Magnificent Marigolds

Magnificent Marigolds
Anhthao Bui
Our first summer activity was meeting Neel Kashkari, the Republican California Candidate for Governor, in the Los Angeles community of Pasadena on the first Sunday of Summer, 2014. When I first found the event on Neel Kashkari’s Facebook page, when I was in San Jose, I excitedly called Dan: “Dan, free admission event and free food in Pasadena!”

Dan asked me, “Honey, what’s the event and when?”
I answered him: “We will meet Neel Kashkari on June 22, 2014, in Pasadena, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.”
Dan raised his voice. “Oh, really? Free food? Okay Honey, could you email the event information? I will research it.”
I teased Dan, “I know you will like the event because of the free food.”
Dan laughed. “Honey, you know me!”
Dan continued: “Pasadena is a nice place. I know you will like to go there.”
I told him, “I already knew Pasadena was where we volunteered to decorate the float for the Rose Parade. Also, you took me to Pasadena City College.”
Dan agreed with me, “That’s right, Honey, but Pasadena is large. There are some beautiful places there we have not visited yet.”

When we exited the 110 Freeway to drive to the Pasadena area, we left behind the noisy and crowded freeway to enter the quiet, local streets with the shade of the big trees along the sides of the streets. I looked at the big houses with beautiful gardens and quiet atmosphere, and I exclaimed, “Wow, beautiful houses! The owners must be rich! The houses are as big as mansions. I wish to live there, or visit a mansion.”
Dan nodded. “Me too, Honey! We don’t have enough money to buy such a mansion, but if we know a millionaire, we can visit him.”
I recalled, “Cousin’s Danielle’s house and Ildy’s house are also big and beautiful, but these houses are really mansions.”
We parked our car in an empty spot on a residential street. I photographed the mountain in front of us, the street, and Dan. Dan told me, “The Hindu community sponsored this event, so the food must be vegetarian only. Neel’s religion is Hinduism.”
I laughed. “Good! We will eat healthy food. I like it. In Sunnyvale, in the after-school program, some of my students’ religion is Hinduism. They do not eat meat, but they can eat eggs.”

We walked to the site, and Dan showed me the parking lot: “A parking valet.” Dan said, “Honey, we can drive over there, and someone will take care of our car.”
I was surprised. “I thought a parking valet is only for restaurants, hotels, or at certain special places.”
Dan explained it to me, “That’s right Honey, but a parking valet can be temporary. They provide the service in a short time for their customers’ needs, such as funerals, parties, or weddings. We will hire them to do that service at our wedding.”
I shook my head. “We don’t need it. It costs a lot of money.”
Dan laughed. “I knew you would say that.”
We approached the fenced compound. A stage, chairs, and canopies were already set up. Some men and women in their traditional Indian clothing welcomed us and directed us to the temple by the kitchen door. We took off our shoes. A respectful man pointed at a set of shelves and told us, “You can put your shoes on the shelf.”
We said, “Thank you.”
We entered the kitchen. Sometimes I have visited a Buddhist Temple, so I was familiar with the taking-off of shoes tradition, and through the kitchen when visitors visit temples when they are out-of-service. Three women were making something in the kitchen. They smiled at us and said, “Welcome! Please go over there. The ritual is about to start.”

When we entered to the main room, two young ladies in yellow t-shirts said, “Hi! We work for Dr. Raj.” A man with a long orange robe and a man in a light yellow robe sat in front of the altar. I guessed the man in the light yellow robe was Dr. Raj, who organized the event. Curiously, I looked at the gods’ statues; my thought silently cried out, “Oh, they are not Buddhist.” I thought the Hindu religion was a kind of Buddhism, like in the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

We sat in front of the altar in the lotus position. I reached toward the altar to watch what the two men were doing. I have attended different religious rituals, such as Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, born-again Christian, and Roman Catholic, but I never visited a Hindu Temple or read about Hinduism, although I have some friends who are Hindu. I vowed I would do more research about Hinduism. The temple, the altar set-up, decorations, and designs were similar to the Buddhist temples I have visited. The golden color was the major feature of the temple. Three pictures of gods were on the highest row. Shining god statues were on the lower row; the smaller statues of gods stood on the third row. Some gods were familiar to me because I saw statues similar to them somewhere else in a Buddhist temple. Incense, candles, oil lamps, and fruits had been placed on the altar. Glorious marigolds vases on the altar matched the shining god statues, and made the altar luminous.

We joined the worship: singing and chanting. The Swami, the man in the orange robe, painted a red dot on the middle of the forehead each individual. We got in line to receive the red dot. The Swami explained, “The red dot is symbolic of the third eye that refers to chakra, “the eye of knowledge, high spiritual sense that connects us to the gods and spirits.”

I nodded. “I see!” Now I know why some Indian women wear jewelry or put makeup in the middle of their foreheads.

The Swami lit the wick on an incense burner, which was mounted on a bronze plate with oil in it. He held and moved it in a circular motion, and then he gave it to Dr. Raj. After Dr. Raj performed the lighting plate ritual, he passed the metal plate to the next person. While the audience participated in the worship activity, the others began singing. Dan and I held the plate and moved it in vertical circles, three times in the air. After the worship service, we walked out of the temple.
I told Dan, “I did not know that they did not worship Buddha. Very interesting!”
Dan said, “No, Honey, they worship many gods. I have some books (such as The Sword and the Flame) and metal Hindu god figurines (such as Kali) at home. I will show them to you if you want to learn more about the religion.”
I praised Dan, “You have many books with diverse subjects. You are my live library. I have learned a lot from you. Thank you, Dan.”
Dan happily chuckled, “You’re welcome, Honey! I am proud of you too. Your knowledge is large.”
Dan changed the subject: “Honey, did you see the two young girls who sat at the left side of the altar? They said they worked for Dr. Raj. I think he is a college professor.”

I shook my head: “I don’t think so, Dan. I think he is a physician, or he has a PhD degree in religion or mythology.”
Dan agreed with me, “You’re right, Honey!”

Some women arranged the flower vases on the tables. Men set up tables and chairs; children helped the adults take food and drink outside and put them on the tables along the two aisles. I looked at the ladies, young women, young girls and children in their beautiful clothing, and was impressed with the special styles, the variety of Indian fashion designs, and the art of mixing color texture. I wanted to photograph them, but I did not want to make them nervous or embarrassed.

My eyes were glued to the glorious marigold chains hanging on the two sides of the yellowish rectangular banner with big orange words that read, “Hindu Temple and Heritage Foundation.” The hanging marigold chains were suspended in arcs in front of the temple’s doors, both sides of the stage, and at the first row of the audience’s chairs. The sunshine marigold decorations and the faded sunlight created an eye-popping atmosphere. I unconsciously scampered toward the swinging marigold arcs. I caressed the round, rich marigolds. The soft, dry petals and the pungent scent brought me back to Vietnam’s peasant houses on the day of the New Year, with the radiant marigolds representing longevity with its name, “Vạn thọ,” (living ten thousand years). The Vietnamese people use marigolds as a decoration for funerals and worship. The marigold is the main flower that blooms year-round, everywhere in Vietnam, especially in the countryside, because it grows easily with just a little care. The Vietnamese believe that marigolds bring them good luck, happiness, and stability.

Dan observed my act; he asked me, “What are you doing, Honey?”
I ignored his presence; I mumbled, “Hoa vạn thọ! Hoa vạn thọ!”
Dan interpreted my words, “The marigolds make you miss Vietnam, right Honey?”
I continued speaking my thoughts out loud, “In Vietnam, marigolds are used to represent religious principles and spiritual occasions. The Indian and Vietnamese cultures share the same aspirations.”
Dan left me alone with my nostalgia.
He raised his voice: “Honey, look! Look!”
Dan pointed to the gathering crowd toward the temple’s entrance. He reported, “Neel Kashkari is coming, Honey. Do you want to go there to greet him?”
I shook my head. “No, he is going to come here soon.”

I just finished my words; Dr. Raj accompanied Neel Kashkari to the temple. They took off their shoes and stepped on the Indian carpet. The crowd was singing in the Hindi language. They honored their gods. I sneaked over to the crowd and tried to get close to the altar to see what they were doing, but I could not. They lined up to rotate the burning oil plate in a circle. Kashkari and his girlfriend Christine took part in the ritual. Dan and I also got in line and did it again. Dr. Raj smiled and said, “Oh, you did it twice.”

After the turning of the plate, the audience went outside and the meeting with Neel Kashkari started. Ms. Ritika Pandita was the emcee of the event. She introduced herself and said she was the daughter of Dr. Raj Pandia, who sponsored the program. Dr. Manju Kuma, the president of the Pasadena Hindu Temple, opened the speech, in a long, blue, traditional sari. She warmly welcomed the audience and thanked Neel Kashkari, saying his presence was the community’s honor. After that, Mr. Richard “Dick” Sibb spoke to the crowd. He was the Psychologist of the Year for the Los Angeles Unified School District for two terms. He talked about ten things that make people happy.

Arvin Wali Kashmiri Pundit, a student of Medicine at California University of San Diego, was the next speaker. Ms. Ritika praised his modesty. Ritika told the audience that Arvin did not want to reveal himself as a future physician. Thus, Arvin’s mother provided Ms. Ritika most of Arvin’s profile. Young, handsome Arvin, in a burgundy shirt, came to the stage, smiled, shook hands, and said, “Thank you,” to Ms. Ritika. Arvin rolled his eyes toward a middle-aged woman wearing a light, traditional sari, which sparkled with garlands around the outfit and gold jewelry on her neck, ears, and arms. He appreciated his mother for giving him love and preparing him for a radiant future. He said that he did not know the Kashmir Pandit community was huge, and he was impressed to work with warm-hearted members in San Diego. Arvin’s mother sat straightly, proudly looked at him, and savored each of Arvin’s words.

A group of young females and males from the age of 20 to 25, in light yellow T-shirts with a marigold logo on the right chest and the back with the words, “Aahaara Group,” brought hot tea to each audience member. Dan sipped it and told me, “Honey, this is Indian tea! It tastes good! Try it, Honey!”

Dan did not like to drink tea, but he praised it. I sipped a warm tea that had a cinnamon smell and a light sweetness.

Dr. Raj Pandita, the chairman of the Aahaara Group, who sponsored the event, briefly talked about Neel Kashkari’s biography. Neel was the incumbent official Republican gubernatorial Candidate. Neel’s parents were immigrants from India. Neel’s father taught engineering courses at community colleges in Ohio. His mother was a doctor who helped patients fight again cancer. Neel was born in Ohio and raised and educated in a Hindu family and community. He earned master degrees’ in business and computer science. He was the U.S. Senate Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in 2008. He was always interested in public service. He lived in Orange County, California.

Neel took the stage. The audience clapped their hands to welcome him. Dr. Raj gave the microphone to Neel. Neel said, “Thank you for hosting the event and giving me the opportunity to speak to the Hindu community. I am proud of being a Hindu and growing up in the Hindu community.”

The audience clapped their hands and cried out, “Bravo!” “Oh!” “Yeah!” They interrupted Neel’s words with their enthusiasm. I looked at the Hindu members, Neel on stage, and the suspended marigold decorations in front of Neel. The marigolds bloomed in a bunch and were rounded like a big, hot, shining sun. Each member of the Hindu community was a bright marigold coming together to become a bundle of aromatic marigolds.

Neel looked at the audience, smiled, and said “thank you” to them. Neel shared with us the stories of visiting a Roman Catholic Church and an African-American Christian community in Los Angeles. The Catholic pastor and the evangelical Christians minister were surprised and glad to welcome the Hindu politician. Neel told them that in the United States, we respect each other’s religious doctrines and beliefs. We identify ourselves as Californian citizens of the United States of America. Presently, jobs and education are universal concerns to all people, especially to those who hold public service, no matter who they are: Republicans, Democrats, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Caucasians, Latino Americans, Asians, and African Americans. Jobs and education are the crucial issues of the American principal, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, in California, many big companies have left, causing high jobless rates. Also, the Californian educational system is on the wrong track, so ours is classified as one of the worst states when it comes to academic performance. Alert to the issue of California’s deficit, Neel decided to leave his career as a businessman to run for California governor. He believed that he was the right candidate. Young, energetic, and devoted, with a diverse background, senate treasury experience, and a person who is down to earth, Neel believes that he will be the right candidate “to rebuild this party, to rebuild our nation, and to rebuild our world” (Condoleezza Rice, California Republican 2014 Spring Convention.)

During Neel’s speech, Dan and I looked at each other, smiled, and lightly nodded to show our agreement with Neel several times. Neel spoke for ten minutes because he wanted to spend time for questions and answers. The first audience member wanted to know Neel’s opinion about Obama Care and how to handle it. Neel honestly told the audience that his campaign’s scheme was not about healthcare, so he declined to answer. In Neel’s view, if the residents would be provided a strong educational background and good jobs, which would boost individuals, companies, and governments, enriching our financial situation. Therefore, welfare and health care definitely should be better.

I immediately stood up and gave Neel the thumbs up sign. He looked at me and smiled at me. Dan teased me, “Honey, good job! You drew Neel’s attention.”

Dr. Raj invited the attendees to eat vegetarian Indian foods. People got in two lines to take the food. I told Dan, “Wow! Dr. Raj is rich and generous. He sponsors events with a free parking valet and free food.”
Dr. Raj approached Dan and said, “We invite you to join our private party with more food in Arcadia; it is about ten minutes if you are driving.”
We pleasantly answered him. “Thank you so much for your invitation.”
Dr. Raj said, “You’re welcome!”
Dr. Raj wrote the address on a piece of paper and gave it to Dan. I walked around and looked at the people. After getting food, children and adults sat at tables under a canopy to eat. A group of teenagers holding their place stood in the middle of the temple’s yard under the breeze and faded sunlight; while eating, they laughed and talked loudly in both English and Hindi. Some groups and individuals were waiting to take photos with Neel next to me. A gentle man in a long, white robe offered to take our photos with Neel. I lingered because I did not want to waste Neel’s time while the others were waiting for their turn. The man told us, “Go! Go! Stand next to Neel; I will take it for you.”

We stood with Neel; the man took two photos of us. He gave the camera back to me. I said “thank you” to him.

We followed Neel’s car to drive to the address that Dr. Raj gave us. Dan told me, “Honey, Neel is very friendly. I like him a lot.”
I agreed with Dan, “Me too. He supports abortion rights and gay marriage like us. He is a rarity: a dynamic republican politician.”
Dan shared his opinion, “Neel deserved Condoleezza Rice’s endorsement. She wrote, ‘Kashkari's "focus on uniting Californians around fiscally conservative economic principles is the right message to help us grow the Republican Party in California and across the nation.’”
I praised Dan, “Dan, your memory is great. You recited Condoleezza Rice’s every word that appeared on Neel’s flyer.
Dan laughed, “I want to impress you, Honey. You love Condoleezza Rice so much.”
Dan changed the subject, “Honey, I will give him the article that you wrote about him.”
I disagreed, “No, Dan. I have not finished it yet.” I lowered my voice, “I wish Tim Donnelly would work for him.”
Dan said, “I don’t think so, Honey!”
I asked, “Why not? We need to work together to win the election. The Democrats and Jerry Brown are so powerful. I want to help him more.”
Dan made fun of me, “Dear Patriotic Anhthao Bui. On behalf of Neel Kashkari and the Republican party, you should negotiate with Tim Donnelly. You could persuade him to help Neel’s campaign.”
I shrugged, “If I have power and the persuasive ability, I will, but I am only an English speaker. Who cares? Who listens to me?”
We passed a big, closed gate. Dan told me, “Honey, this is the place they will have the party, but the gate is locked. I don’t know how to drive in.”
I suspected, “Really? We were invited to join the party in this beautiful mansion? Are you sure, Dan?”
Dan pointed to Neel’s car in front of us, “Yes, Honey. Look at Neel’s car.”
Neel’s driver slowed his speed; he turned to a narrow alley that led to another gate of the mansion. The gate had just opened. We entered the mansion grounds. Two men in black pants and white shirts were waiting for us. They opened the door; we got out of the car. A man gave Dan a ticket; he drove our car to the garage.
Excitingly, I cried, “Oh, beautiful! Beautiful! Dan, we are invited to join a party at a mansion.”
Dan nodded. “That’s right, Honey. Your wish is granted. This afternoon you wished to visit the owner of a mansion.”
I was chanting, “We make friends with a millionaire; a real millionaire who owns a beautiful mansion. The marigold flowers gave us good luck.”

A large, two-story, old, gothic house was peacefully nestled at the center of a huge garden. Big trees gave the garden shade as canopies to protect the house. The land was as vast as a public park, with a square gazebo, its roof pointing in the middle like the Chinese gothic style, and three steps. A barbeque gas stove sat next to the gazebo. Blue metal rails bordered a rectangular swimming pool. A separated small bathroom building, with two bathrooms inside, was on the other side. Green bonsai trees and stone statue decorations were scattered here and there.

I strolled on the black alley cutting by the green lawn, a colorful rose garden, and a fountain; it was an oasis of calm. The curving path guided me around the back yard. The mansion was shielded by green vines with little flowers like on some freeways in San Jose. Three-layer, big, round, brown and yellow rocks covered a conservatory with hanging plants. A round patio with rectangular burgundy, brown, white and blue bricks was arranged on the pavement. Everywhere the courtyard was organized, clean, and in shape. I came to the gazebo. Dan socialized with someone. A young, blond-haired bartender behind the counter served soft drinks, water, and wine to guests. I helped him and a middle-aged woman take out cheese, crackers, and salamis for snacks. The woman told me, “Relax, please! You do not have to do this.”
I replied, “I like to do something that is part of Asian culture.”
She smiled. “This is the United States. You don’t need to practice Asian culture.”
I argued with her, “I know, but practicing Asian culture is a habit. I cannot get rid of it.”
She accepted it, “Yep, young lady!”
Neel shook hands with each individual to say goodbye. Dan told him, “Anhthao wrote an article about you. She compared you to Abraham Lincoln and the legend of John Henry.”
He laughed and cried, “Oh, my God!”

A catering team served lamb meat, grilled chicken, curry, and pasta. I was surprised because I thought that Hindu people only ate eggs and vegetables.

Dr. Raj showed us the Aahaaraa Group t-shirt: it has a light yellow background with a marigold on the right front side of the shirt. He said that the marigold is symbolic of good luck and longevity, which means the Group’s business expanded benefits for its members and will last long. The Group’s mission is to provide foods in India and the United States. Dr. Raj gave us his business card and hoped to see us again.

On the way home, we eagerly talked about the event, Indian culture, the Hindu religion, Neel’s political attitudes, and Dr. Raj’s generosity. We were honored to make friends with Dr. Raj, a well-educated billionaire. We talked as if Neel Kashkari was our friend. We wished him to win the election; so that we could boast that the California governor was our friend.
Anhthao is a Vietnamese-American writer and educator based in San Jose, California. She was the last member in her family to come to the United States in late 1996. Yellow Flower is her first collection of poetry, published in 2007 by Author House, and dedicated to her professors in the English Department at San Jose State University, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English in 2004. Fish Sauce, her second collection, is a memoir about Vietnam and the United States, published in 2012 and dedicated to her best friend Cheri Johnson. Besides her two collections, she writes about society, culture, and politics.

Anhthao currently works for Alum Rock School District in San Jose. Her hobbies include photography, playing the piano, and juggling.

Visit Anhthao Bui’s blog at

A very well written article. Lavya is amazing in her memory. I was present at the event the details are accurate
Added By Linda Tovar
Anhthao Bui's article is an exquisite narrative that captures the nuances of culture and community. I look forward to more of her work.
Added By Dan Lambert
Thank you to Linda Tovar and Daniel Lambert for your kind words. Thank you to Dr. Raj and the Pasadena Hindu community for your hospitality and giving me the opportunity to learn about the Hindu religion.
Added By Lanvy Bui
I have had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Anhatao Bui. And if she writes anything she pours her heart into it. Dr. Raj is a beacon of guiding light especially for the youth like me and is involved in changing lives of hundreds of people on a daily bases. I wish I did not have to go back to school and I would have the pleasure of his guidance for more time. I wish Aahaara Family lots of luck Love Hari (Harry)
Added By Harry Yadav
Anhthao Bui's article made me feel part of the events as she conveyed the importance of community connections very eloquently. Great work!
Added By Silvia Figueroa