Those first days are not easy to recall. It was May 7th I arrived and we first came to Los Angeles, California. I had a few short months before I was to start kindergarten.
The family that I lived with for the first year before we moved out had a town home with an outdoor swimming pool and I distinctly remember the joys of putting on those floaties and the joys and the freedoms of that summer as a kid in LA. I remember the layout of the jacuzzi and the pool. The facilities for showering. Arguing with your sibling of whether the jets are going to be on or not. For me, coming at that young age my immigrant story is about the long arc because I would see those times as going from a little girl who ran around in rural India with probably 10-12 adults and kids in the house and lots of joy from family but in a way a limited space I existed in those first 5 years in terms of geographical place and then suddenly being in a place where my worldview ballooned open and then the long arc over years sort of becoming of that getting folded in as I began to see difference, feel difference, feel marginalized.
I remember in that first year I could feel the ways that I was a very much a sponge in the same way that I jumped into that pool just yearning to soak up the sun and that water and that whole first year I was so yearning and soaking up new experiences. I loved school, I loved my teacher, and I remember we watched chicks being born that year and I felt really amazed at all these new experiences that were feeding my life experiences and showing me how big and wide the world was beyond all the play I had done sort of previous from that.
I was so absorbed in all that was happening around me that I probably wasn't aware of some of the other kinds of ways difference was probably playing out because I did come back to that closer to 4th grade. These experiences have to be looked at with a sense of nuance because they get intertwined with gender, self-image, body-image, the story of things typical to immigrant stories, and then just the process of growing up. My fourth grader teacher Ms. Lee announced one day that we should all go home and tell our parents that we need to wear deodorant - she said this to the entire class. I think she was coming from a place of thinking she's helping us - assimilate into standards of American culture - and this is a developmentally normal thing kids our age do and our parents didn't know we're supposed to do this. It sounds like a really strange example but I always really remember it.
I decided in 9th grade I was going to reject my name because I was exhausted from being sort of teased about my name and I wanted to be someone different. So I decided I'm going to be Samantha. That's what people knew me as to the point that I played sports volleyball, basketball, track and that was the name they had printed on the trophies because they didn't even know I had this other name.
Then going off to college and renegotiating all these things. And being part of South Asian organizations and then the pendulum swings and I start to romanticize my relationship with the motherland all things India are beautiful and good and I come from ranis and rajas and I got my Indian flag in my dorm.
And then a process through my adulthood and my twenties and accumulated more and more life experiences and starting to have an opportunity to digest them in ways that are about the long arc and making sense of them in that long arc. I've been able to calibrate to get to a place where I don't dislike India nor overly romanticize my country of birth.
* The contributor of this story has asked that their name be withheld.