acquire their home, gain the skills & services to make NYC & Queens home through ESL classes, immigration services, financial education, credit building, and more.” stated Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director of Chhaya CDC, “Today at our Annual Chatpati Mela, we have come together to celebrate and promote South Asian culture, which is so deeply entrenched in the neighborhood of Jackson Heights.”
Media entrepreneur, and Queens native, Trisha Sakhuja, Co-Founder & CEO of Brown Girl Magazine, helped tell the story of the Chatpati Mela, which is in its 9th year running in Jackson Heights. “Brown girl magazine’s motives align very well with Chhaya’s in that we both want to build and foster communities for South Asian Americans, so being here today as the Emcee is a no brainer”, stated Sakhuja.
Located right on Chhaya’s front door at 77th Street between Roosevelt Avenue and 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, the festival was arranged with a main stage one end of the street, and a workshop space on the other. A host of vendors and community partner booths were situated in between. Main stage performances ranged from classical Bharatanatyam, to Bollywood and Bhangra. Notably, Dancer/Choreographer Parijat Desai + Dance In The Round, performed A Garba Triptych, along with dancers:Trinity Bobo, Sameena Mitta, and Melissa Morrone, after which the performer invited the audience to join in and learn some garba steps.
The current political climate was not lost in the Mela curation. Mela-goers could register to vote atAdhikaar’s booth, participate in an art project to map community safety with the Hate-Free Zone Queens coalition, or take an anti-Street Harassment Workshop conducted by another local non-profit, DRUM, as part of their Eckshate gender justice campaign.
Community leadership awards were presented by Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz, to locally renowned street vendor, Jhal Muri Dadas, as a Small Business Trailblazer, and Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi of India Home, for Community Impact.
“For decades, Chhaya has empowered the community by uplifting families and amplifying voices on fairness, justice and respect. Chhaya is an integral part of buiilding the best of the Borough of Queens. It is my honor to participate in this year’s Chatpati Mela, a celebration of the cultural heritage, cuisines and arts of the South Asian diaspora community,” state Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz.
Sanwar Ahmed is known for his singing and his delicious Jhal Muri cart. He received much notoriety after a feature in Anthony Bordain’s Parts Unknown Series. At the age of 89, and after 38 years living in New York City, a Go Fund Me campaign has been initiated to pay for his return to his wife and two children in Bangladesh. India Home was recognized for elevating the issue of aging in the South Asian community, and for being the first secular organization to provide services for seniors inclusive of the entire South Asian community.
An award was also presented to the Raj Kumari Cultural Center for Arts and Activism. RCC’s mission is to preserve, teach and present the arts and culture of Indo-Caribbean communities from Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica and Suriname living in the New York Metropolitan and Tri-state area. The Center works to establish identity and overcome isolation of the Indo-Caribbean people and youth by creating bridges of understanding and appreciation to the wider multi-ethnic and cultural society. Chitra Singh, of Raj Kumari Cultural Center, also performed live vocals with acoustic guitar with her sister Pritha Singh, and Atheana Spathena. Singh’s smokey voice and heart felt lyrics captivated the audience. Her group is self-described as, “a group of multi-disciplinary artists who are moving current issues of human rights into rhythms and melody on the acoustic guitar.”
Two Schools of Hope bookbinding workshops took place in the Workshop Space exploring the Mela’s theme concept of “home.” Master Bharatanatyam teacher Malini Srinivasan taught a class under a tent to giggling youngsters and a few adults alike. Henna painting was provided by Nira Kamal, of MehdibyNira, born in Bangladesh and raised on Queens. The beautiful art form of henna is a staple activity at the Chatpati Mela. Henna is simple plant that carries healing properties and thousands of years of tradition.
A major draw for many fair-goers was the famed Annual Pani Puri Eating contest – Queens’ version of the Coney Island hot dog eating contest, with spice. The contest garnered 25,000 likes on Facebook.
Artists/Artist Groups: Chitra Singh of Raj Kumari Cultural Center, Gangadai Kirtan, Habibi Express, Karma, Malini Srinivasan & Dancers, Masoom Moitra, MeenMoves, Parijat Desai + Dance in the Round, Nepali Dance Theater, Masala Bhangra, Sharif Rabby, Umesh Mangipudi.
Vendors: A1Bazaar, Al-Araf, Anshu Accessories, Bancha Ghar, Bonoshree Enterprise, CUE RATED, Inshadycompany, Jhal Muri Dadas, JHAL NYC, Khao-Na Kitchen, Kolkata Chai, Marks Home, Care, 3 Sisters, Rashda Fashions Boutique, Styles by Mona, WISHWAS.
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Chhaya CDC is an anti-poverty non-profit organization based in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. Founded in 2000, Chhaya is committed to breaking down the barriers to the economic, social, and political advancement of low income South Asians. Chhaya – a Sanskrit word meaning “shelter or shade” – aims to protect and promote affordable housing in New York City. Chhaya has helped prevent hundreds of foreclosures; assisted first-time homebuyers in obtaining thousands of dollars in down-payment assistance; played a critical role in the ongoing effort to legalize basement apartments to expand the pool of safe and affordable housing; provided individuals with key immigration services to better navigate daily life; empowered families with financial management tools and skills; and fostered the civic engagement of thousands of South Asian New Yorkers.