When: 31st July 2017
A few months back I read a dissertation on the acculturation process of immigrant Asian Indians in the United States. This one I read was approved in the May of 2008 and was authored by Dr. Nirisha Garimella. When I was looking up dissertation and thesis documents submitted by Indians at TWU, this one particularly drew my attention for two reasons: one, Garimella is a very popular Telugu surname and two, it used a qualitative methodology for studying the phenomenon of how Asian Indians settle into United States. While I cannot share the detailed contents of the dissertation here, to simply explain what the study highlighted, one can say it narrated the stories of 15 immigrants settled in the US from a kal, aaj aur kal (yesterday, today and tomorow in Hindi) perspective.
"Oh my god! I cannot believe it has been so many years since I saw you!"
Fast forward to last week when I visited my cousin's family. As I was about to walk into the house, the main door sprang open and my cousin's wife like literally crushed me with her hug. Not that it surprised me! 3 full days at a conference, lot of listening and lot of talking later, a 11 PM arrival after two hours of train journey was making me feel weary until she crushed me :) Such energy and excitement in receiving someone into their home at 11 PM was so refreshing to experience. What happens after I receive such warm welcomes is a story for another time. For the next three hours I was surrounded by a family (including a 15 year old and a 10 year old) that made me laugh to the point of having tears in my eyes.
"It is very hard to describe the early years! I would wonder what the hell is happening to my body, why don't I feel healthy?"
As we continued to talk about the six years that happened between my last visit and the current one, at one point, I saw her eyes well up. This was followed by a lot of head nodding. We spoke on so many things ranging from parenting to politics. A lot of the talk was surrounded around how healthy vegetarian food was an impossible thing to have around when she moved to the States. All through these hours of conversations I shared with her, I couldn't stop thinking about this dissertation I read. As she spoke about her own life, she would start with the history of her own life, talk about what is currently happening and then present such a positive and hopeful image of the future.
As I currently split my time between understanding immigrant perspectives, their challenges and physical activity, I am often drawn towards these conversations that happen with Indian women who move to the States at a very young age and are then trying to create a home here for their own families.
"No matter what my day has in store for me, I need to work out early in the morning. Then I can handle anything."
I woke up this morning very early and through my foggy eyes, I saw her dressed up in her work out clothes, walking over to my bed and saying "I will see you exactly in 45 minutes Padmini. I need to go work out! Sleep in if you don't feel like going. We shall figure it out!" And she is gone! I was like "Whoaa! What just happened?" These days I am not a very morning person and seeing her be so active I was like, "What the hell! I need to get out of my bed right now!" And I was up and ready in 45 minutes. Now I can only imagine what that image of her can do to the young kids growing up in her home.
"Watching what I eat is so important for me because I know it powers every living second of my day. And I am constantly trying to make the meals at home interesting. That way I get the kids to spend more time with us too " *says this while smiling at me*
You see her order food at a restaurant and she is constantly talking to both her daughters about the content of the foods. And then she leaves them alone to make the choice for themselves. Her daughter wants to snack and she is immediate to bring her a bowl of apple slices. She does all this so naturally that it looks really easy. But all through our conversations, it was clear that all these awesome parenting skills came to her through many trials and tribulations she has lived through. This beautiful parenting and compassion that is evident in her personality came after years of lived experiences in a country far away from her parents and her own land (just like it has come to many other immigrant women too!). She is often very quick to say,
"We learnt from each other Padmini. We were both very young. We moved here with no clue of what the future held for us. But once we got here, we continued to learn and evolve."
Why it is important for me to write about her?
In today's times, I rarely see immigrant women (especially Indian women) who are physically fit and can be active all through the day. I am guilty of it myself (I am not yet an immigrant. NIDIA you see). I let stress get to me so badly sometimes that it takes me about a week's time to recover. I have often said this to my American friends here.
Self-care is a very absent or unknown concept in the lives of millions of Indian women.
And the response was always agreement with an amendment.
"Women in general happen to neglect or not make time for self care. So the additional variable of immigration makes it more complex for y'all!"
She is an excellent example of an Indian immigrant in this country, who has learnt to bring together the best of two very different cultures that she got tossed into. If I had to summarise what I learnt from my conversations with her, I would say:
- It is important for us to wear a smile on our face and embrace life as bravely as we can. No matter which direction life throws you in.
- It is perfectly okay to slow down, take a step back and to ask for help.
- It is important to have a fitness routine every day in the morning.
Meet Shanti Kondapi, an unsung victor of the immigrant battles that many Indians try to survive, mother of two young American girls who can out a song in your heart every time you meet them. I was on my way to the airport when I heard the song "Badal pe paon hai!" from Chak De! India when I had the idea of wanting to write about her. Her life story is empowering for me to learn from because through her balancing act of marrying two cultures together, she powers three other humans around her. Also she is not related to me. Growing up watching my sister and mother closely, I always lived in this bubble that no one else is as capable as them to raise children or to be managing a family. But as I travel and meet more people, their life stories are constantly educating me on how so many women around me are leading amazingly positive lives.
I am sure Shanti's story is not alone. There are millions of women like her around the world. But these stories need to be told repeatedly. These voices need to be heard. They need to be talked about at our dinner tables. In today's times, it is more important than ever before to talk about how immigrants are bringing in great value to the citizenship of these United States.
Vadina (sister-in-law in Telugu), until we meet again, lots of love and hugs! I will miss you!
Annayya (brother in Telugu), I won't miss you, and no thanks for being so nice 🙂 I can try being not so nice too, if you visit me in Dallas.