Inconspicuously hidden on Braddock Avenue in Queens Village in a store-front building two doors down from Joes Barber Shop and next to the Nisha Indian Spice store sits The Kerala Cultural Association of North America and Indian Community Center.
The association, founded in the basement of a members home 25 years ago, has been the meeting and cultural center for many of the 3,000 immigrant families from the Indian state of Kerala, who have settled in Queens Village, Bellerose, Floral Park and Glen Oaks.
This is a place where everybody is at home and welcome without a consideration of religion, said Chacko Thyparampil, the associations president, who is serving his first one-year term. We promote and present Indian culture and Indian values, which we want to transmit to our kids.
He said there are about 100 families who are considered life members because they helped to buy the building at 222-66 Braddock Ave., which houses the association. There are another 200 families who are regular members, but, he said many of the Keralan immigrants who live in the community attend the associations events. Dues to join the center are $50 a year.
Thyparampil, who works for the citys Administration for Childrens Services, said the association has a school to teach children Keralas native language, Malayalam; to promote respect for parents, who traditionally move in with their children when they retire rather than going to Florida; and to celebrate Keralan and American holidays.
When our children go back to Kerala they speak English and they cannot relate with their grandparents, who want to talk to them in our native language, he said. So we started a Malayalam school in 1985.
The association, which was founded in 1974 and moved to its present location in 1992, is planning to hold its silver anniversary sometime in December. Thyparampil, who has been a member since he came to the United States 13 years ago, said when the group started out, its members thought about giving the association a Hindu name. But they decided against it in order not to offend the Christian members.
Kerala, one of Indias 21 states, is located on the southwest coast of the country on the Arabian Sea. Although Kerala is has a literacy rate of roughly 99 percent, it suffers from economic underdevelopment and unemployment. Hindus make up about 60 percent of the states population with Muslims and Christians split between the remaining 40 percent.
The members of the association hold their meetings on the first floor of the building, which serves as an all-purpose hall. Thyparampil said the group wanted to build a library and classrooms on the second floor, but a someone lives there who they do not want to put out on the street. He said the group has been asking the city to relocate the tenant for the past 10 years.
The Kerala Cultural Association was started by immigrants who wanted to get together and get to know each other and celebrate festivals, he said.
We sponsor things that are our civic duty and civic obligation, Thyparampil said. It does not matter whether it is Hindu or Christian. Our children are American and they have to enter into the American mainstream.
He said the organization sponsors voter registration drives at the political events they hold and works to register people in his community during the 2000 Census. In addition, the organization provides support and charity for the needy back in India.
For example, the members of the association have sent money, clothes and necessities to the victims of the 1984 Union Carbide chemical leak in Bhopal, India, where thousands died from the chemical poisoning, and to the many victims of the earthquake that tore through the Indian state of Gujarat earlier this year.
We hold activities to get people involved in the community, but more importantly, we try to preserve our heritage and pass it on to our children, Thyparampil said. It is important to have a place where everyone from Kerala can get together.
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2001 Community News Group
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