Insights are like sly chain-snatchers. They make a grab for you when you least expect it. I got a brief visit too, recently. Each day my immigrant existence learns and unlearns. It weighs the pros and cons of its adaptation. It’s gratifying when I get things right. And I irrationally doubt fundamental things about myself when I don’t. Like a sinusoidal curve that saunters, seemingly unaware of the inevitable crest or trough around the corner, my assessment of my proficiency in adjustment varies, too. I often wonder: is it me? Is it America? Is it life?
If you are like me, still mourning the distance from loved ones, the loss of help, attention and fuzzy existentialities of India, think aloud with me, as you read this. And if you have already bypassed this pass years ago, maybe I am just trying to put a finger on what made you stay.
It doesn’t matter what got you here—a master’s degree or a marriage certificate. Time is the great equalizer, and in a few years each of us will have similar balls. And someone up there will peer benignly while you juggle them! I look at the upbeat, magnanimous stories telling me, and my tiny sub-group, the Indian-American woman, that we have the best of both worlds—values and freedom—and wonder why each time such stories evoke a strong visceral reaction in me. Just like the generic “curry” conveys an incomplete picture, staying on restaurant menus for want of a better adjective, similarly, the part-fact, part-myth persona of the well-adjusted immigrant woman endures due to the lack of a deeper discussion of their core struggles. My gentleman friends and acquaintances tell me, “Come on, it’s just as hard for us.” Yes, my friends, it may be hard for you. But the operative phrase is “just as.” What softens the blow of men’s relocation is the presence of a reason, however transient that might have been.
But for many of us women, it is the quest to create that reason that becomes our driving force. That quest for esteem that pushes us back to schools, to countless hours spent on monster.com or hotjobs.com, and towards becoming a master juggler at home and beyond. Sometimes the balls fall. But they must be rubber balls, for it seems that no permanent damage happens, and we do move along.
And while we valiantly try to get on, we learn to understand the meaning of the terms “selective memory” and “nostalgia.” So, I will try not to mourn the loss of those hearty supplies of colors, of saris and salwar kameezs, of matharis and pickles, of chitchat and noise, of that possibly illusory sense of security that physical proximity to family provides. Of cricket scores and effortless supply of Bollywood gupshup. Of cantankerous maids and perpetually faltering tailors. Of wasted years, and innumerable “starting-again” tears. Yes, of course you know.
I will also not extol the feel of those snug graduation coats, of that hard-won job, of that promotion, of that resolve to succeed beyond the accent and color. Of the warmth of that well-decorated home (some Costco, some Target, some Macy’s, some Ikea, much India). Of the gleam in our eyes when we see the neon lights of our favorite mall screaming “SALE!”. Don’t we know?
I will also not dwell on our “sitting-on-the-fence-existence.” Of desi parties and children’s names carefully chosen to go easy on the American tongue. Of uncomfortable business suits and haircuts in Chinese (Chinese–American?) salons. Of unnamed fears like the loss of language and stories in a new generation. Of bowling alleys, Taquerias, rock climbs, and strenuous hikes. This we do not completely know until our tuning fork resonates with its very own hyphen: Indian-American.
I will also not try to recapture the innumerable animated and strained discussions. We will go back in … X+1+2+ … years? And then one find day, he might claim to achieve success in calculating X+1+2 and ask: how about now, honey? My quest is satisfied, and so is my reason. Remember, you didn’t like it here too much anyway? What happened?
So while they question, we fumble. We grope for words, but the words elude us. We are spent. Holding two flags in a tiny terrain. Taking it in our stride. We know we can do it again. Switch to sitting on the right on that hard-won driver’s seat. We know we can. But this time around youth, anticipation, and ignorance are not going to be around to cushion those blows. Maybe some of us will do it again. Switch. Hats off to those of us who shall! And to those of you who decided that the fence and its new vantage point works out just fine, let no one tell you otherwise.
Our walk is ours alone. Sometimes it rained. Sometimes it was sunny. While sometimes the sinusoid left you with a sicker feeling than the scariest Magic Mountain roller coaster. So after all this it’s alright if you want to sit. For they don’t know how it feels when a clerk tells you that sometimes 16 years on your degree recalculates to 14 (or less) in America.
To my friends who have XY genes, this is my feminine XX plea; “difficult” is an adjective we both understand. But my XX wardrobe will still have more hues that match this word. The countless stories toasting my group’s success and subliminally telling us to be grateful notwithstanding, resilience is not always pleased to hear “encore!”
Radhika Sharma is a Bay Area writer.