$87. Eighty-seven dollars. That’s all the money I had when I came to the United States of America. All I had to support my wife, daughter, and unborn child. I remember feeling like my life was going downhill when I moved away from my home. However, the past 16 years of my life have proved my nightmare wrong.
When I was younger, life was tough as I never had much money. There were six of us, my five sisters and I, and we lived in a small village in India. I always wanted to get out of India, but how often do people get a visa for the US? America was the place that everyone around me wanted to get to, where I’m from, if you make to America, you will live a good life.
I didn’t grow up speaking English. English schools in India were primarily for the families that could dish out the extra thousand rupees, families unlike my own. I was put into the standard Hindi school with other students whose families also could not dish out the extra money to send them to an English speaking school. When I grew up, my dreams of coming to America started to slip. I didn’t know the language of the country?I could feel my dreams slipping from my fingertips, and there wasn’t much I could do.
My childhood was very uneventful. I had a very strict family, I never got to go out or do what I wanted. I was forced into a simple lifestyle. I never got to do the fun things that those around me did. For example, Indian new years was a time all the village kids got together and popped fireworks. I joined them maybe once or twice in my life. All the other years I would spend in my house wondering why I couldn’t go out. Or how I wore the same pair of shoes for a year and only when they were falling apart, would I get a new pair.
Most of my life was spent dedicated to my school work. I used to leave my house at 10am to get to my school, three miles away. I never rode a bus or a bike, instead I would walk the three miles carrying heavy books, every single day. There are no sidewalks in India. You walk on the road along with the hundreds of other Indians. I would walk in the middle of the busy roads with other classmates. My only goal was to be smart. I now have a major in physics. I always had a love for science, and physics was the side of science that I loved the most.
The years passed quickly. By the time I finished college, word was already being spread that I was ready to get married. I remember all the phone calls we would get. They would ask all sorts of questions. “How old is he?” “Does he want kids?” “Does he have a good home life?”
Getting an arranged marriage was just the norm where I came from. I never knew many people that got married out of love. I found myself meeting the woman I would spend the rest of my life with twice. I only knew that she came from a family of money. Something I never had.
The day of my wedding came fast, that hot spring day of May forever engraved in my mind. I never was used to being the center of attention, so my wedding day was a bit strange. The woman with the high cheekbones and pointed nose?whom I had met only twice?was now in my life forever. I knew that getting a divorce is frowned upon in the Indian community, so I was officially stuck with her. She would be the woman that brought my kids into the world.
I still remember the days we spent filling paper after paper. We both wanted to leave to America. After my first daughter was born, I knew I had to get out of this country, for the sake of my children. I wanted them to have more than I ever could. The immigration meetings are one of the only things I can recall from the top of my head. The cold hard chairs, the dusty rooms, the focused workers.
The day I was told we were approved for our visa I felt as if my whole world had been turned upside down. Soon I would have to leave the only place I knew for a country with actual roads and clean water.
My wife begged me to stay. We were both so scared. The day we were going to leave India was one of the hardest days in my life. I did not know when I would return. At the time, nothing in the world could compare to the life I had there, and the people around me. However, now there is nothing I resent more than having to go back.
We came to America on an H1 file, or a work visa. It took eight years before we could apply for a green card. Finally in 2014, my family and I became US citizens. It was a great moment for me; I felt like I had finally achieved my life goals. I would no longer have to worry about immigration every minute of every day. I could finally vote now, too.
Looking back on the things I’ve done in my life so far makes me proud. I remember my first day in the United States, feeling like I had made the biggest mistake of my life. Now, looking back, I wonder where would I be if I was still stuck in my little village. Would I have the things I have now? Would I even have enough money to send my children to college?
From my childhood years I knew coming to this country was what I wanted. I never knew just how many opportunities would open up to me in the process. I always ask my children to imagine what life would be like if they had to grow up in a country across the world. To them, it’s terrifying.