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Preview - MASALA Mela In Boston

Chitra Parayath

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, MASALA (Massachusetts Area South Asian Lambda Association) announces the Satrangí Méla (Rainbow Festival), October 9, 2004, from 7PM-2AM at Machine, 1254 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02215.

MASALA, based in Boston, is an organization that reaches out to provide a safe and supportive social environment for Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, and Questioning New England-based South Asians (people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tibet; and from the global South Asian Diaspora).

MASALA offers, through social and political activities, a supportive, empowering, and non-judgmental environment, where queer South Asians can meet, make connections, and proudly promote awareness and acceptance of their sexuality in society. They also actively work against all forms of oppression based on race, gender, class, and other identities.

MASALA aims to work with mainstream South Asian community groups as well as non-South Asian GLBT groups (especially other people of color GLBT groups), and welcomes alliances with like-minded groups and individuals regardless of their ethnic/sexual identities.

MASALA's activities provide social, academic and recreational support for members along with the goal of educating others about alternative lifestyles, challenging stereotypes, and celebrating diversity.

We talked to MASALA committee member Dr.Aida Khan about the organization and the upcoming event.

Lokvani - Tell us more about Boston Masala, when was organization started, why/when did you feel the need to start MASALA in the area?
Dr. Khan - MASALA began in 1994 when Imtiyaz Hussein put out a call in the local gay press to area South Asians. Fifteen women and men came to that first meeting. Since then, MASALA has grown to include about 200 GLBTQ South Asians across the region. While MASALA’s membership is queer South Asian, its social events are usually open to all—its popular monthly potlucks draw 60 to 100 people and its annual fall Méla is one of the area’s most colorful and vibrant celebrations.

Lokvani - Are there any other such organizations in the New England area?
Dr. Khan - For South Asians gays and lesbians, MASALA is the only organization of it’s kind in the region.

Lokvani - What are the activities and services offered by MASALA ?
Dr. Khan - We have monthly potluck dinners that are hosted by different members on the third Saturday of every month, attended by both the gay community and heterosexual folks. We have an anniversary celebration every year.
As part of our 10th anniversary celebrations, MASALA jointly organized the award-winning “Monsoon Wedding Banquet” float in Boston’s 2004 Pride Parade with QAPA (Queer Asian Pacific Islanders) and the Massachusetts Asians and Pacific Islanders for Health. The float received national television coverage in India.

Lokvani - Is MASALA for Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans. Alone? Or do you have members who are straight but would like to foster better understanding and support between the gay and straight communities?
Dr. Khan - We would love to do that – foster understanding and friendship between the gay and straight communities. We are very keen on making connections with and working closely with other South Asian organizations. It also is simply a matter of meeting us. South Asians are generally well educated, highly successful and achievement oriented and that is true in MASALA as well. We are a very well educated and informed group of people.Our main purpose is social but we have members who do a fair amount of activism. We also donate money to different organizations in South Asia who do work around changing attitudes, educating people and working towards fostering help for people who are questioning their sexuality or around questions of sexual orientation.
We hope to promote awareness, visibility and acceptance of alternative sexuality in society.

Lokvani - South Asians are generally very wary of discussing matters of sexuality…are all your members young or do you have members from the older generation as well?
Dr. Khan - It is heartening to see that South Asians born and brought up here in the US are generally more accepting than the ones who grew up in other countries. There are many South Asians gays who have not come out of the closet because of the social stigma attached to being gay. We have members whose age ranges from mid 20’s to 50s. This is pretty mixed group.

Lokvani - Do you offer counseling or peer mentoring for confused teens?
Dr. Khan - We have a website and a voice mail system at MASALA and we refer anyone who needs help to respective counseling services. And we welcome people who want to discuss such issues.

Lokvani - Tell us some more about the Satrangí Méla 2004
Dr. Khan - The mela will be an intense celebration of diversity, creativity, South Asian queer culture, “Bollywood” music, glittery camp, South Asian dances, dazzling drag shows, spicy cuisine, cash bar with theme drinks, and all things desi! We will have a great dinner party which will be followed by dance and celebration.

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