Lend a Hand to Immigrants, You’ll be Glad You Did

Punam SaxenaUncategorized

Many believe that immigrants who come to America are over taking the country. That they are depleting the financial and social resources of the country. That they are taking away the social and professional job opportunities from the citizens of this great land.

Regardless of what you think on this matter, take a deep breath and read on because this blog may affect your current views.  I’d like to share part of my story with you. One that I hope you will allow you to see the journey through a different lens.

Back in the 1960s, the US government, universities, and corporations were looking for those from other lands to come here to help build a booming country with a positive economic impact.  Laws were passed that opened doors to allow for immigration from new countries and especially from Asia. They wanted the brightest minds to descend on this vast country and bring their creativity and innovation. Many individuals came and studied or worked, then they laid their roots here because this, in turn, would create diverse opportunities both professionally and socially.

My parents are part of this story. My dad came in the early ‘60s to further his education. He wanted to attain his degrees and head back to his home country of India to be with his family. Every year after bringing my mom to America, and finishing his Ph.D. his plans became ‘Ok, next year we will go back home’. My mom was incredibly homesick (and, frankly, still is) and had hoped that they would head back, even after my brother and I were born.  But after a while, she realized that living in the States was her destiny. Dad was on a path to becoming a successful professional and was enjoying his work and hers was to raise us by instilling values and cultures drawn from her home country and the U.S.

Their journey was not simple. Way back when my parents left, they promised my grandparents that they would always remain in touch with the family. In all of the last six decades and even in difficult financial times, my parents ensured that we regularly visited family in India, at least once every 2-3 years.  Although my grandmother passed before I met her, but that promise has never been broken. We still, as adults, make it a priority to visit often and, thus, have built a loving relationship with so many fabulous family members and experienced the richness of our generational country.

Let me share an experience that would be illustrative of challenging experiences an immigrant family and their children often face. When my dad accepted a position in a rural, conservative city in Georgia we became the first and the only Indians for many years (from India not Native Americans). We were the novelty of the town. Many had no idea about our-kind, we were considered outcasts. So much so that the local paper wrote a front- page story about us. . Can you imagine? There was an utter lack of knowledge about India, its people, religious diversity, foods, and languages.  My brother and I had experiences in school that we would not wish on other children. However, with the passing of time as locals got to know and gained understanding, we became a respected part of the community.  We learned their ways and they did ours.  Learning from others and educating about our ways is a key part of life, as most are knowingly or unknowingly interested and want to learn.

In watching my parents and families like ours, I have learned that no one wants to leave their family for a land that is foreign and unknown. The language is different, the culture is different and expectations are different. Immigrants generally start at the bottom of the social food chain and have to prove and continuously re-prove their worth .

My parents’ journey is not unique, but it is, obviously, personal on so many levels for me. They have walked through this life for the past 60 years and created a wonderful life for our family. We are fortunate that they have passed onto to us the best of both worlds: our homeland here and our homeland in India…that has shaped us to empathize, refrain from being judgmental of and learn from the diverse paths of worlds.

So the next time you see a person from a land known to you or not, pause, extend your hand, listen, get to know them. Chances are, they will be grateful to you for reaching out and each of you will learn something valuable about your brothers and sisters.

-Punam V. Saxena/Brahm P. Verma