By Shalini Basu | For AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — The Bangladesh Association of Atlantic County (BAAC) hosted their annual “Mela” or fair at the Bader Field on Aug. 8, a cultural celebration that attracted locals and those from the Bangladeshi diaspora from all over the East Coast.
Since its inception in 2008, the festival draws thousands to Atlantic City for a fun-filled evening featuring cultural foods, musical and dance performances, vendors and more. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word “mela” has its roots in Indian English, meaning “a public event that is organized to celebrate a special occasion.”
Mohammed Suhel Ahmed, secretary of the BAAC stated that the tradition was started to instill family and cultural values for first-generation Bangladeshi kids to know their culture as they live abroad.
“We also wanted to give those living away from family and home to feel some nostalgia,” Ahmed said.
Amongst the featured speakers of the event were Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Sheffler and Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small. Both public figures lauded the BAAC’s continued community building through cultural efforts such as the fair as well as humanitarian efforts such as food drives extended to the community at large.
“We are not only Bengali but we are also American, residents of Atlantic City and Atlantic County,” Jasim Uddim, a trustee with the BAAC,” said. “This is our home and we give back.”
The event featured many vendors both local and those who attend year after year as they recognize the thriving Bengali community in the area. Nure Alam and Nargis Akhtar, owners of The Halal Express food truck, make the trek annually.
“This is our community and its growing, so we come to serve Atlantic City,” Akhtar said.
Vendors like Nour Padma set up her booth for the first time at the fair after attending the fair for years as a visitor and seeing the opportunity to be able to fill the need for cultural attire and jewelry to the Bangladeshi community.
Watching the stage show of performers dressed in colorful ethnic attire Kumkum Kamran of Westville, stated that she and her multi-generational family come to visit the festival.
“There is something here for all ages to enjoy, a family experience,” BAAC president Shahid Khan said. He added that the organization hopes to continue this tradition year after year as a way to integrate the rich Bangladeshi heritage right here in the heart of Atlantic City.
The Bangladesh community here continues to make its presence known in Atlantic City and around the region. According to the Pew Research Center, Atlantic City hosts the 10th largest Bangladeshi population in the United States with about 3,000 residents.
Philadelphia, which is less than an hour away from Atlantic City, has the sixth-largest Bangladeshi population and New York City has the largest with 77,000.
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