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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Maya Sivakumar


Maya Sivakumar moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from South India in 2000 with her husband. She and her friends often had to travel to Chicago to get spices and bags of rice for cooking. While in Milwaukee, Sivakumar started a job as a bank teller and eventually became a manager. The difficulty of finding a South Indian restaurant inspired her to open her own.

In 2014, Sivakumar and her family moved to Dallas, Texas. In 2016, Sivakumar franchised a restaurant called Kumar’s in nearby Irving, and a few years later, she began helping her brother-in-law manage his restaurant, Chennai Café in Bentonville, Arkansas. In 2018, Sivakumar moved to Bentonville and took over ownership of the restaurant, changing the name to Pandiya’s. Pandiya’s features a buffet of mostly South Indian dishes, though Sivakumar is thoughtful about adding requested dishes from other regions of India. Every Sunday and Thursday, Pandiya’s serves lunch on banana leaves.

Date of interview:

Annemarie Anderson

Brian Chilson

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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