Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers, one story at a time. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope during the COVID pandemic.
Our story today features the versatile Preeti Mathur, a longtime Twin Cities resident and an active member of the Indian American community.
Preeti’s crowning achievement in a career spanning many years as an Instructional Design and Technical Communication consultant, to now a freelance writer for her local paper the Shoreview Press, is the publication of her book ‘From Seven Rivers to Ten Thousand Lakes’.
She was invited by the Minnesota Historical Society to write the book, after participation on the advisory committee that localized ‘Beyond Bollywood’, a Smithsonian exhibit in 2016.
Through personal stories and vivid photographs, the book offers an overview of the more than 40,000 people of Indian descent residing in Minnesota. It presents their pursuit and celebration of cultural and religious traditions, and the professional, political and economic contributions to their adopted state and country. Profiles of prominent individuals, businesses and organizations who form the cornerstone of the Indian American community in Minnesota round out the narrative.
Preeti’s hope is that the book’s stories told through the eyes and voices of the Indian American community will “bring down the walls and divisions created today about people and views that are different from your own”.
The book is available through Amazon and the Minnesota Historical Society:
ARRIVAL IN THE US
Preeti’s story in the US began as a 21 year bride, following a long distance two year courtship, that kept the postal services busy between St. Paul and Hyderabad, India. As Preeti aptly summarized the years leading up to her nuptials, “you can have an arranged marriage, but you cannot arrange your emotions”.
Her husband first saw her at her maternal grandmother’s home, when a marriage union brought their two families together. He claims that “from the moment he saw Preeti, he knew he was going to marry her”.
Preeti and her family would visit her grandmother’s home ‘Charminar’ during the muslim festival of Muharram. In the annual 10th day procession, the elephant carrying the Bibi-Ka-Alam (holy relic), would stop and collect the ‘Offerings’ from the windows of their respective grandmother’s homes.
Forty years later the romance continues, and the story of their courtship is memorialized in a painting by Preeti.
Preeti’s family and friends have affectionately titled her a ‘Serial Volunteer’.
Soon after arriving in Minnesota in 1978, Preeti started her long commitment to SILC (School of India for Languages and Culture). “SILC was an integral and very important part of my life here. I met so many like-minded people who have become life-long friends”.
Preeti joined SILC’s predecessor Bharat School the year she arrived in the US, and became not only a founding member of SILC but its first treasurer. With no computers “everything was recorded in a notebook”.
She was also the editor of the newsletter ‘SILC Road’ a play on Silk Road, the renowned route connecting China and the Far East to the Western World. The group found a resonance in the work they were doing through SILC, to the ancient route’s lasting impact on Commerce, Culture and History. The SILC newsletters are now part of the Oral History project at the Minnesota History Center.
Over the course of an intense twenty year involvement, Preeti taught Hindi, Indian art, Pre-School, Culture Courses and served as Treasurer, Principal and President!!!
Following her father’s voice of “assimilating and giving back” as a beacon, Preeti also dived wholeheartedly into volunteering at her kid’s schools; scout troops; food drives; and soup kitchens. She was one of the first Indians to be nominated as an ‘Associated Fellow’ by her peers at the Society For Technical Communication on a national and international level.
Through her work with SILC, she played the role of Cultural Ambassador during her early years in Minnesota. She saw her role as promoting and talking about Indian Culture. Preeti organized and arranged exhibits for the ’Festival of Nations’, and publicized the festival on WCCO radio and KTSP TV.
As an IAM (India Association of Minnesota) board member she organized an Inter Faith prayer meeting at the State Capitol after 9-11, and gave presentations on India at various schools and organizations: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN Department of Transportation and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Rituals and traditions have always played an important role in South Asian families.
Preeti’s family tradition was inadvertently established from the realities and necessities of daily life.
“I made Khitchrie (a lentil rice dish) for dinner every Sunday. It started in the years when my Dad came to live with us after my mum passed away. He lived with us for 18 years and those were the busiest years of my life–working full-time with many deadlines, a husband who was always traveling, two active school-age kids and taking care of my Dad. So when it came to Sunday dinner, a one-pot meal like khitchrie worked well, especially since it appealed to both my Dad and the kids. I did not realize it had become a family tradition for my kids until my daughter, a new bride, called on a Sunday and told me she was making Khitchrie for her husband per our family tradition. I laughed so hard when I heard this”.
Over the years, Preeti has extended her family Khitchrie tradition to provide succor for friends in need of comfort and recovering from illness. Her insistence to all and sundry to ‘Eat Eat’, has been an inherited influence from her mother. Her sister-in-law has fondly labeled her ”Annadata” or giver of food. As her son once commented “my mum feeds kebabs even to the Geek Squad guys”.
COMING FULL CIRCLE
As life comes full circle, it is all about the lessons that come from our parents. In honor of her dad and the influence he had over her own family during his eighteen years of living with them, Preeti dedicated her book ‘From Seven Rivers to Ten Thousand Lakes’ to her father Anand Mathur.
His parting advice when she left India in 1978 on her journey to Minnesota, was “assimilate and adapt without giving up your values. Do community service; be proud of your culture and share it; but make sure you also learn from others”.
”Daddy I hope I have made you proud”.
DISCUSSION : Our goal is to start a dialogue through the stories we present here. Please send us your thoughts and comments either by leaving a reply or posting a comment at the bottom of this blog, and/or sending an email to ’firstname.lastname@example.org’. We will collate all the feedback we receive and share back with you. (And let us know if you wish to remain anonymous).
A. What has been your evolution during your life journey in the US?
B. What life lessons/insights have you gleaned from Preeti’s story?
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AshaUSA’s mission is to provide culturally specific programs to the South Asian community to foster health and harmony in their lives. Please visit our website ‘ashausa.org’ for more information on our programs, volunteer opportunities and resources.