Thursday, October 25, 2012

How India Broadened My View of My Own Family

People are complicated to understand. Sometimes we can't understand them until we are able to take a fresh look back at something and really think about it.

One of my fondest memories from my childhood was my mother staying home to see me get off the bus before leaving for work. I knew she would be late but she did it just to see me. Another memory was of her staying up after a long night of work to cook me breakfast before I went to school. I didn't understand any of that as a child but looking back, now I can recognize the true value of those things.

Before leaving for India I was not close to my family. There was a lot of hurt between us and tensions were high. I had a lot of negative feelings toward them for not doing the very things they had raised me to do. I hadn't lived near home for a long time and so going to India wasn't a big deal for me (at least not the leaving my parents behind part). I didn't think it would affect them much. I had lived away from home for 16 years and they rarely visited me so this wouldn't be a big change in that area.

After coming back we all began to bond a lot more. Suddenly they were more interested in being a part of my life. It's been great. But something even bigger has happened through all of this repatriation bonding. India changed me a lot and I'm realizing it all now. Most of it was all in good ways....well, all I've noticed so far has been good. (It's taking some getting used to but it's still good.)

I've made a lot of realizations about the life of my family members and my ancestors. I spent years tracing our genealogy and never once did I ever fathom the kinds of things I'm realizing now. My family hasn't been in this country that long respectively. My father's father wasn't even a US citizen and as far as I know, never became one.He was an immigrant in a strange land. He went through culture shock, he tried to make a life here.

My mother's family came here to live, leaving behind a lavish lifestyle. They followed a similar path to what I did going to India. They left behind a comfortable lifestyle and came here to start over. What they thought would be a good and adventurous life, left them faced with things they were not prepared for. I'm sure they suffered culture shock, they probably got sick a lot and had to build up their immunities the hard way just like I did.When they got there they were likely faced with a very hard life. Something they were not accustomed to.

I'm feeling a sense of empathy with America's immigrant community. I have learned to see what an immigrant to the US goes through. No, I didn't experience it on the same level, but I have a better appreciation for them now. It's been eye-opening. A few of you have been through this and I would love to hear your stories, experiences, advice, etc. For those of you who have not experienced it, here is what an immigrant goes through (related to things you may experience so you can picture it a little better).

  1. Downsizing their lives in their home country (This is like when you clean out your closet/attic/garage and have a massive yard sale. You get rid of so much but you always find things that are hard to part with. You don't want to get rid of it all because you might need it or it has sentimental value. Imagine getting rid of everything you own, including your nice comfy bed and favorite chair.)
  2. Moving. The actual move is kind of scary. You don't know for sure what you will face in the new country. (In your life, you move out of your parents home and you have to start figuring out how to pay the bills, mow the lawn, schedule everything and keep it all going by yourself. The difference between you and the immigrant is you already have a sense of how things work here.)
  3. Getting into a new home. Whether you rent or buy, you have to learn to manage when the rent is due, how you will pay it etc. Not all immigrants can go out and rent a home like you can. They don't already have a job (sometimes) and most don't have credit established, etc. In some places, immigrants are denied a lease and must rent month to month. Their lives are unpredictable and may feel much more unstable than yours when you move out of moms house and down the street.
  4. Finding a job. Many people now days get here to find that their education in their home country is not useful here in the US. They have to get more education or new certifications. They have to learn a completely new hiring system and way of competing for jobs. Now and in the past many immigrants have come to the US and had to get jobs that had nothing to do with their education at all. 
  5. Building a life. We do this after we leave our parents home and start a life of our own. We have to get furniture, cars, dishes, etc. We mingle our lives in with that of our local community. For us it's not too difficult, maybe a little intimidating but not that hard. For an immigrant, they have to learn the language, the customs, the workings of life here and such before they can really start building those community ties. It is sometimes difficult for them to find things they have in common with their new neighbors. They may feel even more intimidation.
Being an immigrant is like having everything you own and know taken completely away from you and then being told you can't do anything the same way you were taught growing up. It's a challenge. I know my family struggled to get their roots here in this country. They had to go through all of that. One of the more prominent members of my family never spoke English. He was a business man but his children had to manage the customers for him. I can only imagine how difficult that must be.

I didn't speak Punjabi but so many people spoke English to me. Still, I felt very isolated in India. How must my ancestor have felt not speaking English? This thought also helps me better grasp the concept of places like "Germantown" or "Little Italy" or "Little India" in the US. We have plenty of those little cities or neighborhoods and though I always knew why, now I have a different view of how those cities came to be.

Those immigrants naturally gathered together with people they knew. This is just like the pardesi's I know who try to meet up with other pardesi's while in India. We seek out people we have something in common with to try and regain some of the comfort we miss from home. This alleviates the culture shock somewhat, even if only for a few minutes.

All of these new found realizations and the ability to see life here in the states with fresh eyes has drawn me much closer to my family. It's helped me understand some of their customs and culture, their individuality and behaviors as well as where it all came from. My bonds with my mother and father have strengthened considerably and I've established new bonds with extended family members that were never there before.

I guess you could say going to India has helped me appreciate my family, our culture and our lives a lot more. I learned to value family in new ways and not let their differences break the bonds I had with them. I learned to let go of old wounds and forgive things that had hurt me. I'm not completely over everything but I'm getting there.

How did India help you appreciate your family or life more?

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