The National Indo-American Museum (NIAM), founded in 2008 as the Indo-American Heritage Museum, turned national with its name change in 2018. Its mission statement declares that it "builds bridges across generations and connects cultures through the diverse colorful stories of all Indian Americans."
But is there a common "Indian American" heritage? Given the differences among Indian Americans in language, socio-economic status, religious beliefs and practices, regional origin in India and intergenerational differences here in the US, to name only a few, can Indian Americans claim to have a common or cohesive culture? Is the culture expansive enough to accommodate all the diverse, colorful stories under a single NIAM umbrella, no matter how inclusive? To what extent do family and mainstream perceptions shape Indian American identity and influence the desire to connect with one’s heritage?
Explore these critical questions about Indian American identity and culture in this workshop, by NIAM's Executive Board Member and Past President Padma Rangaswamy. You will be challenged to think anew about Indian American heritage and the role of a museum in shaping a community's quest for a distinctive national identity in the American mosaic.
Padma Rangaswamy is an historian and published author with several major publications and encyclopedia entries on South Asian Americans to her credit. Among her publications are Namasté America: Indian Immigrants in an American Metropolis (2000), a comprehensive study of Asian Indian immigration, and Indian Americans (2006), a secondary level reader chronicling the achievements and struggles of Indian immigrants in North America. She has taught courses on Immigration History, World History and Global Cultures at Chicago-area universities, including University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, and Loyola University. At the Chicago History Museum, she worked with the public to present neighborhood-themed exhibitions, programs, research collections and publications. As a lead facilitator, lecturer, and presenter on U.S.-India related cultural and immigrant issues, she designed curriculum and trained executives to develop global mindsets and succeed in a multi-cultural environment.
She has a Ph.D. in History with Concentration in Immigration Studies and South Asian Civilizations, and an M.A. in English Literature with Specialization in Creative Writing, both from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Padma is a founder member and President, Board of Trustees (2017-2020) of the National Indo-American Museum (www.niam.org), a non-profit dedicated to preserving, documenting and promoting the understanding of Indian American history and culture.