The Bengalis who came to the Twin Cities before 1960 did not stay long enough in Minnesota to feel that is was their home. They were mostly students who came for higher study. After a few years of staying in the Twin Cities, they either completed their study, or sometimes could not achieve what they wanted, but went back home anyway. Staying here permanently was not in their minds during those days.
By 1970, the scenario had changed considerably. Many Bengalis started to settle here and formed their own community to fulfill their social and cultural needs. Young Bengali students came, went back home to visit their families, got married and brought their spouses. Others found their spouses right in the Twin Cities and brought two cultures together. Families grew as new Bengalis were born on American soil. Still other Bengalis came with jobs and families; a few brought their parents to live with them; some brought siblings to give them a taste of the American dream. So many stories, and with them, the face of Bengali community started to change without bounds. As the community grew, the need for more social and religious activities became evident.
In 1971, the Bengali community celebrated its first Saraswati Puja in someone’s home. It was a small group of hardly 20 young Bengalis, and no children yet. Then came the celebrations of “Bijoya Sammilani” and “Poila Baishakh.” But it took another ten years to take the giant leap of organizing a Durga Puja. By 1980, the Bengali community celebrated their first Durga Puja, with about 60 to 70 Bengalis with many children. It was ten years later, in 1990, that the Bengali Association of Minnesota and its first literary publication Sannikat, whose meaning in Bengali is “coming near,” were born.
To start something new always brings some challenges. Forming an association for the community was no exception. Some Bengalis in the community felt strongly that there was no need for forming an association. The major concern was that it would divide our close-knit community; and it was true that bringing the proposal of forming an association created a lot of disagreement. However, by the way the community was growing, it was evident that sooner or later it was going to happen.
Those who felt strongly about the need to form an organized association called for a meeting on April 1, 1990 at the Hindu Mandir in Minneapolis. A majority of the community members who attended the meeting voted for forming an organized association for the community. Thus, the Bengali Association of Minnesota (BAM) was born on April 1, 1990 to fulfill the community’s needs. The Association was started with no financial assets, no constitution and no membership fees. Many dedicated volunteers came forward to help shape their own organization. At this point, a bank account was opened for the first time in the name of the Bengali Association of Minnesota.
By the year 2000, the world surrounding us had become more complex, and the Bengali community also became even more complex. Children became young Americans and created their own culture, while young Bengalis became mature American adults without realizing how much they embraced the western culture in which they lived. Many talented people came and went contributing tremendously to the culture of the community. Many new Bengalis came from India with varied talents and interests, several came with high paying jobs without attending American universities, quite a few kept close contacts with those back home in India and brought fresh new ideas and enriched this community. As the community grew and became more diverse, the Bengali Association of Minnesota became stronger every year. The constitution was written.