My Voice - 2019


Coming to America with Eight Dollars in Your Pocket

By Samir Jain

My father migrated from India to America in April of 1974. He had a degree in electrical engineering. When he applied for a U.S. visa in 1971, the United States was involved in the vicious Vietnam War and there was a huge demand for engineers. His visa was approved. He came home and told his mother and her response was:

“Maine suna ki gori auurte sadak pe gumti phir ti rehati hain, aur shariff padrre likhe nau jawano ko phasati hain. Tu Amrika nehi ja sakta jab tak teri shaadi na ho jaye." (Translation: “I've heard that Caucasian women walk around the streets and trap nice, young educated boys like you. You're not going to America until you are married.")

Two years passed and a proposal of marriage came via my Nana Ji (Maternal Grandfather) for my father and his journey to the land of promise began.

After repeatedly hearing his stories during my younger years, I've come to earnestly value the hard work ethics of Indian immigrants from that era. My father was born in Rawalpindi which is now part of Pakistan. His family lost everything after the partition and relocated to Delhi where they lived a modest life. There were numerous perturbed Indian families who suffered immensely after the partition. Times were tough.

My father was the youngest of seven boys. He started working at the age of six with his elder brother, making and selling little pouches of ink. Countless Indian immigrants, including my father, faced adversity but have tirelessly persevered and conquered many hardships only to prove their duly deserved success.

I can only imagine the harsh struggles that most of our migrants of the 70's have faced throughout their time in this country. Several of them have overcome racial discrimination and financial obstacles through faith, steadfastness and a “never giving up" attitude. As a first generation Indian-American growing up in the states, I feel like I have been fed with a golden spoon because of the foundation that was laid before me. I'm not saying we are spoiled or graced with such easy lifestyles, but we are certainly privileged compared to our immigrant parents. I can only envision their challenges from their words and vicariously live through their past pains.

When my father landed in the United States of America, he had only eight dollars in his pocket. Fortunately, he was sponsored by my mother's cousin, which afforded him a place to temporarily stay. The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended in 1973, so when he arrived on American soil, engineering jobs were scarce. After several attempts at finding employment as an engineer with his thick Indian accent in the 70's, he found a job cutting metal. He was offered three dollars an hour and was in disbelief of the amount when he converted it into Rupees. He happily accepted the job. The example of today's elder Indian population who garnered humility, balanced their native heritage while assimilating in a new environment, and exerted assiduous efforts must be learned by us, before they leave us.

I feel all Indian-Americans should at least attempt to relate to the trying circumstances their immigrant parents, aunts or uncles have experienced while growing in this country. Many of us have been so preciously loved and tended to, that the best life our parents could afford to give us was often taken for granted. We may not have always seen the blood, sweat, and tears they endured for their family, but surely we must extend our heartfelt gratitude for their labors and innumerable blessings.

From an early age, I watched as my father woke up every morning at 5:30am only to drive fifty miles to get to work on time. After his exhausting day, he would come home and make time for my sister and me, helping us with our homework. The Indian culture which incorporates commitment to responsibilities, unconditional love, and family bonding is still strong in our Indian Diaspora of these pioneers from the 70's. I have often told my father that if I can work just a fraction as hard as he has, I can accomplish anything.

I am so grateful for the upbringing my parents have given me; there is no amount of money that could replace the deeply treasured memories and lessons that are embedded in my heart.

My amazing father just turned 74 and is now semi-retired, still running his Bio-Tech business. His dedication to his work and family is built into his genes, just like many of his contemporaries. We can only try to fathom the predicaments of life our Indian immigrants of the 70's have faced, while coming to America with only eight dollars in their pockets. Let us commemorate their life's work by not only remembering them and their core values, but by living daily with the tenets that resonate with each of us as we grow into future generations of Indian Americans.

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Samir Jain is a Sociology graduate from the UCLA and is a passionate writer who contributes to society. Email: sameyh444@gmail.com