Imprinting Lanka on the world map
Founder and current Sri Lanka America Association of Southern
California President (SLAASC), Jayam Rutnam, is unflinching in his
conviction that he is not a NATO (no action-talk only) person.
Speaking in a low, modulated yet firm voice he is full of projects of
what SLAASC could do, with its 36-year-old concept changed from its
previous scope of taking care of Sri Lankan immigrants in Southern
California, hosting Sri Lankan parliamentarians and performing artistes
and fund raising for Sri Lankan causes.
Gypsies, Marians, Heen Baba’s dancing troupe with Cecille Kotalawela
and H.C.N. De Lanerolle’s Crafty Matchmaker were among the local acts to
make it to California.
On a visit to Sri Lanka with his wife of Italian descent and SLAASC
Vice President, Gina Rutnam, and SLAASC Treasurer Iswari Camou, Jayam
spelt out some of the aces he has up in his sleeve.
“We want to educate Americans about how beautiful Sri Lanka is and
promote tourism. Previously they had a feeling that with the war, there
was no safety.
Now there is safety and so many things could be done. We want to
promote trade and get people to open factories in Colombo like they were
run before. It is time for expatriates all over the world to get
together and think of various ways of giving back to Sri Lanka.
We were born and educated here and are now doing very well in other
countries so its time we give back to this country. We in Southern
California are very conscious of the fact that Sri Lanka should be
helped and I, as the SLAAS President, will do everything possible to
As he sees, Sri Lanka is displaying plenty of positive signs.
“Five years ago, it seemed to be going downhill,” remarked Jayam.
“Now I feel a sense of relief in people. Unlike old days, the roads are
beautiful. We are impressed that the country has grown quite a bit and
like to show that to Americans.”
He anticipates bringing American concerts and variety shows to
Colombo and expects major businesses in the States to provide grants to
make this cultural exchange a reality.
Jayam says: “Unfortunately, all Americans know about the country is
its negative past. I am trying to educate American Travel Agents to put
Sri Lanka on their itineraries. If they sell India, Nepal or Male, they
can put Colombo too. The Sri Lankan Consulate in Los Angeles (LA) is
doing positive publicity for Sri Lanka, which is what SLAASC is doing
He also recommends SLASC members to educate Rotary members so that on
the occasions they meet, they could go out, presenting slide shows and
distributing brochures on Sri Lanka.
SLAASC was instrumental in establishing the Sri Lankan Consulate in
LA. “Some of the past Presidents of SLAASC, specifically Keshini
Wijegoonaratne and Raja Edirisuriya, and community members Upul
Dharmadasa and Hassina Leelaratna, had a meeting with the late Lakshman
Kadiragamar to convince him to open a Consulate,” explained Jayam. “It
is running very well in LA and we are happy as we needed one badly.”
Gina added, “We should have more programs for people in LA to get to
know Sri Lanka. After people come to the States to get a fresh start,
the young people need to get more involved.”
(From left) Iswari Camou (Treasurer), Gina Rutnam (Vice President) and
Jayam Rutnam (President of SLAASC). Pictures by Saman Sri Wedage
When Jayam began SLAASC, with seven other Sri Lankans, there were
only about 1,000 Sri Lankan immigrants in the Southern California. “The
number has risen to 65,000 now,” appraises Jayam.
“Our prime purpose was to keep all Sri Lankan expatriates together so
that they had a place to go for social activity. We helped people who
did not have enough money to survive and made funeral arrangements for
those who had nobody. At the time SLAASC began, there were no Buddhist
temples in Southern California and we helped to put up the first temple
there. Now the place has about six temples.”
SLAASC organizes Sinhala and Hindu New Year celebrations, food and
cultural activities, dances and get-togethers where Sri Lankan youth can
meet other people. “We have quite a lot of youth over there. Some of
them have gone astray. To give them some feeling of being Sri Lankan, we
have sports activities such as cricket and basketball tournaments,”
The website www.slaasc.org keeps Southern Californian Sri Lankans
abreast of what is happening in the community. “In the past, our concert
Ranwan Reyak raised US $ 5,000 for the Maharagama Cancer Hospital. This
May, we are planning a big show and want to host artistes like Malini
Fonseka and Dusyanth Weeraman, the proceeds of which might go to Rana
Viru Foundation or other such cause. We do not just donate money. We go
and see how the money is made use of,” insisted Jayam.
Expressing his wish of inviting Sri Lankan Government to help SLAASC,
Jayam is of the opinion that service of Sri Lankan hotels are
unparalleled which make them attractive to foreigners. “We have the best
food in the world!”
Jayam is the fifth son of James T. Rutnam who authored ‘Life of Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam’ and ‘Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’ and traced the
genealogy of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and J.R. Jayawardena. He is also the
brother of movie magnate Chandran Rutnam and approves of the movie
Alimankada’s message that we are one community.
“That movie showed the compassion that one could have towards one’s
enemy,” he sums up.
Jayam immigrated to Southern California in 1963. His eldest brother,
Raja, who passed away, last year, was the first Sri Lankan immigrant to
the United States, which was in 1958. “We followed him and are enjoying
our life there.
But we remember Sri Lanka and always talk very well of the country,”
said Jayam, who is now retired from his shipping business and involved
in SLAASC activities. Married for 31 years, he has daughter Aliki and
son Jean-Louis and two grand children by the former.