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.
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In 2001, my family and I immigrated to America from India. After a long flight ride of twenty three hours we were excited and nervous as we stood in the visitors line waiting for our turn. We checked our papers a million times. I could feel the tension in the air on our side of the airport while the residents and citizens line had people smiling and talking. As we approached the officer, he stared at us with not a hint of smile on his face. As an immigrant waiting to enter America, I did not feel welcomed at all. I was scared as he turned each paper in our file and scanned it. It was probably ten minutes before he spoke to us, but those ten minutes were probably the longest ten minutes ever. “Welcome to America” he said as he stamped our passports. I was excited to finally make my way into America.
Little did I know the visa that was stamped in my passport would make me an alien. With every immigration document I filed, I became more alien. Somehow between leaving the visitor line to making our home in America I had gone from human to alien. I was given an alien number, and every time I walked through immigration I was nervous as all the sci fi movies played in my head. Would they scan my retina to see if I was really human, or would they draw my blood to see if it was green? Well, it did not happen yet and now that I am an official resident of America, I am no longer an alien. I am in between- something between an alien and a citizen but not quite there yet.
I detest the word alien and wonder what it really means. I guess I could consider it as being called exotic from Planet India or I could be the ET stuck in America trying to phone home.
I am from Ghana, Africa. I lived in Ghana until early 1990’s. Growing up in Ghana was fun but every body and their mamma wanted to come to America. I was no different. I wanted to come here too. I came here initially in 1987 to New Jersey and then we moved here permanently in 1990’s. When we first came here, I was forced to wear a suit for the entire flight ride. It was hot on a long flight ride. I went to school here and was dropped off at school in ninth grade. In Ghana, we had uniforms and there were rules such as no talking even if the teacher wasn’t in class. When the teacher leaves they make someone write down the names of students who talked. My first day in school in America I thought I was going to get beat up because everyone talked in class. I tried to warn them but the kids in my class looked at me crazy. I got teased a lot in school for my accent. When I first came here kids told me you are so dark. In spite of growing up in Ghana, there was a range of skin color and we never thought about it. I was often asked, why did you speak like that. Why don’t you say What’s up? I started saying What’s up but it never came out as smooth as it did when kids here said it.
Long before I was an immigrant traveling to America, I was a young kid who moved from one state to another within India because of a personal situation. India is not only a diverse place, it is also a cultural jigsaw puzzle. North and South India are worlds apart not just in cuisine and language, but also in landscape and history. I knew that having been fed with Indian history throughout my schooling. I was moving between two states with South India and I expected the transition to be an easy one. I was moving from Bangalore, Karnataka to Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Bangalore was a diverse metropolitan city moving at the speed of light while Coimbatore was a small town. I was going to continue my seventh grade in Coimbatore. I walked into school in my boy cut hair, mini skirt and top. My attire was completely acceptable in Bangalore but walking into my school campus in Coimbatore, I knew instantly I was dressed inappropriately. This was my first experience with cultural difference. Cultural difference followed me through my four and half years in Tamil Nadu. Everything from the twinge in my English to my short hair was heavily gossiped on. In an all girls Catholic school, I became the latest attraction. In a campus full of long haired girls, I stood out like a sore thumb. The initial years were extremely hard as I tried to retreat into a shell. I refused to participate in activities I used to enjoy prior to the move, and hated being the new girl on campus. With time the novelty of the new short haired girl wore out and I became one among the girls.