Florida joins White House, several states in celebrating the Indian festival of lights.
A year ago, soon after he was elected as the chief executive of the third-most populous state in the US, Florida governor Ron DeSantis made a promise to a group of Indian American supporters.
At an event hosted by prominent Indian American Republican Danny Gaekwad at his home, DeSantis said he will celebrate Diwali at the Governor’s Mansion in his first year in office.
Last Wednesday, November 6, keeping his promise he became the first governor of the state to celebrate the Festival of Lights at the 114-year-old People’s House of Florida.
Speaking to a gathering of over 250 guests, the first-term governor said he was involved in the annual Diwali celebrations on Capitol Hill while he was a member of Congress and, for that reason, he knew more about Diwali than an average elected official.
“The house really belongs to the people of Florida, and so by opening it up and doing the first-ever Diwali celebration, I think it’s us recognizing the great contributions of Hindus [and] Indian Americans in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
Praising the accomplishments of the community in various fields, the governor added: “You have Indian Americans that participate and make really great contributions up and down the state of Florida, from the Panhandle, down to southeast Florida and everywhere in between. And that has made our state better, and it’s made our state more prosperous and more dynamic.”
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DeSantis said that Florida is “constantly striving to expand opportunity for people and to make it an even better place to be.” Pointing to the audience, he added, “You just look around this room and if we’re trying to do better in business medicine, there’s not any of those things that we’re going to make progress on in Florida that will not have Indian Americans helping us lead the way.”
In keeping with the spirit of Diwali, which focuses “on light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance,” DeSantis called for unity. “I think this is a time for unity in the state, a time for people to focus on some of the things that unite us,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things going on in society that are very divisive — and look that’s just the nature of it in our modern age. I [am] not gonna sit here and tell you I have a solution, but the more we can come together like this, I think the better off we’ll be as a state and as a people.”
Welcoming the guests, Gaekwad thanked DeSantis for hosting the event. “I have been coming to the Governor’s House since 1991,” he said. “And this is the only governor who has promised and kept the promise [to host Diwalit celebrations.]”
The Ocala resident, one of the most prominent Indian American Republican donors in the country, said he broached the idea of celebrating Diwali at the Governor’s Mansion with DeSantis last November while serving on the Governor-elect’s Transition Advisory Committee on the Economy.
Impressed with DeSantis’ knowledge about the festival, he said he politely asked the newly elected governor, “Would you consider doing Diwali? Here we go, promise he gave me; promise kept, guys! That’s how you want your governor to be.”
Late last month, President Donald Trump also celebrated the festival of Diwali at the White House. He lighted the ceremonial diyas along with a group of officials as well as prominent Indian Americans at the Oval House. Celebrating Diwali for the third consecutive year, Trump called the observance of Diwali throughout America as an important reminder of the significance of one of the nation’s core tenets — religious liberty.
The tradition of celebrating Diwali in the White House dates back to 2009, during the presidency of Barack Obama.
Diwali celebrations are also held at some Governor’s mansions throughout America. Last week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy along with First Lady Tammy Murphy hosted members of the Indian American community at Drumthwacket for Diwali celebrations.
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The celebrations for the second year in a row saw guests dressed up in ethnic fineries as Indian snacks and food remained the talking point of the event.
On October 20, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott also hosted Diwali celebrations at his mansion in Austin. About 50 prominent Indian Americans from across Texas attended the event. Governor Abbott has been hosting the Diwali celebrations ever since he came into office and also lights the ceremonial diyas on the occasion.
Every year, Diwali celebrations are also observed at the Capitol Hill in Washington. Organized by various local Indian associations, the event is marked by some speeches about the significance od Diwali and members enjoying some Indian snacks.
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Raja Krishnamoorthi introduces Diwali resolution (October 19, 2017)