An immigrant in a strange land

Seventeen years ago, I moved to the U.S. with my husband Sudeep, and one-year-old son. The first few months were exhausting. At times, even simple tasks like cleaning and cooking seemed stressful. But eventually, this country and the city of Sacramento became home. Our sons, Akshaj and Atiksh, grew up in a diverse community and formed strong friendships with families from different backgrounds and cultures. 

I am often asked by moms who moved in similar circumstances, “How do you make so many friends?” How were you able to embrace the culture?” “How did you get the courage to run for office?” “How did you feel to be the first Indian woman in your district to be appointed to the YPCE commission?”

None of this came easy. Identity blues are sure to hit sooner or later when settling into a culture different than ours. I learned to thrive by finding ways to embrace the new while still staying rooted in my true self.

 Until a decade ago, I struggled to understand where I belonged.

I was born and raised in India, a country rich in culture and heritage. But I’m raising our boys in America and California’s capital city, Sacramento, where I live, is one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation. I take pride in what I have achieved in my life in Sacramento.

Many immigrant families still fear not fitting in or being accepted or included so I wanted to share my experience.

Finding my friendships

Healthy friendships are crucial. I found friends with the same interests and hobbies, and we took time for those activities. We listened to each other’s experiences and validated them. Finding friends who are great listeners and will acknowledge the real you is essential. No matter how networked we are in today’s world, good friendships are more important than we realize. 

The people I call friends always spark joy in me. I always feel positive and inspired when I surround myself with friends who uplift me, whether it’s my Scout group with Sherie, Yelena, Amber, Jennifer, and Stephanie, the student advisory group with Laura and Tracy, or doing presentations with Satty about Indian culture in the schools. 

I’m lucky that I’ve never had to compromise my values to fit in any of these groups.

I found my “real friends” when I ran for office. They stood by me, cheered me on, and supported me in every way, with love and unconditional support.

These friendships didn’t happen automatically but grew over the time we spent together, just like the friendships I had in India. These amazing friends met me at different places and phases of my life. I met some of them at my son’s school, at community events, and during my campaign. Even today, we make sure to figure out a way and reason to meet outside of those settings till the day.

Finding my voice

Not all the new tags people threw at me over the years stuck with me, but there were a few that I liked and I moved with them. I am a good mom, a dedicated volunteer, a good friend, and a good cook, too. I took a chance to break out of my own identity box, stepped into a new culture learned many interesting things about myself, and explored a new side of me. That has given me many growth opportunities and broadened my horizons.

I discovered that I have a voice and can advocate for myself and my kids. I discovered the courage to run for office and the ability to lead events in a diverse community

Finding new traditions to celebrate

A picture of two brothers sitting on a couch, smiling
Akshaj and Atiksh Mehta from the We Belong Series by Sree Sripathy for India Currents

Having children forced Sudeep and me to change; personally, it made us better people. Parenting itself is rapidly changing and evolving across the globe because the world is bursting with diverse cultures and movements. Sudeep and I love that my kids have been exposed to many different nationalities and cultures from a young age. Akshaj, now (18), and Atiksh now (12) have traveled to three continents. We are glad that Akshaj and Atiksh’s view of the world is much smaller – and bigger at the same time compared to what it was for my husband and me while growing up in India.

Today, I feel confident as a woman and parent because of the diverse community and having friends from different backgrounds and cultures. We are accepting and inclusive of everyone. As Indian parents, Sudeep and I are mindful of teaching our boys about rich Indian heritage and culture while making them understand how important it is to accept other cultures and people they come across in their schools and communities.

While growing up in India, we celebrated Diwali, Baisakhi, Holi, and Rakhi. After moving to the States and my kids started school, we now take immense excitement celebrating Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year, and Hannukah as our Indian festivals. My boys are learning about a wide variety of cultures and food. As a family, we now enjoy different traditions and celebrations

Finding my community

I am fortunate to have spent a lot of time volunteering in the schools and community, helping other fellow moms and friends celebrate diversity in the classrooms and community events.

Since 2019, my friend Satty and I have partnered with our school district’s Family Engagement Department to give presentations on Indian culture across our school district. I have always encouraged my fellow parents to be parent ambassadors and connect to their children’s classrooms to share their culture. I have helped fellow moms to have a classroom celebration for Hannukah, Christmas, and Eid

I have witnessed these students and parents enjoying all this. Like many other immigrant mom friends, I only hope to pass on this accepting and inclusive mindset to our children to accept and feel accepted in this diverse country.

My friend, fellow parent, and educator Laura Bariel says, “Raising our children in a diverse community is so important. I wanted my child to learn about a variety of cultures through their friends and appreciate others’ families, cultures, and beliefs. We don’t have to agree on everything to be one cohesive community.”

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of India Currents. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, individual or anyone or anything.

Sumiti Mehta is the author of ‘A Campaign That Won Hearts and Not Votes.’ She served on Sacramento city’s YPCE Commission and is serving on several Natomas Unified School Committees. Mehta is also...