Anaya Chabra is a 23 year old second-generation female Indian immigrant. Anaya was born in Arlington, Virginia. She lives in Vienna, Fairfax with her parents and siblings. She graduated from a Virginia state university in 2016 with a Biology degree, and currently works at a lab tech company. Anaya’s parents were born and raised in India. This interview focuses on the story of Anaya’s parents upon their arrival in the United States, their relation with the Indian and the U.S. cultures, and their occupational mobility during the years, as seen through the eyes of their daughter who narrates the family’s story. At the same time, this interview also sheds light on Anaya’s experience as a second generation Indian immigrant whose upbringing and schooling in the United States shapes her relationship with the Indian and U.S. cultures and her identity as an Indian American.
Reasons for Migrating to the United States
Anaya’s maternal grandfather moved to Arlington, Virginia with Anaya's grandmother, their two sons, and Anaya's mother after applying for a work visa through a utility company. The main reason why her grandfather came to the United States was because he wanted to obtain a better job than the one he had in India, which would create more opportunities for him and his family. At the same time, leaving his entire extended family in India to immigrate to the United States was a very difficult decision.
Anaya’s mother was 18 when she moved to the United States in 1981 and got a job at a major U.S. bank. Before she had left India with her family she had already met Anaya’s father. Her mother had gone back to India to get married to her father, but came back to the United States on her own. After almost two years in the United States, she sponsored Anaya’s father to come to the United States in 1982.
Anaya’s father worked as an engineer for the U.S. government.
Struggles upon Arrival
Anaya says that her family’s migration experience is similar to that of other Indian families who come to the United States. At the beginning, her uncles had to work in low-income jobs. However, she also comments that other members of her family who were more educated found high-skilled jobs quickly. Anaya also comments that her father struggled to get his degree from India recognized in the United States and even today cannot move to a higher position because of this. Her family also – like most Indian families that move to the United States- moved into a house where everyone lived together until they became more financially stable. Thus, her parents first moved to Arlington and lived in a small single family house with Anaya’s maternal grandparents and uncles. Once the family was financially stable, they moved to Vienna, Virginia. Anaya’s parents, however, moved to a condo in Arlington because her mother- as the daughter of the family- needed to move separately from her family. Anaya comments that it is not common for the husband to move in with the wife’s family as her father did. On the contrary, in most Indian families that migrate, it is the wife who moves in with the husband’s family. Finally, she comments that her family is vegetarian, and it was difficult for them to find vegetarian food once they arrived in the United States.
Support System upon Arrival
Anaya says that Indian people have their own community in the United States. However, she also acknowledges the fact that Indians try really hard to adapt to the American culture. She states: “I know Indians who don't even identify as Indian and view themselves as Americans.”
Negative Experiences in the U.S.
Anaya said that there are certain common stereotypes of Indian families because of their thick English accents. Also, she says that because of their phenotype, people may assume that they may work at certain types of low-income jobs (gas stations, grocery stores). However, she emphasizes that because of the fact that her parents managed to speak English without an accent they did not face any discrimination in the United States.
Connection to Indian Culture
Anaya’s extended family sees each other every week and live in the same neighborhood. She also comments on the importance of visiting the Hindu temple and going to other relevant events to retain their culture and meet other Indian families. She remembers when she was a young child, she and her family went to a local Hindu temple and they met one immigrant family who had moved from India recently with four young children. They were not financially stable so her family helped them by introducing them to other Indian families with small businesses.
Indian food is also a way of retaining their culture for Anaya’s family. Finally, her family celebrate Indian customs such as Diwali, which is the Festival of lights and similar to Christmas. It is a celebration where everyone dresses in new clothes, decorates their houses and celebrates light over darkness.
In terms of language, Anaya says that she and her family speak Hindi in their house but outside they always speak English.
Integrating into U.S. Culture and English Acquisition
Anaya states that she and her siblings were the biggest reason for her parents to adapt to the American culture. The family celebrates American holidays like Christmas too. Also, because her parents had professional jobs and desired high positions, all the family adapted to American ways. For instance, she remembers when she was younger and her parents invited co-workers to visit, they would have a barbecue instead of cooking Indian food. “Of course we would use veggie burgers too,” she says. She also remembers that her mother would not only give veggies for lunch, but they also had deli turkey for sandwiches for guests.
Occupational and Economic Mobility
Anaya’s mother was 18 and had just graduated high school when she moved to the United States. As a high school degree holder, it was difficult for her to find a professional job. She looked for entry jobs like bank teller. Over the years, Anaya’s mother became a bank manager.
Her father had just graduated college and had an engineering degree when he came to the United States. It was easier for him to find a job. He found an entry level engineer job and over the years he became the manager of his department. Anaya states that most Indians who migrate to the United States are educated and speak English so they find jobs easily.
Anaya thinks that most Indians who come to the United States are successful because they speak English, and even those who do not learn fast. “All Indians know how to speak English. It’s a class in India’s school system,” she says. Furthermore, most of them have a degree and they find jobs easily. For Anaya, the reason why most Indians are educated is that taking school seriously is a vital part of the Indian culture.
School and Childhood Experience
Anaya grew up primarily with white children but things like speaking a second language and dressing differently made her feel a little different than other children. She comments: “Because academics plays a big role in our culture I was always in Kumon classes instead of soccer teams.” She continues saying: “Sometimes when my friends came over I would feel different because my parents usually cooked Indian food and when I would go to my friend's houses they would always order pizza or something like that.”
Experience of Second-Generation Immigrants in Their Parents' Home Countries
Anaya has visited India a few times. She noticed the major role that the caste system has played in Indian culture. She says that going back home as a second-generation Indian American, she was viewed as being Americanized.
Thoughts about Identity
Anaya feels that she and her family are Americans because they live here. She thinks that her parents are immigrants and will always be considered Indians, but she and her siblings are Indian Americans. This is because they incorporate their Indian culture into their daily American lives.
Comments on Mainstream U.S. Culture and Indian Culture
For Anaya, mainstream U.S. culture is very different than Indian culture. She comments that Americans have Hollywood and Indians have Bollywood. Anaya and her family watch a lot of Indian movies and listen to Indian music. “Even being American born, I still watch some Bollywood movies and listen to Bollywood songs,” she says.
Anaya states that when she has her own family, she would like to raise her children as her parents raised her. She thinks that since she is not an immigrant, it will be easier for her than for her parents. She would like to keep her roots and remember where she and her family came from. She would not imagine herself living in India because she is too American for Indians. Ideally, she would like to visit India with her children often.