SPICES IN THE MELTING POT: LIFE STORIES OF EXCEPTIONAL SOUTH ASIAN IMMIGRANT WOMEN by Padma Shandas. Orange Tree Publishing, 2004. Paperback, 225 pages. $15.00.

Padma Shandas’s recent work, Spices in the Melting Pot, she informs us, “… is about twenty-one South Asian immigrant women, who were born and raised in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and have made their homes in the United States during the last fifty years.” Because she allows each interviewee to use her own voice, her final canvas is multicultural, providing multiple views into these lives. Sometimes poignant, often funny, their stories offer us a sense of inspiration and joy to move forward with our own lives.

From her own personal and professional experience, the author knows what it feels like to arrive in the United States as an engineer, and be shocked by the irreverent, patronizing attitude towards a professional woman.

Safia Khalil Rizvi’s portrait is particularly inspiring. She was born and raised in Pakistan as the fifth of seven children, who realized that she always cooked and served meals to her father and brothers, but her male relatives did not have to serve her meals. Reflecting back on her early years, she realizes that “I love my brother, and I would certainly do it out of love. But to do it because he was a boy and I a girl was something else.” When she was growing up, she was deeply embedded in this Pakistani culture, and when she married, and was an immigrant in the United States, and was raising her daughter by herself, she found life overwhelming. Eventually, she divorced her husband, completed her doctoral studies, and now is a full-time scientist at GlaxoSmithKline and also a full-time mother. Rizvi is simultaneously adapting to multiple cultures, is renowned in her field, and takes her responsibilities as a mother seriously. She says, “When I think of my country, I think of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, even though I have not lived in Bangladesh.” She identifies with all the women from these countries and wants to “help these women, but not in a condescending way.”

Page after page, we discover glimpses into these women’s lives, their incredible courage in overcoming and transcending difficult experiences. Shandas has created exciting, yet human role models: not only for this generation, but for generations to come as well. How wonderful to read a book that applauds and honors South Asian women in the United States! —Jyotsna Sanzgiri