Smita Sumant’s 4-year-old twins are starting to notice the differences between themselves and other kids: They look a little different, they eat different foods and sometimes they wear different clothing.
In a community that is less than 2 percent Asian, it’s important, she said, for her family to attend cultural events like Saturday’s Naples India Fest 2016 so her son, Sohom, and daughter, Sai, can see they’re not so different after all.
“They haven’t seen a lot of Indian people,” said Sumant, 33, a Mumbai native who worked for Hertz in New Jersey for more than 10 years before moving with her husband to Estero in September.
“I want them to see people who look like them, eat like them and dress like them.”
About 2,000 people stopped by during the four-hour festival inside Fleischmann Park in Naples.
Vendors sold kurtas and sarees — Indian shirts and dresses — parasols, gold jewelry and bronze statues of Hindu gods. Restaurants like 21 Spices of East Naples and India Palace of Fort Myers offered traditional Indian fare, including chicken with curry leaves and peppers, chole (spicy chickpeas), sugar cane juice and kulfi (Indian ice cream).
On stage at the west end of the festival, locals performed traditional Indian dances and songs.
Amit Patel, 40, a volunteer with the Indian Association of Naples, which organizes the event, said the festival serves two purposes: It gives local Indian children, enmeshed in Americana, a connection to their traditional culture, and it helps educate non-Indians about that culture.
“If we know each other well, we integrate well,” said Patel, who was born in western India, north of Mumbai, and moved to Naples in 2000 to work in the software industry.
The Indian Association of Naples started the festival small several years ago, inside high schools and community centers for the first few years. When they decided to bring it outside, they initially held it in Cambier Park before moving to Fleischmann last year, Patel said.
“It works out really great,” Patel said. “Parking is no problem. We have space to spread out.”
Matt Sweeney, 48, of Colorado, stopped by the festival with his family after reading about it in the Daily News.
His daughters, 11 and 12, were excited to get temporary henna tattoos on their arms. The intricately patterned tattoos are made from crushed leaves and twigs from the henna plant.
“It was a big deal,” Sweeney said of the girls’ interest in the traditional Indian tattoos. “They’d never had one, so they wanted to try it. And I won’t let them get a real tattoo. Not at their age.
“Not at any age, actually.”