Community Spotlight: Indian Society of Southern Arizona (ISSA)

This Community Spotlight on Asian communities and heritages in Pima County comes from our Biblio Lotus team.

Today, we are excited to highlight the work of the Indian Society of Southern Arizona (ISSA). They have been serving the community since 1994.  Biblio Lotus is excited to share this information from Meena Suhala, Secretary of ISSA, about the organization and what it does for the Indian community.    

What role has ISSA played within the Indian community of Southern Arizona?

ISSA’s mission is to preserve and promote cultural, social, artistic, and aesthetic understanding and unity among the members of the Indian community. A nonprofit organization, it builds the fabric of the community among people who share a common ethnicity from the Indian subcontinent. ISSA connects to its community via Facebook, its website, and social networking groups.

What kinds of programs or events does ISSA provide to the community?

ISSA organizes cultural programs throughout the year, including ones for Holi, Diwali, and Independence Day. In addition, the very popular tennis and cricket tournaments are enjoyed by adults and youth alike. Each of these events celebrate our common interests and culture.

What is the significance of Diwali? How and when is it celebrated? What other major holidays or cultural celebrations are celebrated?

Diwali represents the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness and wisdom over ignorance. It is celebrated with enthusiasm and joy by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. The business community considers Diwali an auspicious time to start new ventures like buying a house or starting a business. On Diwali night, people offer prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the god representing good fortune and wisdom for the coming year. This is the season for dinner parties, outdoor food festivals and craft fairs, all of which help build up excitement ahead of the main Diwali celebration. Expect drinks and plenty of finger food at these parties.

Indians celebrate a myriad of cultural and religious festivals through the year. Holi, the festival of colors, brings communities and families together to celebrate the advent of spring with colors, dancing, and food.

Another significant ISSA event is Independence Day, which is celebrated annually in August. It marks the day India was declared independent from British colonialism, and the reins of control were handed over to the leaders of the Country. India's gaining of independence was a major event in its history, as the struggle for freedom was a long and tiresome one, witnessing the sacrifices of many freedom fighters who died fighting for India’s Independence.

Do you have a vision for the future of ISSA?

The South Asian population continues to grow in Tucson and with it the cultural and social activities of ISSA have seen a positive increase. ISSA has been very successful in welcoming new families to Tucson. An important function has also been connecting people to resources like food and social activities. Whatsapp groups like ‘Desis in Tucson’ has seen a continual increase in members and abounds with people identifying farms, schools, childcare, and restaurants that serve its needs. The ISSA impact is a collective one and our common, unique interests and shared ethnic backgrounds help us create a social fabric that lends itself to make Arizona culturally richer and diverse.

How did you personally become involved with ISSA?

I am a good example of a lot of other new Tucson residents. After 22 years in the Midwest and Chicago, I came to Tucson to be with family. Working from home added to my isolation as I missed my social network built over many years. A friend and longtime resident of Tucson introduced me to a group of Indian families at a Diwali event in 2019 and encouraged me to join ISSA as a way to meet new people. I have since joined the ISSA board for a one-year term and helped organize events and celebrations. Today I have an active network of friends and we meet regularly in little backyard parties and meetups.

What do you love about Tucson and Southern Arizona?

I have come to love everything about Tucson and Southern Arizona. The great outdoors, the abundant sunshine, the mountain ranges, my own little pocket-sized garden and the birds and wildlife and glorious sunsets. Of course, the list is topped off by the proximity to my little grandson, an ultimate bundle of joy.

What are you currently reading and/or what are your favorite books or authors?

Reading is a passion for me. Having studied British literature, I have an avid interest in period dramas and poetry. I also enjoy the writings by Indian authors—R. K. Narayan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Khushwant Singh to mention a few. The books of Indu Sunderesan are a favorite and an easy read.

Malgudi Days

The Fictional World of R.K. Narayan

Roman Stories

Interpreter of Maladies