No Enclave — Exploring Nepali Los Angeles

No Enclave

INTRODUCTION TO NEPALI LOS ANGELES

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As of 2010, there were only 6,231 Nepali-Americans living in California. However, after Bhutanese, Nepalis make up the second fastest growing population of South Asian immigrants in the US, spurred in large part by the Nepalese Civil War. Although most have so far settled in New York, Washington, DCTexas, Boston, Somerville, Massachusetts, and San Francisco, there is a small but notable Nepali presence in Los Angeles.

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Kathmandu, vue aérienne au d´collage (Image: Royonx)

Nepalis are the fourth largest South Asian nationality in the US behind Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangla (and ahead of Sri Lankans, Bhutanese, and Maldivians). In the West, mention of Nepal’s largest city, “Kathmandu“evokes an impossibly remote and possibly imaginary place, like Timbuktu (which is, of course, just as real if not as populous as the Nepali capital) or Shangri-La.

For Bob Seger, Kathmandu, was where the singer thought he was going if he ever got out of “here.” For Cat Stevens, Kathmandu promised (in his song, “Katmandu”) the possibility a Thoreauvian escape from society — albeit one routinely involving wealthy adventurers in reflective goggles heading up Mount Everest with the hope of finding out something about themselves.

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AFP PHOTO/COURTESY OF PEMBA DORJE SHERPA (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A BRIEF NEPALI HISTORY

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nepal, Lumbini le lieu de naissance de Bouddha (Image: Yves Picq)

Archaeological evidence shows that humans have been living in what’s now Nepal for at least 11,000 years. Small kingdoms and confederations of clans began arising around 500 BCE. According to Buddhist tradition, it was in Lumbinī that Siddhartha Gautama was born to Queen Mayadevi in 563 BCE.In the following centuries, the land was usually under the influence of larger empires and dynasties based in Tibet or India.

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Seven Gurkhas from the Anglo-Nepal War, circa 1815-1816, Fraser.

The process of unifying the kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur began under Gorkha king Prithvi Narayan Shah. Disagreements between the Kingdom of Nepal and the East India Company led to the Anglo-Nepali War (1815–16). The ultimately triumphant British were impressed enough by the valour of their rivals to employ Gurkhas as fighters and throw their support behind the controversial but pro-British Rana dynasty.

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Selected Ethnic Groups in Nepal (Image: CIA)

There are 102 recognized castes and ethnic groups in Nepal, some of the largest include the Bhotia, Gurung, Kiranti, Sunuwar, Limbu, Newari, Pahari, Rai, Sherpa, Tamang, and Thakali. Predictably, that strict caste and class system was exploited to maintain the dominance of the monarchy and a pro-democracy movement arose which ultimately led to  a civil war in which perhaps 17,800 Nepalis died and up to 150,000 were displaced.In 2008, a Maoist politician was elected Prime Minister of Nepal, the first since the country’s transition from a monarchy to a republic — although he resigned the following year in what would prove to be a pattern of elections and resignations.

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Aftermath of the 2015 earthquake (Image: Heal Together)

In the same decade, more than 100,000 ethnic Nepalis were forcibly removed from Bhutan, where many had lived since the 17th century, as part of that government’s “One nation one people” program of ethnic cleansing. Another disaster came with the 7.9 magnitude 2015 Nepal Earthquake, which killed over 1,400. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal–Bihar Earthquake.

NEPALI IMMIGRATION TO THE US

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Dr. Tara Niraula, the former president of the American Nepal Friendship Society, stands on a stage overlooking the first Nepalese American Festival in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York City on June 9. (Joshua Philipp/The Epoch Times)

The history of Nepali-American immigration is a short one. By 1974, only 56 Nepalis had immigrated to the United States. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, in the years between then and 1992, Nepali immigration never exceeded 100 individuals per year. By the 1990 census the Nepali-American population only reached 2,616. From 2000 to 2010 their ranks swelled from 7,858 to 51,907. 

NEPALI CUISINE

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Image: Himilayan Nepali Cuisine

I maintain that the most accessible entry point into another culture is through food. Nepali cuisine is similar to that of its Himalayan neighbors, influenced both by the cuisines of China and India — specifically its neighbors Bhutan, Bihar, Sikkim, Tibet, Uttar Pradesh, and UttarakhandIt manages to be hearty without being heavy (well, at least the yak-eschewing vegetarian dishes). There are several local restaurants serving Nepali cuisine (in some cases just a dish or two) including Himalayan Grill (Huntington Beach); Kamal Palace Cuisine of India (Long Beach); Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine (one in Palms and one in Adams-Normandie); and Himalayan Cafe (Pasadena and Buena Park) and Tibet Nepal House (Pasadena).

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Tibet Nepal House (Image: An Immovable Feast)

Further reading: Clarissa Wei’s The Best Himalayan Restaurants in Los Angeles

NEPALI LANGUAGE

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The oldest surviving manuscript of a text composed in Sanskrit, in an early Bhujimol script. The Devi Māhātmya on Palm-leaf, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century.

Nepali (नेपाली) is a language in the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. It is official language and de facto lingua franca of Nepal and is also spoken in Bhutan, parts of India and Burma. About 81% of the people of Nepal speak Nepali but the second most spoken language, Tharu, the second most spoken language, is only spoken by 5.8% of the population. Pasadena is home to the Pasadena Language Center, where those interested can have a go at learning the Nepali language. 

NEPALI ART

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The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has several Nepali sculptures, portraits, illustrations and other paintings, on display in the Himalayan art gallery. Nepalese pieces include The Mandala of Vishnu (1420), The Buddhist Goddess Vasudhara Nepal, (c. late 12th/early 13th century), Book of Astrology and Omens (14th-16th century), The Androgynous Form of Shiva and Parvati (Ardhanarishvara) (circa 1000), The Hindu God Bhairava Nepal (17th century), and Book of Rituals and Mandalas (1550-1600)

NEPALI MEDIA AND ORGANIZATIONS

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Gurung Los Angeles Nepal Society Lhochhar Lhosar Dance

Nepali media include Nepali Times and Nepal 24 Hours. Organizations serving the Nepali community include America Nepal Society of Southern California, the Consulate General of Nepal in Los Angeles, Friends of Nepal – LA, the Los Angeles Gurung Society, the International Nepali Literary Society, Los Angeles Chapter, the Nepal-Japan Sewa Center, the South Asia Network, the Shree Pashupatinath Foundation, USA, and the Non-Resident Nepali Association National Coordination Council of America.

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Non Resident Nepali Association National Coordination Council of USA

As always, let me know of any additions that I should make to this guide to Nepali-Los Angeles in the comments. Thanks!

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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