In December, the Association of Indians in America (AIA) will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the Garden City Hotel.
Dr. Urmilesh Arya—who has been with the organization for more than 25 years and currently serves as its president—said that AIA was founded in 1967 to help new arrivals from India to settle into their adopted land, and was instrumental in the resettlement of Indians fleeing Uganda and its leader, Idi Amin.
Arya said that AIA was the only organization during the 1960s through the 1980s that addressed the needs of the Indian American population in regard to issues of professional licensing, immigration, combating racial and professional discrimination, HIV prevention and civil rights.
“In the early 1970s, AIA was instrumental in encouraging Indians for voters’ registration,” Arya said. “In 1971 to 1972, we got minority status for Indians and they were counted as a separate and distinct category in the U.S. Census. Over the years, the association has donated millions of dollars to different charities in the form of medical supplies and for victims of natural disasters worldwide.”
Arya moved with her family to the United States in 1970 after having completed medical school in India.
She took part in the internship and residency in pediatrics at Queens General and Jamaica Hospital, which was affiliated with Long Island Jewish Hospital at the time.
In 1997, she was appointed as medical director at a satellite clinic of Wyckoff Heights Hospital in Long Island City and, three years later, retired.
But her work with AIA continues. She joined the organization in the early 1980s and later helped to establish a Hindu community center in Queens as well as founded schools in remote Indian villages.
“I was very impressed with the kind of work that AIA was doing,” said Arya, who became the president of its New York chapter in 2003. “During my tenure, we celebrated Diwali at City Hall, Grace Mansion and, in 2004, at the White House. We got Diwali listed in the calendar of City Hall and got suspended parking on alternate streets in all the five boroughs [for the holiday]. We started a center for leadership, where college students do internships in the offices of City Council members.”
Arya said that AIA’s mission focuses on “Indian heritage and American commitment,” which we views as “self explanatory.”
“The biggest wealth that we brought with us from back home [in India] was education and our heritage and culture,” she said. “We wanted to maintain it in our migrating, and for future generations to promote it in mainstream America. Our main commitment was to strengthen the bond of friendship between the two countries—India and America.”
– Nathan Duke