ATLANTIC CITY — The Boardwalk has seen parades ranging from the green sea of St. Patrick's Day to the red, white and green of Columbus Day — but on Saturday, the focus was on the many vibrant colors of Indian dress and culture.
The first-ever Atlantic City India Day parade made its way — eventually — from New Jersey Avenue to the Tropicana Casino and Resort, complete with music, dancers and floats celebrating the 63rd anniversary of India becoming a nation. India became independent from the United Kingdom on Aug. 15, 1947.
Today, South Asians from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are among the largest-growing ethnic groups in the region and the state — a trend that local Indian Americans said naturally led the idea of a Boardwalk parade.
"There's a very huge South Asian community in the South Jersey area," said Kavita Gupta, of Cherry Hill, who along with her husband Sanjay co-organized the parade. "They come here anyway, so it was a natural place to hold a parade. We come here every summer, so we conceived the idea - why not hold it here?"
Manish Singh, a Cape May Court House, Middle Township resident who has a neurology office in Linwood, said that the Boardwalk was "the best place to have any parade, maybe in the world."
Participants included the Indo-American Senior Citizens Organization of Atlantic County, the Indian Business Association and the Mokshaa Dance Academy of Galloway Township, whose dancers practiced their moves as they waited the parade to kick off.
Among those in traditional Punjabi garb were Aarti Jhala, 18, and Nidhi Jha, 15, both of Galloway Township.
"That this is the first parade here is even better," Jha said. "We were interested in coming out and supporting Indian culture."
Local Indian Americans, said New Yorker Rani Emandi "are so prideful in this area. ... In New York City, we have have the India Day parade every year, but to see this scene on the Boardwalk, you guys will be rivaling New York soon."
The parade, however, was delayed by more than an hour before it finally began to make its way west. John and Elaine Butterfield, of Phoenixville, Pa., didn't know they had visited on the day of a parade and said they would stick around to see what it was like, as would Laura Barton, of New York City.
"It looks very interesting," Barton said. "It's good to see other cultures having parades."
Mayor Lorenzo Langford said that he hoped the parade would become an annual event, adding that "I hope it grows by leaps and bounds."
The parade itself was just one part of the multi-day event, which included the decoration of NJ Transit's ACES train from New York to Atlantic City, a concert by British singer Jay Sean and an India Festival at the Tropicana.
'It's absolutely magnificent," said Atlantic County Freeholder Alisa Cooper. "Authentic dancers and acrobats, to see Jay Sean, it's absolutely amazing, out of this world. It's a wonderful event to bring young and old, one, two three generations together."
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