American Dream

September 23, 2012
By Anonymous

Stepping onto the sleek tarmac of the San Jose International Airport in California, I felt more homesick than ever. I stood there with my parents, trying to take in the strange smells and sights of an alien land. Having been used to the six-floor buildings and the sandy open spaces of Kuwait – a mere 17,818 sq. km in the Middle East – the enormity of California seemed intimidating. The high-rise skyscrapers seemed to dwarf my 5ft profile, while the bright, blinding lights that lined the runway seemed to illuminate my deepest fears. I was gently prodded into the well-lit airport by the crowd. To my twelve-year-old senses, the inside of the airport resembled a box of assorted gourmet chocolates. The American diversity was fascinating. The impeccable pale skin, the straightened hair of brunettes and blondes, and eyes the color of sea-green or hazel – those colors that only my Crayola color pencils had – were the delicate American features that captured my attention. Thanks to my desi (East Indian) ancestors, my family and the community I had lived in so far were graciously blessed with dark, course hair (on the head, arms, feet, and all), jet black eyes, and a large nose. In Kuwait, I had witnessed such pretty colors and make-up only on TV: for cartoon characters, fairy tale-princesses, and Jesus. Therefore, walking through the airport terminal was like taking a stroll through Barbie wonderland.

As I passed the heavily equipped security guards and beeping metal detectors, I was greeted by scattered fast food places. As if on cue, my stomach belted out a loud growl. I hadn’t eaten anything on the plane; not that I particularly dislike plane food. It was just that the only free, edible food on the plane was American food: chicken nuggets, baked potatoes, bread and butter etc. Now, the Indian method of eating food was by just using your hands. We usually take a roti bread, tear it into a tiny pieces, wrap some vegetables or curry in it and then eat it –it’s simple. However, I noticed that my foreign neighbors took great pains to cut up their food into tiny morsels with their knives and forks, dabbing their mouth with a napkin after each bite. I didn’t feel like going through all the hassle but I didn’t want to look like a boorish caveman while my neighbors ate so elegantly. So, I took a knife and began to stab the meat. To an outsider, it might have looked like I had something personal against the chicken piece. Using a knife was harder than it looked. Maybe there was a bone somewhere in the meat. But I was determined to cut through it –meat, bone, and all. I began to poke the chicken pieces, mash it, grind it, but nothing worked. Impatient, I gave it one last heave. The chicken flew out of my plate and landed under somebody’s seat. I was mortified and vowed not to eat meat in the plane again. I survived on chocolates and water.

My dad’s beeping cell phone cut through my reverie. It was my aunt. Her family was ready to welcome us to our new home. At first, it was hard for my parents to find jobs because they had trouble with the language. It was hard to get the American accent. People spoke so fast, moving their lips so furiously that half the words were unclear. My dad used to say that the easiest way to learn American English was to talk with a hot potato in our mouths. Anyways, one of the language blunders happened when my dad was at work (he finally got a job as an accountant in a small factory). He had some doubts on how to store some of the data and e-mailed his boss for help. This was his reply, “I will get back to you. Hang in there John.” My dad was devastated and he told us about this when he came home. We all wondered the same thing. What in the world had my dad done so wrong that the boss asked him to hang (and therefore die) in his own office? Of course, we consulted a dictionary later and found out that “hang in there” was a colloquial term for “to wait.”

Likewise, school wasn’t very easy either. After coming to U.S., I had to change three different schools. I always felt out of place with my strange accent, freakishly long and untamed hair, my outdated fashion sense, and my lack of knowledge about pop culture. I couldn’t tell certain jokes because it only made sense in my language (and I was the only one in the school who spoke it). I didn’t wear make-up or talk about boys all the time (which was a big no-no among the female population in my class). I wasn’t extraordinarily athletic or artistic. So I focused more fiercely on my studies, the one thing that I was actually good at. And this of course earned me the prestigious position as the class nerd. Of course, all this was made worse by my paranoia after watching Hollywood teen flicks about cheerleaders and jocks torturing new, not-so-popular students. I watched Mean Girls before starting my first day of school; probably not one of my best decisions.
My parents weren’t exactly very helpful in dealing with my troubles. My family is deeply religious and so the first solution to all our fears was prayer. Naturally, I grew fond of going to church. The people there were very nice and fascinated by my family’s culture. I remember the very first time I went to an American church. It was a small, homely structure, adorned with a plain cross in the front. Inside, colorful, glass mosaics depicted scenes from the bible and the transparent ceiling bathed the room in a heavenly glow. The choir was especially splendid. They actually sounded like they know what they were doing, unlike the people in the Indian church. At the Indian church, we had a piano and a small choir. However, the congregation was reluctant to follow the lead of the choir and sang in an ear-splitting voice in whatever manner they pleased. Of course the pianist wouldn’t give up either; occasionally the piano’s off-beat music would sneak up in between the songs, whining like a wounded dog. Therefore, the American church actually made me feel like I was in heaven.

All in all America didn’t really become my second home, but nor was it Mars. I realized that I would forever be tied to a hyphen: Indian-American. I can actually summarize my life in one sentence: I was born a Kuwaiti, I will live an Indian, and I shall die an American.

The author's comments:
This article is glimpse into my first few years in America.

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