“Call your uncle. He’s our Christopher Columbus,” my father told me.
After immediate family, my uncle was the first relative I told of my decision to enroll in the BA/MD and Macaulay Honors Programs at Brooklyn College. My parents were very happy with both my acceptance and enrollment, and they knew that my uncle would be incredibly proud. He had always wanted a doctor in the family. After I told my uncle, my father took the phone to speak to the man who had been the first of our family to come to America. He and his wife, my aunt by blood, had then proceeded to sponsor my other aunt and my father as well as their families.
“The fragrance of the flower you planted is starting to spread,” said my father to my uncle over the phone, referring to my brother and me.
The sole reason my parents moved to America was so that their children could get first-rate educations. In India, my parents were well off. My mom worked for one of the largest banks in India, the Reserve Bank of India, while my dad was a contract negotiator for construction companies. They even had their flat paid for through my mother’s job. Yet they uprooted themselves and my uncle planted them in the nourishing and enriching soil of America so that my brother and I would bloom in a land of economic opportunity and inherit as a birthright a rung higher than that of our parents on the socioeconomic ladder. Although my parents had already worked hard to provide for a family in India, they wanted to come to America for its equality of opportunity. Furthermore, though they do not like to explicitly state it, both my parents prefer the American government to the Indian government, which is something that definitely influenced their desire to come to the U.S.
I was never quite able to imagine how it must have felt for my father, striking out into a new country with a wife and infant son to support (I was born years later). I still remember my astonishment when I was recently informed that if a homeowner misses three mortgage payments, his or her home could be seized. I cannot even imagine how scary that must have been, to try to find a job that could provide for a household with the threat of homelessness looming over his head, emphasized by even the slightest frivolous expense. My father attributes his courage to my uncle. Unlike thousands of others, my father was lucky enough to have someone, that person being my uncle, say to him, “Go. Try. And if you don’t succeed, don’t worry. You can come back home here.”
This hospitality is one of many cultural values I hope to pass onto my children. Hospitality is not to be extended only to family members but also new friends or acquaintances. There is a New York Life Insurance commercial that caters to an Indian audience. In it, a mother and father are laying a bed sheet on their living room floor as they throw the sheet in the air to spread it out, their little boy runs around underneath it. The commercial asks, “How do you explain to your son the value of giving up your bed to a relative of your friend’s aunt?” As farfetched and ridiculous as it may seem, this situation is not even remotely exaggerated. Whenever we would have people spend the night, whether friends, family, or some vague distant connection, my parents, brother, and I would always be displaced from our rooms. Beds were doled out like sweets at a marriage proposal. It was just a couple months ago that I found out from my Greek friend that not everyone does this. In fact, my friend relayed that in her family, guests would be considered rude if they tried to sleep in the private rooms of the house owners. I was shocked since all my life I had watched my parents relinquish their beds, rooms, and possessions at the drop of a hat, or more specifically, the release of a yawn.
Along with hospitality, another cultural value that I cherish and wish to pass onto my children is the importance placed on education. One of the Hindu goddesses, Saraswati, is dedicated solely to educational and musical pursuits. Being raised with such a huge emphasis on education placed a lot of pressure on me from a young age. While my friends with parents born in America were fine with getting high 80’s and low 90’s, I was always scared to get lower than a 95 for fear of disappointing my parents. Although I initially only wanted good grades so I would not get yelled at while at home, once I grew older I began to want good grades for my own benefit. I now realize that this was incredibly helpful and important to my academic success but as a child it has the potential to ostracize one as the nerd.
So I guess have turned out to be a hospitable overachiever, one who is affected daily by the Indian values and ideals she has been raised with.