For Reporting and Public Affairs: International, one of the final core classes in the Journalism MA curriculum, we were not able to go abroad to report (darn). So instead, we found international stories right in our own backyards.
Chicago has rich, vibrant immigrant communities from all corners of the world. I chose to report on Indian immigrants in Chicago, and because our assignments required extensive video and photo coverage, I was excited to learn that Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, fell after election week this November!
Our professor, veteran international and war reporter Steve Franklin, connected me with journalism faculty member Shalini Parekh, herself a reporter from India. Shalini told me about her experiences coming to the States years ago, and what it was like raising her two kids who were born here.[flickr id=”8187226619″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
Then, as we were wrapping up the interview, Shalini generously invited me to her family’s Diwali celebration at their home in the northern suburbs. I was honored and really, really excited.
On a personal level, I was thrilled because my fiancee and I have some dear friends from India, but we’ve never been able to make it to one of their Diwali celebrations. On a professional level, I knew the lights and colors of Diwali would be visually exciting and would definitely give me something beautiful and important to share in my story.
When I arrived at the Parekh family home with camera and notepad in tow, I was warmly welcomed and ushered inside. Shalini gave me a tunic to wear, and I started chatting, mingling, and snapping pictures. It was a cozy, intimate gathering of longtime family and friends, and I enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories.[flickr id=”8188308220″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
Then it was prayer time for old and young alike. Diwali honors the goddess Lakshmi and celebrates the victory of good over evil. So the family gathered around a beautiful altar to sing and pray, lighting candles and incense and ringing bells.
After hugs, kisses, gifts, and cookies following prayers, we all bundled up and headed outside for the most exciting part—fireworks![flickr id=”8187227897″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
Shalini and her husband told me that in India, the Diwali fireworks are as huge and ubiquitous as the Fourth of July fireworks are here. But since this was a much smaller family affair, they lit dazzling (but much smaller) firecrackers and sparklers.
Outside, time wrapped up with the burning of the effigy of the ten-headed and evil Ravan— ultimately defeated by the good Rama. I snapped pictures of family hugs and grins as the flames slowly dissolved the effigy to its frame.
It was fantastic to meet such a generous and welcoming family, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the traditions they hope to pass on to their children. In fact, I think this was probably my favorite reporting experience so far.