I will share the story of my handsome husband, NK (who prefers to go by his initials only), and his immigration to the United States. NK immigrated in 1999 from Chennai, India, when he was 29. He began his life in the USA, in Sunnyvale, CA. Much of his education was in English, so speaking the language was natural for him. However, Americans began correcting his English the first day he arrived when he read the San Jose highway sign as San Joe’s.
NK is an elegant person, rarely wanting attention but always ready to share a cup of tea and an interesting conversation with a friend.
NK’s large family (he was the 7th of 8 children) lived in a small 2-room apartment and was even surrounded by extended family and other families. Growing up in a busy neighborhood surrounded by so many children, there was a lot of togetherness, playing games, studying, and listening to the radio (they did not have a TV). NK’s favorite sport was cricket, frequently playing with neighborhood children in the streets, announcing their presence frequently to the neighborhood aunties when the ball would bounce onto their verandas. NK laughed when speaking of saying “sorry, auntie” while retrieving the ball. He describes his childhood as fun, joyful, and peaceful, with loads of playing children.
NK attended college and received his first degree in math with a plan to become a math professor but was advised he should consider engineering instead. Hence, he received an additional certification in computer software. While working as a software engineer in India, he received multiple offers to come to the US. Even his current employer offered him an opportunity to go to the US. Still, he chose the one that brought him to Silicon Valley (the capital of technology) and left the company he was working for in India, hoping that the passed opportunity would go to a friend.
NK found the long flight to the US very uncomfortable but was happy when he arrived. His new employer sent someone to pick him up and drive him to this temporary home, a furnished apartment in Sunnyvale, where, for the first time, he did not have to share his bedroom and bed with siblings and nephews. He was surprised to find out that winter in Sunnyvale, CA, could be cold; a colleague walked with him to Kmart and insisted he get an oversized coat (thinking somehow an XL is warmer than a Medium or Large). He felt lost and lonely for a few months in his oversized jacket and bedroom. He missed his big family and wondered if he had made a mistake.
Then, Prem, a childhood friend called; it turns out he, too, was in Sunnyvale and looking for a 4th roommate to share a townhouse with him and a few other friends from India. They lived like a family, pooling their money and grocery shopping as a group and leaving all the cooking to the best cooks while NK helped wash dishes. They socialized and supported each other and enjoyed their time together for 1.5 years before Prem, and one of the housemates moved out to get married. They are all still good friends today.
NK became a US Citizen in 2009, and the experience was good. He appreciated how well-organized they were and was proud to take the oath of citizenship. (I remember that day, we were already dating, and we went to dinner to celebrate, but neither of us can remember what type of food we ate.) At the same time, NK’s career was going well; he built a prototype of an application that is still critical today for a significant financial tech company in the bay area. He succeeded financially, buying two homes. First, he purchased a building with four apartments in Chennai, India, for his parents, siblings, and their families, and later, another home here in Mountain View, CA, for us. He is proud to have these two homes, so we all have a safe and comfortable place to live. He expressed how happy he is in Mountain View. He has been part of two different countries, living in other cultures with diverse ethnicities and lifestyles.
However, he never stopped missing his family in India and regrets not spending more time with his parents before they passed. He said he could have stayed in India and been financially successful and shared his success and time with his parents. When I asked him if he would encourage others in his family if they should move to America and what advice he would give them if they do come, he said that it depends on the individual. The US is now his home, he is happy now that he moved here, but it takes time to adjust. It also depends on why you want to come; it needs to be more than just financial success since there are opportunities in India to be successful and leaving a big family behind is challenging. He also said he would strongly advise them to be careful where they move to and ensure it’s a diverse community where they will be safe. Unfortunately, some areas of the US are less welcoming to immigrants than others.
When asked about NK’s current viewpoints on America, he said, “The US is a great country, even after Trump.” Unfortunately, though, he feels the healthcare system is a mess. Insurance companies and hospitals are scamming people. Instead of moving to Universal Care, privileged Americans are paying $30,000 a year for concierge medicine, leaving those who even have “good insurance” to scramble to get an appointment with our primary care physician. NK also finds the US Taxes complicated; the fact that we pay more taxes than those wealthier than we are, and yet we need to hire a CPA and tax consultant to do so is crazy.
When asked how his race impacted him, he never had an issue with police or felt unsafe because of his race. However, the salary and opportunity differences at work were racial; he was paid less and given fewer opportunities for advancement than his white colleagues, who had less experience and expertise. When I asked him about his most significant challenge with moving to America, he said his skin color but did not want to share more. Regarding politics in the US vs. India, NK says politics are politics. They may dress differently and speak different languages but play the same game, “Characters are different, but the people are the same.”
His favorite thing about the US is the open spaces, cleaner air, cleaner streets, fresh drinking water from the tap, better quality environment, and smaller crowds. Chennai, where he is from, is one of the largest, loudest, crowded cities in India, and the infrastructure could be better. If he could speak to his younger self, he would tell him you can make money anywhere, but you will live a better life with cleaner air and plenty of me time in the US. It will be challenging, you will miss your family, but you will gain more than you will miss.