Indo-American Heritage Museum

Indo-American Heritage Museum promotes understanding of the diversity, history, and culture of Indian Americans in the Chicago area. While IAHM is currently located at the Indo-American Center on California and Devon, many of their programs are geared toward cultural outreach and inter-ethnic dialogues with the broader Chicago community. Through guided tours, IAHM uses the “living museum” of the Indo-Pak business district along Devon Avenue to help raise awareness of immigrant life on the Northwest Side. IAHM has a modest collection donated by community members and representing members’ life in India and their Chicago diaspora.

Here are some of their stories…

One local business owner told us that she has invested a great deal of time and effort into beautifying her restaurant. She has installed flower boxes and planters in front of her restaurant and hopes that this will motivate neighboring merchants to invest in the appearance of their storefronts as well.

One community organizer told us that the mobility of her elderly clients is constrained by a lack of transportation options that link the suburbs and the city. She said that one of her clients, who is 76 years old, broke down and sobbed when he informed her that his son had bought a house in the suburbs. The distance would make it impossible for the man to socialize with his friends near Devon.

While constrained by building and homeowner association policies, one man described several ways that he has been able to incorporate eco-friendly practices into his schedule. For example, he dries clothes inside next to his open window and repurposes old and unused items rather than throwing them away.

When one young staff person at a local community center tried to pilot a recycling program to reduce paper waste, she encountered resistance. Center managers believed that initiating a recycling program would incur extra cost to their organization. Now, this staff person separates the paper in her office and takes it to a recycling bin across the street.

One immigrant from a coastal town in India told us that many people in his home community survive by fishing. He worries about the impact that depleted fish stores will have on his hometown economy and said that his family members in India are growing concerned about rising sea levels and changes in the weather.

One elderly community member said that he always recycled in India, where he received monetary payment from professional recyclers and garbage collectors. He said that he is not aware of a similar recycling program in the United States and, with no financial incentive, has little motivation to go out of his way to recycle.

A group of three women told us that their families practiced numerous environmentally-friendly activities in India, such as raising chickens and air drying clothes. They have found it difficult to continue these practices in Chicago due to space constraints, and they further fear that their American neighbors would perceive them as poorly educated and unassimilated were they to resume traditional practices.

One man reminisced about his beautiful farmhouse in India, where he grew a variety of flowers and cereals. He says he misses that here, and he laments that space constraints and age-related ailments have prevented him from taking up gardening in Chicago.

One woman described a solar cooker that her family in India uses to prepare vegetables, lentils, and rice. The solar cooker, which sits on the roof, absorbs heat from the sun to warm water for food and bathing, reducing waste and helping to conserve water and energy.

During one focus group, several participants suggested that scrap dealers who purchase recyclable materials should be encouraged, as they are in India and Pakistan. They agreed that this would be a  strong motivating factor for South Asian immigrants to recycle, as recycling confers economic benefits in their homelands.