Binal Patel, 19, was born in Karjan, India, near the big city of Surat. She lived in India till the middle of eighth grade, when she immigrated to America. She is now a sophomore at Rutgers-Newark. Her dad works at Vitaquest, and her mom works at Testpak. She has two sisters, one older and one younger. Binal is a young woman on the cusp of old and new ideas. Her story tells of the transition from India to America and the shift from a traditional culture to a more Western, Americanized point of view.
I used to live in a big house in India. My familyís pretty well off actually, more than well off. Weíre considered pretty rich in India; we even had a driver. My grandparents live there right now, but I used to live with all my uncles and aunts and cousins. However, they all are here, so right now itís only my grandparents who live there.
All of my uncles immigrated before me, actually, before I was even born. But somehow, my dad turned out to be the last one. When I was around, I think, 15, we immigrated to the United States. A lot of people say that the reason for immigrating is actually economics and stuff like that, but that wasnít it with me because, as I said, I was pretty well off there.
The only reason my dad came here is because my older sister and I convinced him to come for our education. Education is not that great in India. I mean itís great there, but you get a lot more chances here. You have so much opportunity; you could go to school forever. In India, most people go to college to find a spouse and drop out. There was no financial reason for us immigrating; it was just basically our education and me forcing my dad to come.
I actually want to go back and see my family. I miss my grandparents a lot. It was cool moving here, but you donít realize at the time that you are going to leave your grandparents. It hits you on the plane, that you wonít see these people for a long time. I donít miss my friends though. I lost contact with them because when I came here I stopped writing in Gujarati. I was afraid that they would make fun of how my writing had changed. Most of them got married anyway.
Actually, if I think about it, if I was there, I probably would have been married too by now. Thatís scary, very scary. I think Iím glad Iím here, because even though my family wouldnít push for marriage, society would. I donít want to start off by getting married and having kids; I want to go further in life. I think you should be able to make your own career decisions. I hate doing nothing with life and wasting it.
When I first came here, I did not know how to speak English. The thing was, my parents knew we would eventually come, and they wanted me to go to an English-speaking school in India. I didnít want to though because I wanted to go to public school with my friends. I should have gone to an English-speaking school but I didnít. When I came here, I didnít know anything. The school I went to in India started teaching English in eighth grade, and all you learned were basic sentences. So I didnít know anything actually, and I remember the first time I went to school here in the middle of eighth grade. I went into the classroom, and the teacher was giving out the syllabus. I thought it was a quiz! I started crying because I had no idea what was going on. I got so nervous that they had to send me back home. All I knew were my ABCs and numbers. It was pretty scary.
I remember when I first came here in eighth grade. Youíre lost already because you donít know what youíre doing, and then I had a younger sister who was starting sixth grade. She was so scared she was about to start crying. I wanted to cry too because I had no idea what the hell was going on and Iím not that strong of a person. I told her where her classroom was, and she started crying. I wanted to cry too but I couldnít because I was scared that if I cried she would start to cry more. After that, I went to the bathroom and just cried.
I always used the restroom to cry in eighth grade. I was so scared all the time in the classroom. The teacher would be talking and all these people would be raising their hand, and Iíd be thinking that I didnít belong here. It was really weird. It really felt like it was a mistake to come. I just wanted to go back to India and pretend I never came. It was horrible because I didnít know anything at all, nothing. And then I realized that this is why I came; I have no choice, I have to do this.
When I was learning English, my dad was really encouraging. He told me that the reason we came was for my education, and I realized what he was saying was true. The only way I was going to learn was to start from the beginning. I had to start out like my younger cousins. I spent my first one and a half years in the library reading books hoping to learn something.
In school, they put me in ESL classes. I hated the fact that I was in them. In India, I used to be an honor-roll student. My goal was to get out of those classes and get up to the highest level I could. One thing eventually led to another, and then I actually made honor roll in eighth grade. That felt sooo good itís not even funny. I still remember the feeling when I came homeóI couldnít believe I made the honor roll. It felt good!
If a person knew English and Gujarati at the same time, then school here would be easier, but since I didnít know anything and I had to start out from the beginning, school was harder.
Clifton High School wasnít that bad, but since I didnít know much English, I didnít have many friends. Actually, I didnít know anyone except one Indian girl. It was hard to make friends with white people; at some points they were even mean to me. It was hard to converse and be friends.
Clifton High School was so huge. I hated the first couple of months of school because I didnít know anyone. I hated walking to my class alone. I hated going to class and sitting in the corner just because I didnít know anything. The only classes I enjoyed were my ESL classes because the people in them were in the same category as me.
I hated the fact that some kids made fun of me. Sometimes I felt like saying, Why donít you go to India and try learning my language. I couldnít say that though, because that would never happen, and they would just laugh it off. I hated the fact that I couldnít say the things I wanted to say. Sometimes I wanted to participate in class because I understood what the teacher was saying, but I didnít know how to respond. All these ideas were popping up in my head, but I still couldnít participate. I was so scared to raise my hand. I always thought the kids would laugh at whatever I said. I could have participated if only I knew the language.
I guess itís a good thing I went to such a big school. It helped me to become more social and make more friends. Most of my friends are American though so I end up doing American things all the time. I hate Indian food now too. I really hate it. Iím not very social at Indian functions either.
My thinking and my thoughts differ from my parents and my sisters. They think more like Indian people, and I think more like a person adapted to an American lifestyle. That is also because I wasnít brought up with traditional Indian cultural beliefs in India. I was allowed to express my reactions toward things.
You have these American ideas, but your parents expect you to expect something else. They expect you to go somewhere and they expect you to talk to these people. Your family expects something from you, your friends expect something else from you, and you have your own expectations, so itís kind of hard to adjust.
I donít think Iím that Westernized. People think I am but Iím not. I still have my India ideas. I still know what I need to know. I know my language. I want my kids to grow up with a couple of languages, not just English only because they were born here. I want my children to have traditional values. I want them to have the same values as me. I still have my traditional ideas. I still believe in Hinduism. I follow the culture. Iím a vegetarian. I want them to have that. I donít want them all Westernized. I would want them to have an idea about their origins, and I want them to know who they are and have morals and traditions.
Kavita Gupta is an Honors College student at Rutgers-Newark.