When my father received the call to come to the United States, he sold his home for 22,000 rupees, 1/3 of which went to the property landowner. The $339, which is now equivalent to about $794, in addition to the money that he saved from diamond cutting was used to purchase a plane ticket for himself and his youngest brother, Kalidas. He left the rest of his money back home for his family in the village.
Just a couple of months later they landed in the Chicago O’Hare International Airport in May of 1985. My father arrived with just $20 in his pocket in the midst of a recession.
My father, now 30 years old, was starting off with a blank slate, much like he had when he was 17 years old and left his village for the first time. However, this time, he was in a different country, did not speak the language, and had no idea how he was going to make a living.
The two brothers lived with their older brother, Devkaran Bhai, who had done so well in school that he received a pharmacy work visa to come to the United States. He was the first family member to come, and after he filed the paperwork for my father and uncle, they filed the paperwork for the rest of family to come to the US.
Because it was the summer and so hard to find a job, my father cleaned his brother’s home and repainted the walls. It was the least he felt he could do in exchange for living with them. When telling me this story, he told me he had no idea what paint or primer was before starting this project. He had not even known something like this existed. Just as anything else had done in his life, he figured it out as we went.
In his first weeks in the United States, Devkan Bapa showed my father an advertisement in the Gujarati newspaper called the Gujarati Samachar. The advertisement was for an opening at a Dunkin Donuts in Madison, Wisconson. Without any knowledge of how to get there, he knew he would figure it out. The weather was still nice, so he walked to the train station and took a train to Madison.
When my father arrived at the Dunkin Donuts a couple of hours later, he saw that the man at cash register was also Gujarati.
“Is there a job available?”, my father asked in Gujarati.
“Yes, but who brought you here [to this country]? Who are you with?”, The store owner replied.
Honestly, my father told him that his brother is a pharmacist and that he lives with in one of the Chicago suburbs. My father thought his chances were high because this was another Gujarati man and he thought the man would understand his situation. The owner, however, took this as a negative sign. He thought my father would end up leaving, thinking his brother would be able to give him a job later down the road.
My father ended up going back to Chicago empty handed but learned a very valuable lesson. He knew he could not lie, but at the same time knew he must not tell more than is required. Although his brother had brought him to the United States, at the end of the day, his situation and life were independent of his brother's. He had always had good intentions, but knew in order to make it in this country, he would need to be conscious of his every interaction.