Coming To America

Both my mother and sister would cry together at the school bus stop, my 6-year-old sister standing out in a sea of blue jeans and backpacks, in her floral dress and frilly socks and my mother standing out in her Indian red shalvar kameeze and chiffon scarf. My sister’s grief was spurred by going out into a new world while my mother’s grief was caused by being trapped inside of an old one, their poetic tears wasted on a landscape of graffiti walls and incomprehensible Spanish conversations.

Samina would go to Kindergarten everyday and take her usual place by the building blocks and construct a wall or house of some sort. Unable to communicate with any of the children or teachers, my sister jokingly recollects how these blocks were her only stable interaction at school. My mother would walk home from the school bus stop to our empty basement apartment. Our home didn’t belong to my mother – rather, she belonged to it. At the mercy of the characterless furniture and national liquidator carpets she tried to squeeze in any remnants of a colorful, past life.  A jewelry box filled with her wedding jewelry, a stack of old Bollywood magazines and an envelope under the bed filled with money to fund a trip back to India were the only material vestiges of her past life.

In a way, my sister and my mother were suffering the same loss of social structure. There were no servant girls for Samina to play with, no grandfather to buy her pastries, no grandmother to wash her prized, aristocratic skin with sandalwood soap. My mother suffered the same isolation, except unlike my sister; she would always remain partially trapped in this purgatory of ignorance and social discord.  No matter how many social connections my mother would gain throughout the years, this country, just like our first apartment, would never belong to her. It would not give her that sense of entitlement that she and my father had been raised with; she would not laugh as loud here, speak to people with the same authority or have the same confidence. Only on our trips back to India would I see my mother become saturated again.

My father would ask my mother why she cried at the bus stop. I have often seen my mother cry in the face of our pain. She cried when I came home upset from being teased at school, when I went away to college and got a 104 fever, when my 3-year-old self asked her why my father worked so much that I would never see him at night. Parents are supposed to be stable pillars, authoritative and knowing. But my mother was helpless. She cried because she didn’t know how to help us, she didn’t know that in America kids got teased for everything and anything, that going far away for college is a common occurrence here and that later on I would learn to honor the sacrifices my parents made.

Sometimes I get irritated at my parents, angry that they still haven’t adapted quickly enough, annoyed that I still have to call IO digital cable service because my mom gets nervous speaking English on the phone to strangers.  But mostly I feel protective over them, looking at them as a stagnated version of my 6-year-old sister, fragile as she once was, as they continue to build their own house and life with building blocks.

The day before I took the SAT I jokingly asked my father, who had just come back from Friday prayer, if he had prayed for me. In his characteristically straightforward tone he answered simply “Who else would I pray for?” I should have been happy, thankful for the unconditional love that my parents had once again shown me. But I knew my father’s answer had so much veracity that it was painful, the way that absolute truths can be harsh in their rigidness. My father – who had traded his brightly colored shirts for sober ones to blend into America, whose characteristic mustache was graying at the edges and whose weary face had once been lauded in his family as handsome, had nothing else to pray for. All of his dreams and sacrifices were for my sister and I, manifested in a land that would never be his but that he hoped would be ours.

The sacrifices that my parents made were worth it. As my sister and I learned to navigate the social hierarchy of school; we learned to trust America in a way my parents never would. But I sometimes wonder, as my father nostalgically talks about the honor of his family name and as I see my mother’s jewelry collecting dust in a safe box, whether it was worth it for them. TC mark

image – suvajack

Related

More From Thought Catalog

  • Shwax

    Not gonna lie, was hoping this article was about the movie.

  • zuriel

    Great read. As a second generation Filipino I can relate to your story. We are lucky to have such loving parents. 

  • Strydah_3k7

    Good read. Kudos!!

  • kaykimkimkay

    An amazing summary of most immigrated families out there.
    IMO, the best way as a 1.5 generation to even remotely honour and repay our parents’ sacrifice is to build stable positions in the society and share our stability to them.

  • shananana

    “All of his dreams and sacrifices were for my sister and I.” – Really…?!?! Time for a 5th grade grammar lesson. Stunning piece, aside from that. Very moving. 

    • niviaaa

      Grammar nazis like you that prey every post on this site, make it a little less enjoyable. 

  • Vale G 91

    I often wonder the same thing. Great article.

  • Jenn

    The paragraph about your father praying for you almost brought me to tears.  We’re so different and yet I can relate in terms of my mom loving me so much.  This was wonderful.

  • Zanguiz

    This article was all too relate-able for my tears to be held back

  • Niviaa

    This was a very nice way to shed some light on the lives of us first generation citizens that are raised by parents that are struggling in a foreign world.  My parents are from the countryside of Guatemala and went through a lot of the same difficulties that you did. The language barrier also affects my parents confidence in communicating with others.  A lot of people do no understand how difficult it can be. You’re not just trying to adjust in an alien  land but you are also trying to raise children in a place where the values are completely different.   I feel a sense of responsibility of becoming successful so that my parents will feel that their hard work and sacrifices have paid off.  

  • http://twitter.com/vnemana Vivekananda Nemana

    Cannot BELIEVE this is actually titled “Coming to America.” Sorry, but too often and too much. 

  • Vee

    Trying to hold back my tears at work. Beautifully, simply written.

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    This article means a lot to me. If I had grown up gay back in the motherland, I would not be the man I am today. I may have commit suicide, actually, to put it bluntly. My parents recognize this and have told me how good it is that they moved here before I was born. I have so many opportunities here. 

    My parents want to move back, though. After 25 odd years and a lot of friendships made, they still want to go back. I want them to move eventually. I think they might do it after I graduate but they keep me int he dark about these things. But I definitely want them to move back, that way we all win. :)

    • Charles

      i’m amazed your parents were cool with you being gay. that’s not so common in immigrant communities that often reflect the values of “the motherland.” kudos to them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    This article means a lot to me. If I had grown up gay back in the motherland, I would not be the man I am today. I may have commit suicide, actually, to put it bluntly. My parents recognize this and have told me how good it is that they moved here before I was born. I have so many opportunities here. 

    My parents want to move back, though. After 25 odd years and a lot of friendships made, they still want to go back. I want them to move eventually. I think they might do it after I graduate but they keep me int he dark about these things. But I definitely want them to move back, that way we all win. :)

  • coffeeandinternets

    Seeing you and your sister succeed is, I’m sure, enough to make it worth it for your parents.  My mom is an immigrant and I know that she is probably disappointed in how a lot turned out for her — her marriage to my father was often difficult at best, and now she struggles financially as a widow.  Yet at the end of the day, I know that my mom is content with her decision to come to America, in no small part because she is proud that she was able to raise offspring can navigate this landscape in ways she never could.

  • jazzthefab

    That was touching and the parental sacrifices made are worth it because once someone has a child and they love them,  they invest everything in that child that they would have wanted for themselves. You and your sister’s happiness and success is the payoff for them, I suppose.

  • weqilla

    wankaa

  • nagggain

    zaigabong

  • http://twitter.com/tashny Tashny Sukumaran

    it’s good, no doubt, but a little… um. typical. of the whole arundhati roy/kiran desai style. wouldn’t even call it a weak lahiri though.

  • http://twitter.com/tashny Tashny Sukumaran

    also, your dad sounds like a lovely person.

  • Anonymous

    Hello,everyone,sorry take your time a min,show a good fashion stuff 

    website —— www (vipstores) net —— you can input on your web there,if you

    do know how to do,you can click my username and you will come 

    our company website,maybe you will find something your like,thanks!

  • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

    “My father- had nothing else to pray for. All of his dreams and sacrifices were for my sister and I, manifested in a land that would never be his but that he hoped would be ours.”  I started crying when I read this and realized it applied to my parents as well.  My mom has passed away now, which would not have happened had we been back in our country, so I feel this great weight to not let their sacrifices go to waste.  You just cannot let them down. Just can’t.  I hope she is happy with what I try to do to make it worth something.

  • .hp

    as an only child to immigrant iranian parents. i absolutely related to your piece… in this day and age where expectation and instant gratification have become the norm, i remind myself of the unimaginable sacrifices and challenges my parents had to overcome to provide endless opportunities for me, their only daughter’s success. 

  • Loljame

    beautiful.

    is it worth it?

blog comments powered by Disqus