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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
Vandana Kumar on Making Waves: AAPI Voices
India Currents publisher Vandana Kumar shares her personal story on Making Waves – AAPI voices at the American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley.
Written by Richard Vega.
A Book of Life contains many chapters written by our experiences—I’ll give you a Spark Notes version of mine:
We spent our winter vacations with my dadi (paternal grandma) in our ancestral home in a small village in rural India. With no formal education and widowed at a young age, she was nevertheless an imposing figure – a zamindar, owner of a vast landed property who ruled with an iron hand. She was elected village mukhiya/mayor and served as an able administrator for over 20 years – unheard of for a woman in those days.
She would tell us fascinating stories—about protecting her property under the British Raj, chafing under the restrictions imposed on women, and reforms in Independent India. She opened up a whole new world through her stories. When she grew older and was unable to manage her health on her own, she moved in with her oldest son—my father.
An immigrant mom
“9/11 was a pivotal moment for me as an immigrant mom—a sudden awareness that I was raising two brown men at a time when America was fighting a war on terror. Be polite, I said. Obey the rules, I said. Don’t horse around, especially when you travel, I said.”
My mom was tasked with being her primary caregiver. A small-town gal, my mom grew up in a family of freedom fighters for an independent India. She would tell us stories about the satyagraha movement (nonviolent resistance) that Mahatma Gandhi began from her grandfather’s house, about discarding imported fabric and making clothes from homespun cotton, about fighting for the right to be educated like her brothers, about the thrill of becoming a college professor.
These two women, with very different experiences in life, taught me valuable life lessons. “Don’t let other people tell you what you can do. So what if you fail? Try again,” said dadi. “Don’t be afraid of criticism—It’s only people who DO things that get criticized,” said mom.
A new home in America
They gave me the confidence to tackle things as I made a new home in America. It was a surreal transition from a meddlesome close-knit community to an individualistic society and the quiet of suburbia.
9/11 was a pivotal moment for me as an immigrant mom—a sudden awareness that I was raising two brown men at a time when America was fighting a war on terror. Be polite, I said. Obey the rules, I said. Don’t horse around, especially when you travel, I said.
You will always be asked, Where are you from? You might as well be comfortable in your own skin, I remind them often.
The power of storytelling
I live in an amazing country where a biracial man called Barack Obama ran for election to the highest office in the land and WON! He is an inspiration to many of us with unusual names 🙂
I believe in the power of story-telling—if John Steinbeck had not told the story of the Joad family in Grapes of Wrath, how many of us would remember the Oklahoma sharecroppers and the Dust Bowl?
I have been telling stories of Asian Indian immigration to Silicon Valley since 1987. Authentic stories, documenting the history of a people as they made a new home in a foreign land – in a way, documenting my own journey.
Aerograms cost 36c
It could be hard to visualize the change of landscape during this journey, so allow me to present two scenarios for you.
1986: A new immigrant in a foreign land. Incredible loneliness. Phone calls to India are $3.50 per minute. Aerograms cost 36c. It takes 28 days to get a reply. Were there others like me?
“India Currents marks 35 years of community journalism. I believe that shared experiences build community, build solidarity.”
I scan the local newspapers—no news of anything familiar. Iran Contra crisis. India, if ever mentioned, was in the “News of the Weird!” Dow Jones at 1537. Was this my new reality?
My new reality
Mother of twin boys. And yet, no feeling of belonging, of community. Craving the tastes of home. Craving the sounds of home. Rasmalai? Make it with ricotta cheese. Hindi Music? Listen to spooling cassette tapes. Were there others like me?
India Currents is born. A platform to share stories that were familiar. No plans, forecasts, or ROI. A hunger to share. The desire to explore our hyphenated identities. The challenge of finding resources. The thrill of discovering fellow travelers. The hunger to belong!
2023: Engaged in my local community. Whatsapp with Mummy every day. Facebook with family across the globe. Attend weddings/birthdays across the globe on Zoom. A connected world.
And in 2020…a global pandemic. The conscience of a nation is stirred by Black Lives Matter.
36 years of community journalism
I scan the local media—we’re showcased as the “Model Minority” now. The Dow Jones is at 32,816.
I am a dadi now. I buy rasmalai at Costco and stream Hindi music on Spotify.
India Currents marks 35 years of community journalism. I believe that shared experiences build community, build solidarity.
My quest to be a storyteller stays strong. The hunger remains—the hunger to belong, the hunger to connect!
About Making Waves | AAPI Voices
This article is part of the Making Waves – AAPI Voices project by ALF Silicon Valley’s AAPI Caucus. Through an ongoing series of letters and other forms of creative expression by ALF Senior Fellow guest contributors, we aim to share the experiences of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) with the broader ALF network. We are proud of AAPIs’ contributions to our multiracial society and believe we can help strengthen our community and democracy by sharing our stories to build understanding and solidarity.