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.
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.