Indian Americans Have Found a New Hot Destination for Their Shaadis – Mexico!
As NRIs avoid India due to COVID-19, royal Rajasthan palaces are giving way to stunning sunsets at Mexican beaches.
“Udaipur, the palace, the historical fort against the lake, it is royal. I wanted to have my Bollywood moment!” says Karishma with a sense of longing for what was the chosen destination for her dream wedding.
Raised in Southern California, Karishma Patel loves the ‘Rajasthan vibe‘ and reminisces bangle shopping in Jaipur for her sister’s lavish Indian wedding a few years ago.
Her family chose Udaipur for Karishma’s 2022 shaadi, but COVID-19 had other plans. “I didn’t want to risk anything seeing India’s COVID surge!” says the Indian American. She convinced her parents who 'weren’t happy' giving up the Indian venue to agree to Mexico. “Venues there were booking up fast! We went there a few months back – my parents, my fiance, and I – it was amazing!” she tells us.
Picturesque royal Rajasthan palaces are giving way to stunning sunsets at Mexican beaches. Not wanting to jeopardise the safety of their guests, Indian American couples are choosing nearby Mexico for their splashy weddings. Cancun, Los Cabos, Puerta Vallarta, Costa Mujeres – popular venues for American weddings – are seeing an explosion of desi weddings this year.
What Mexico Offers: Picturesque Locales and Easy Travel
Dildiya Entertainment is planning Karishma’s Mexico wedding, whose Co-founder Nirali Shah says, “In my 12 years in the industry, I have never seen so many Mexico destination weddings as this season. Safety, beach atmosphere, colourful vibe – very appealing to Indian weddings!”
“Cancun is the epicentre of South Asian destination weddings. Non-stop, short flights from medium-size cities in US once or twice a day, the infrastructure, make it attractive,” says Milan Raj, Dallas-based founder of Shaadi Destinations, a company that plans nuptials for North American desis.
While planning their own Mexico wedding, its founders Indian Americans Milan and Shree felt the need for professional help, and hence founded the company on their honeymoon. “We have made it seamless, so the bride and groom don’t have to lift a finger and their guests are taken care of,” shares Milan.
Not only due to being in the US' vicinity, Mexican locales are also popular because COVID regulations have barred Indian travellers into the US, keeping Indian relatives from attending family weddings in America. But travel to Mexico and the Caribbean is open, making them reachable destinations.
'Helicopter Baraat, Jet Ski Entry – There Isn’t a Request Where We Say No'
The dollar does go much further in India, yes, but a lot can be achieved in picturesque Mexican resorts compared to the US.
“It is naturally beautiful compared to a banquet hall in Chicago where you have to decorate a blank wall from scratch. Destinations have God’s given decor – beautiful and ready. Hence, cost of labour is cheaper,” says Milan, adding, “It is not US and not India. Couples know it is a different place and we wow them.”
Decorators use fragrance, flavours, and sights to create memorable ceremonies where Indian senses blend with Mexican.
"We accommodate desires – a bride wanted the ocean in the back drop but didn't want to walk on the sand with her lehenga, so we found an appropriate place to her liking. Another couple wished for Portugal as their location so we found a venue for their photo shoot that looked like Portugal. A bride got married over the ocean with fish swimming all around her. A celebrity is contemplating moving her elaborate Jaipur wedding to Riviera Nayarit and wants a castle put in. It is not that hard to make miracles down there – helicopter baraat, jet ski entry – there isn’t a request where we will say no."Milan Raj, Dallas-based founder of Shaadi Destinations
A Desi Wedding Industry Serviced by Entrepreneurial Mexicans
It is peak wedding season in North America. Wedding planners are busy flying in DJs, henna artists, priests, chefs, etc from the US to Mexico to keep up, creating the extravagance couples desire for their quarter, half, and over a million USD shaadis.
Spotting opportunity, a desi wedding industry has evolved in Mexico serviced by entrepreneurial Mexicans. Joining the baraat is Canadian dhol player Jonathan Katz with his troupe of four dholis. “A few years back when South Asian weddings started coming to Cancun, they brought their own dhol players. I get the rhythm, so when business went up, I started. Now, we are the life of the party at hundreds of weddings,” he says.
His dhol team, the only in Cancun, includes one Argentinian, one Cuban, and two Mexicans, says the Founder-CEO of Drums in Paradise.
Camels for Photo Shoot
Not to miss out, Juan Carlos became a desi wedding planner. “First time I saw a bride walk down to the mandap, I knew it was my calling. There were no local wedding planners in Cancun for Indian weddings. Couples brought their own planners from the US,” he tells us.
Juan’s team understands cultural nuances. "If they tell me grahshanti or Ganesh puja, I know exactly what set-ups are needed – when they need the havan pit and when they don’t – Indian parents love that. I plan brands of alcohol depending on whether clients are Punjabis or Gujaratis or Sindhis,” says Juan of JC Castillo Weddings, who has orchestrated extravagant events on demand.
“Even though we mostly provide horses, a couple requested for a special camel procession in Los Cabos for a photo shoot. The families wore wedding outfits and rode the camels. During doli time, a helicopter landed on the beach at sunset and the couple left on a quick flight in a symbolic vidaai. 90 percent of my clients come from the US, including those who wanted to go to India, but chose Cancun or Los Cabos this year," he says.
Bringing 'Parathe Wali Gali' to Mexico
Khaana (food) is the most significant way of recreating desh at desi weddings. Cancun’s famous Patravali restaurants import chefs from India, “We specialise in only Indian weddings. We have seven Indian chefs, catering at three to five South Asian weddings daily. Food is the most important thing – guests might not remember outfits, but always will remember what they ate,” says owner Fernanda, a Mexican married to an Indian, who was introduced to desi food during her cruise industry career.
Most resorts are able to offer specialities that are unaffordable at weddings in the US.
“Live stations – jalebi, paani-poori, faluda, uttapam, Indo-Chinese stations with hakka noodles and Manchurian make you think you are not in Mexico, we bring that India feeling,” says Fernanda, who loves paranthe wali gali in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk and chicken changezi in Amritsar.
Gabriela Gutiérrez, founder of Loto Mehndi, loves the vegetarian options Indian food offers. She is a sought after henna artist in Mexico. “I learnt the art when demand increased at Indian weddings in Mexico. We have nine high quality Mexican henna artists for brides,” says Gabriela, who finds Indian weddings to be ‘hundred times more lavish than other weddings’.
Ensuring the Desi Traditions Are Adhered To
Lavish or less, shaadis need priests. US-based pandits are solemnising multiple weddings a day, criss-crossing the country, flying to Mexico and the Caribbean, to fulfil demand. But there aren’t enough of them.
To rise to the occasion, Bernando Soriano was approached. Head pujari at the ISKCON temple in Mexico City, also known as Bhakt Vatsala Das, he trained as a monk for six years, becoming an expert in the Gita and Hindu scriptures. He has been solemnising Hindu weddings for over eight years.
”People invite me to many places – Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, even California,” says Bernando who enjoys performing mixed weddings involving different Indian traditions. Desi families are intrigued at his proficiency.
"People do get surprised but understand when I explain that I am from the Hare Krishna movement and follow the Vedic system. When they see my love and bhakti for Lord Krishna, for the younger people it is like a gift at their wedding – someone who has Bhakti for their God, especially a Mexican person,” says Bernando, who is referred to as Panditji or Bernandoji.
India’s Loss, Mexico’s Gain
Wedding industry professionals understand that almost all desis who tie the knot in Mexico are raised in North America, making it a destination that is desirable for the couples and their American guests, at the same time the traditional ceremonies help please their parents.
Indian American celebrities are also flying the route according to Milan of Shaadi Destinations. “We have had quite a few celebrities. Richa (Moorjani) of Never Have I Ever got married in Playa Mujeres, the same resort where my wife and I tied the knot. Two celebrity couples from the show ‘Family Karma’ - one will get married in Mexico, one in Dominican Republic,” he said.
India’s loss of not being able to host deep pocketed Indian American weddings, has become Mexico’s gain. With sand beneath their feet couples are preferring lavish desi ceremonies at Mexican resorts, where Bollywood music mixes with Mariachi bands, creating a unique culture that is being embraced by Mexicans.
(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She tweets @SsavitaPatel.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.