My name is PG Rajan.
INTERVIEWED BY Kamala Gururaja x 46

"But we were able to get whatever we wanted, in all spheres, in food, living habits, spiritually, culturally with programs, friends, music; everything was slowly coming up."

Chennai, India

Buffalo, New York



Big Island, Hawaii

What year did you arrive in the United States?

June 1970.

How old were you then?


Which city and country were you living in before you came to the United States?

Chennai, India.

Which city and state did you spend your first day in the United States in?

Buffalo, New York.

Which city and state do you live in now?

Big Island, Hawaii.

So what brought you to the United States?


What mode of transportation did you take and how was your trip?

No comparison to what we have today, we traveled 36 hours before we landed in Buffalo. It was a long drawn flight with several stops.

What were your first impressions of the country?

I thought it was phenomenal.

What did you do on your first day?

I called back home to tell them that we had arrived safely here in America.

In your first couple of weeks in the United States, what were some learning experiences that you had?

I found that people here are nice, kind, hardworking, and generous.

What did you find was the biggest difference between America and India?

I saw a vast difference between the cultures.

Did you find any similarities in life between America and India?

Life is the same here and there, but the standard of living is higher here.

Did you find any difficulties in being an immigrant here?

No. We were well-accepted because we're physicians, we came here to serve and also to learn and progress in our field.

What was your favorite part about life in America?

Learning the new ways of medical practice and settling here with my family for the first time.

As time passed on, did your impressions of America and your experiences in America changed?

Yes. Initially, everything was given to us on a silver platter. Later on, we had to compete and prove ourselves and earn our way through, which is always the case everywhere. Also, people, even though they are the same, behave differently, and we met a lot of good people, a lot of not so good, like in any other part of the world. We had to navigate through society to come up in life.

What did you find were the social and cultural differences and the differences in the work environment between America and India?

Let me talk about the work environment first, which is not patient examination-based, more technology- based. Patient examinations directly with the patient was also part of the evaluation, but we were able to use technology and arrive at better treatment protocols, learning processes, advice, and knowledge, which was not available when we left India. Culturally, it was somewhat difficult, because as South Indians, we had never ever touched non-vegetarian food. It was quite difficult for me to accept that for a long time. But we were able to get whatever we wanted, in all spheres, in food, living habits, spiritually, culturally with programs, friends, music; everything was slowly coming up. Those days were difficult, we used to play with tape recorders, VCRs and stuff like that, but now, everything is on the internet. Back then it cost me $1 a minute to call India, it costs five cents to call India today. India is advancing, but not anywhere near America even today, but it will be in the next fifty years.

Compared to the perception of Americans in India, what were people like?

People are people; if you are nice to somebody, they are nice to you and if you don't want to get involved with them, they don't want to get involved too, that's the way life goes on. But we found a lot of good people when we landed here, both our own Indians as well as local Americans, who were readily coming forward to understand our difficulties and help us, that was not a problem at all. Water finds its level the same way people find who they like, who will help and who will not help, or who will be friendly to you, and you learn to live with them. That's the way life goes. I don't think it was that different. There are always cultural problems, social problems, but we lived in a friendly neighborhood, so nothing was really a problem.

How were you able to find a community of other South Asians in the United States?

We were new at the time so we went towards other Indians who were in the community, trying to be friendly with them, and trying to share the cultural similarities and enjoyments. Once we moved to bigger cities, like Los Angeles, I was not just involved with Indians alone. I had connections with all the other cultures, Americans, Europeans, etc. Our community was a melting pot. It took us some time to get to that point because, after all, we did not know a lot of things, it took us about five years. And as you progress in your life, your status improves, which also exposes you to other people with the same status from other parts of the world. It was a learning process and experience, and we developed maturity and wisdom. When you are in America, you can get anything and everything you want. Everybody travels, but I don't travel at all, that is the way I have lived. But I was able to live in Los Angeles, where everything was available. If I wanted to go to the beach, mountains, go sightseeing, I could do it in the same state so I never traveled much. We did go to other parts of the world initially. But once we settled in our life, we didn't go too far. But America is able to offer whatever you want. I think there's a lot of sayings that if you work hard in America, you will be given what you deserve, will be respected, and will be accepted, and if you're really productive, you will be taken to the highest level.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to a new immigrant coming today?

That's a very difficult question because it all depends upon what the person wants. There are people who come, they learn, they want to go back. There are people who want to come, make money, take the money and go back. There are people who come here, learn, earn, and progress, and they want to be on the top in this advanced country, so they can shine in their life. I hear a lot of murmurs now from India, which I think are sour grapes, that India has everything, we can live here, and so on and so forth. They can say whatever they want, but I think that freedom in your life and respect for human life is only in America. Justice will be given only in America. Here, yes, there are places where if you get caught you will be in trouble, but you have to choose your environment and make sure that you're safe and you do the best you can.

Overall, are you happy that you came to America?

I'm pretty happy to be in America. I appreciate that culturally, socially, America improves in their way of doing things. I think the younger generation will see a better America. When we came, Nixon was facing impeachment, but we didn't hear that backlash from the community as much. Now, everywhere you turn, there is a lot of stigma, a lot of social problems from all spheres, even people who have achieved a good reputation, famous athletes, politicians, reach the top and then fall down so rapidly, because of silly mistakes they make. It is really sorry to hear that. That is the only drawback I see for the younger generation. I have seen both the best of India, and culturally, the best of America in my lifetime. But the younger generation is not able to see that. But still, America has the means and ways to tackle any problem. It's a society that is really evolving, even today after 200 years, and I think America has established its own level. What we have seen in the last five or 10 years, yes, there has been somewhat of a downward slope in daily life, but all these things will be slowly taken care of. The people will take care of themselves, understand what is the problem, and they will go in the right direction. After the Great Depression and World War II, America rebounded to a higher level, and when we came, we saw the flourishing America in the richest time. We are not in that position today. I hope we'll get back to that same level, where people of the best of talents are invited from all parts of the world and make America strong again, culturally, and socially, make it the best place for people to live. I think that in the next fifty years people will be going into space, and America will be in that game. Because we came, my sisters went to North India and we came to America. From America, you have to go someplace, and for the next generation that will be space. Progress is inevitable in human life.