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South Asians, others find community in Twin Cities that began with Bollywood

SAATH is now a thriving non-profit for the arts that has recently assisted in raising money for emergency relief in India because of the COVID-19 crisis there.

MINNEAPOLIS — The South Asian community in Minnesota is more than 38,000 strong according to the 2010 census.  

Divya Maiya is the executive director of South Asian Arts and Theater House or SAATH.

Maiya is from India. She came to the U.S. for college. Maiya said she moved to the Twin Cities after and sought out a community. She said she and two other South Asian friends began Bollywood dancing together, and then performance requests started rolling in.

"We started off as teaching dance classes and we grew into theater and then now we started producing a big Bollywood movie like shows for theater," Maiya said.

It is now a full-blown nonprofit that has grown out of their love of Bollywood. Maiya said they not only dance, but create films, host writing workshops, yoga classes, and more. The ultimate goal is to celebrate cultural diversity and bring harmony through medium of dance, performing arts and related South Asian traditions.

"We want to break that down a little bit to say 'Hey, I’m from Bangalore or I’m from south of India and I speak a language called Kannada,' and we have so many different people in our group and we can share that," Maiya said.

SAATH now has upwards of 120 people who find community there. Maiya said some aren't South Asian and you don't have to be.

"It’s given that sense of family for people," Maiya said. "Home away from home feeling and people have found love, people have found friendships," she said.

It is a support system that is necessary right now given the dire situation in India. Another wave of COVID-19 is ravaging the country with daily cases and deaths setting recent records in the thousands. There are concerns about access to medical care, oxygen supply, and vaccines.

It's hard for Maiya to talk about the crisis. She has family there. She said many people in the South Asian community here do.

"It’s just a lot of our community members very close family and friends and all of them have somebody they know who have passed away," Maiya said.

SAATH has helped raise funds for AID India, but unable to do more Maiya said they can only resolve to doing what they know: art in many forms, including dancing.

"We dance it out for sure," Maiya siad.

"We just wanted to hold that space for people who are going through that mental health aspect of it, going through family members suffering," she said.

Maiya said they’re working on a script for a show in 2021 exploring relationships between South Asians and Black people.

If you want more information about SAATH, visit the website.

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