Picture this: As South Asians have slowly immigrated over and made their mark on America, they have also brought along their iconographic image of Mahatma Gandhi. The bronzed image of a walking and robed Gandhi, stick in hand, has been popping up all across the U.S. recently with a statue in almost every major city. Each statue erected has a unique associated story, for the most part an active first generation Indian American community rallying for a statue in their adopted hometown.
1. Riverside, CA: I started thinking about this when I literally stumbled across a Gandhi statue in front of City Hall in downtown Riverside, CA. The statue is surrounded by quotes, and plaques with Desi names surrounding it. I learned later, the local Muslim community was in uproar about the statue getting put up. A compromise was eventually reach.
Among the concessions the city was willing to make were naming a street beside the local mosque after a Muslim leader, and considering a sister-city relationship with a Pakistani city. Currently, the city has a sister relationship with Hyderabad, India.[rediff]
2. San Francisco, CA: On the Embarcadero, the statue is located right behind the Ferry Building by the trash dumpsters.
The statue was given to the city in 1988 by the Gandhi Memorial International Foundation, “a controversial non-profit organization run by Yogesh K. Gandhi,” who Gandhi family members claim was a “scam artist” and the White House called “clearly disreputable” when he asked to visit. Then in the 1990′s Yogesh then was the subject of an investigation, and the US Dept of Justice charged him with tax evasion, mail and wire fraud and perjury. The Foundation continued for a few years but then ran into more legal troubles as they found out Yogesh still had his hands in things.[yelp]
3. NYC, NY: At the southwest corner of Union Square, the statue was added in 1986, to mark Union Square’s history of social activism.4. Atlanta, GA: A match of non-violent leaders, the statue is at the MLK Jr. Historical Site.
“A statue of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site in Atlanta on January 24, 1998. This historical event, taking place in the course of the 50th anniversary of India’s independence, was made possible by sustained and concerted efforts made by the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIA), along with the enthusiastic support of the National Park Service of the U.S. …The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) donated the statue, which was sculpted by Mr. Ram Sutar of New Delhi.[indianembassy]
5. Skokie, IL: Once a Jewish community, the city is Abhi’s birthplace and home to a rich diversity of 80 languages spoken in the home. The 8-foot statue was dedicated on the 135th anniversary of his birth. [sepiamutiny]
6. Milwaukee, WI: On your way to Summerfest, you can now swing by the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The statue was placed in 2002, and is “…being donated by the Wisconsin Coalition of Asian Indian Organizations. The group is raising $50,000 to pay for and maintain the statue. County Board members recently accepted the donation of the statue… According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian Indian population in Milwaukee rose 49% over the last decade, to 2,313 from 1,551.”[rdn]
7. Houston, TX: In Hermann Park, the 6-foot statue was “…sculpted in India by renowned artist Ram Sutar, has been gifted to the citizens of greater Houston by the Indian government as a gesture of goodwill and friendship.”[sepiamutiny]
8. Washington D.C.: Located in Dupont Circle in front of the Indian Embassy, it took a Congressional authorization to establish this monument in 1997. Then President Clinton gave the dedication speech.
9. Cleveland, OH: The Indian Cultural Garden in Cleveland was unveiled in October 1, 2006 with an unveiling and dedication of the Mahatma Gandhi statue. Who was at the event? Special guest seen in the photo stream linked here was Dennis Kucinich and his much younger wife.
10. Liberty State Park, NJ: The local Federation for Indian Organizations has been campaigning to erect a statue in the park since 2008.
National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN.
Mahatma Gandhi Community Center, Houston, TX.
H. Lee Dennison Building, Hauppauge Hamlet, Islip, NY.
Millsaps College, Jackson, MS.
The Life Experience School, Sherborn, MA.
Honolulu Zoo, Honolulu, HI.
Gandhi, King, Ikeda Peace Exhibit, Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA.
City Park, Denver, CO.
I have counted fifteen — scratch that, THIRTY — statues scatter all across the U.S. and I am pretty sure there are plenty more that I have missed. I am fascinated by the communities that have raised the funds, the stories behind the sculptors, the photos of the inaugural events. For the most part, the statues have all been put up in the past fifteen years, a time where the first wave generation of immigrants have turned into elderly auntie and uncles that are of donor/giving back age, and this is how they chose to make their American mark. They chose to mark their American dream with a bronzed statue of Gandhi in their adopted hometown.
I find something poetic and bizarre about the whole thing. I don’t know much about Gandhi, but I do think the development of the iconography of Gandhi-the-person to Gandhi-the-bronzed-6-to-9-foot-statue somehow to me seems counter intuitive for what he believed in. This could also be because I was raised in a religion where idolatry was deeply discouraged, and the physical image of our prophet was never to be turned into an idol or icon, thus, not existing. Gandhi wasn’t a prophet, but he is revered. And here we are in 2009, with multiple Gandhis bronzed and larger than life. Maybe that’s why I find the propensity of these statues popping up in the U.S. right now as an identifying marker of hyphenated political collective identity for the South Asian American community so fascinating. It’s a part of our living history, undocumented and in the raw. Or freshly cast bronze.
What do you think, Mutiny/producers/investors? I’m sure there are other statues that you have probably heard about that I’ve likely missed (I’d appreciate links to them in the comments). It would be the ultimate road trip to hit up each of the cities the statues are in and converse with the community that initiated the effort. And I have the perfect South Asian American docu-travel-reality host for it.