I had completed college and was living in Patiala, having worked in India for one year, when one of my college friends referred me for a position in an American firm. It was planning to hire Indian IT professionals on the H1-B (work visa). I was selected for the job at Seta Corporation, and two months later I got approved for the H1-B visa. Soon thereafter, in June 1998, I landed in the Dulles International airport. I came with a job offer, five-hundred dollars in my pocket, two suitcases full of my things, and lots of hope.
Upon arrival, I was assigned to a post in the company’s Baltimore office. They helped me find an apartment close to the office (roughly three miles away) and provided me with a rent guarantee—considering I didn’t have credit history, rental history, or enough money to pay for a security deposit.
At work, my South Asian colleagues were extremely supportive. I would always walk to work, but one day a co-worker gifted me a used bicycle. This helped me reduce commute time, but there was some increased risk—as I would be sharing the road with cars and trucks. As an alternative, another colleague offered to sell me his car, but I had to turn it down; I didn’t have enough money to purchase it, and the bank would not give me a loan. In the coming months, I figured out various bus routes—using that as my primary mode of transportation.
My evenings were incredibly lonely; with no friends in the local area, I had no one to talk to. Calling back home was cost-prohibitive, so I had to ration the frequency and duration of calls I made. As a result, I began reading books to pass my free time. One of my colleagues, learning about these monotonous evenings, gave me a black and white TV with an over-the-air antenna. This brought entertainment to an otherwise lackluster evening and introduced me to the NFL—something I came to greatly enjoy watching. As months passed, I ended up being able to move in with two of my colleagues, allowing me to save on expenses and have some company.
Food was an interesting aspect there. I remember going to the store and seeing a multitude of options for just one food item such as milk, which was extremely overwhelming considering we usually have limited or no choices back home. One time, I was shopping and everything was gone. I was shocked and asked what was happening. They said there was a snowstorm, and I was so confused; coming from a place with no snow, I was astonished that people would buy out grocery stores in times like these, saying “they can’t walk?”
A few months later, the company offered to process Green Cards for permanent residency. This move required many of us to get married, so our spouse’s paperwork could be processed alongside it. If my wife and I had married later, it would’ve been quite a laborious and time-consuming process to bring a spouse to the USA. Married life was the start of a new chapter in my life.
In terms of my experience as a South Asian immigrant in particular, I noticed a considerable disparity between the different job offers, promotions, and work assignments given to us versus the white Americans. We were also the targets of several racist comments, focusing on the way we smell, the oil in our hair, etc. There was this one time too that people came and broke the doorknob to our apartment building with a baseball bat, not allowing us to get out of the apartment and work. We had to call 911, and they got us out of the situation.
Life as an immigrant was challenging, but I learned to look for solutions and work hard to overcome any struggles.
* The contributor of this story has asked that their name be withheld.