Take a moment to think about India.
What were the first images to appear in your mind?
Was it the acclaimed movie Lion?
Was it bustling streets overcrowded with people?
Was it pollution and poverty?
Was it the sweet, spicy aromas of curry, chai and cardamom?
We all have assumptions of what India is like, but it isn't a place that can be narrowly defined. The 1.3 billion people living within India are congregated into differing regions; each with various cultures, environments, religious climates and customary cuisines.
I have always had an interest in India. It is most likely due to the heavy Indian influence within my family's native Trinidad & Tobago. We Trini's have embraced Indian culture in our own style, making roti, curry and other Indian-inspired treats some of our most cherished national staples. I even went as far as finding the origin of my Indian last name, Mahabir, derived from the Sanskrit personal name, Mahavir, meaning “great hero”.
This post centers on my good friend, Lianne. Before I met Lianne, I had a very shallow understanding of India. I am guilty of once believing some misconceptions she mentions in this interview. Hopefully you not only enjoy her story, but also take away some knowledge from it : ) .
Meet Lianne from India
What part of India are you from?
How was life in India?
Life there was not much different than it is here in the U.S. I went to school, to church and played with my friends every evening at the park. However, India is less developed. I was fortunate enough to go to a great school, but despite that fact, we had no air conditioning and had to bear with ceiling fans and the breeze that blew through the windows.
School there was different. The average number of students in a class would be 60 and classes were harder (there was no nap time), but we didn’t know any different to complain. Additionally, there were not many luxurious stores. Even those [we had] did not compare with a Walmart or Costco. I remember going to markets on the streets with my parents and how we would have to go to a separate fish market if we wanted any fish.
Other than that, I don’t think I missed out on anything major because I still had a great life there and was obsessed with Hannah Montana, like many kids in the U.S. were at the time. I wouldn’t trade my experiences there for anything.
When did you move to the U.S. and why?
I moved to the U.S. in 2007 when I was seven years old. We moved here so that my brother and I could have a better education. The material I learned in India within second grade was harder than the material I learned here in third grade, but colleges in the U.S. are much better. We were sponsored to come to the U.S. by my uncle, who was a U.S. citizen, and had to go through a lot of paperwork and vaccinations in order to migrate into the country.
Do you remember what the process was like for you?
I don't remember too much, since I was just seven, but I do remember being scared having to get so many vaccinations. I also remember going to the immigration office quite a few times, and answering questions with my parents. It was a bit overwhelming at times, but I knew that the people responsible were just doing their jobs: making sure we were good people who wanted to migrate into the U.S. I also kept in mind that it would all be worth it as I would soon be able to get into Disney World (which was my dream place to visit as a child). As silly as that may sound, it's what helped me to get through the process with my family.
What is your opinion on increased regulation on immigration?
I'm not a fan of the increased regulation on immigration. I do agree that there needs to be more controls, but I think it's wrong to ban entire countries as recent U.S. administration has been doing. There is evil in all parts of this world, so I don't think it's right to outright ban all people from certain groups, when most of them have not done anything to put the U.S. in danger.
How has moving to the States given you opportunity?
Living here has given me a lot of choices for my major. I live in comfort knowing that no matter what I may want to do in this country, I will be able to receive a great, and probably the best, education for it.
How was the transition from India to the States?
The transition was difficult for me at first. Being an introvert and only 7 years old, it was hard because of all the attention drawn to me for my thick accent alone. It was overwhelming being constantly questioned about the food I ate and what my life was like in India, but I eventually got over it and began to appreciate how interested others were in learning about me!
Any significant cultural differences between India and the U.S.?
Yes. For one, people in India, despite their religion, are more conservative in their choice of clothing than what might be considered acceptable and the norm here. An example is swimwear. A majority of little girls and women in the U.S. wear two pieces. You don’t really see that in India since it is thought to be too revealing.
Another significant difference, that will soon apply to me, is college. In India, many of my friends who are in, or about to enter, college still stay at home. In India, it is the norm to live under your parents’ roof until you get married or have a stable job. Here in the States, it is common for students to leave home for college when they are around 18 years old.
How long did it take for you to adjust to America?
It took me about four years to fully adjust to America. I feel adjusted now and consider the U.S. to be my home. As much as I love India and the family and friends I have there, my life is here now and I can’t imagine moving back.
How do you feel the Indian culture is perceived in America? Any misconceptions?
I think many Americans view Indians as hardworking people. A misconception Americans have is about how poor India is. While India is a developing country that does not have the latest technologies in science, etc. that the U.S. does, people there still have the newest smartphones and drive nice cars. India has developed much more since I left in 2007, and continues to do so.
Are any assumptions offensive to you?
An assumption that’s a bit offensive to me is how more people than you would expect, think India is not part of Asia. It’s not so much the ignorance of knowing basic geography that bothers me, but that people question me when I tell them that India is, in fact, part of Asia.
Have you had any racist experiences while in America?
None that I can think of actually, and for that I am grateful! For the past ten years I have lived here, everyone has been kinder than I could have ever hoped for.
What is you favorite thing about your culture?
My favorite thing definitely has to be the food. I am a huge foodie. While I enjoy dishes from many cultures, I always fall back to Indian. Whether it is a traditional meal cooked by my parents or we go out to an Indian restaurant, I know that my tummy will always be satisfied with the spiciness and abundance of flavors in the food. The dishes I love most are sorpotel (a Goan pork curry), biryani (rice with seasoned chicken, vegetables, and spices), and butter chicken (a creamy curry which is perfect for those who do not like very spicy dishes).
What do you wish all people knew about India?
While less than 2% of Indians are Catholic, that 2% actually translates to 26 million Indians. Not until I came to the U.S. did I realize how many people, including other Indians, did not know that Catholics lived there. I was personally shocked by this because I went to a Catholic school for girls, to a Catholic Church, and had two other Catholic Churches other than the one that I went to, not far from my house in India.
Why is diversity beautiful to you?
It's beautiful to me because there isn't much diversity in many other places in the world, including India. Pretty much everyone there had black hair and brown skin. I remember when four siblings from China migrated into India and began attending my school. Many Indian children acted a bit weird – they followed the girls from China everywhere around school and were fascinated to get to know them just because they looked different. However, in America, while there is some discrimination, I find it to be such a beautiful thing that so many people from all over the world (different ethnicities, religion, culture, etc.), are able to coexist and learn from each other every day. Having so much diversity in America is one of the reasons why I like it so much.
Thanks for reading! If you, or anyone you know, is an immigrant please let me know. I'd love to showcase as many people as I can. Make sure to SHARE, COMMENT, and SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL (right sidebar) and/or TEXT (txt. @theindie to 81010). New post every Tuesday!