Mrs. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning and bestselling author, poet, activist and teacher. Her work has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing has been included in over 50 anthologies. Her books have been translated into 29 languages, and many of them have been used for campus-wide and city-wide reads. Several of her works have been made into films and plays. She is involved in various nonprofit causes as well, such as Maitri and Daya, organizations devoted to helping South Asian or South Asian American women who find themselves in abusive or domestic violence situations. She also served on the board of Pratham, a nonprofit organization that helps educate underprivileged children in India, for many years and is currently on their emeritus board. Two of her books, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into movies. A short story, "The Word Love," from her collection Arranged Marriage, was made into a bilingual short film in Bengali and English, titled Ammar Ma.
Where (city and country) were you living before you came to the U.S.?
I lived in Kolkata, India.
How old were you when you came to the US?
I was 19.
What year and where (city and state) did you arrive in the United States?
I came in 1976 to Chicago, IL
What are your memories of your first day?
It was snowing. So cold! I had never been in snow in India. I thought it was very cool. (Though later, when I had to take buses to my job, it was a big problem). Chicago had such tall buildings. I wasn’t used to the freeways, either. My brother drove me to his apartment. I was impressed that he could drive because I didn’t know how to. I was very excited about all the new experiences.
What was the hardest thing about being an immigrant to the US?
Once the newness wore off, I was very homesick. I missed all my friends. I missed being in a city I knew well and knew how to navigate. I had to take up a babysitting job to try and save money for college. I didn’t like any of these new learning experiences. I also missed hearing my language, Bengali. In Kolkata, it was all around me all the time. I missed the songs on the radio.
What was the best thing about being an immigrant to the US?
It helped me grow hugely. I got to know people of so many different backgrounds and cultures. I learned so much from them. I learned the ethics of hard work and the dignity of labor. For my first year in the US, I was working to save money to go to graduate school. I was working minimum pay jobs, but I always felt good about the fact that I was working and saving and being independent.