All posts by nikitamandhani

The farm that refugees call home

By Nikita Mandhani

The Global Gardens Refugee Training farm is a one-acre plot of land in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago that serves about 100 refugee families mostly from Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma) and Congo.

For Linda Seyler, the founder, director and the farm manager, the program is a way to help refugees segue into the American culture while holding onto their national and religious identities.

The Global Gardens Refugee Training farm uses agriculture as a means to help refugees feel closer to home (Nikita Mandhani/Medill)

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Local band blends east and west to get people dancing and talking

By Nikita Mandhani

FunkaDesi is a Chicago-based band that represents diverse ethnic communities through its members, music and fan base. The band is a six-time winner of the Chicago Music Awards and combines Indian music with western trends.

A FunkaDesi performance uses music to enhance deeper conversations about unity and diversity. (Nikita Mandhani/Medill)

Rahul Sharma founded FunkaDesi twenty years ago. Sharma was born to Indian parents in the U.S. shortly after they emigrated from Kenya. In an effort to create a platform for his Indian-American identity through music, he came up with the concept of forming a multi-ethnic, multi-racial group of musicians.

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From divinity to discrimination: The story of Sikhs in America

By Nikita Mandhani

When Tarlochan Singh moved to Chicago in 1980, there weren’t many Sikhs in the city. As the only two boys who wore turbans in school, he and his brother encountered endless questions and mistreatment.

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La Perla: Vibrant San Juan neighborhood emerges from checkered reputation

By Nikita Mandhani

La Perla is an old neighborhood just outside the northern historic city wall of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Stretching about 600 meters along the Caribbean Sea, the neighborhood is tucked between Calle Norzagaray and Fort San Cristobal.

La Perla has been an infamous neighborhood since its early days. In the 19th century, it was the site of a slaughterhouse and home to people — slaves, the homeless and non-white servants — who were required to live outside the city walls.

La Perla’s dwellings were among the first homes built on the waterfront. Today the seaside around Old San Juan is largely home to beautiful restaurants, walkways and hotels catering to tourists, but the hard scrabble neighborhood of La Perla continues to occupy some of the island’s most spectacular coast.

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Bindis and Bruises: A dance theatre featuring stories of abuse

By Nikita Mandhani

The Chicago DanzTheatre Ensemble is set to start its new show, Bindis and Bruises on Friday, March 4. The show was conceived and choreographed by Priya Narayan who is a trained classical Indian dancer. Ellyzabeth Adler is the director, co-writer and co-choreographer for the performance.

A video preview of the upcoming show, Bindis and Bruises (Nikita Mandhani/Medill)

Bindis and Bruises is part of the dance theater’s social justice mission of “performance with a purpose.” The ensemble hopes the show will break the silence about “dating and domestic violence” in the country.
Performances will run every Friday and Saturday from March 4-19 at the Ebenezer Lutheran Church at 8 p.m. Tickets are available on

Photo on top: A dancer performs at the rehearsal of Bindis and Bruises at the Ebenezer Lutheran Church (Nikita Mandhani/Medill)

Growing trends of Halal food in Chicago

By Nikita Mandhani

Devon Avenue is packed with several grocery stores and restaurants that serve zabiha halal meat. With the influx of Muslim immigrants in the U.S. over the last few decades, halal food has become a recognized term in the American food business.

Chicago and its suburbs are seeing a rapid increase in the availability of zabiha halal meat in their grocery stores and restaurants (Nikita Mandhani/MEDILL).

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Syrian refugees struggle with American schools

By Nikita Mandhani

Firas Jawish arrived in Chicago with his family as a Syrian refugee in September 2014. Despite being a doctor, he makes ends meet by working in a data entry job at a clinic. One of his daily concerns is finding an appropriate school for his 3-year-old son, Hasan.

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Protesters fight for undocumented immigrants

By Nikita Mandhani

Chicagoans woke up Tuesday morning to word that demonstrators were blocking traffic on Congress Parkway at LaSalle Street. They were protesting the nation’s deportation policies. Twelve were arrested. Here’s what’s left behind after the protests for undocumented families who are fighting for #Not1More deportation.

Individuals protest against ICE raids and deportation (Nikita Mandhani/Medill)

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Hema Rajagopalan: A dancer unfurling Indian culture in Chicago (Video)

By Nikita Mandhani

Hema Rajagopalan, an acclaimed Indian classical dancer, moved to Chicago from India in 1974. With a master’s degree in nutrition, she chose to quit dancing and work as a dietician in the city. But, her passion for the dance of Bharata Natyam won over.

A leading member of the Indian-American community persuaded Rajagopalan to perform at a community center in Chicago. From there on, Rajagopalan’s journey as a dance teacher took off. At the request of a few parents, she started teaching Bharata Natyam to children. What started as a small dance class in her living room grew to become a leading dance theatre in Chicago and its suburbs.

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Unmasked: A platform for cultural expressions for Muslim youth (Video)

By Nikita Mandhani

Amarah Alghaban clutched the mic as she recited a verse from one of her favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, about the plight of Palestinians.

“And these are not two equal sides: occupier and occupied.
And a hundred dead, two hundred dead, and a thousand dead.
And between that, war crime and massacre, I vent out words and smile ‘not exotic,’
‘not terrorist.’”

Continue reading Unmasked: A platform for cultural expressions for Muslim youth (Video)