TLCA At 35

Ethnic Organizations in North America and their Perseverance

Article written for the TLCA 35th Anniversary Souvenir
Nehru E. Cherukupalli, Ph.D.

Unlike business ventures, organizations, especially, Ethnic Organizations in North America are resilient and survive despite a lot of problems that they encounter. TLCA (Telugu Literary and Cultural Association of NY, NJ and CT) is a good example of a success story that should be told so that other organizations might benefit and newer organizations might learn. Ethnic organizations are created because people love to be around people and need to socialize. They love to share their experiences and their aspirations. These basic needs are much more so in a foreign country where you are not used to the surroundings, the local people, the language and their customs, the climate and everything else that goes with it.

In the late sixties there was a big change in the US immigration laws that brought many Indian professionals to USA. They came in small numbers and slowly settled down in New York and nearby places. New York was the main port of entry on the East coast where jobs were available and that is how many people who came settled here. Many thought of going back to India after a few years and later realized that this thought did not materialize in the long run despite genuine intentions.

Through the seventies the number of immigrants from India grew in leaps and bounds and the newly immigrated professionals, mostly medical doctors, set the pace. By this time the population increase of many ethnic groups demanded the recognition of their presence, their community’s presence and above all, recognition sought for themselves. Only a handful of people had the means to achieve the personal recognition. Real talent, dedication, hard work and philanthropy were the pillars on which the organizations were built and thrived. Initially, many members participated alone, exhibited their talents by reciting poems, singing, enacting plays, telling jokes etc.. With time, the children played an important role in the attendance of TLCA functions. Seeing their children on the stage was the most important thing for the membership. Every child was accommodated on the stage even if it is only to just to be seen there. There was a joy in watching the children. They grew with the organization and now they are professionals in their own right. The ladies too, took active role in performances as well. They took care of the children’s performances, cooked and served home made food for the audiences. Some of them looked after the library holdings of TLCA and the like.

With increased number of immigrants and their general opulence, came the need to create more organizations. The distances involved and larger populations, based around metropolitan areas, were responsible for creating the need for newer organizations. TLCA went through a time when, for reasons not to be mentioned, it was split to create a separate organization. These splits were inevitable and painful. Like all other ethnic organizations, these also prospered.

TLCA, like other ethnic organizations, went through many changes in terms of increased membership; rivalry among competing groups, striving for recognition and related electoral problems and the like were not uncommon. Elections, in a democratic society should be normal. But when one adds individual interests to this we have politics. Court cases were inevitable. The advent of TANA (Telugu Association of North America) as a national umbrella organization and much later, the birth of ATA (America Telugu Association), a one time rival organization, lead to more problems and rivalries in many local Telugu organizations. Rival organization had their teething problems. There have been unpleasant legal battles within individual organizations and splits to form newer organizations were inevitable. Some of these took their toll on TLCA as well. This is not something anybody likes, nor would anybody want to talk about it.

During the early eighties, TLCA fell victim to some of these problems. The attendance at the functions became too low to maintain the economic balance of the organization. There was a time when people thought that there were too much politics. The Trustees and good hearted donors came to the rescue of the Executive Committee to sustain the economic stability of the organization. Perseverance and good faith in the organizations kept the spirits up and going and with the new generation of professionals from India, TLCA survived and bounced back.

All problems aside, TLCA made tremendous progress in increasing its membership in the last ten years - thanks to the large number of young computer specialists (the dot com generation). The younger professionals raised their families in the metropolitan area. As usual, children continued to be an inspiration for the members to attend the functions of the organizations. In addition, the increased presence of politicians, movie directors, actors and actresses, singers, comedians, ventriloquists, magicians, Harikatha artists, Ashtavadhanis and Satavadhanis, brought on the stage of TLCA during major functions in recent years, attracted large numbers of audiences. The old 16 mm Telugu movies shown in schools and auditoriums have now given way to DVD projections of Telugu movies in library auditoriums. But all this could not have happened without the financial support for the organizations. The financial support came through several donors who were willing to help. TLCA thanks them all for their generous donations and for making the functions very successful.

There have been many individuals who have served, patronized and nourished TLCA over the years and they need to be individually thanked. While the presidents took the responsibility, the other members’ cooperation also has to be acknowledged and should not be under estimated. Everybody is proud of their contributions to TLCA and cherishes the time they spent with the organizations. Each one of them would have a story to tell and they are all worth listening to because that is what makes the organization tick.

Ethnic organizations, whatever the reason for their origin or existence in a foreign land, will survive as long as there is a reasonably large audience to subscribe to it. At the present time I do not see any dearth in the population of Telugus in the US. From this point of view, any ethnic organization, large or small will survive and has no fear of not doing so. The opulence of the membership and the resilience of the organization are the key to the survival and prosperity.

May God bless TLCA. I have the confidence and the belief in its continued long life.

Levittown, N.Y. December 9, 2006