Born 9 years after my parents migrated from India to the United States, I was welcomed into the world of stability, an established and settled home, and a pleasant life.
his year I moved to Kitwe, Zambia on a fellowship with Global Health Corps. One evening in September I FaceTimed my mom in between power outage schedules, complaining about still not having hot water after a month. She jokingly chastised me and shared a recipe she used as a child, 3 hot water kettles mixed with 2 kettles of cold water to make the perfectly heated bucket bath.
In this moment I realized, that for just a short year, I was living the routine my mother had endured all her life growing up in India – mosquito nets, unscheduled power outages, cold water.
My brother and I used to joke that when our mom visits India she becomes a completely different person – vibrant, loud (especially with her sisters), and adventurous. But it is true. She was a completely different person before us due to generational and cultural gaps; and visiting home exposed that side of her again.
I was ashamed when I realized that it took me 22 years to finally understand even a little of the life my mom had before me. But I also realized that the communities I work with, and the people I meet are not that much different than my mother’s before she moved to the United States.
My mom, the second oldest of six, was born and raised in New Delhi, India. She worked hard to care for her younger brothers and sisters and even endured gender inequalities from her own family. All my life I have heard stories of her defiant ways, how she dared to wear pants or ignore boys even when her culture looked down upon it.
At the age of 21, she met my dad for the first time and married him 3 weeks later through an arranged marriage. A year later she moved to Rochester, New York, the first and only in her family to move away from India. She was pregnant with my brother and learned English by watching game shows like Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right.
After the young family of 3 moved to Belmont, North Carolina my mom held many jobs – at a bank, Taco Bell, and a local daycare my brother and I grew up in. When I was young she put herself through school at the local college where my dad taught and earned a degree in Elementary Education. For the past 17 years she has been a phenomenal elementary school teacher, praised by students, parents, coworkers, and the community alike for her passion, dedication, and commitment to her students.
My mom is the woman that first taught me cultural humility, weaving lessons of adopting American culture while still maintaining Indian values. Growing up she showed me how to care for others when she fasted every Monday and donated a delicious Indian meal to someone in need. She has worked too hard to give our family everything and more, and I could not be more grateful.
Her story may not be unique. Millions of women migrate to new countries alone every year because of war, tradition, opportunity. But I am certainly grateful for women like her who defy all in face of adversity and still have the patience to teach daughters like me. So thank you, Mom, for loving me unconditionally and for teaching me everything. Happy Mother’s Day!
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Photo Credit: Reena Gupta