The Patels are coming toNew Orleans this week, more than 2,000 of them, in fact, most for the first time ever. With a family name in India that outnumbers the American counterpart of Smith, this particular pack of Patels are members of a non-profit business and social organization called the Leuva Pratidar Samaj of the USA, and they will be holding their annual three-day convention at the Marriott Hotel beginning Thursday.
And some local Patels will be on hand, excited to show off the unique aspects of the place they call home.
Like all the Patels who are coming, LaPlace residents Kevin and Mayuri Patel, along with other members of their family, are members of the hospitality industry, owning half a dozen hotels and motels throughout Louisiana. They are also longtime members of the LPS.
“I have been involved with the group for about 20 years,” says Kevin (whose actual name is Krishor). “It’s a group that started really quite small and has been getting bigger and bigger, having meetings in cities that have larger groups of members, like Dallas, for example. But we have been saying for some time that because New Orleans is a destination city, it would be good to have a meeting here, and the board agreed.”
Families with the surname of Patel started coming to America in the early 1960s, looking for better lives. Many were descendants of farmers from within the same 50-to-70 mile radius in the ancient area of Gujarat, in the western part of India.
In America, so many of them went into the lodging and hospitality industry that their roadside businesses lovingly became known as the Patel Motels. That lifestyle even informed Mississippi Masala, a recent movie about the challenge of immigrant motel families trying to understand the unique culture of the South.
Now, a half century after the first Patels landed in America, opening their mostly mom-and-pop motels, their numbers have grown to more than 4,000 families owning more than 18,000 hotels nationwide, representing nearly 1 million hotel rooms. For LPS members, the upcoming meeting is not only the time to discuss their business ideas and share war stories, but is also, equally as important, the opportunity to get their families together and catch up socially; to groom the next generation to take over their businesses; and, who knows, maybe to meet and marry.
“Many of the people coming to New Orleans are from such different areas of the country,” Kevin Patel explains. “It is our opportunity to get together and, especially for our kids, to meet each other. The idea is for us to preserve our culture for them;,to give to the next generation what we got from our fathers, to carry on their customs.”
As with all groups who immigrate to America, the Patels face the challenge of maintaining their cultural heritage while, at the same time, being part of the larger whole. For Kevin and Myuri, whose marriage was an arranged one, it is the recognition, for example, that, for their children, such customs will not likely be as agreeable.
“We have to accept that,” Kevin says. “Our kids were born here, raised in an American culture and that is perfectly fine. Still, there are basic things about a Hindu life that we believe, and that is what we are trying to promote.”
For Mayuri, who came to this country when she was 9 and who grew up watching her parents operate a small motel business in north Louisiana, this week will be filled with program arrangements and parties as she entertains board members before the opening of the convention. She, like a number of the women, will act as a volunteer. So that all will know who they are, they have arranged to wear a different color sari each day — yellow one day, purple, another; sort of a team outfit Indian-American style.
A number of social activities have been planned for the next generation, divided by age groups.
“We are going to take the younger children to the Aquarium, and we will have other activities for them,” Kevin says. “But the 16- to 21-year-olds will attend all the general sessions and listen to speakers. We have arranged evening events for them — a DJ at the House of Blues one night, for example. No parents will be there, but we will have chaperons.”
There also will be a boat ride on the Steamboat Natchez with the under 21s on one deck and the over 21s on another.
“We are a very family oriented group,” Kevin says. “Family ties are so important to us. And the fact that we are all in the hotel industry gives us a special kind of togetherness. ”