With thousands of miles separating New Jersey and Bangladesh, it is easy for Bangladeshi immigrants to lose touch with their culture. Mohammed-Zahirul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Association of South Jersey, doesn't want that to happen.

On June 26, Islam presided over the fifth annual Bangladesh Fair, a showcase of Bangladeshi culture held each summer in Atlantic City.

Making sure those born outside Bangladesh are aware of their native culture, he said, is of the utmost importance.

"We want to introduce our culture to whoever is born and raised in the United States," Islam said. "We don't want to forget our own culture, is the whole purpose."

Thousands, many dressed in colorful Bangladeshi tunics, dresses and accessories, descended on Surf Stadium for the all-day event, which featured dozens of vendors and several performances, presentations and speeches.

Many of those in attendance hailed from Bangladesh, but others from nearby countries like India and Pakistan, as well as some Americans of European descent, also took part in the festivities.

While some vendors traveled from out of state, many, such as Mehfil Restaurant and Souravi Gifts, are based right in Atlantic City.

Zishan Khokar, a Pakistani man and manager at Mehfil, was kept busy serving traditional dishes such as spicy chicken biryani and grilled meat kebabs to the hungry crowd.

Khokar, who also worked last year's event, said he enjoys the event because it offers not only a chance to keep his and others' cultures alive among the group, but to share it with others.

"We are here to share with the United States, with our own community," Khokar said. "We are here to show everyone that we are here, not just Bangladeshi, Pakistani, but the whole part."

Several local politicians, including state Sen. Jim Whelan and Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford, spoke at the event, sharing their pride at having the Bangladeshi population in the area.

Whelan, who has been to a few of the fairs, said ethnic diversity can only make South Jersey a better place to live.

"Our community in Atlantic County and New Jersey is a better place with the Bangladeshi community that is here," Whelan said. "(They are) hardworking, family-oriented folks who, I have to say, make us stronger, make us better."

Consul-General Monirul Islam of the Bangladesh Consulate in New York City attended the ceremony with his wife and sat in the front row, taking in the performances.

As a diplomat, Islam said he was glad to see his people, who number about 20,000 in South Jersey, celebrating their heritage.

"Irish enjoy their own culture; Italians enjoy their own culture; Spanish enjoy their own culture," Islam said. "I want our Bangladeshi people to enjoy their own culture. That makes me proud."

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