What does it mean to be an immigrant in today’s America? As an immigrant, I know I have never looked over my shoulder as much as I have in the past year or so. In spite of immigrating to America a month before 9/11, I felt safe and welcomed. As a brown person in America, I felt secure. I had instances when someone told me how lucky I was to be in California because I would not be safe elsewhere. This conversation happened as I asked someone in a bus stop what that bird was. He answered “sea gull” and offered words of warning on being brown in America post 9/11. Did I fear for myself or my family- No, because I felt safe. This was a one off situation that I could care less for.
Fast forward to sixteen years later, a green card and sixteen years on the American soil- I never thought I would be looking over my shoulder as much as I do now. I never thought I would witness the current state of affairs here. With every terrorist attack or every gun massacre, I sit on the edge of my seat praying and hoping that person was not an immigrant. Why? because I am scared that would create a new law banishing immigrants, a new travel ban or a new immigration policy. In spite of being a green card holder, I feel less secure than I felt walking the streets with a visa stamp on my passport as an American Alien.
I was eighteen years old, an immigrant from India and a new American Alien. As soon as I stepped foot on the American soil, I was stamped as an alien. As an eighteen year old, I did not know why in an instant I was called an alien. Hollywood movies had added fodder to my idea of what an alien would look like, and I looked nothing like that. I did not realize how big of an moment that was. That Alien number allowed me to live in America, have my American adventures, and eventually become a resident of that place. What happens when an eighteen year old is forced to move continents? An Alien in America from America Deconstructed follows her journey on the American soil, her dreams and desires, her struggles and above all her journey to fulfilling her American Dream!
It was my first semester at San Jose State University, California and my sixth month on the American soil. I was meeting one of my classmates at the library to help her with her Math. I walked into the library and saw her stand at the elevator. She greeted me with a hug. As we hugged I hear her make kissing sounds. I clearly did not feel the kisses on my cheek. I looked back wondering who those kisses were intended for. I did not see anyone behind me. I pretended to know exactly what transpired but I was confused.
I met her few days later again and the kissing happened again. It was around the time when Paris Hilton was all over the television with her “It’s Hot” line. As I was watching Entertainment Network, I saw Paris Hilton “air kiss” another celebrity. I had my Ah-ha moment at that instant. I had been air kissed! Did I blush…absolutely not! In fact I spent hours pondering why anyone who had no associations with Hollywood decided to air kiss.
I often catch myself referring to India as home in spite of living in America for over fifteen years. In the fifteen years I have lived in America, I have visited India twice which in total amounts for probably a little over a month of the entire duration. As immigrants in a foreign country, beyond the legalities and the paperwork the hardest aspect is feeling at home in the place you immigrant to. Home is often a security blanket for most people on good days and especially bad days. It’s knowing you have family who will hold you and see you through the bad. I was fortunate to have immigrated to America with family. I have encountered several 20-21 year olds in college who immigrated alone and often miss the comforts of that security blanket. As immigrants, forging a sense of being home in a new country is often the hardest task. In spite of having family with me, India has continued to be my home. It is the inexplicable that makes India home for me. It is friends who don’t need words to sense how you feel, family and sense of belonging that makes India home for me.
As the holidays are upon us and we celebrate it with friends and family, I am especially thankful for the family and friends I made in America who make it almost home.
I have gray hair on my head. The wrinkles on my face show the years I have on me. I have been called several things in my life, wife, mother, daughter, sister, teacher and bitch. I was in my early 50’s and had been in America for few years at this point. I was living in Oakland, California with my four daughters. I did not drive a car so the only way I could go anywhere was by taking the bus. I took the bus every time I had to go somewhere. I was getting off the bus with several other people when I saw a child coming close to our bus. I had four children of my own. I touched the child’s head to steer her in the other direction. I was a mother and I would hope someone would steer my child if they were coming close to the bus. The child’s mother did not see it that way. She charged at me and started yelling at me, “Bitch, stop touching my child”. I was shocked because back in Afghanistan and Pakistan every child was like your child and you tried to protect them or guide them. You felt a sense of responsibility for a child, period. I tried to explain to her that I was trying to steer her child away from the bus and did not intend any harm. The mother eventually calmed down and apologized to me. I was in a state of shock for few days after that episode. I never thought at 50+ that I would be called a bitch and would be seen as a threat to a child.
We met my freshmen year of college at San Jose state university in a computer engineering class in California. He sat in the front of the class while I sat at the back. I was one among the many Indians in the cliched computer engineering class while he was the only African American guy. We noticed each other but were too shy to talk to each other. After two years of hi’s and bye’s in the hallways, we met again in an electrical engineering class. I wanted to avoid him but my friend insisted we sit behind him. We ended up being in the same group project and exchanged emails. I wanted to ditch class one day and decided to give him my number in case of a class quiz. We did not email or call each other. Instead one day during class he offered to give me a ride in his car since we lived in adjacent cities. The thirty minute car ride was one of the most boring rides. I spoke the whole way while he barely said Yes and no. Upon reaching my house, I asked him if he wanted to come meet my parents. Most of my guy friends until him always said “I don’t do the parent thing”. I could hear that answer in my head but instead he surprised me with a yes. I knew then he was weird. I swore never to ride with him again. Instead, five years after that boring car ride we ended up marrying each other!