Celebrating diversity: Somerville’s Nepal Festival 2017

Co-hosted by Greater Boston Nepali Community and the Somerville Arts Council, the Nepal Festival offered a great chance to experience vibrant Nepali culture.

Dancers perform Lok Dohori in traditional Nepali clothes at Union Square on June 9, 2017. Photo by Bishal Suwal Photography.

A man and a woman share the stage. The music gets a bit quieter for an exchange between the two: He sings what seems like a question, and she sings a quick response. After each round, performers in traditional Nepali clothes dance at the foot of the stage.

I don’t know Nepali, but I don’t need to understand the words to enjoy the singers’ sweet debate – or the laughs, applause, and cheers of the crowd. From the music to the performers’ voices, body language, facial expressions, and dances, it is a celebration of the community.

This is called Lok Dohori, and it’s a part of Nepali folk tradition. The singers are both well known: Min KC, Boston’s most popular folk singer, and Nisha Sunuwar, a popular singer in New York. For me, it was a highlight of Nepal Festival 2017, held in Somerville’s Union Square on June 9. 

The second of its kind, the Nepal Festival is one of many ethnic-themed festivals organized by the Somerville Arts Council to celebrate cultural diversity and provide a welcoming atmosphere for the city’s many immigrants. Hundreds of people from different backgrounds gathered in the square to celebrate Nepali culture with music, dance, folk songs, food, handicrafts and traditional clothes from local boutiques.

Nepali-American kids kicked off the festival with the Nepali National Anthem. Photo by San Pradhan Photography.

The event was kicked off by Nepali National Anthem sung by Nepali-American kids, followed by different examples of Nepali culture, from youth performances to traditional folk, to a popular Nepali rock band, Monday Junkies.

The stage was not the only center of attention during the festival. The food vendors were busy all day taking care of long lines for delicious Nepali food. The festival’s most sought-after treat was momo – steamed bun dumplings filled with meat or vegetables usually served with spicy sauce. There were also arts and crafts vendors offering colorful, stylish dresses and accessories.

After the festival, I had a chance to talk with Senior Vice President of GNBC Arjun Jung Kunwar who is a Nepali national and a resident of Massachusetts for 10 years. Kunwar also has been working with the Nepali community as long as he resided in the state.

Nepal FestivalNepali youth dancing to songs played by Boston’s most popular Nepali Rock Band- Monday Junkies at Union Square on June 9, 2017.

Although he had been working all day at the festival, Kunwar was really happy and energetic when we talked. He said the event was a success and an important chance to connect with Greater Boston’s Nepali community, which now numbers about 10,000, according to GBNC’s estimates. Somerville holds the largest Nepali population in the region, according to city officials – but people came from all across the state. “I did see a few of the families that I know that they live in Taunton, Worcester, Springfield and closer areas. They were here with the whole family – the grandparents, parents and the kids,” Kunwar said.

Kunwar emphasized that the events like this give their growing community a chance to get more united and be able to take action together if something happens in the future, just as they mobilized after the April 2015 earthquake. “We are actually happy that this trend will unite all the Nepali living in the Greater Boston Area,” he said.

I would add that the events celebrating multi-cultural fabric of our society are not only important for that community but for us – the fellow residents. Getting to know our neighbors’ culture and being their guest for a day builds a stronger connection with one another, regardless of our race, ethnicity or religion. Moreover, these events become tangible examples of how everybody is welcomed in the United States!

– Beyza Burcak, a Turkish journalist and graduate student at the University of Massachusetts–Boston, is a summer intern at MIRA. She tweets @BeyzaBurcak.