Dear Mom and Dad,
I could go on and on about the life I have had with all the problems and issues I have faced, being a first generation American, but this isn’t about me. I don’t want this to be about me. This is going to be about you.
You both grew up in different parts of India, leading different lives, and it took flying across the world for you to meet each other. You met each other, fell in love, got married and raised your family 8,431 miles away from where your parents raised you. To give some perspective, the only time I moved away from you, I moved only 283 miles.
I don’t know how you did it. I can’t fathom what it must have been like to leave the place you grew up in to move to America. I remember when we went to Ellis Island for the first time, and I kept thinking I would see some name that was from our family, but of course we didn’t—no one from our family came to Ellis Island. You were the first.
I wish I knew the right way to thank you for the life you have given me, but it feels too existential to just pop it into everyday life. There are so many questions that I want to ask but don’t know how. I want to know about your childhood. I want to know if you regret moving to America, or if you wish you had moved back to India. I want to know what it was like those first years away from your family, alone in a country that was foreign to you but is so normal to me.
I want to hear all your stories, and I am sorry that I don’t ask about them more. Hearing those stories makes me appreciate the things you have done and sacrificed so that your children could have a life that was better than yours. I know that raising us was tough. We aren’t as traditional as you, we don’t participate in all the customs, we push back on our religion, we don’t dress in traditional clothing, we don’t speak the language that you do. We aren’t the kids we would have been if you had stayed in India.
But for all that difficulty that you faced in trying to balance the life that you had in comparison to the lives that the White people around us had, I think you did pretty great. Your choice to stay in America made us well rounded. We have perspectives from different sides of the world, we understand nearly four different languages because we were surrounded by family members who spoke different things, we crave food with flavor, we are tolerant of those who are different because we are different, we have learned to stand up for ourselves and our culture, we have learned that it’s not a party until there is more family than space, that dad jokes are best when they cross over multiple languages, what hard work means, and most importantly, we learned to depend on each other and be there for each other.
You gave us freedom to find out who we were, because that wasn’t always an opportunity you were given. You never forced us to believe in the same things as you, because we were surrounded by people who thought differently, and you wanted us to have the right to chose. You never resented me for being embarrassed of our culture when I didn’t know any better. You taught us that family is always there for each other, whether you’re 8,000 miles away or not.
If you watched Master of None like I told you to, I think you could understand better the way I feel. In one of his performances Aziz Ansari said, “I’m not going to have any struggles to tell my kids about. What’s my story going to be? Like, ‘Oh son, once when I was flying from New York to L.A., my iPad died!’” And that’s so true! You have a wealth of stories to share with us to tell us how hard your life was, but all I have is the time I dropped my phone in the bathroom at Fenway and the screen shattered. You did all the struggling so that your kids wouldn’t—and you succeeded. The problems that I face, like racism and sexism, are problems you couldn’t prevent. But I am sure if you could, you would have moved heaven and earth if it meant we wouldn’t ever have issues.
You worked so hard and struggled so much so I can sit here on this couch, in this house, typing this letter to you. You worked to make a home in a country on a different continent far away from what you knew. You shielded us from so much hardship so we wouldn’t know what it would be like to not have any money, to not have a proper meal, to not have the things we needed or wanted. You have done so much for your children. I hope that you think that hard work has paid off, and I hope that you know that every success I have had is because of the effort you put into supporting me, pushing me, and raising me. I hope that I can give my children the life that you gave me and that I can raise them as well as you raised us.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to repay you for everything you have done, but for now, all I can say is thank you.
Anahita Padmanabhan is a rising junior majoring in Journalism at Emerson College. She is from New Jersey.