TLCA .. The Next 35 Years

Article written for the TLCA 35th Anniversary Souvenir
Sreenadh Jonnavithula, Ph.D.

The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible. (Arthur C. Clarke)

As we pause at this historical anniversary, with thirty five glorious years of TLCA behind us, we, the Telugu People of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut can take justifiable pride in how far we have come.

Started by a small and visionary group of enthusiasts in 1971, TLCA was lovingly nurtured through its childhood by the great efforts and contributions of the Presidents and committees past. Over the years, we were honored to have had several of most distinguished Telugu people, like Ghantasala, N.T.Rama Rao, Chandrababu Naidu and others visit our events. Thirty five years worth of functions brought the joy of Andhra festivals and culture to successive generations of Telugu people.

By any measure, the past few years of TLCA have been wildly successful. Attendance at functions is remarkable, and growing every day. Participation in the programs is at record levels. Success breeds success, and it is so encouraging to see that everyone in the surrounding area is eager to sing or dance or otherwise perform at our functions. Many first timers - both children and adults - are taking part in the cultural events. We have been able to host a constant stream of legendary figures from the cultural and movie fields. The website is a runaway hit. It has allowed TLCA to keep in ever closer touch with its members and other stakeholders. It allowed us to publish multimedia reports on events soon after they end, so that grandparents and others in far off places can see their loved ones perform. Even better, the TLCA website has unleashed the creative potential of many first time writers and poets in our midst.

So what do we do for an encore? Are there no more worlds left to conquer? What should we look forward to for the next thirty five years?!

An organization like the TLCA, representing a traditional culture in a foreign land, has traditionally had two main objectives. The first is to cater to the needs of the first generation - people who have grown up in Andhra Pradesh, and still long for the sights, sounds and memories of their beloved homeland. Technological progress has already made some of these easily available. Movies, for instance, are now released or available in the US almost at the same time as in Andhra Pradesh. Telugu language TV programs are readily available. Internet radio stations are coming up that broadcast Telugu music. The power of cultural associations like ours lies in their ability to aggregate demand, by collecting a large number of people together in one space, and using this to bring high quality programming and cultural experiences. For example, people living in our area have had the privilege of watching more live performances by the best known artists in each field than people in India!

The demographic changes of the Telugu population in the area bring with them even more opportunities. Along with the vastly increased numbers of Telugu people, there are now many noted artists and teachers settled here. A large number of talented amateurs are also present, and looking for outlets for their creative energies. By providing a forum for these performers, and encouraging their development, TLCA will be present at the birth of a uniquely American-Telugu flavor of artistry, a modern day renaissance.

The second objective of TLCA is to minister to the needs of the second and later generations. For children born and raised away from the cultural influences that the first generation have taken for granted - from listening to Telugu movie songs, celebrating festivals like Deepavali at home, to hearing spoken Telugu on the street - it is hard to replicate these in any meaningful way. Of course, the primary influence on children will always be their parents. Only they can provide the nurturing environment that will allow their telugudanam to develop. But once again, by providing a forum where children learning the traditional Telugu art forms - dance, music, poetry - can show off their talents, TLCA will encourage ever more children to express and develop themselves. Even a small group of successful performers will influence a lot of other children, as role models, and by showing them that they are not alone, and it's "cool" to be Telugu. Our goal and fond hope is to make possible a confident second generation of Telugu people, assertive and comfortable in their dual cultural identity, and capable of carrying Telugu into the twenty first century.

It has been said that "The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealized past". We of the first generation should avoid this trap. The future of Telugu, especially Telugu in America, depends not on us, or on our highly colored and subjective memories of how things used to be or ought to be. The future depends on the second and further generations of Telugu people in the US, the so called "ABCD"s (American Born Confused Desis).

In the next thirty five years, we look forward to this new generation stepping forward and claiming its full and proper role in the functioning of the Telugu organizations. They will bring with them different perspectives and perceptions. The work we are doing today will ensure that their ancestral telugudanam will not be lost in this fusion of cultures and traditions. As this fresh and confident new generation goes on to claim an ever greater role and participation in the affairs of our host country - in business, in industry, in the arts, and yes, even in Politics - we hope to instill a Telugu Pride that colors and informs their actions, and takes Telugu and its culture to new heights.

Of course, immigration will continue to provide fresh infusions of the Andhra form of Telugudanam by periodical injection of new first generation Telugus into the population. However, these future immigrants, some of whom are probably yet unborn, will bring with them their own traditions; For, our own Andhra Pradesh is not standing still either: it too is evolving, albeit differently. In fact, we have heard from several luminaries that the classical arts are being taught and practiced more effectively and sincerely abroad than in India. We look forward to this cross pollination of cultures, the Andhra Telugu culture and the American Telugu culture.

We look forward, in fact, to the day when future immigrants from Andhra Pradesh might actually discover and learn Telugudanam from future generations of Telugu people in the US, who preserved it, against all odds, due to the works of organizations like the TLCA. That will be a fitting legacy and goal for us all.