South Asian Women of Evanston fosters community for South Asian Evanston residents


Courtesy of Parul Gupta

Members of the South Asian Women of Evanston group pose at a 2019 Diwali party.

Avani Kalra, Reporter

When Dr. Parul Gupta (McCormick ‘93) settled down in Evanston, she struggled to find a South Asian community in the city. She said her kids didn’t have South Asian friends at school, and cultural opportunities were few and far between.

In an effort to find and unite members of the South Asian community in Evanston, Gupta created South Asian Women of Evanston: a Facebook group intended to bring South Asian residents together. 

“I wanted to pass on South Asian traditions to my kids,” Gupta said. “They should have some connection to the culture, which the group has provided.” 

Since its inception in 2016, the group, which has grown to 84 members, has hosted events like meet-ups and book clubs, and worked collectively on different social justice initiatives. In 2019, more than 300 members attended the group’s Diwali party. 

Gupta said it was important to her that the group’s mission have a service component. She said she wanted the group to focus on giving back to immigrant and South Asian communities and the Evanston community. 

Prior to the pandemic, members of the group delivered meals to a local shelter in Rogers Park every Sunday evening. Now, the organization is working with Refugee Community Connection, an organization that “seeks to ease the transition for newly arrived refugees to Chicago.” Gupta and other SAWE families “adopt” families of Afghan refugees, helping them access resources and meet basic living needs while they settle into a new city.

Gupta’s work with Refugee Community Connection began six or seven years ago, and halted during the Trump Administration, when there was less opportunity to sponsor families. This year, she opened up the opportunity to the SAWE community through the Facebook group, and received an overwhelmingly positive response.

Gupta said she wanted to share the option with the South Asian community because many of them are familiar with the struggles of adjusting to life in the U.S.

“We have an understanding of the immigrant experience,” Gupta said. “There’s food crossover, there’s clothing crossover, there’s music crossover.” 

The group also works to highlight different female South Asian business owners and figures in the community. When member Bindu Reddy’s shop Berry Pike Cafe was vandalized, Gupta worked to support her by rallying SAWE group members through a GoFundMe. 

Reddy said that as a small business owner, having that community of support was imperative during the pandemic.

“It really felt like we were in it together,” Reddy said. “People are always there to hear out any problems I might have … it’s a little comfort zone.”

Other South Asian Evanston business owners and community leaders are often spotlighted on SAWE’s Facebook group. Some of these figures include Anjana Hansen, founding chair of the Asian American Judges Association of Illinois, and Yamani Hingorani, an award-winning interior designer.  

SAWE has also partnered with the South Asian Middle Eastern Alliance at Evanston Township High School. Many of the group members have kids who have attended ETHS, or will in the future. Recently, representatives from the group partnered with ETHS to host a diya-making event for Diwali. 

Fostering community connection across age is important, Gupta said. 

“You can just say one word and share one emotion or picture, and automatically, this big group of people can understand what you’re thinking and feeling,” Gupta said. “It’s that simplicity of communication that’s special.”

For Anu Dewan, cultural connection was a key draw to the group. After moving to Evanston from Chicago four years ago, she stumbled across South Asian Women of Evanston’s Facebook Group while searching for opportunities to connect with other South Asians.

Dewan said being a part of the group has allowed her to reflect on her experience growing up in a group of women with a similar shared experience. 

“It’s really nice to be around people like yourself,” she said. “It’s so much easier to be seen. We have so many similarities culturally and in our experience. When you have that, you feel validated.”

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Twitter: @avanidkalra

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