WESTFORD — Westford Academy’s South Asian Student Association hosted its second annual Darba event to celebrate its South Asian population.
Darba is a portmanteau coined by SASA; it combines the words Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, and garba, a traditional dance from the Indian state of Gujarat, in which attendees were invited to participate.
The Nov. 17 event, which was hosted in the WA cafeteria, saw more than 350 members of the community in attendance.
The event intends to bring Westford’s South Asian community together, as well as raise awareness and shine a spotlight on South Asian traditions.
“Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard,” SASA advisor and English teacher Rashmi Kumar said to open the event. “We [all] want a sense of belonging.”
Approximately 30% of WA’s student body identifies as Asian, according to data from the Department of Education. Even so, Kumar says it has taken a long time for the district to recognize Diwali, a major festival, as a school holiday.
Some, like SASA President Tanvi Kodukulla, believe SASA has made a positive impact on South Asian visibility.
“Darba has changed things for the better,” Kodukulla said. “With […] people generally opening up to learning about a new culture and embracing their own, SASA has done something really important in our school.”
She added, “Darba has opened up our school so much. Seeing people from so many different backgrounds was so rewarding, and it goes to show how important it is to spread culture with everyone,”
During the event, Garba was led by BollyX instructor Viral Dave. The dance, which originates from Gujarat, a territory in Northwestern India, had a majority of attendees participate.
“This was my first-ever garba,” junior Lara Rodriguez said. “And I think a dance is a really great way to bring [the community] together.”
Other student-led organizations, like Westford Academy’s Theatre Arts program, organized for a number of its students to attend Darba during the group’s fall play, “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Senior Aamir Kapasi and advisor Michael Towers organized a group of theatre arts students who could attend.
“I really wanted to go to support my friends in SASA,” senior Liz Sielian said. “I was disappointed, […] but Aamir came through and organized […] and Mr. Towers bought us all tickets. I love to see different school communities coming together as one.”
To celebrate Diwali, SASA encouraged students to attend classes in traditional South Asian clothing ahead of the event. Some, like freshman Aarshia Bhattacharyya, participated.
“[I’ve never seen] an event from school that was for those of South Asian origin,” Bhattacharyya said. “Seeing that happen was something that was really special to me.”
Students like senior Natalie Strauss say SASA is “lively and full of passion and learning.”
“Each meeting is very purposeful and teaches people something new, or arranges an interactive discussion,” she said.