Looking back at it, this was the most humbling experience I have ever endured. I was only 10 years old and my parents told me that we were visiting my relatives in India. I knew that I was “Indian” and I was different from all the kids at school because of my turban and my skin color, but I really did not know a damn thing about India. Both of my parents are immigrants to the United States. I could speak Punjabi because of my parents and church, but it was my second language.
My whole family was on the trip to India, which including my older brother and sister, and my mom, and dad. When we arrived in India, I was rattled at the sheer number of people in this foreign land. Coming from the suburb of Rochester, Michigan, I had never seen so many people in the same area. I had been to Detroit, but this was not comparable. Also, I had never seen so many people of my color in the same place. The streets were beyond hectic; people were on mopeds and bikes right in the middle of traffic. It seemed like there were no rules of the roads. The roads were in very bad shape, even worse than the roads back home in Michigan. Everything looked dirty and old. Animals walked freely in the streets, including cows, chickens, and donkeys.
The next town we saw was my father’s hometown. I have heard stories from my father about how lucky I have been growing up in the community I do. I had no idea what that meant until now. The “village” my father grew up in wasn’t really a village–more like a group of shacks. The people did not have shoes on and we had the only car in the village. When we got out of the car at my uncle’s “house,” I remember asking my mom, “Where is the house?” She pointed at the shack in front of me. She told me it was right there and I was in a state of disbelief that someone I was related to could live in these conditions. The next thing I noticed was that there was no running water. The house just had a pump and a bucket. This blew my mind because in my house back home, I have 5 toilets.
After taking in the full situation outside, I entered the house and it was room filled with many beds and a kitchen with a stove. It looked like ten people were living in the same room. The room was beyond hot. I bet they did not even know what air-conditioning was. My dad looked at me and said, “This is a nice place compared to where I grew up.” I wondered for a minute what that could look like and cringed. Hearing this rattled me even more. It was nice to see all my relatives but it really hurt me to see how they lived.
This experience gave me a further understanding of my father. To see that he went from “rags to riches” made me respect him so much more. My father has always had super high expectations for my siblings and me because he knows how well we are set up for success. He has paid for all our college when he had to work for years to afford his own. He has always been very strict but now I realize that he did not grow up here. The United States is a foreign land to him, as India was to me. The realization of how blessed I am humbled me a person and gave me more respect for my parents.
This story originally appeared in Facing College: Diverse Student Voices, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.