By Nimi Jayachandran
I still remember the morning I landed in Chennai, hardly a week after graduating high school, to start college. I had no idea the ride I was in for. But I do remember looking around and panicking as my mom and I waited for my uncle to bring the car. “Can I just possibly turn around and get on a plane and head back home?” I remember thinking – sweltering in a brown sweatshirt in the Chennai sun (the airplane was cold, and I had forgotten how cruel the Chennai summers could be).
I’d lived my entire life in the Bay Area and struggled to figure out my identity. Growing up in an orthodox Indian household with parents insisting on instilling Indian culture and values (something I’ve attributed to their own fears of losing THEIR identities and connection to their homeland), while exposed to a different lifestyle in my day to day life had always left me confused. I’d lived most of my life as one of countless second-generation Indian American children, who feel lost growing up with the amalgamation of two cultures, so strikingly different from one another. And then, I decided to go to India for college.
Adjusting to life in Chennai was not without its own set of biases. Just as there are many prejudices about Indians from India, there are equally as many prejudices about children of immigrants who have been brought up abroad. People were surprised at my ability to speak Tamil. (Over the years I also picked up Hindi, Telugu and a bit of Kannada, thanks to a few years in Bangalore, which again surprised people). The fact that I wasn’t the stereotypical foreign girl portrayed in mainstream Indian media, shocked some, who were quick to slot me into their own molds.
A few years after graduating from medical school in India, I decided to jump into journalism. Once again, confusing people who were so keen on fitting me into a particular space.
Pursuing journalism, and in India nonetheless, brought with it a whole new set of challenges. In addition to covering health and medical issues, I also had the opportunity to cover politics and other social issues which helped me gain a larger understanding of what many of our families had left behind and what they brought with them when they came to a new country.
I began to understand how deep rooted the caste system was and how it continues to leave a lasting impact today. I could connect these stories of violence and uprisings to those back home in the US: stories of discrimination faced by members of the Black community (and other minorities). I began to understand how tradition and culture were intertwined with and sometimes even downright fed into patriarchal notions, the impact of which many of us are still affected by today.
I soon began reading and learning more about generational trauma, the more things made sense. We can’t run away from the past trauma of our ancestors that’s been carried over even all the way across the globe, and to break through those chains to create something new, requires a lot of strength and effort; something that I and many other children of immigrant families are still striving to do.