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SAADA launches initiative to chronicle road trips of South Asian Americans

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Initial participants of the Road Trip Project include Mira Nair, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Manil Suri.

SAADA Road Trip Project
Image via SAADA.com

The South Asian American Digital Archive has launched an online crowdsourcing initiative to chronicle the history of South Asians traveling across the United States.

The “Road Trip Project” was launched in late June, ahead of the Independence Day, when many Americans traditionally embark on road trips, either visiting families or landmarks, Samip Mallick, Executive Director of the SAADA, told the American Bazaar.

So far the response to the project has been great, he said. “We have received submissions from all over the country, reflecting the diversity of the community,” Mallick, who is also a co-founder of SAADA, added.

Among the dozens of South Asian Americans who have submitted photos of their road trips include such well-known South Asian Americans, as filmmaker Mira Nair, and writers Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Manil Suri.

Nair, the director of Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, posted a picture of a road trip she took to the Grand Canyon in 2016.

Indian American Divakaruni, author of The Palace of Illusions and Before We Visit the Goddess, posted a photo of a trip she and her husband took to Mt. Rainer during her student days more than three decades ago. Recalling the trip, the Houston-based novelist wrote in the caption:

“[Husband] Murthy had recently started working. We rented a car (in one of the photos) because our regular car was too beat-up to withstand a road trip. I remember the feeling of adventure and excitement. We felt so American! It was a great trip where we met fellow travelers of many ethnic backgrounds. The highlight for me was our visit to Mt. Rainier. I remember that some of the waterfalls and peaks had been given Indian names by the Transcendentalists, from our Vedas–that was so amazing. It made me feel we were living in a culture that embraced many people from many countries. I hope that this wonderful aspect of America’s diversity never changes.”

Suri posted a photo of a trip he and his long-term partner Larry took to Ocean Drive in Rhode Island in 1994. In the caption, he wrote:

“Larry and I have taken many road trips – the most frequent being to Rhode Island, to visit his family. Our favorite spot there is probably Ocean Drive, a breathtaking reminder that we both grew up near the sea – he in Providence, me in Bombay. This photo was taken in July, 1994 – probably right after we had hiked the nearby Cliff Walk with his sister.”

Other prominent South Asian Americans that are part of the project include Tufts sociologist Pawan Dhingra and mother-daughter duo Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan and Ragini Tharoor Srinivasn.

SAADA’s Mallick said by launching the project his organization wants to “re-imagine” the road trip tradition.

“Road trips are so integral to the American imagination,” he said. “When you imagine a road trip, it is not just a white family that takes the trips; it could be a South Asian family, an African family, or a Latino family. But our communities are often excluded from the [cultural] narrative about trips. So we encourage South Asian American community to share their photos and participate [in the project].”

According to the organization’s website, any South Asian American — “anyone who traces their heritage to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives”— and member of any South Asian diaspora community across the globe can share the photos.

The photos can be of any trip across the country “by road, whether for family vacations, cross-country moves, romantic getaways, or any other reason.”

Mallick said a person can post only one photo per road trip. He said that the project staff makes sure that all the uploaded content is appropriate. “The idea is to reflect the community’s values,” he added.

NBC Asian America is a media partner of the initiative.

SAADA, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia, documents, preserves, and shares stories that represent and are unique to South Asian Americans.