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At the First MultiEthnic Indiana Conference in Indianapolis

Nearly 300 guests, community leaders, and dignitaries representing many ethnic communities and cultural, civic, and service organizations gathered at the Sheraton Hotel in Indianapolis on April 22, 2008 for the First MultiEthnic Indiana Conference. The culturally and ethnically diverse audience of many nationalities included several Tibetan Monks in their traditional orange robes and Hoosier Sikh Americans with their faith-mandated colorful turbans. We were in the midst of an ethnic and cultural renaissance.

The stated aim of the Conference: “Discovering and understanding our common ground” was to learn about the size and make-up of the ethnic communities in Indiana, and the major concerns of the recent immigrant Hoosiers as they adjust to life, language, culture, opportunities, and expectations of their new environment. Once we know the nature, cultural heritage, unique talents, and experiences represented in today’s multi-ethnic Indiana, we may be better prepared to mainstream this energy and special assets of new residents into the fabric of our towns and cities. Then, we can together build the Hoosier State as a very competitive, attractive, and welcoming place for our shared aspirations.

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Over 20 exhibits in the Hallway outside the main Ballroom provided information about organizations, major Conference sponsors, and other businesses serving Indiana. Inside the Ballroom, a continental breakfast and friendly welcome awaited the guests.

I have lived in Indiana for over 40 years and witnessed many big changes in Indiana’s ethnic populations and celebrations, cultural image, international spirit, expanding trade, exports, and diverse investment opportunities. Yet, we do not have a clear understanding of our emerging strengths and the untapped potential of our people. This Conference brought attention to the urgent need to know something about the nature and dynamics of multi-ethnic challenges moving forward and addressing the critical concerns of all Hoosiers to make Indiana a truly welcome destination for future talents and investments.

Following a few formal remarks to the gathered on behalf of the MultiEthnic Indiana Conference Committee, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels extended a very warm Hoosier welcome to the gathering. In his brief remarks, Governor Daniels appreciated the work of the Committee to bring us all together; proudly recognized the special energy, talents, diverse experiences, and many contributions being made by new pioneers in Indiana. Governor Daniels emphasized the need for “Indiana to grow in its cultural awareness,” and “empowering Hoosiers to make our State an even better place to live.”

Dr. Bobby Fong, President of Butler University, the morning keynote speaker, offered a brilliant and thought-provoking perspective on our growing ethnic, cultural, and spiritual diversity. He stated that in an increasingly interdependent world and a global economy, our multi-ethnic populations and their insights are an important asset to our future, for Indiana and the nation. He advocated that we must recognize, celebrate, strengthen this resource, and interface this vitality with the interests of our communities-at-large.

Mr. Jerome Peribere, President & CEO of Dow AgroSciences, as our distinguished luncheon speaker, offered in a persuasive power-point presentation the many dimensions, importance, urgency, wisdom of inclusion, rightful place and integration of this emerging diversity into the corporate world, and the changing civic and cultural fabric of our communities and the nation.

The Conference offered several workshops in the morning and afternoon where many diverse perspectives, recent studies and in-depth community profiles, successful programs and initiatives, and the major concerns and problems facing Indiana’s growing ethnic communities were highlighted and discussed. These break-up sessions, led by experts and community leaders provided an opportunity for the participants to share their experiences, exchange ideas, network, and learn about what all is being done across Indiana to mainstream this emerging and growing segment of our population. A Closing Plenary Session, moderated by Committee member Ralph Taylor, in the afternoon further expanded on the efforts needed at many levels to make Indiana a more welcome place.

Thanks to Elizabeth Jackson, former President of Asian American Alliance and a MultiEthnic Indiana Committee member, the Conference ended with a colorful cultural treat - the Filipino Bamboo Dances performed by Hoosier Philippine children and Turkish Folk Dances performed by young girls dressed in traditional costumes.

Recognizing that our faith is an important part and reflection of our humanity and a very
significant issue, especially among the new immigrants, who being separated from their familiar physical, social, spiritual environment and anchors struggle to find acceptance, need and seek comforting cultural spaces where they live, the Committee organized an Interfaith Prayer Service to introduce the Conference attendees, and to many for the first time, the changing spiritual landscape in Indiana. We need to know, support, and honor our familiar and the not-so-familiar faith traditions as another recognition of our growing multi-ethnicity, rich emerging cultural tapestry, and all-embracing welcome spirit.

The Native American, Christian, Catholic, Tibetan Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faith traditions were represented at the Interfaith Prayer Service. The Prayer Service followed the lunch and keynote speech by Mr. Jerome Peribere and performed on an elevated space created in the middle of the Ballroom.

The Prayer Service began with drumming and singing by Tony Showa, a Navajo Indian, who presented Spirit Welcome Songs. It took our mind to the spirit of the Native American people. Thought-provoking Christian prayer and spiritual reflection about humility by retired Pastor Rev. Richard Hamilton followed. Brother Benedict, O.P. of St. Paul’s Catholic Center in Bloomington shared a moving sacred reading: “The Dialogue of Catherine of Siena: On Charity” that revealed God’s plan for us to serve one another
with the special gifts entrusted to each of us.

Giani Pritam Singh and other visiting Sikh singers offered a beautiful rendition of the Sikh hymn “Tu Thakur Tum Pai Ardas: You are the Lord Master, and unto You we pray.” They magnificently sang the hymn of unity, universality, and in praise of One Creator God in Gurumukhi, the language of Sikh Scriptures. Guru Granth Sahib, to the accompaniment of the traditional musical instruments, the Indian Harmonium (an accordion-like instrument) and Tabla (a pair of Indian drums). The singers gave a spirited demonstration of the designated musical arrangement and Sikh singing style.

Ten Tibetan Buddhist Monks, led by Arjia Rinpoche, Executive Director of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, offered a very serene spiritual chanting with traditional Tibetan hand bells. Their meditative sounds and voices in unison called us to peace, understanding of our distinct and collective spiritual heritage, and extending friendship to one another as an affirmation of our shared humanity.

Dr. G.L. Ahuja, a Trustee of The Hindu Temple of Central Indiana, offered Sanskrit Shlokas with English translation. Ashfaq Lodhi of the Islamic Society of North America offered a beautiful recitation from The Holy Quran with English translation. Their words and message of peace filled the space with a spirit of goodwill.

Throughout the Interfaith Prayer Service, there was an incredible spirit of reverence and respect for each faith tradition. There was an unmistakable feeling of unity and blessings in the readings, reflections, chants, hymns, and music selected by the faith presenters. Some Conference attendees seemed inspired and in awe of what they had just experienced. Distinct and diverse faiths gently threaded our spirit, emotions, and our spiritual journeys seemed to momentarily converge at this “Crossroads of Harmony” that invited us to see the same Divine Light and Spirit in each other.
The First MultiEthnic Indiana Conference, sponsored by the Office of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and planned and presented by a Committee of dedicated volunteers. The Committee members, representing ethnic, cultural, civic, educational, and business organizations and institutions came from around the State. Ms. Carmen Derusha of Economic and Community Development, Purdue Cooperative Extension served as the General Chair and Ms. Juana Watson, Senior Advisor for Latino and Immigrant Affairs in the Governor’s Office, served as a representative of the State. Eli Lilly, OCRA, Indiana Civil Rights Commission, Purdue Cooperative Extension, and CICF were among the major financial sponsors. All publicity and promotional material for the Conference was designed Cardinal Communications of Ball State University.


Sheraton Hotel, Indianapolis, Indiana
April 22, 2008

Honorable Governor Mitch Daniels, distinguished guests and friends, and fellow Hoosiers:
My name is KP Singh and it is my great honor to welcome you all to the First Multi-Ethnic Indiana Conference initiated by the Office of the Governor of the State of Indiana.

We are glad that you are here from many areas of the Hoosier State and represent many organizations and interests, and most certainly your personal commitment to build an inclusive and welcoming culture. You are here to participate – learn and teach us about the changing ethnic, cultural, and spiritual landscape in your communities across Indiana.

Our growing diversity is our new frontier of incredible opportunity, and of course also our great challenge: to transform this wonderful and diverse energy, pioneering spirit, talents, and cultural richness and give our State a special edge in many areas over our competition in the Midwest and the nation.

This can only happen if we open up our Hoosier welcome spirit and make thoughtful decisions and efforts at many levels to mainstream, honor, and harness this new multi-ethnic energy in our midst as a vital new resource and treasured asset.

I would like us to reflect upon the power and dynamics of a warm and friendly invitation:

“Come create a State that reflects the spirit of all people;
Share with us your talents and cultural experiences,
Enrich the emerging “Tapestry of Cultures”
The sacred “Fabric of Faiths”
With the sounds and splendors of the distant and diverse;
Together discover the excitement and echo of our humanity,
Spirit that unites us One Universal God’s Children,
Together shape a legacy that mirrors our shared vision.

Let us make a place at the table for new friends and old
Share our common dreams and shape a community
Where the Light and Labors of each one
Enhance the gifts and promise of all.”

Source: Kanwal Prakash Singh
The Art and Spirit of K.P. Singh ~Selected Drawings and Writings

With this kind of positive acknowledgement and thoughtful inclusiveness, we may be surprised by the response from new multi-ethnic communities in the Hoosier State. We may be even more surprised that there are many threads that connect us to each other, and in recognizing and celebrating our common humanity, we discover lasting friendships, bridges to distant shores for increased trade, exchange, and rich heritage and wisdom; learn new things about ourselves and others; and together build a State that we all love.

We believe that will just be the beginning. Many unimagined benefits will follow in time as we together solve the problems that face us as Hoosiers, as a nation and global family.

Multi-Ethnic Indiana Conference is dedicated to this vision and hope that together we can, and we must, discover ways to enhance the image, attractiveness, and prosperity of all Hoosier Americans.

While you are with us, we hope that you will:
. Share your experiences and concerns
. Network and make new friends
. Attend workshops and visit the displays
. Enjoy the special Interfaith Prayer Service and insightful messages from our
distinguished Keynote Speakers and Conference Presenters
. Take back some helpful ideas to your communities, neighborhoods, and workplaces
. Integrate and expand relevant initiatives and programs in your areas of involvement and
influence, and special need in your towns and cities

We all know that it takes many hands, dedicated Committee members and volunteers, and major Sponsors to organize a significant event. This conference is no exception.

At this time, I call upon the major Sponsors of the First Multi-Ethnic Indiana Conference to join us on the stage for a formal recognition.

Indianapolis, Indiana USA
April 22, 2008

The practice and peaceful expressions of many faith traditions of Hoosiers today provide us another important window to the ethnic, cultural, and spiritual richness in Indiana. God being the Fountainhead of all sacred Knowledge and Wisdom, each faith tradition is an important panel of our Divine Spiritual Tapestry. Each faith has many elements that provide unmistakable reflections of the unity of human spirit as enshrined in the sacred writings and scriptures and the revelations attributed to the Divine Messengers.

In America, living our faith and its commandments includes respecting people and traditions different from our own; upholding the dignity and just rights of every living being; and respecting those who do not follow any faith tradition. This enlightened and honored principle is about developing a sense of unbound compassion and thoughtful consideration towards all Americans and for all God’s Children.

Our faith is such an important part of our lives and “Discovering and understanding our common ground” is the theme and vision of this Conference. We sincerely hope that The Interfaith Prayer Service, as a special component of the Conference program, will not only provide each of us a glimpse into the different faith traditions serving our State but also inspire us to focus on unifying elements that are enshrined in every faith tradition.

By sharing prayer traditions and blessings from some familiar faiths: Jewish, Christian, Catholic, and Muslim and some not so familiar faith traditions: Native American, Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, Sikh, and others, we offer an experience that is both uplifting and unifying. The Interfaith Prayer Service is an invitation to meet at a “Crossroads of Harmony,” dispel unfounded stereotypes, develop appreciation, respect, and support for programs and events that enlarge our understanding of the world beyond our immediate experiences; and about our fellow Hoosiers who are making Indiana their proud home.

The Interfaith Prayer Service aims to introduce us to varied and distinct styles of prayer, chanting, singing, music, rituals, and above all, celebrate our common humanity as enshrined and reflected in our many faiths and sacred traditions. We may discover new connections and friendships in our circle of prayer and goodwill towards one another.

Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA




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