Interview by: Ms. Pragya Shrestha
What is your involvement in the Nepalese community?
Menuka Udas: In order to expand the Nepalese community, I try to connect people. I am laying the groundwork for the Nepalese community so that we can unite cultures to inspire and be inspired by one another. On top of that, I am also contributing/volunteering to community services and trying to lead the community’s growth.
Why are you passionate about preserving Nepalese culture?
Menuka Udas: In addition to celebrating various holidays like Dashain and Tihar, Nepalese culture should equally be addressing controversial issues like the significance of women’s rights, the abolition of caste differences, and the “hidden” aspects of society as a whole. Even though I am a citizen of the United States, Nepal will always be in my heart. Despite our distinct physical characteristics, we are all Nepalese. We ought to be familiar with our homeland, or roots, wherever we go in the world. It’s not about me disliking other cultures but my desire to express my culture. Having said that, I started slowly at first. My primary source of inspiration was Dr. Tulsi Maharjan. His dedication to the community, made me want to dedicate my time to advocate for not only the Nepalese community but the global humanitarian crisis. My kids are an additional motivation for this interest of mine. Marcus, my firstborn, did not speak Nepali when he was in the first grade. It wasn’t that we didn’t try to teach him, but he hesitated to learn because he was young. However, one day he came home and asked me out of the blue why he cannot speak two languages. He reached this point on his own, and I never forced him to. He was inspired in a way. Hence, this makes me satisfied with what I am doing: inspiring at least one person. Every day, people from these non-Nepalese cultures embrace their Italian, Irish, Polish, and Indian heritage. So why can’t we?
How and when did you start thinking about preserving Nepali culture?
Menuka Udas: Once I fulfilled my basic needs, I started to meet different people and was in awe of how they preserved their culture. Then I met Dr. Maharjan, who himself is a book in my opinion and as I started to learn about him and his work, I was impressed. Then, I began to explore the idea of preserving Nepali culture but one step at a time. When I had my first child, I wanted to show him the beautiful culture that his parents have, and he belongs to that culture as well. However, only my demonstration of affection for Nepali culture was not enough and hence, I started getting involved with Nepali events so that my children can learn these from their childhood. I want my children to be proud US citizens as well as respect all cultures while preserving their proud Nepali culture and heritage.
When I had my first child, I wanted to show him the beautiful culture that his parents have, and he belongs to that culture as well. However, only my demonstration of affection for Nepali culture was not enough and hence, I started getting involved with Nepali events so that my children can learn these from their childhood. I want my children to be proud US citizens as well as respect all cultures while preserving their proud Nepali culture and heritage.Menuka Udas
When and why did you come to America?
Menuka Udas: I came to the US in 2007 as a student. Although I would like to claim that I came to promote my culture, my primary objective, like that of many others, was to pursue my career. But after I got settled in: After getting married and having kids, I began my journey in the Nepalese community.
How can we promote and preserve Nepalese culture in America?
Menuka Udas: I believe we are lucky to be in the US where we co-exist with people from other countries and cultures. We can see who they are and learn from them about their cultures as well. Similarly, in turn, we should also include them in our tradition and explain to them what we do and the reason behind our festivals/traditions. This knowledge sharing creates bonds/respect between different community people. Our second generation is completely different as they were born in a completely different environment. We grew up playing with our cousins and with big/joint families whereas these kids cannot spend unlimited time with their cousins. Mostly they have holed up with their parents and siblings and maybe some school friends. Generally speaking, they know only a few festivals and that makes me feel that we need to teach/inspire our second generation about our roots. To avoid losing Nepal’s beautiful history, everyone needs to connect and share their wisdom. For that, first generation people must be willing to collaborate with each other and with other communities. Apart from our Nepali community, we must include people from different cultures and share/involve them in our traditions (if they are interested). As Americans have embraced us, we must be willing to embrace others as well in order to promote our culture and traditions. We must be dedicated to keeping the traditions alive by participating in and celebrating them. Although I am aware that doing these things takes time, not everyone can accomplish what they want. However, having faith and performing small gestures from our tradition/culture will help go long way in promoting the Nepali community.
What accomplishment are you most proud of, and why?
Menuka Udas: I’m very content both professionally and academically. Learning never ends and I am always ready to learn new things and will continue to do so. However, being able to inspire other people, feels more rewarding. I do not need big accomplishments to be proud, every small thing which brings peace, and joy to me is what matters most to me. When my son says, “Mama, I am so proud of you, you are doing this for the Nepalese community,”. That is a big accomplishment because he knows that there are people in the world, who do not have access to the things that he has. He is always ready to volunteer whenever anyone asks him (he is still small to initiate himself). He was impressed when I distributed school supplies to students in Nepalese schools and saw their smiles. In 2021, Marcus received the Presidential Gold Award for Volunteer Service. I’m proud of things like this because I feel like I’m making a difference. Having said that, I am still learning and developing.
As you have lived in Nepal, and now living in the US, and being a part of the Nepalese community, do you think that there is a significant difference between building a community here and building a community back in Nepal?
Menuka Udas: Of course. The mentality. When you’re home, you’re not going to care as much as you would when you’re away. Hence, being in the states, you miss your culture and want to embrace it more because it is unique and different. Back in Nepal, we lack the connection like here in the US. For instance, if we met in public in Nepal, you would be just another ordinary Nepalese person and we probably wouldn’t have known each other. However, because Nepalese people are uncommon here, if I see you, I would definitely approach you. There is more interest.
Do you see a shift in the new generation in regards to being closer to their culture?
Menuka Udas: Of course. As I am involved more and more in the Nepali community, I am seeing the changes in the next generation. They are keen on learning about their Nepali culture/tradition. Maybe as they grow, they try to find out about their roots and that makes them more curious. These kids have so much to learn. They are surrounded by two cultures, not just one. Yes, the older generation has much more knowledge, but the youth are learning. In fact, there were few children when I first arrived. However, the Nepalese youth team is now present, and it is clear that they are more enthusiastic and aggressive in building their community. These young people are the future. I am extremely proud of this generation’s strong Nepalese upbringing in the United States. I feel at ease knowing that people will continue to care for the community and will keep our Nepali tradition alive.
Your kids are being brought up in America with a strong Nepalese background, what is one piece of advice that you would leave behind to them or in general to future generations of Nepalese and why?
I was never forced to love Nepal, nor did I ever force anyone. All my passion came from the heart because I wanted to leave a footprint in the world. I want to remind my kids, and the future generation that Nepal isn’t the only country they should advocate for; the United States of America is also home to them. Be sincere. Make both cultures known. Make each nation proud. Don’t give up. Try to do something better for the world.