The George Washington University hosts its 10th student-led South Asian Heritage Celebration (SAHC) over the coming weeks, with events including a joint discussion with “Kaikeyi” author Vaishnavi Patel and “Monsters Born and Made” author Tanvi Berwah March 23; a keynote talk with “Indian Matchmaking” star Aparna Shewakramani March 25; and vibrant performances at Bhangra Blowout April 1. GW Today spoke to sophomores Ashna Patel and Ashvini Selvanayagam, board members of the GW South Asian Society who are spearheading this year’s celebration, about what SAHC means and why stigmatized topics matter.
Q: Let’s start with the basics: What is the South Asian Heritage Celebration?
Ashna Patel: Celebrating South Asian heritage gives the South Asian community at GW a place where we can all come together and celebrate something that is really important to all of us. SAHC is a collaboration between a number of organizations on campus, including but not limited to the South Asian Society, Indian Student Association, Pakistani Student Association, Hindu Student Association and many more. It gives us all a sense of community that we come together during the month of March annually to celebrate.
Q: What makes GW’s SAHC important?
Ashvini Selvanayagam: SAHC really sets us apart from other universities—GW is one of very few universities in the country that even declares an official South Asian heritage celebration. It’s so special to be able to introduce our community to South Asian heritage. So we want to promote inclusivity within that community, but we also want to bring on other community members who want to celebrate with us. I know personally, I love bringing my friends who don't have South Asian identities or heritage and introducing them to aspects of my culture that help me feel closer to them.
Q: Tell us about your theme for SAHC this year.
AS: Our theme for this month is “Pushing Perfection”—it’s about how the amplification of social standards and images are pushed upon South Asian youth. We really wanted to emphasize the silent societal pressures that a lot of South Asian youth face, and especially the many different intersections of those pressures that result in a lot of psychological stress. Many of us are balancing a Western identity along with the pressures that come from our heritage—pressures like fulfilling familial goals and aspirations for the people who have sacrificed so much for us, while at the same time defining our own personal ambitions and staying true to that. We also deal with created stereotypes that you see all over the media, like the classic nerdy character that is portrayed time and time again.
SAHC is an opportunity for us to create events that really emphasize South Asian success and happiness, while also having open conversations about stigmatized topics like mental health within the South Asian community. Especially at GW, where academics are really important to a lot of students, pressure is high, but we don’t always think about the mental health cost. So through our theme this year, we really want to bring this topic to the forefront of conversation while celebrating the foundation of our heritage and identity.
AP: We’re also partnering with the South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network, an organization based out of New Jersey that helps educate communities on mental health literacy and ensure adequate delivery of culturally competent mental health care. So any profits that the South Asian Society makes from these events will go to SAMHIN and their mission.
#GWToDo: South Asian Heritage Celebration
Below, a preliminary list of some SAHC events to look forward to. Follow SAHC on Instagram @gwusahc for more information and to stay in the loop as locations and times are finalized.
March 20 at 7 p.m. Indian Student Association (ISA) Yoga
District House, Room B117
2121 H St. NW
March 22 at 7 p.m. SAHC SAS Trivia Night
Duquès Hall, Room 654
2201 G St. NW
March 23 at 4 p.m. Qawwali Night with Pakistani Student Association (PSA)
The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum
701 21st St., NW
March 23 at 8:30 p.m. Virtual book talk with Tanvi Berwah and Vaishnavi Patel
March 24 at 2 p.m. Hindu Student Association Holi Celebration
2130 G St. NW
March 24 at 4 p.m. SAHC Stranger Project by the ISA
District House, Room B307
2121 H St. NW
March 25 SAHC Keynote Speaker: Aparna Shewkramani
Jack Morton Auditorium
805 21st St., NW
$10 with student ID
March 29 at 5 p.m. Vibe Check with ISA
March 31 at 2 p.m. Cricket match
April 1 at 7 p.m. Bhangra Blowout
730 21st St., NW
$20 to $30