My earliest “memory” of America is of my father telling me about the moon landing. “John F Kennedy said we will put a man on the moon in 10 years and the Americans did it.” As a little girl growing up in India, I imagined a country called America whose presidents were visionaries, whose people believed in science, and whose spirit was ambitious.
My second “memory” of America is reading about WWII. “Roosevelt told the American people not to fear, and it was under his leadership that the Allies won the war”. I imagined this president who had suffered from Polio himself; his determination forged in the crucible of personal trials, and I imagined Americans as a courageous lot, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.
My third “memory” of America is of watching the news about the first Gulf War. “The US president George H.W. Bush is a Navy pilot himself, who flew 58 missions in WWII”. By this time, I was fascinated by American leaders – full of enterprise, conviction, and personal courage. And my heart was full of respect and admiration for this far-off place.
That America; the country of my imagination is what I immigrated to as a young woman. I came to America because I thought it was the best country on the planet, and I came to offer it the best I had. I came to America because I believed in the ideals that I thought were seeped into the soil of this great country. I am not the only one who came for that reason. Many of us who grew up in countries around the world imagined America to be a receptacle for the best one has to offer, a place where dreams and ambitions came true, a shining city on the hill.
Living in America, I came to know more about its history. I learned that the truth was far more nuanced, the country far more complex, its policies and leaders far more flawed than the little girl had imagined. Yet with all its flaws and complexity, it was a country that, to my immigrant eyes, appeared to forever strive to become a more perfect union, a place where people hardly cared about where you came from but were always interested in where you were going, a place where mastery of craft was valued over superficial achievements, a place where what you knew was more important than who you knew. I felt at home in such a place.
I saw the twin towers fall on 9/11 and cried alongside hundreds of thousands of Americans – the gaping hole in the NYC skyline left a hole in my heart too. When yelled at by a bunch of white teenagers in a car next to me telling me to f*** off, and go back to my country, I was shocked at first, but quickly understood it to be misplaced anger of young Americans who also had a hole in their hearts. I was against the war in Iraq, and so I marched alongside thousands, participating in the finest American tradition of non-violent protest – the tradition that brought India its own independence from the mighty British Empire, the tradition that had made its way from Thoreau to Gandhi back to MLK Jr. in a karmic loop between my two homes. I felt dismayed at the cacophony of fake debate around climate change fueled by the fossil fuel industry and perpetuated by the likes of Fox News. Although I couldn’t vote yet, my heart swelled with pride when Americans elected their first black president, and when that president corralled every single country on the planet into the Paris Climate Agreement, in an effort to save the world from imminent climate disaster, I told friends and family back in India – this is what American leadership looks like, it’s still alive! They didn’t need to be told, they knew it too.
Nothing prepared me for the shock of Donald Trump. I remember when I first heard Donald Trump as a candidate – I was caught speechless at the parallels I saw and heard between what he said & how he behaved, and the politicians I had grown up listening to & watching in India. Nothing about him felt “American” to me – no vision, no courage, no brilliance, no statesmanship, no building of bridges. All I heard was hate-mongering, fear-mongering, and showmanship of the worst kind. Having grown up in a deeply sexist country, it was Donald Trump’s treatment of and rhetoric on women that told me that sexism is not only very much alive in America but is now acceptable in American leaders.
I couldn’t believe what else I was learning about candidate Trump – the fraud his businesses indulged in, the thousands of lawsuits he was embroiled in – many of which he openly gloated as bullying tactics against people far less powerful than himself – when did fraud and bullying become something to gloat over in America? Unlike other presidents before him, Trump neither served in the military nor showed respect for others who did, calling John McCain a loser. He rallied his followers into obscene chants to lock up his political opponents and brandished the possibility of an armed revolt if he happened to lose the election. I was awestruck – American democracy and its political landscape were devolving in front of my very eyes.
The idealist part of me couldn’t believe that Trump could possibly win the hallowed office of the American presidency. But another part dreaded what it innately knew from having a lived experience of a far more corrupt, dog-eat-dog political system – people like Trump win, and often, not despite their hateful rhetoric but because of it. There are leaders who call for us to be guided by the better angels of our nature and not give into fear – great visionaries like Lincoln and FDR. And then there are those who give permission to act out our worst inclinations, goad us to fall for the lowest common denominator. I saw many such politicians win elections over and over in India. I thought it wasn’t possible in America – my shining city on the hill. I was wrong.
November 9, 2016 – I knew in my bones that American democracy had been dealt a severe blow, I felt in my heart that the American promise of democracy – with malice towards none and charity for all had been ripped asunder, I saw the promise of America fade for friends & family abroad, almost overnight. I could only hope that President Trump would be a better man than candidate Trump.
Four years of his presidency proved that hope false. Every day I see a president, who refuses to rise to the stature of his office, lies ad nauseam, insults the military, denies science and disrespects scientists, surrounds himself with criminals and when they are convicted pardons them, keeps petty scores & tweets against ordinary Americans and American businesses. A president, who brazenly indulges in nepotism; his appointment of family members to cherished positions in his administration acutely reminds me of the nepotism rife in Indian politics. A president who had promised to “drain the swamp” but has instead turned the government into a cesspool of corruption like never before, with every department headed by industry lobbyists, pillaging people’s money for private profit.
Friends and family around the world marvel at what my fellow Americans bought into but I have no answer to them. I am not sure if ordinary Americans are able to see how much this country has changed in the span of 4 years. If the old adage, “united we stand, divided we fall” is something to learn from, we have fallen very far indeed. I see signs on lawns around where I live saying “make liberals cry again”; emblematic of a country full of hate and division, and I wonder how it came to pass, that happiness to some is to make their fellow Americans cry. I see signs at white supremacist rallies saying “Diversity = White Genocide” and I realize I am being told that my very existence as a brown person is a threat to theirs, that this country belongs to white people & white immigrants – meaning my white immigrant husband is welcome but I am not. I remember those kids in the car after 9/11, telling me to go back to my country. Except that this time, it is the American President himself saying those words, for that is what he tells me when he calls those white supremacists “very fine people”.
For 4 long years, Donald Trump simply refused to be my President. He refused to be my President when he refused to govern with any manner of decency or grace. He refused to be my President because he refused to inspire Americans to come together in a common purpose, instead pitting them against one another, so they are more divided than ever before since the civil war. He refused to be my President when he put immigrants – asylum-seekers & their children; the proverbial “tired, poor and hungry” in cages – is this how America treats its immigrants? He refuses to be my President when he undermines the work of medical professionals, scientists, and state governors, even as 200,000+ Americans have died under his watch. He refuses to be my President when he refuses to acknowledge the enormity of Climate Chaos, squandering what could have been another “moon-shot” moment for America, willfully pushing Americans and the world closer to the edge of disaster. He refused to be my President because he could not ascend to the stature his office behooves, warranting a spirit of humility, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Instead, he has turned the country I was proud of, into an object of pity around the world. So much for the promise of making it great.
Despite his self-proclaimed greatness, comparing himself to Lincoln and asking for his face to be added to Mount Rushmore, Trump has left the American spirit and its moral ascendancy around the world in tatters. He is already ranked by historians & scholars, and seen by much of the world, as one of the worst American presidents ever. In its nearly 250-year-old history, America has had 45 presidents, all of them powerful for a brief period, yet most of them forgotten soon after. That’s the nature of history; it turns the once-mighty into nothing but dust, it is poised to do the same to this one.
But from the eyes of this immigrant, Donald Trump would forever be seen and remembered as the President of the Divided States of America.
Genius Kids founder Rennu Dhillon says our greatest fear after death is public speaking — unless we make some incremental changes in our education system while we’re alive.
“Confidence is critical,” Dhillon says. “You have to learn how to take control of your life. Compassion, communication, eye contact — these are the kinds of soft skills that we as parents and teachers need to instill in our kids today.”
Her personal odyssey — long before she became a Bay Area education mogul, Radio Zindagi talk show host, and community activist — is its own story of confidence and coming into one’s own. Dhillon grew up in a tightly-knit Kenyan suburb, much like our Bay Area cities littered with extracurricular activities and educational pursuits.
“My mother, being the typical Indian mother that she was, enrolled me into practically everything from music, art, piano, and sports,” Dhillon says and laughs. “But my father, a medical practitioner and the local Deputy Mayor was very deep into politics. So one of the big things that he really wanted us, kids, to focus on was communication. They enrolled me into a drama school called the Little Theater Club at the age of three.”
Dhillon’s childhood in Kenya marked the intersection of so many rapid changes, from an early wave of the feminist movement to political unrest in India following the death of Indira Gandhi. The young actress put pen to paper, drafting impassioned poems and letters for the local newspaper.
“I was a very, very controversial figure in my town,” Dhillon says. “I mean, I was always expressing my views, especially when it came to women’s issues. And my dad didn’t even know half the time when I was writing to newspapers. It would only be when we would get anonymous phone calls at home threatening me about something that my dad would look at me and say, ‘did you write that?’ And I’ll be like, ‘yep.’ God, I caused so much drama at home.”
Twenty years later, the outspoken Kenyan pre-teen, after completing her Pharmacy Degree in the United Kingdom, and Doctorate of Science, launched into two very successful businesses of her own – a matrimonial dating agency and recruiting firm in the United States. She then ventured in Recruiting CEO’s for start up’s and went from hooking people and people to people and jobs. As a single mother navigating the labyrinthian American Dream, helping young men and women find love offered startling insight into the role of ‘soft skills’ within the South Asian American community.
For Dhillon, the devil was in the details. From critiquing her client’s fashion choices to providing advice on eye contact and tone, she realized how the simplest features of personal interaction paved the way to success. Her experience as a dating coach and recruiter molded her vision when she opened up a Fremont-based daycare and accelerated learning center named Genius Kids.
Unlike mainstream education programs, Genius Kids instills public speaking and collaborative skills in students from a young age. Founded in 2001, the organization quickly caught on among Bay Area parental circles. Dhillon’s effortless relationship with kids, paired with her knack of combining learning strategies with the latest technology, brought in more families than ever.
“I think kids learn with smart and interactive technology,” Dhillon says. “We were actually one of the first preschools to ever introduce smart boards into the classrooms. Even the toddlers will come up on our stage, look at a screen, and point to the answer with their little fingers. These are our ways of teaching children. To stimulate students’ curiosity, I don’t want anyone memorizing stories in my classes. I want discussions. I want kids to tell me the story back in their own words — add their own flavor to The Three Little Pigs and use their own imagination. This is how we access a child’s voice and build on their confidence.”
For the second time in her life, Dhillon embarked on a writing journey, this time penning a parenting book titled, Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. The book has different sections dedicated to Dhillon’s ‘Cs’ — compassion, conflict resolution, charisma, control — the different elements that shaped her experience in both teaching and parenting.
“There’s a need to simplify parenting into its basic ingredients,” Dhillon says. “It’s not something that always comes naturally — especially now that we have all these distractions. The world was very different for my great grandparents, grandparents, and my parents. Now, we’re living in a crazy world — completely insane. And if you don’t prepare your child to be able to face a world of the unknown, your child won’t have any control over their life. So I’m a huge one for books. I’m always on the search for new material and information because learning never stops.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there may be no better time for Dhillon to release Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. As lockdown restrictions force schools to adapt to a virtual learning environment, every parent must challenge their preconceived notions about testing, college admissions, and academic life. And perhaps there may be no better writer to release this book than Dhillon herself. As a woman who ventured across borders, within new industries, and into the lives of hundreds of children, Dhillon seeks to embody the very experience she chronicles in her book — a journey into the precarious unknown, where learning and adapting is always essential.
“Don’t underestimate your children,” Dhillon says. “Let them pursue and find their path. And most of all, listen to what they have to say.”
Stay tuned for Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders, which releases on October 6th on Amazon! Click here for further details.
Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor for India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as the Executive Director of Media Outreach at Break the Outbreak. Connect with Kanchan on Instagram: @kanchan_naik_
While revisiting some of my favorite TED Talks the other day, I was reminded of how important it is to make an intentional first impression, one that says a little bit about who we are when we meet someone for the first time. Whether we like it or not, within the first 5-10 seconds of meeting someone, they’ve already decided a few things about who we are.
“She didn’t look me in the eye when she said hello. Does she have something to hide?”
“He didn’t shake my hand and he’s awfully quiet. He doesn’t seem very friendly.”
As humans, we are assumption-making machines. That’s just a fact. It’s how we make sense of the world. We take in what’s around us, apply an explanation, and make decisions about a person or a situation based on that explanation. Right or wrong (and very often we’re wrong)… it’s just what we do.
Those impressions come super-quickly. And when they do, we (sometimes unconsciously) decide how to interact with the person we’ve just met… regardless of whether, or not, our assumptions are correct.
The challenge can be particularly difficult if you come from another country and/or English isn’t your first language. What if you have a heavy accent? Or maybe your name is unique and uncommon in the US? Now, you’ve added another layer of complexity to the first-impression dilemma.
If you’re foreign-born and have an accent, a long or uncommon name, or one that’s hard to pronounce, you may have noticed confused looks at times, or hesitation about asking you to repeat your name. Or maybe you’ve noticed they just avoid using your name altogether. Perhaps they just feel awkward trying to pronounce it
If any of those sound familiar, try some of these tips to make it easier the next time you meet someone new:
- Pay attention to your pace and tone as you say your name. Slow it way down and enunciate. After saying it once, repeat it again. It often helps folks to hear and see you say it a couple times.
- Try breaking your name down into separate syllables. For example, if your name is ‘Srithika,’ you might say, ‘Hi, I’m Srithika, that’s Sri-thi-ka.’ Encourage them to try saying it and help them adjust their pronunciation.
- Point out a word or short phrase that sounds like your name. It’ll give them something to associate it with and help them more easily commit it to memory. So, if your name is Shuba, you might say, ‘I’m Shuba – it rhymes with Scuba!”
- You may want to offer up a nickname you’re comfortable with that’s shorter or easier for them to pronounce. Whereas Chandralekha could be a challenge for some unfamiliar with the name, the nickname Chandra might be a welcome alternative.
- Remember to keep a sense of humor! Being playful and at ease goes a long way toward releasing any awkwardness that might occur. You’ll both feel more comfortable, and it’ll make it easier for them to let you know if they don’t understand you later. That’s always better than getting that blank-face-half-smile-and-nod response.
Watch for those subtle, non-verbal cues that seem to communicate “What did you say?” Intentionally shifting a potentially awkward introduction into a moment of ease and connection, can make all the difference in that first impression. Presenting yourself as approachable, while demonstrating your ability to help remove barriers, will lay the groundwork for a strong and fruitful business relationship.
P.S. For more tips on how to introduce yourself, check out Laura Sicola’s TED Talk, Want to sound like a leader? Start by saying your name right. About halfway through her talk, she discusses “strategic tonality” and how to use it when making a self-introduction. It’s well worth a listen.
Marie Bankuti, PCC, CPCC, PMP, Founder of Tether Free Vision Inc., is a business coach with more than three decades of experience in technology and leadership coaching and training. She specializes in helping foreign-born professionals acclimate, so they can thrive in U.S. companies. Find out more at TetherFreeVision.com