One indication of Minnesota's growing Indian-American community is the ever-expanding annual celebration of India's Independence Day.
On Saturday, India Fest drew more than 10,000 people to the State Capitol's mall, packed with henna artists, booths, food and cultural dances — the biggest event that the India Association of Minnesota has held in at least 10 years.
"There's a lot of pride; this is how the community comes together," said Sunoj Narayanan, the group's president.
Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed it "India Fest Day" to honor the celebration, which is held not just to honor India's Independence Day on Aug. 15, but also to unite Minnesota's more than 40,000 Indian-Americans.
The immigrant group is growing by the thousands each year. In 2000, the Asian Indian population in the state was about 17,000 people, according to the 2000 census. Now there are an estimated 40,000 residents, drawn to the Twin Cities by the top-ranked schools and major corporations, medical companies and engineering businesses.
In the last five years, Narayanan said, more Indian stores and language programs have started in the Twin Cities, trying to keep the culture going for future generations.
That's why Bhavin Bhavsar of Eden Prairie brought his 5-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter to India Fest on Saturday, hoping to help educate them about the special holiday.
"There's a huge history behind Independence Day," he said. "It's remembering what they did for our country."
Shrideri Hiral moved to Minnesota only a month ago, settling into a Hopkins apartment. But with the growing population of Indian-Americans, especially in west metro cities like Hopkins, she said it already feels like home.
"We are not feeling like we're in the U.S., it feels like we're in India," she said of Saturday's event.
Each year, India Fest has expanded, outgrowing other locations. But organizers hope future festivals will draw not just Indian residents but the broader Twin Cities community like other festivals such as last weekend's Irish Fair.
Babu Chimata, who moved to Minnesota about 20 years ago and is now the vice president of the association, said that, because Indian immigrants tend to be self-sustaining — representing the wealthiest immigrant community, he said, in the country — they don't get as much attention as other immigrant groups who struggle to adapt to a new country and home. But with more events like India Fest, he hopes to change that.
"This is not just our celebration," Chimata said. "This is for Minnesota."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141