This is Sunil Puri. I live in in Rockford, Illinois and I came from Bombay, India in 1979. I was asked to give my oral history of arriving to the United States back in November of 1979.
Thinking back has brought many, many memories... arriving at JFK airport in New York, being picked up by a relative, and I'll never forget just arriving at the airport... the proverbial fear of immigration and getting through immigration and customs and getting out on the pavement... seeing the wonderful city in America called New York... it was quite a challenge. I remember the suitcase... a funny story that I repeat to my children... arriving and having a little suitcase right on the side of the pavement, a car coming up with my relative and his friend, who happened to be an American... and standing there while we were trying to get into the car I'll never forget asking him if he could open his 'dickie' which was the term we used in India as part of the British English word for trunk. And he just looked at me and stared me down. I realized much, much later on as to what I had said.
Coming to America was just full of hope, aspiration, coming to a country which I had always thought was not just the beacon of liberty and lived up to the aspirations of all immigrants from all over the world, but truly a country of meritocracy. Those were tough days. I remember arriving, traveling the country, trying to figure out if I want to go to school over here. Then the early days in school were very, very difficult. Working hard, from doing every menial job, from cleaning bed pans in a nursing home all the way to pouring concrete in the summers working myself through school. Those were very difficult days, but very rewarding and challenging. For the first time in my life I felt that what I earned was because of my work. It wasn't because of where I was born or who I knew, as is unfortunately most relevant in third world countries. This is where what you do is what matters and which is where you get rewards for your work and not who you know or what got you there.
The early days were lonely. The early days you missed your... I was 18 years old... not only my family, but also my food, my culture, my music. Coming to a small town of Rockford, Illinois and going to Rockford College we had very few foreign students. There happened to be one other Pakistani student who was the closest in culture at that time to me and we made a bond that I'll never forget, even though we came from countries where traditionally they were rivals. Coming to another country, coming to America, bound us together in a brotherhood that I'll never forget. Helping each other with just food, with each others music, with stories from home, helping each other with our homework, helping each other just somehow maneuvering the cultural differences was so important in those early days.
America has lived up to every promise. Every promise and more. And even today it's looked at across the word as the place where they can come and flourish for who they are. Thank you.