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.
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!
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.
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.