what it means to be a first generation Indian American

I try not to label myself or allow identities to define me. But I am what I am. Mother, daughter, writer, public health professional…

First generation Indian American. There is a lot to think about when you’re moving and it’s even worse if you move to a whole new country. You need to think about things like visas, look at things like a Novacredit review so you can get a credit card to live off, and continue to learn the language until you’re fluent.

I’ll never forget what it felt like when I read my first Jhumpa Lahiri short story in high school. From bus stop to school lunch hall, I carried Interpreter of Maladies with me everywhere.

I had read other South Asian authors but she dug into my heart with words like no one else had ever done.

Soon after, I became obsessed with immigrant literature. I connected to Junot Diaz’s stories of the Latino experience in New York, I immersed myself in the history of Asian American immigration in San Francisco with Lisa See and I even found the less known authors…like me. I wrote my own stories, performed poetry alongside black-skinned sisters at poetry slams and my world was rich in color and culture.

Those were my New York days.

Now across the country, my husband and I decided to settle in a place where we could raise our children in a sun-kissed beach town where life moves slow and while diversity exists and there are many people here who love learning about our culture… there are also many who find it to be so…foreign.

So here I am again as a first generation Indian American…mom.

As my kids started to grow and ask questions, I began to ask questions myself. What was the meaning of things we did as kids?

Isn’t this how this mom thing works? Kids are our teachers.

It started to become increasingly clear to me that I pass parts of my culture down in a way that they can carry with them for generations to come. For their kids and beyond.

It’s why yoga and meditation and fire rituals entered our family life.

Some of it reminded me of my childhood home. Rice and red powder at ceremonies. Colorful saris for special occasions. The smell of sandalwood incense.

But…some of if felt new.

Like reading about Buddha’s path in my parent’s motherland. Or changing rituals to be more in line with my feminist heart.

I was finding ancient knowledge and fitting it my modern days.

This is what it is to be a first generation anyone in America I realized.

The way we blend what we feel with what we learn. The way we respect the country that feels like home but was never our home, carrying their traditions and beauty in our hearts in a country that is to be our home.

So now, as I watch my second generation kids run on these vast California beaches, I think of the simplicity of home, even for the many first generation children like me.

Go to Visa Bulletin to find out more.

You see, home…is where the heart is.

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