NEW YORK, NEW YORK, November 10, 2023 (RNS, by Richa Karmarkar): As this year’s Diwali Motorcade passed through the heart of Ozone Park, Queens, last weekend, Lakshmee Singh explained how the parade, which her mother helped launch more than 30 years ago, is at once her inheritance and the future of her largely Hindu immigrant community. “We were around when there was nothing, and we helped build this religious community,” said Singh, standing at the corner of Lefferts Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, a crossroads of the neighborhood known as Little Guyana for its dense population of families who trace their history to the Caribbean nation on the shoulder of South America. “It’s just pride to say you could leave your motherland and still come to America and hold onto your religion and culture, and be proud of it, not hide it,” said Singh, the host of a local Indo-Caribbean talk show that airs in both Queens and Guyana.

For New York’s West Indian Hindus, the festivities surrounding Diwali — when Hindus all over the world light oil lamps or candles to celebrate knowledge overcoming ignorance — are a chance to spark cultural belonging among the community’s youth. Arguably the most well-known of Hindu holidays, Diwali, or the festival of lights, has become increasingly recognized outside India. New York Public Schools declared it an official holiday for the first time in 2023. The idea behind this larger-than-life Diwali celebration, Singh says, is to keep the unique cultural heritage of Indo-Caribbeans alive and well. Indian people who come from Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Jamaica, she says, are strongly tied to their religious and ethnic roots in India, while remaining true to the country they came to. Now, over 300,000 West Indians reside in Queens. And among them are observant Hindus who celebrate Diwali with a special fervor and a distinct understanding of Hinduism.

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