I am a woman, an immigrant from India, and I have called America home for almost 8 years. My husband and two little boys, ages 5 and 20 months, were born here. Growing up in a small town in the south of India, America was a distant untouchable dream made of NYC’s skyscrapers, Prom and high school drama (a la Wonder Years and the original 90210). Years later I had to choose between schools in the US and in the UK for my Masters. It was the first time that I ever considered actually moving here. And even so, the idea felt very foreign, unattainable for someone like me. I chose to go to school in London instead. It was closer to home and just felt… more approachable?
As life had it, I met a wonderful man, got married, and moved with him to New York. The first few years that I lived here, I didn’t think of myself as American. It wasn’t until I became a mother that I felt a need to cement my relationship with America. Something about raising little ones in a place that is the only home they know made me realize I had to work on my relationship with this country.
Redefining “home” in 8 years requires intent and I started looking for cues around me. I wanted so badly to relate with other “Americans” who looked like me. Who could help me navigate what my kids will go through? I found heart in stories of first and second generation immigrants and their struggles growing up in the US of the 80’s and 90’s seeing very little representation around them. I realized that while diversity and representation have improved, we have a long way to go. And that the only real way for me to feel like I belong here – would be to take on an active role in shaping the future I want to be a part of, for myself and for my children. I was incredibly lucky to learn about FFA when I did, and the rest is history. It has been over a year of being part of this incredible team and community and I couldn’t be prouder of the work we do.
I don’t think I fully appreciated the load one carries as an “outsider” – harboring two identities within – until very recently when I reconciled them in my own heart.
One day last month, my 5 year old came home from school, telling me his teacher had read a book about Diwali. Animatedly he repeated what the five days symbolized, and it dawned on me that in that moment, he felt proud to identify as Indian. He asked me if he could distribute sweets to our friends and neighbors like we did last year. Two seconds later he asked if he could have any of his leftover Halloween candy. Right in that moment I could see him embrace his hyphenated self, part Indian, fully American. Why must he have to choose? It became apparent to me that only if I embraced our two sides and lived them with pride could I meaningfully pass on any of the traditions I hold dear. It was the most liberating feeling in the world.
That week, we watched Kamala Harris take the stage the night the election results were called. I watched with pride as the first ever Black woman, daughter of a South-Asian immigrant, stood alongside a white male President-elect and embraced her role as the Vice-President-elect of this country. Their win shines a light on a remarkable time in America. One where a new wave of children of immigrants, or second-generation Americans, will show up in all facets of public, private and civic leadership. This is now normal.
This is why representation matters. To everyone who grew up without it and had to fight a little harder for their dreams, for the next generation, for little girls and boys. And to us, their parents – who want to be able to raise them in a world where they can be anything and anyone they want to be – and where that’s just the truth.