(March 29, 2023) When Anu Sehgal moved to the US in 1995, she found herself yearning for authentic Indian experiences. She devoured everything that came her way – exhibitions, film festivals and book readings. Anu, who is the founder of The Culture Tree, had spent fifteen years in the corporate world, working with organisations like Mattel, and Colgate-Palmolive in the United States, but always had a deep interest in the arts. The idea for The Culture Tree – an organisation to promote South Asian literacy in America – came to her only after she became a mother. “I saw a big need for quality and in-depth educational initiatives around South Asia. Whatever was being offered was very superficial,” says Anu, in an interview with Global Indian.
The culture enthusiast took a plunge into entrepreneurship eight years ago, to address the needs of parents like herself, who were raising their kids in the US and wanted them to remain in touch with their Indian heritage. Over the years, the startup has blossomed into a successful venture, bearing the fruits of her ‘persistence, hard work and professionalism’. “I work pretty much with all the museums, libraries and cultural Institutions in New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey,” Anu reveals.
Through literary events, puppet shows, dance workshops and more Anu, has been facilitating cultural literacy for South Asian youngsters in the New York metropolitan area. Broadly called the Tri-State area, the place is considered the largest metropolitan area in the world in terms of urban landmass.
Getting recognised for her initiatives
“If you think of kids’ educational programmes about South Asia in the New York City area, it will be The Culture Tree,” smiles Anu, who holds an MBA degree from the Yale School of Management and serves as the organisation’s founder and president.
Her organisation has been awarded by the New York City Mayor’s office four times. “Recognising the huge impact of The Culture Tree, former Mayor Bill de Blasio had even declared June 20, 2021 as The Culture Tree Day in NYC,” Anu says.
Recently, The Society of Foreign Consuls recognised Anu as one of the 15 trailblazing women from different countries working for community empowerment. She was honoured at a special event held at the Consulate General of India in New York.
Earlier this month, the entrepreneur launched her debut book Kahaani Rangeeli at the New York Public Library. Through readings held at different venues across the city, she showcased Indian literary culture to people from a wide variety of communities and ethnicities.
The children’s book was published by the Singapore based publisher T4Tales. “The book is based on the story of Lord Krishna and how he was teased for his dark colour. Apart from touching mythology, it addresses the issue of colourism that exists in America and also in India,” Anu says. The author is in the process of publishing two more books with T4Tales.
Creating an impact
The entrepreneur is excited about her collaboration with the Asia Society of New York City to help youngsters grasp the positive learnings of religions that originated in India. Through a series of curated events, the entrepreneur’s underlying goal is to create empathy, respect and understanding towards Indian multiculturalism in America. “I will be not just focussing on the big festivals but also the lesser-known ones and their significance,” Anu says.
Recently, over 2000 people attended The Culture Tree’s Holi celebrations at Seaport, Manhattan. The event was covered by major TV channels and newspapers. “For the last two years, our Holi event has been listed as the top event during Holi week by the New York Times,” she says.
While cultural literacy is one track of The Culture Tree, the other is language education. The organisation has been running language classes both in-person and online in Hindi, Urdu, Gujrati and Punjabi for Indian American and Pakistani American youngsters based in North America and Canada.
In fact, her first initiative at The Culture Tree was to introduce second and third generation young NRIs to the languages of India so that they become confident communicators in their mother tongues.
“There is no limit to how much people can benefit in life when they are bilinguals. It helps them gain more awareness about their roots and heritage,” Anu shares. “Passing on knowledge of native languages to children can create better communication between generations. Learning another language in today’s global world creates lots of opportunities,” emphasises the entrepreneur.
The Culture Tree focuses on increasing the conversational abilities through music, story-telling sessions, songs, art and more. “I have an excellent team of instructors who conduct classes for different ages and levels,” she says.
Both Anu and her team of teachers have undergone training at NYU’s bilingual STARTALK programme to learn the best teaching methods for Indian American and Pakistani American kids. “I now play an advisory role at NYU’s bilingual STARTALK programme helping develop the programme and curriculum further.”
Making a difference
Anu aims to expand The Culture Tree’s reach in America and take it to other countries as well. “In fact, some development is already happening in this regard. This year we will have a puppet show, and my book’s launch in Singapore,” she shares.
‘Making The Culture Tree a hub for every South Asian,’ is the entrepreneur’s goal. The culture enthusiast hails from Meerut. She had pursued her undergraduate studies at Delhi University before moving to the US in mid-nineties.
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