“I had only two pairs of clothes.”

Mansi's parents immigrated here from India, her parents began their life with next to nothing telling her, "I had only two pairs of clothes".

Like countless other Asian immigrants in Silicon Valley, my father immigrated after graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from a prestigious science and engineering college in Bombay, India. In 1978, he moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to complete his graduate studies. An enterprising young man, he taught himself to cook Indian meals: after looking up all of the Gujurati families in the phonebook, he would call and ask aunties for cooking help, and graciously accept when they instead invited him over for dinner. After being recruited for his first job, he married my mother in the fall of 1980. My mother followed him to California a few months later.

And like many other South Asian immigrants starting a new life in the 1970s and 1980s, my parents began with next to nothing. “I had two dresses,” my mother told me. “Each day I would wear one and wash it, leaving it to dry. The next day, I would wear the other dress and wash it. Like that, I only needed two pairs of clothes.” While my father built his career in the tech industry, between startups and large companies, my mother finished her education, became a teacher, and had two children. My parents supported family in India and raised my brother and me.

Hearing these stories from before I was born is still incredibly humbling. My parents’ stories reflect a particular set of values distinct from American pop culture. While corporations fuel a mentality of lack (unless we buy, buy, buy) in order to make profits, my mother’s attitude is somewhere between minimalism and gratitude.

The everyday experiences that we share in common as immigrants and children of immigrants are matched, if not outweighed by, the depth, complexity, and variety of experience and situation, even within just South Asian American communities.

This piece is part of an on going multimedia series called "Arriving and Becoming: The Silicon Valley Story as Told by Immigrant Elders", supported by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation's Immigrant Integration in Silicon Valley project.

This article is part of the category: Immigration 
This article is part of the tags: Arriving and Becoming  / Immigrant Elders  / India  / Mansi Shah 


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