I’m a Daughter of Immigrants and I’m Both Thankful and Ashamed of My Country
Today, businesses are closing in solidarity with immigrants as the #DayWithoutImmigrants hashtag trends. As a daughter of immigrants, I wonder about the trajectory my life would have taken if my parents hadn’t bravely left everything they knew. Most mornings, whether consciously or subconsciously, I wake up thankful that I was born in the USA. I marvel at the circumstances and choices that led my parents to leave their families to come to an unknown place, a nation that held so much promise in their minds, so that my dad could work at the NIH. All they knew about America was from the movies, print media, and word of mouth. I remember the excitement and love with which my mom tore open her weekly letter from her mom, my Amichi (maternal grandmother). I’ll never forget the rare calls my parents made to India to hear the precious voices of their siblings and parents, counting as the expensive phone minutes ticked away.
I remember the friends who embraced me, and the kids who made fun of me. “Dot or feather?” “Does your dad own a gas station?” “Eww, what IS that in your lunchbox?” I will never forget the day, a couple years post 9/11, when a man asked me where I’m from and the usual line of question and answer. “I’m from Madison [Wisconsin].” “No, where are you REALLY from?” “I was born in DC.” “No, no, where are you REALLY from?” “My parents are from India.” His response followed a sigh of relief, “Oh good. As long as you’re not one of those 9/11 people.”
I remember traveling to India just once every few years so that my grandparents might see their granddaughters grow, and so my sister and I would know our heritage. I loved being with my extended family, but without fail, the homesickness, the longing to go back home to America would set in within a couple weeks. Flying home and feeling the airplane wheels touch down at O’hare felt so good! I realize how lucky I am, that my parents’ home country is a relatively safe one, that they have achieved the American dream, that we can afford to fly to India now whenever we can take a few weeks away from our lives. I can only imagine how it feels to leave one’s home as a refugee, knowing it’s the last time. I think of this line from a poem that bring tears to my eyes each time I read it: “you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
I still wake up thankful for the trajectory that made me an American. I love my family, which includes people of Indian, Chinese, Jewish, Croatian, native American descent (and more). I am keenly aware that my children’s very existence depended entirely on not only my own immigrant parents, but on my husband’s immigrant ancestors. We are products of their many heartbreaks and courageous acts that eventually allowed us to comfortably burrow into America’s womb. Now, we strive to take that nourishment and pay it forward.
It is this love, drive, and melting of cultures that makes us who we are.
I will not stand idle as my country rejects these values simply because I live in a relatively safe, liberal bubble city that doesn’t otherize me and my loved ones for the color of our skin, or for the origins of my ancestors. Is it possible to be simultaneously proud and embarrassed to be American? Yes. I don’t know how else to feel, but I hope that someday my children will understand and be equally proud. To those who are doing the hard work to fight these horrors, I am immeasurably grateful. I will do my share of the work too, but I have yet to figure out how.