On one afternoon last May, student’s laughter filled the air as colored powder flew in South’s parking lot. These festivities were part of the Holi celebration organized by the South Asian Student Association (SASA). Holi, the traditionally Hindu festival of colors, consisted of throwing colored powder at fellow students.
“At the end, everyone looks like the same color … It’s showing brotherhood and people coming together,” senior and SASA co-president Harry Nanthakumar said. “I’d never celebrated it before, but I had a really fun time there.”
“There’s so many people who come and enjoy it, and it’s just really fun to work and help out there for the whole day and also to see everyone have fun,” senior and SASA public relations officer Jina An said. At the time of the celebration, SASA had only been meeting for about a month, but the club raised $1,175 from Holi alone.
Two South alumni from the class of 2013 founded SASA last spring to educate students about South Asian culture. “[The founders] wanted something that could spread South Asian culture and something that could show off where they’re from and who they are as [people],” Nanthakumar said.
To achieve this goal, SASA hosts fundraisers throughout the year and donates the profits to various South Asian charities. The club is made up of board members — which consist of co-presidents, public-relations officers, treasurers, junior representatives and an art director — as well as regular members.
Though SASA is composed mainly of juniors and seniors, freshman Yuval Dinoor did not find the meetings to be “cliquey,” as she had expected. “The upperclassmen were really inviting,” she said. “They’re all really helpful and nice, and they’re pretty knowledgeable about what they do, and they have really creative ideas.”
An agreed that SASA promotes an open atmosphere. “People are really motivated to do stuff for [the club], and people are really enthusiastic, and all the kids there really want to help out with the events … Everyone’s very welcomed. Even if you’re of a different culture or you’re new to the club or anything, it’s very open and welcoming.”
“We’re really fun to hang out with. We’re really open to people,” junior Along Jamir said.
In addition to Holi, SASA has hosted a number of henna sales, bake sales, a stocking-stuffer sale and a potluck which celebrated Diwali, a festival of lights observed in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other South Asian countries. Each year, SASA members vote on which charities to support with the funds they raised.
“Right now, their goal seems to be primarily geared towards fundraising for certain charities that are in the South Asian region, and they all have a noble cause,” physics teacher and faculty adviser Hema Roychowdhury said. “They might be providing medical aid to the poor.”
The charities SASA supported have included Nyaya Health and Helping Hands, nonprofit organizations that provide healthcare to rural Nepal, as well as BRAC, an organization that supported victims of a building collapse in Bangladesh.
Though South already had an Asian Student Organization (ASO) when SASA was founded, Nanthakumar said that SASA’s founders may have wanted a more “targeted” focus on South Asia. “SASA focuses much more on South Asia, and [with] ASO … there’s mainly a Chinese-Korean sort of affiliation, which is fine for some people,” he said.
Although Nanthakumar said he finds SASA to be successful so far, he also said planning fundraisers takes considerable effort. “Organization for various events is a lot of work," he said. "We work really hard bringing everything together and making it as enjoyable as possible.”
The relative newness of the club may also complicate affairs for SASA, according to An. “It’s still a new club — very new, and we don’t have a set system or tradition, like the ASO or other clubs that have been there for a long time,” An said. “But a lot of the people are working really hard to … set a solid base so that it would continue after we leave. So I think we just need to keep up with what we’re doing.”
Jamir cited recruiting members as one of the club’s main goals. “We’re trying to attract more people, because we have lots of upperclassmen this year,” he said. “People think that SASA is only for Asian or Indian people, and we’re trying to show that it’s for everyone.”
While Dinoor agreed that an increased number of participants could help make the club more inclusive, she also said that SASA’s close-knit community is one of its greatest assets. “I hope they manage to continue on the path they’re on while still keeping the small-community atmosphere, because I feel like that’s one of the biggest perks of the club.”
Roychowdhury also expressed hope that the club would remain an open, relaxed place for students. “I want it also to be a place where kids don’t just come to sit and plan, plan, plan, but also to just have fun and just relax,” she said. “Every once in a while, do events; the Diwali event was a very fun and relaxing time. So, have fun while doing things for a good cause.”
“More and more people are starting to learn about who we are as people and what SASA has done,” Nanthakumar said. “Although there aren’t many of us, our culture’s rich in heritage, and it’s something that we cherish and we want to share with others.”