A Snapshot of the Immigrant Experience by Divya Mohan Little

YNPN Chicago Board of Directors Speak!

I love 2012.  Or more accurately, I love the new millennium.  At least in the nonprofit world, we are instructed to celebrate diversity and value inclusion.  Now most organizations have an expressed commitment to an equal and fair workplace.  YNPN Chicago, in fact, just released a more intentional and comprehensive diversity statement to ensure that we keep this value at the forefront of our programming and communications.

It’s difficult for me to think back on my childhood though – where being “different” was not celebrated and I faced the same uphill battle as most (if not all) immigrant children.   Reading my fellow Board member, Soukprida’s blog a few weeks ago, I really related to some of the experiences she shared in attempting to find her identity.  I’m sure we each took different things from her story, but what resonated most with me was her attempt to balance two very different cultures at an age when all we want to do is be accepted by our peers.

America is beautiful – in both ideals and landscape.  It’s the most diverse place on earth. Obviously there are some ugly points in its history and things aren’t perfect, but we’ve come a long way.

For instance, now it’s considered hip and healthy to be a vegetarian.  Thinking back on Boston in the 1980s, that was certainly not the case.  Asked by my mom what we’d been served for lunch at daycare, my sister replied “some sort of weird dough.”  Perplexed, she found out that yes, we’d in fact been served meat.   Wow – can you imagine that happening now?

There is this sense of displacement we immigrant children face – where do we actually fit in?  I knew that if I were to move back to India, I would certainly not be accepted as “one of them,” and yet, I definitely wasn’t part of the pack in Natick, Massachusetts either.  My parents were fighting desperately to maintain a bit of our Indian culture and raise us with their traditional values in an environment that was very unreceptive.

I’ll admit it – desis are typically nerds.  I wasn’t allowed to play until I finished my homework and my parents monitored not only my grades, but those of my classmates.  Listening to stories about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, last year gave me flashbacks.  Having to explain my parents’ seemingly bizarre rules was sometimes almost as tough as abiding by them.

I’m psyched to be Indian.  My wonderful parents have given me every opportunity to succeed, including the special gift of a broadened life perspective.  I like being unique (well, as unique as being one in a billion can make you). Just like Soukprida, I welcome the questions and have grown used to stating my name three or four times (no, not “Lydia,” or “Vivian,” – DIVYA).

However, as psyched as I am to be Indian, I’m especially proud to be an American.  It is a place where, even at work, I can integrate the values my parents taught me to hold dear – work ethic, prioritizing education, and respect for elders.  You may have to put up with the smell of Indian food though, on a regular basis.

Divya Mohan Little serves as the Communications Co-Chair for the YNPN Chicago Board of Directors. Divya also serves as both Communications Director for the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition (IMCHC) and the Project Director for the Coalition for School Health Centers. Prior to moving to Chicago, Divya worked for the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care, as Communications Director. She has almost ten years of non-profit and communications experience, including positions at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Epoch Communications. Divya received her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Journalism from Washington & Lee University and her Master of Arts in Communication from George Mason University.

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