A Diaspora in Focus
South Asia

An exploration of the Asian American experience in Connecticut


Connecticut is home to more than 170,000 Asian residents. 

Asian Americans are the country’s fastest-growing racial or ethnic group and are projected to be its largest immigrant group by 2055. Connecticut is among the first states in the nation to pass a law requiring public schools to teach Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, history, set to take effect in the 2025-2026 school year. 

In recognition of this landmark legislation, CT Mirror photojournalist Yehyun Kim launched a project to interview and photograph one Connecticut resident from each of the 21 Asian ethnicities as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

It would be impossible for any single project to capture the totality of the Asian American experience in the state. But, when woven together, the lives of the people represented here provide a glimpse into the richness and diversity of Connecticut’s Asian residents.

South Asia

In these stories, we highlight Connecticut residents with roots in South Asia, which includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In this series

East Asia

Southeast Asia

A Diaspora in Focus

As the state develops an Asian American history curriculum for public schools, the CT Mirror profiled and photographed residents as a way to learn more about Asia’s 21 ethnicities. In this story, we highlight residents from South Asia.
Click on the red bubbles to view profile previews.


Kamrun Nahar

Lives in: Southington

Born in: Noakhali, Bangladesh

Age: 39

Languages spoken: Bengali, English

Works as: Budget and finance manager at the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut

One thing Nahar loves about living in Connecticut: The countryside and not being as crowded as New York City

Kamrun Nahar recalls sitting quietly and observing everyone in ESL classes, an English class for people whose native language is not English. It was 2000, and the 15-year-old had just moved from Bangladesh to Connecticut to be reunited with her father, Mohammed Islam, who had left for the United States before she turned 1 in search of a better life for his family. After having sent his family the money he earned while working at a restaurant for 15 years, he could finally afford to bring his wife and three children to the United States.

While students from Puerto Rico, Cuba or other countries had classmates who could help them understand their teachers, Nahar was the first and only student who spoke Bengali at Branford High School.

“I had no choice. I had to make myself learn it faster,” Nahar said.

Eiryana Uddin, 10, and her mom, Kamrun Nahar, and dad, Borhan Uddin, walk the trail in May 2022, at an event in Manchester to celebrate the Bengali New Year, called Pohela Boishakh. The day is observed on the first day of the Bengali calendar, which usually falls either on April 14 or 15. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Bilingual classes are offered in Connecticut only when 20 or more English learners share a common primary language. Nahar believes not having anyone to translate for her actually helped her learn a new language more easily. For the first couple of months, she didn’t speak any English and just observed the teacher and students. 

“And slowly, little by little, I was able to speak on my own. It just happened,” she said. “As a kid, if you try anything, I think you can accomplish whatever you want to do.”  

The girl who did not speak any English grew up to be a finance manager and have two daughters of her own.

“If I stayed back home, maybe I'll be married to someone and raising some kids [as a housewife]. I don't have my own choices to make,” Nahar said. “But right now, I get to live the way I want to.”

Kamrun Nahar, left, and her daughter, Eiryana, 10, walk in their traditional Bengali combination dress, called shalwar kameez. Nahar said she doesn't mind that her daughters are not eager to learn the Bengali culture at their ages. "They are Americans," she said. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror
Kamrun Nahar looks for her family at a Bengali New Year celebration in Manchester. Her direct family members are all Muslim and pray together five times a day. She believes in life after death. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Although Bangladesh and Nepal are leading countries in South Asia for closing the gender gap, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, South Asia ranks the lowest among the eight regions across the world in the report. Bangladesh ranked 141st out of 146 countries for the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity.  

In May last year, Nahar and her husband Borhan Uddin, of Southington, brought their two daughters, Eiryana, then 11, and Aviyana, then 9, to an event in Manchester to celebrate the Bengali New Year, called Pohela Boishakh. The day is observed on the first day of the Bengali calendar, which usually falls on April 14 or 15.

She and her daughters were dressed in Bengali traditional dress, called Shalwar Kameez, in cherry-blossom pink. They had a fun family time along with other Bengali people. But Nahar isn’t fixated on staying connected to Bengali culture, especially for her daughters who were born in the United States. Her family didn’t join the Bengali New Year event this year, and they don’t teach Bengali to their daughters.

“I'm looking forward. I'm not looking back,” Nahar said. “For me to grow, I need to experience more things here, because I'm choosing this as my home.”

For her family, their religion takes up the integral part of their past, current and future. The family prays five times a day and always goes to mosque to observe religious holidays. Just like Nahar learned Arabic while growing up in Bangladesh — where over 90% of the 169 million population in 2022 was Muslim, according to the Population and Housing Census — her daughters also started learning Arabic as young as 5 and 6.

“The goal is to read the Quran fluently without making any mistake,” Nahar said. “It’s not just reading. They also need to know [by reading the Quran] how to do the prayers properly. Prayers don’t just happen.”

-Yehyun Kim

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Aiti Rai

Lives in: Hartford

Born in: Jhapa, Nepal

Age: 28

Languages spoken: English, Nepali

Works as: Case manager, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services

One thing Rai loves about living in Connecticut: “[I’m] grateful for the opportunities, grateful for the people I’ve met in Hartford,” said Rai, who explained that she’s found mentors who have helped her navigate college admissions and secure internships. “I am where I am because of them.”

Aiti Rai’s ancestors arrived in Bhutan as part of a wave of Nepalese immigration that began in the 19th century. Known as “Lhotshampas,” the Nepalese arrivals settled in southern Bhutan to work as farmers. 

“They told us about how beautiful Bhutan was,” said Rai, recalling a conversation with her parents, who explained to her how they were able to farm all the food they needed. “Everything was from their land — rice, all the vegetables, meat, everything.”

In 1989, after several years of mounting oppression toward the Nepali-speaking minority, the Bhutanese government instituted a “one nation, one people” policy that promoted the culture of the country’s Drukpa majority. The policy’s measures included the requirement of a national dress code, forced removal of Nepalese descendants from their homes and suspension of vital services in the region where they were concentrated.

Aiti Rai stands at a dining table with a grocery bag over her shoulder.
Aiti Rai gets ready to go out foraging for plants in Hartford in June 2023. Rai was born in a refugee camp in Nepal and said she grew up foraging around the camp. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror
Aiti Rai and Pabi Maya Rai smiling. Aiti holds a pair of sneakers.
Aiti Rai, right, and her mom, Pabi Maya Rai, head out to forage. Rai's family is ethnically Nepali but four generations of her family lived in the southern part of Bhutan. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

By 1992, tens of thousands of the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese had either fled or been deported, forced to sign waivers renouncing their citizenship before leaving the country. 

“My parents gave up everything — citizenship, land and everything — when they came to Nepal,” she said. “[The government] said [it was] voluntary leave, but that’s not true. They were indirectly forcing people to leave. They were asking for all the documents they had, leaving my parents without a choice, without citizenship, without a passport.”

Aiti Rai sits on a couch with a legal pad in front of her on a table. She's speaking to someone on her left.
Aiti Rai talks to a family who came to Connecticut from Syria with nine children. Rai said her challenging experience at a refugee camp in Nepal led her to want to help refugees. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Rai’s parents eventually ended up in a refugee camp in Nepal, where she, along with three of her seven siblings, was born.

Because of the complicated relationship between Bhutan and Nepal, Rai has always felt conflicted about her own identity. 

“I often don’t really know which country I should associate myself with,” she explained. “If I call myself Nepalese, I don't think people would accept that … if I call myself Bhutanese — I’ve never been to Bhutan. And I don't think people from Bhutan would like that.”

Aiti Rai, right, and her mom, Pabi Maya Rai, forage for plants in Hartford. Rai said they are careful not to forage too much and disturb animals' habitats. "Nature is our God," she said. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

In 2011, when Rai was 16, her family immigrated to the south end of Hartford. She studied at Manchester Community College and then Wesleyan University, earning a degree in international politics. Now she works as a case manager at IRIS, helping refugees settle in the U.S. In some ways, she said, life in America has been harder than she thought it would be. But she found something in Connecticut she’d never quite had before.

“I just feel like I belong in Hartford,” she said. “I feel very comfortable saying I’m from Hartford.” 

Katy Golvala

Aiti Rai poses in her living room in Hartford in June 2023. A picture of the former Bhutanese king, queen and prince hangs on the wall. Rai's parents miss and fondly remember Bhutan, which they fled due to oppression. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

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Parvez Bandi

Lives in: East Hartford

Born in: Valsad, India

Age: 50

Languages spoken: English, Gujarati, Hindi

Works as: Businessman and auditor

One thing Bandi loves about living in Connecticut: Enjoying the outdoors in the summertime and, in particular, playing lots of cricket. “That is the thing that I enjoy most about summertime in Connecticut.” 

Parvez Bandi vividly remembers a moment in his life from more than a decade ago, a memory he now cherishes. He was in his 30s, playing batsman in a Connecticut cricket league, when he struck the ball and made runs, scoring for his team. At the thrilling moment, Bandi overheard his father say, “Wow, he is a really attacking batsman. I never played like that.” 

The mere fact that his father was watching the game had already made his day. He did not expect the praise from the former professional cricketer, who was hired by a railway company in India to play for the company cricket team.

“I was over the moon,” Bandi said. “A moment when your mentor, your coach, your everything tells you, ‘Wow, you're doing very good. You’re a notch up than me.'"

Growing up in India, where cricket is both widely played and watched, Bandi practiced the game with his brother, guided by his father. His father was a stringent cricket coach — so strict he trained him to be a left-handed batsman even though he was right-handed.

  • Two men pull equipment into a shed.
  • Five men stand on a cricket field. One of them is pitching the ball.
  • Three men dressed in athletic clothing drag a large white mat in a field.

After Bandi and his family moved to Connecticut when he was 9, in search of a better future, Bandi switched to soccer, basketball and baseball, and even became a diehard basketball fan. But something about cricket continued to draw Bandi back. As an adult, he not only practices cricket for two hours on weekdays and plays in the Connecticut cricket league on weekends, but he also acted as a catalyst last year to build a cricket field — named after him — in his neighborhood in East Hartford.

“My peace of mind comes when I'm on the field. I let go of everything in life, whatever happened a few hours ago,” Bandi said. “That is like a meditation for me, playing cricket.”

The serenity happens off the field as well. The moments of sharing home-cooked food over laughter bring back the memory of his home country. There, people would naturally gather after work or school; no plans or coordination were necessary. Within half an hour, over 10 people would be joking and talking — a perfect way to relax at the end of the day. With a hope that younger generations can also feel that sense of community, Bandi dreams of opening his own cricket academy in Connecticut. 

“If you don't teach the younger generation, or if you don't get them involved, this will die out,” Bandi said. “I want it to go as far as it can go.”

-Yehyun Kim

Five men sit laughing near a large tree. The sun shines through the leaves.
Parvez Bandi chats with his friends while watching a live cricket game in Windsor in August 2022. "My peace of mind comes when I'm on the field. I let go of everything in life," Bandi said. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

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Chandani Khatri Chhetri

Lives in: Newington

Born in: Chovar, Nepal

Age: 30

Languages spoken: English, Nepali

Works as: Owner, Nepali Outfit; Quality assurance technician, Saputo

One thing Chhetri loves about living in Connecticut: During the COVID lockdown, Chhetri and her roommate began hiking as a way to get out of the house. “We were searching for hiking places near West Hartford, and we found such a nice mountain over here,” she said, remarking on the beautiful hiking spots around the state. Chhetri said she rarely hiked before the pandemic, but now, she goes whenever she has free time.

In 2015, Chandani Khatri Chhetri applied for a U.S. visa on a whim. 

Chhetri worked as a bank teller in Nepal and decided to try her luck applying to the Diversity Visa Program, a lottery that grants 50,000 green cards a year to people from countries with traditionally low rates of immigration to the U.S. Typically, more than 14 million people apply. 

Six months later, she got the call that she’d been selected. 

“So many people over here, they apply seven, eight times,” explained Chhetri. “That was my luck. That I [got] it in the first try.”

Four people sit at a table at a restaurant drinking from styrofoam cups.
Chandani Khatri Chhetri, second from left, her roommate, Saju Rayamajhi, left, and Chandani's mother, Mana, and father, Ramess, have brunch at Elmwood Pastry Shop in West Hartford in June 2023. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror
A man sits at a table with a cup of coffee and several plates with doughnuts. One of the doughnuts has the word "Dad" written on it.
Ramess KC has a donut that he received from his daughter, Chandani, to celebrate Father's Day. Chandani invited her parents from Nepal to travel and stay with her in Connecticut for nearly six months. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Chhetri moved to Newington, where a cousin of hers lived. She dreamed of making enough money to support her parents and travel the world. She also wanted to start her own business.

Today, Chhetri has achieved many of those goals. She works full-time in quality assurance at Saputo, a milk factory in Newington, and runs a business connecting people in the U.S. with clothing vendors in Nepal. Every month, she sends money back home to her mother and father. 

Chandani Khatri Chhetri, left, and her father, Ramess, and mother, Mana, spend time together at the rose garden in Elizabeth Park in West Hartford. Chandani's parents visited the U.S. for the first time recently and said they were surprised at how clean and spacious everything is. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

As the women’s coordinator of the Nepal Association of Connecticut, she’s also become a leader in Connecticut’s thriving Nepalese community. In 2022, the mayor of West Hartford declared the last Sunday in April “Nepal Day” as a way to recognize the contributions of the town’s Nepalese population. Chhetri said a New Year’s celebration the group threw in New Britain drew more than 700 people from around the state.

There are aspects of home that Chhetri misses, like the way people easily strike up conversations with strangers sitting next to them on a park bench or in a café. Everyone refers to each other as “brother” and “sister.”

A group of women stand in a row. Chaandani Khatri Chhetri holds a handful of miniature American flags.
Chandani Khatri Chhetri celebrates Nepal Day on May 7, 2023. West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor joined the event and declared April 30 and May 7, 2023 as Nepal Day, noting the contribution the Nepali community has made to the town. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror
Two women's hands are holding miniature flags.
Chandani Khatri Chhetri distributes Nepali and American flags to the Nepal Day participants. Chandani is one of 50,000 people who won the lottery that grants green cards every year to people from countries with traditionally low rates of immigration to the U.S. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

“In Nepal, when you go outside, there are so many people standing, sitting, drinking tea, talking with each other,” explained Chhetri. “Over here, everybody [is] quiet. Everybody is busy in their own life.”

But she also appreciates some of the differences she’s found, particularly when it comes to inter-caste relationships. In Nepal, Chhetri explained, people marry and socialize exclusively with others of their own caste. In Connecticut, those boundaries don’t exist. Chhetri said it’s shifted her perspective on the system.

“My mind changed over here,” she said. “Here, everybody's [the] same.”

Katy Golvala

Chandani Khatri Chhetri poses fo a portrait with her parents, Ramess, and Mana, at her home in Newington. Chandani said she wants to start her own business and earn enough money to care for her parents as well in June 2023. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

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Kamran Kami

Lives in: South Windsor

Born in: Lahore, Pakistan

Age: 53

Languages spoken: English, Punjabi

Works as: Owner, convenience store in Norwich; fixing and reselling cars

One thing Kami loves about living in Connecticut: Making money

Kamran Kami came to the U.S. more than 30 years ago with one goal: To make money. 

He dedicates nearly all his waking hours to making a living. He even struggles to name anything that brings him joy outside of work. The last time he took a vacation, he went back home to Pakistan. That was in 1993. 

“I came here, never checked anything else and just focused on my goal and what I need to do,” he said. “That’s it. That’s all I did all my life.”

Kamran Kami runs a supermarket in Norwich. Kami, pictured here in October 2022, said the market looked like a haunted house before he took it over and renovated it. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

He’s held all types of jobs — he worked in a casino for over a decade and spent some time selling cars. Today, he owns a convenience store in Norwich. 

On one October morning, Kami worked the register at the market, making easy conversation with everyone who walked in the door, most of whom knew his name. 

“Long day?” he asked one of his regulars.

In moments between customers, Kami watches YouTube videos of Lahore, his hometown, dreaming about the day he will return to Pakistan for good. He said he looks forward to living a peaceful, quiet life. He also wants to go back to school to earn his law degree, a goal he’s had since he left home at 21.

A tablet is propped up on a table showing a scene of Lahore, Pakistan.
Kamran Kami watches YouTube videos of his hometown, Lahore in Pakistan, between customers at work. The last time Kami visited Pakistan was in 1993 because he's been busy with his business. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Even after all these years, Kami doesn’t feel quite at home in the U.S., where he said the culture is so different from the one he grew up in. He also experiences regular racism, which intensified after 9/11. 

“Some things here are never going to be changed. People are racist. They look at you different no matter what — how much money you have, what you do,” he said.

Once, when he worked at the casino, a man approached him, asking him how to pronounce his name. Kami told him and the man replied, “Kamran, where is your bomb today?”

Kamran Kami moved from Pakistan to the U.S. when he was 21 years old to earn money. Last year, at 53 years old, he said he feels like he chased money, and didn't enjoy his life enough. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

When people aren’t outright racist, Kami still feels like the racial discourse in the U.S. revolves mostly around whiteness and Blackness, erasing everyone who doesn’t fall neatly into either group.

“You’re in a sandwich,” he said. “You’re in the middle. You’re nobody.”

Katy Golvala

A portrait of Kamran Kami's face. He is standing outside and wearing a polo shirt.
Kamran Kami at a cricket field in Windsor run by Pakistani friends in August 2022. He said he wants to retire in Pakistan and live a quiet life. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

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Arunan Arulampalam

Lives in: Hartford

Born in: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Age: 38

Languages spoken: English

Works as: CEO, Hartford Land Bank; Candidate, Mayor of Hartford

One thing Arulampalam loves about living in Connecticut: “You’re a part of the fabric of Hartford as soon as you get involved in the city,” he said. “There’s so much of a community there. And I think that’s hard to find in a lot of places in this country.”

During a family reunion a few years ago, Arunan Arulampalam listened as his older relatives shared stories of fleeing from Sri Lanka in the wake of the country’s civil war. 

Arulampalam, whose family is Tamil, heard about a person hiding out in an attic for a week before sneaking onto a boat to get out of the country. Several people talked about finding shelter with Sinhalese friends who agreed to protect them as they figured out their escape.

In July 1983 — referred to as Black July — long-brewing tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority came to a head. 

Arunan Arulampalam has help from campaign volunteers to visit Hartford residents door-to-door in June 2023. Arulampalam, CEO of the Hartford Land Bank, is running for Hartford mayor. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Tamil separatists killed 13 soldiers in the northern part of the country and, in retaliation, Sinhalese mobs killed somewhere between 400 and 3,000 Tamils over the course of seven days. This sparked a civil war that would last nearly three decades and lead to the exile of roughly half a million Tamils from the country.

The war disrupted Arulampalam’s parents' wedding plans. His mother and father, Suhanthi and Naresh, had originally planned to marry in Sri Lanka that summer.

But as the violence escalated, Suhanthi made plans to escape to England, where Naresh had been living for several years. She packed a small suitcase with a single sari and left under the guise of visiting her uncle. 

The couple got married just a week later, surrounded by the residents of the small town in northern England where they wed.

“It made the local papers. ‘Bride flees wartorn Sri Lanka to get married in Cannock, England,” explained Arulampalam with a laugh. “My grandparents still have the paper.”

Arunan Arulampalam shakes hands with Carlos Hernandez Chavez. They are standing outside of Chavez's house.
Arunan Arulampalam shakes hands with Carlos Hernandez Chavez, an artist and musician in Hartford, after having a conversation for nearly 20 minutes during the door-to-door campaign visit. Arulampalam's parents lived in Sri Lanka, and as the violence escalated, they escaped to England and Zimbabwe, where Arulampalam was born. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

They eventually moved from England to Zimbabwe, where Arulampalam was born, and then to the United States, where they settled in California. Arulampalam eventually made his way to Atlanta for college, and then to Connecticut for law school in 2014.

“Over the last 2,000 years, 3,000 years, my ancestors lived in one place the entire time and were rooted in this one culture and history that developed for millennia,” said Arulampalam. “There’s so much of that that will never be replicated, that will die when my grandparents die, my parents die, that I will never fully understand.”

  • Arunan Arulampalam tickles his son Dayanand in their kitchen. Three of his other children are in the room and his wife, Liza, is in the background.
  • Arunan Arulampalam leans over a counter holding a mug in both hands. Dayanand is across the counter from him.
  • Elil Arulampalam grabs a dog bowl filled with food.
  • Arunan and Liza Arulampalam stand around their kitchen island with three of their children, Nivadita, Dayanand and Sahana.

Now, he is thinking about how to preserve and pass on his family’s culture to his five children, three of whom are adopted. They call him "appa," the Tamil word for "father," and each of them has a Tamil name. 

“I thought one small way which I can pass it on is giving my kids names rooted in that culture, that tradition.”

Katy Golvala

The Arulampalam family poses for a portrait in their backyard in Hartford. Pictured from left to right are Dayanand, 8, Liza, Elil, 2, Arunan, Sahana, 10, Nivadita, 8, and Theeran, 10. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

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Part 1: East Asia: China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan.

Part 2: In these stories, we highlight Connecticut residents with roots in South Asia, which includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Part 3: Southeast Asia


Photography: Yehyun Kim.
Reporting: Yehyun Kim, with additional reporting by Katy Golvala.
Project management: Katy Golvala.
Web development: Stacey Peters.
Editing: Keila Torres Ocasio, Elizabeth Hamilton and Stephen Busemeyer.
Social media: Gabby DeBenedictis.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Connecticut was the first state to pass a law requiring public schools to teach Asian American and Pacific Islander history. Connecticut is among several states to pass this measure.

Yehyun joined CT Mirror in June 2020 as a photojournalist and a Report For America Corps Member. Her role at CT Mirror is to tell visual stories about the impact of public policy on individuals and communities in Connecticut. Prior to joining CT Mirror, Yehyun photographed community news in Victoria, Texas and was a photo and video intern at USA TODAY and at Acadia National Park in Maine. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Yehyun was born and raised in South Korea.

Katy Golvala is a member of our three-person investigative team. Originally from New Jersey, Katy earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Mathematics from Williams College and received a master’s degree in Business and Economic Journalism from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in August 2021. Her work experience includes roles as a Business Analyst at A.T. Kearney, a Reporter and Researcher at Investment Wires, and a Reporter at Inframation, covering infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean.