Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life before and after immigrating?
My name is Rut Patel, and I first came to the U.S. in November 2009 at the age of 9 from Anand, Gujarat, a state in India. I knew quite a bit of English because I went to an “English-medium” school in India which basically means that the school teaches English alongside Gujarati and Hindi at a very young age. My family was wealthy in India, however things were a lot different here because my parents had to start from scratch, since their college degrees were not transferable. Generally, I tend to be introverted so it was hard to make friends at school. My parents would work 80–90-hour weeks, which meant that I didn’t have a ride to or from friends’ houses or have the chance to visit many of the places that others could. It was frustrating but I understood why things had to be that way.
What was your first day in the U.S like?
I remember stepping off the airplane towards the shuttle that would take the international passengers to check-in and immediately being hit by the coldest gust of wind that I had ever felt. Wintertime in Anand, India is a mild 60-70 degrees and feeling the cold air of Chicago, I immediately wanted to go back. From the airport, my uncle and aunt drove us to Walmart so that we can get coats and some essentials. Now I know that there are bigger stores than Walmart, but initially, the Walmart in Bloomingdale was the largest store I had ever been to. My aunt said, “There’s bigger ones; this one is one of the smaller ones.” I was amazed. From there, we went to my aunt’s home and unpacked. One of the most striking features was how spacious the home was and most of all—not a single house had a flat roof. Also, there was no trash on the streets, random dogs, and vendors’ carts passing by. Another interesting thing was the accent people spoke English in, the “American” accent. I was very accustomed to hearing British English. When I saw my aunt’s kitchen, I noticed that the food in the US is a lot bigger or it’s sold in packages that are a lot larger than what one would generally find in any store in India. The gallons of milk were huge, the cereal boxes, the junk food, and even the apples. As an avid lover of food, I was pleasantly surprised. As the day went on, it got dark by 4:30 PM, another very surprising discovery, the jetlag caught up to me, and I fell asleep by the evening.
How were you able to find a community of other South Asians in the U.S?
At my elementary school, there were only two Indians in my class. They were also second-generation Indians and came from wealthy homes. However, they were not too aware of Indian culture and did not know Gujarati. My aunt and uncle went to Swadhyay, a religious congregation every Sunday, and my family went with them. There, I met many Indians, of all ages. Part of the reason my parents moved to Chicago, was the community of Indians, aside from family. As time went on and I went to middle and high school, the demographic became a bit more diverse. At my high school, we had a club called SASA (South Asian Student Association). The club was open to everyone, although mostly Indian students joined. Each year, SASA hosted numerous events during Hindu holidays and puts together a show of several performances, both modern and traditional, at the end of every year and it really allowed me to find a vast community of South Asians while being away from India.
For someone who came to the US as a kid, how would you say your immigrant experience compares to that of adults like your parents?
I think a big difference between me and an adult (like say, my dad) was that I had the luxury of time—time to learn English, to receive an education, to take part in American culture. For most adult immigrants, the overwhelming stress of getting a license, citizenship, a home, credit, providing for a family, essentially starting from scratch, there is less time to learn English or partake in events or even visit places in the weekends. With that being said, a similarity is the struggle to make of ourselves something from scratch, meaning career-wise, setting down roots, etc., is still present both as an immigrant child and an immigrant adult.