American Dream

By Ilina Shah

Ian Sane/Flickr
Ian Sane/Flickr

I love America. We moved here from India when I was six years old. I had little awareness of the boundaries between nations, which are so deeply ingrained in me today as an adult. It was a wonderful new land with white stuff that fell from the sky and people who looked different than me. All my old friends and favorite places were missing, but I had my family, so I knew it was going to be okay.

Life was a big change, especially for my mother who was a well-respected government health official at home, but whose background had no accreditation here. Yet, our days were filled with a sense of excitement and purpose: What would we do in this new world, where we were no longer with people and a way of life familiar to us?

The kind neighbor who lent us her car when we didn’t own one and would walk everywhere, or the girl who asked if I wanted to be friends on my first day of kindergarten when I saw my new classmates investigating my very Indian lunch making me feel foreign for the first time.

All these memories come to mind when characterizing my American experience. In India, I wasn’t an Indian; I was just a person like everyone else around me. But here, I suddenly became aware of my melanin, my accent and my Indian-ness. And still, in line with the contradictory nature of diversity in America, I quickly felt like I belonged.

As an Indian (American), every day in America has been a learning experience. There was a constant internal dialogue of being ‘other’, being accepted anyway, realizing that America had many ‘others’, and finding that diversity in all forms was the spirit of America.

I am thankful always for what I consider this uniquely American experience. Of course, I am beyond grateful for the kind people, safe living, amazing education and countless opportunities America has blessed us with. But I am also grateful that living here and being forced to question the nature of identity has cemented a deep sense of empathy toward others whether they are different from or similar to me. There’s a deep belief that no matter how different Americans are from one another, we all belong. I am not sure I would have had this strong belief in the spirit of diversity had I lived anywhere else. And this is why, despite its flaws, I am proud to call it my home.

My family is one of millions of immigrant families who have embraced this country as home and have worked hard to contribute. I know that personally, I feel a strong need to get involved in politics and social issues because I want to give as much as I can to my country and give it the scrutiny it needs to become better because America deserves to be the best it can be. It let me in and I want to give back.

Compared to many immigrants, we are privileged. My father was able to find high paying jobs and thanks to him applying for permanent residency, we got our green cards a few years ago. We look forward to hopefully becoming citizens.

But maybe, we didn’t get our green cards. Perhaps my father did not have a college degree and could not find a company willing to sponsor our green cards. Perhaps, I turned 18 in Donald Trump’s America and found that I needed to apply for a visa again. Perhaps, instead of being Indian, I was Irani. And perhaps, just like that, my American dream and home would be snatched away.

In the wake of the divisive election and the president’s new immigration policies, I can only speak on my personal experience. I am an immigrant. I love America. I deeply appreciate what’s been given to my family and I. And I work hard to hopefully give back to it because I am loyal to my home.

The Iranian 18-year-old girl is no different. Neither is the refugee who might leave their land to find a better life just as we did.

To us, what makes America great is that it embraced us and let us make America a part of our identity without losing touch with our roots. I truly hope we can make America great again.

Ilina Shah is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]