When Mostafa Kamal arrived in Kansas City in 1989, the local Bangladeshi community was not exactly booming in numbers.
“A small or mid-sized basement would fit us all,” says the Lawrence resident and current president of the Bangladesh Association of Greater Kansas City.
Though still relatively small — Kamal estimates the local Bangladeshi community to be 200 to 300 — it has also proved to be a vibrant group, as evidenced by Sunday’s celebration of the Bangla New Year.
Held at the Roeland Park Community Center, the group’s largest event of the year served as a festival honoring Bangladeshi culture and, perhaps more importantly, as a way to ensure that culture is passed along to younger generations.
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The run-of-the-mill community center was transformed into a hub of distinctive colors, sounds and smells. Men and women in colorful attire bustled back and forth. Tables were filled with traditional Bangladeshi village fare. Vendors set up shop to hawk food or salwar kameez, a kind of traditional clothing.
There was a carnival put on by children, and the day’s itinerary also called for singing and dancing, as well as evening entertainment performed by local Bangladeshi community members.
The thinking goes that by being exposed to events like Sunday’s, younger generations will develop respect and appreciation for the culture and carry it on.
“The children, they didn’t know anything about the culture or the roots,” Kamal says. “But it’s amazing how well they learn the music, the poetry or the dances.”
Throughout the year, many in the local Bangladeshi community stay busy. There are doctors and professors, government workers and politicians. Many attempt to keep in touch throughout the year through email or Facebook or the Bangladesh association’s website.
But events like Sunday’s draw everyone to the same place, at the same time, in honor of the same thing.
And the hope, as Kamal puts it, is that “our next generation can relate to it and carry on the torch.”