Food is one way to preserve the culture of India, immigrants in Chesterfield say

By Amy Burlage and Ernie Siciliano

Veena Ramnarain makes a tasty cottage cheese and spinach dish, her husband Vijay says.  But, the meal means more than just mixing dairy and vegetables.

Veena and Vijay came to America in 1984 with their two children.  She grew up in Mumbai, India.  He is from Mauritius.  They now live in Chesterfield County but have cultural ties to Henrico.  For the Ramnarains, food is one way they can preserve their Indian culture while living in America.

They are part of a growing Indian community that has become a presence in the local food market.

"We are able to buy all the ingredients for authentic food here," said Meena Midha, another Indian immigrant to Henrico.

The Ramnarains have seen the growth first hand.  When they first came to America, there was just one Indian store in the Richmond area.  Now, they are able to choose from a variety of establishments, such as Taj Mahal Groceries, Indo-Pak Grocery, or restaurants like India K'Raja.

"In the United States, every time you go out it's Pizza Hut or McDonald's," Vijay said. "When you look at Indian food you go area to area, town to town.  It is different cuisine."

Nevertheless, the Ramnarains don't dismiss American food either. "[Our children] ate one meal at school, which was American, and they ate one meal at home, which was Indian," Veena said.

The Ramnarains said that they also made sure their kids watched Indian movies, also known as "Bollywood."

"My kids were watching TV seven days a week and were exposed to America, and it's harder to teach them a language if they don't hear it every day," Vijay said.

Indian movies have less sex and violence than their American counterparts and are more "song and dance," Veena said.

As Indian parents try to impart Indian culture, it is often Indian children who help teach their parents American culture.

Mona Narang, who left Mumbai in 1977, has two children who she refers to as her "brown American boys."    They taught her what clothes were acceptable fashions for them to buy her and colloquial expressions like "that's cool" and "it's the bomb."  Narang enrolled her boys in Indian dance classes at the Hindu Center of Virginia, but they stopped at the age of 15.  One of them is now a singer in Nashville.

The effort toward maintaining Indian culture has gotten easier as more Indian immigrants have moved to Richmond.  Veena Ramnarain said that in the 1980s, Indian immigrants were so few, that it was nearly impossible to transmit their culture. That has changed.

"With the larger community we are so many€¦and all speak the Indian language and it's nothing to be ashamed of," she said.

One thing that helped Narang was the many community organizations.  Narang volunteers at the Hindu Center of Virginia and is a member of the India Association and the American Asian Society of Central Virginia.  Narang called these organizations "reassuring," because she was able to speak in her native tongue and talk to parents who are raising Indian children in American, and who are also trying to instill an appreciation for American culture. "When you are totally new, in a familiar surrounding adjusting is much easier," she said.  "All of that makes you feel right at home."

In fact, Narang feels more at home living in Richmond's West End than in India.

"When I go back to India, I'm in for a culture shock," she said. "America is home."

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One Response to Food is one way to preserve the culture of India, immigrants in Chesterfield say

  1. Falguni says:


    I would like to know is it difficult for the indian kid for 7 years to asjust in American school.
    I am planing to move to richmond but is really worried about my son who is 7 years old. He should not feel odd one out. Please reply ASAP.


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