This piece was a very different piece compared to the ones we’ve done in this class previously. It was a sort of combination of the photo essay and the mock interview. I knew immediately when we received the assignment that I would be writing about my best friend’s mother who had immigrated from India as a child. We grew up as neighbors and I was always at their house eating Indian food and dressing up in her sari’s, but I never had heard her full story. We talked on the phone for an hour and a half. After writing it all up I had triple the word maximum for the project and had to delete things, stories including myself, random information like her favorite holidays and others that I didn’t feel fit into the vibe of my profile. I wanted it to sound authentic, not like one of those magazine five sentence introductions. In choosing my stories for the multimodal project, I knew I wanted to combine her childhood with the childhood of my friend, as well as her yoga experience as it was clearly very important to her. I did this by relating it all to how she keeps India with her today. I’m very proud of this project overall and had such an amazing time throughout the process.
The first documented Indian immigrants to the United States were recorded in 1820. Since then, there has been a huge surge of them since the 1990’s. The US is the second most popular destination for these immigrants, behind the United Arab Emirates, with as many 2 million residing here in 2013, around 5% of people born in foreign nations in the US. The Tri-State area, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, is the most common destination for Indian born immigrants, hosting over 300,000.
I’ve known Alka Kaminer for almost my entire life. I lived on 126 Mill Spring Lane in Stamford, Connecticut between the ages of 1-5, right next door to my lifetime best friend Alex, Alka’s firstborn. Alka has been a second mother to me for my entire life. I’ve known her my entire life and yet never heard her story, until now.
Alka was born in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. Her parents both originally came from the town of Borivali, outside of Bombay, but migrated after the Partition. Her father’s family moved to Jaipur and her mother’s to Lucknow. Alka’s family originates from the Land of the Sindh, a culture that branches off Hinduism and has it’s own culture and language. While explaining the ideals of Hindu and Sindhi culture, Alka revealed something to me: “Before the British came to India, there was no religion. Hinduism is more about a faith of morals and values, which makes it different from typical religions.” In the present, Alka practices the spirituality of both “religions” more than the faith based practices. She incorporates the morals into her daily life and passes those on through yoga. Alka teaches yoga classes and in these she speaks of the philosophical ideas and ways to improve one’s life by focusing on spiritual values. She believes in the idea that all of our lives are connected in unique ways, and that no coincidence is merely a coincidence. She has some psychic abilities and believes that anything she sees and everything that happens to her happens for a reason. Her life experiences have been too “coincidental” to just be by accident.
Alka’s father came to America when she was 5 years old. He was traveling to see Alka’s grandfather, who was in a coma at the time, when he was stopped by a palm reader who told him that “very soon he would have an opportunity to travel to America and that he must take the opportunity, as that is where his success would lie.” He didn’t think much of it until he arrived at his father’s bedside and the man woke up and told all of his children that soon opportunities would be made available to them and they must grab them immediately. He died shortly thereafter. Her father’s cousin called him soon after and asked if he’d like to join him in America, and her father decided that the world was telling him to go. He sent for Alka, her sister, and her mother a year later. They lived with their family in a Manhattan apartment for another year before sending for her grandmother to watch her and her sister so both parents could go to work, and another year and a half after that before they could afford to send for her 3 brothers, who were 10, 12, and 14 when Alka left India. Of the journey, Alka remembers not feeling sad, but rather excited. Her young mind didn’t really understand the idea of leaving behind one’s home for ever, and she had never before been on a plane before. There were no direct flights to India at the time so they stopped in Frankfurt, and none of the three girls spoke any English or German. This made their trip difficult, but after many hours they landed in New York.
In the middle of the interview, Alka paused for a moment before saying “Your article is going to be essentially the same as the first chapter of my book!” I asked her what book she was talking about, and she told me that about a month ago she had decided to write her story. Her philosophy of non-coincidences had lead her to this. For the past ten years, many healers, psychic mediums and others, all who didn’t know each other, told her that she should write a book. For all of this time she brushed it off, thinking she was a bad writer and that people wouldn’t be interested in what she had to say. Until recently she got her healing certification and her instructor did a guardian angel healing on her, and immediately told her that her guardian angel was insisting that she write a book. She finally decided to take charge and do it. Alka told me she wanted to help the world notice their own unusual coincidences that can mean so much more in the grand scheme of things. She seeks to teach people how they can manifest abundance through seeing connections. She was one month into the process when I called and asked her to do this interview, something I like to call another fateful occurrence.
As the interview continued, I learned how all of the things we’ve learned about affected her, like how the Partition forced her family to move. I brought up my article presentation topic, the changeover between the 500 and 1000 rupee notes, to the new 500 and 2000 rupee notes. Immediately she had plenty to say, “In India people stuff cash in their mattresses, their mattresses are their money supply” she told me. We talked about the corruption and off the books economy that India currently has, and it’s clear that even from over 7,000 miles away that Indian current events were very relevant in her life.
One of the questions I originally came up with dealt with how she incorporates her Indian culture into her family’s lives, but I came to realize I grew up right in the middle of it. I wore borrowed sari’s to all of her sons Bar Mitzvahs, an interesting collision of culture to experience, I’ve practiced yoga with her, something Alka says connects her deeply with her heritage, and I’ve to the Hindu temple on Long Island that her family helped start along with other New York Indian immigrants so many years ago. Alka spoke fondly of the time before this temple, a time where “we rotated apartments within the group of other Hindu families to host a weekly Sunday get together, filled with chanting, singing, praying, meditating, and deep philosophical discussions.” When living in New York City, this practice felt normal to her, and the melting pot that the city was becoming felt truly like home. She didn’t feel left out walking the streets knowing she might look or sound different than other people, because everyone was from another unique and interesting place; however, Alka moved to Mount Kisco after a few years and began to mentally retreat into her own shell. Mount Kisco had no diversity and no room for an immigrant family like hers. She was teased and left out in school, which she accredits to a long period of introvertedness in her life. She had gone from such a welcoming and vibrant city to an all white exclusive suburb, truly gaining experiences from both ends of an immigration spectrum unfortunately.
Alka’s experience is in some ways very similar to the typical experience growing up in America as an immigrant, but her overall story is unique. It is because of fate and coincidences that she believes she ended up in America, and I wish her the best as she continues to follow that path.
Central Theme: Disconnectedness of NYC
Dylan – Interviewer
Shauna – Interviewee
Dylan- What’s your favorite place in our neighborhood to eat?
Shauna- Pier I Cafe
Dylan- Mine’s Sushi Yasaka
*We realized neither of us had been to each other’s favorite restaurant
Dylan- Do you have a “spot” in the neighborhood where you can go and sit, read, hang out?
Shauna- I love Riverside Park. I bring a blanket and a book when it’s nice out and can lay there for hours relaxing.
Dylan- I almost never visit Riverside Park! It’s so sad! I don’t spend that much time in our neighborhood.
Dylan- What is your favorite area of NYC and why?
Shauna- I prefer the downtown neighborhoods like Chelsea, Meatpacking, and Soho because they are a little less corporate. I love the townhouses and shorter buildings, and the general creative and artistic vibe you get walking through the streets, seeing the different vendors and boutiques. But, I’ll always be true to the Upper West Side
Dylan- I spend a lot of time in NYC’s Manhattan Chinatown, where I used to teach English on Sunday mornings. I’m half-Chinese, and when I’m in these areas I feel connected to my culture.
Dylan- What do you dislike about NYC
Shauna- I HATE TIMES SQUARE. It’s really not that great. All it is is some extremely bright LED billboards, insane traffic, and a ridiculous amount of people taking selfies with the stupidest stuff. Walking through I can barely keep myself from screaming at the top of my lungs “MOVE SLOWER I DARE YOU”
Dylan- Haha I also hate Times Square. Also, though, I hate how competitive New York City is, as well as how disconnected from others I felt while living there.
Dylan- When speaking of politics and diversity, what are the differences you’ve noticed between your NYC high school and Emory?
Shauna- well my high school was incredibly more diverse than Emory. Emory likes to talk about how proud it is to have such a diverse student body, but truly everyone is very cliquey within their cultures/races/ethnicities/etc. Whereas my high school actually supported better bonding between different social groups and encouraged more conversations about ethnicity and diversity
Dylan- How has living in NYC affected your sense of self?
Shauna- Living in NYC has greatly influenced my outlook on life, as well as my sense of self. Coming from one of the most progressive, populous, and cosmopolitan cities in the world has made me a more outspoken person, but also made me really reflective. It’s amazing how you can feel so alone in such a big city.
Dylan- I know you’ve lived in other places, how does NYC compare? How have you been affected by the disconnected, hustle-bustle nature of NYC?
Shauna- NYC is very busy. Everyone has somewhere to be and something to do at all times, and I’ve found myself sinking into that mold as time goes on. I used to think New Yorkers on the streets were so rude, but now I’m one of those people. I was born in New York and lived here for two years as a baby, so I guess I’ve always had it in me. Paris was a busy city, but much more of a pleasant vibe. Before that I lived in Connecticut which was absolutely the stereotypical Wall Street wives with white picket fences and three kids and a purebred dog. It was pretty snobby.
Dylan- What do you think Atlanta and NYC have in common?
Shauna- Both are composed of very different neighborhoods (Upper East Side, Soho, and Wall Street vs. Little Five Points, Virginia Highlands, and Midtown) that make up one big city; however in New York the neighborhoods are right next to each other where Atlanta is more spread out, and NYC has a bigger population and is therefore busier.
Dylan- I’ve also noticed that New York City and Atlanta are both home to an extraordinary diversity of people and cultures. There are many ethnic neighborhoods in both cities.
General Question- How did you guys meet?
Shauna- Well the front desk lady in our building, Gabby, likes to know the goings-on of all the residents. When I told her I had decided on Emory, she told me about Dylan! I’d never seen him before, which was funny to think about. I friended him on facebook and kept an eye out but never saw him. A month later I ran into him at the NYC Emory Meet Up and introduced myself, and he clearly had no idea who I was!
Dylan- It’s totally true unfortunately.
Shauna- So he asked to friend me on facebook and I said “I friended you a month ago and never heard back,” which was pretty funny.
Dylan- So August rolls around and it’s time to go to Emory. Shauna and I hadn’t communicated at all. The first week she comes up to me to say hi and sadly, I don’t recognize her and ask her for her name.
Shauna- So I told him how I was the girl in his building, who he’d met before.
Dylan- This goes on for the first six times I see her (and we had a class together).
Shauna- Needless to say it was disappointing that after five times this kid couldn’t remember that I literally lived in his apartment building!!!
(More conversation followed after the formal interview)
Disconnectedness of Living in NYC –
Summary: Shauna and I both discussed our experiences living in New York City when I interviewed her. Although Shauna and I lived in the same building for many years, neither of us had any idea that the other existed until we came to Emory. Additionally, while Shauna and I went to similar high schools, we still had no knowledge of each other and few mutual friends (even on Facebook).
While both of us have many commonalities, our experiences living in NYC have differed greatly. We both have different neighborhood restaurants and stores we like. Moreover, Shauna and I realized that we like to spend our time in different parts of the city.
Over the course of our conversation, however, Shauna and I began to notice that we had both experienced feelings of isolation and disconnectedness while living in New York City. Although both Shauna and I had good friendships in high school, our circles were relatively small. We both felt that people in NYC are often hesitant to interact with others outside of their social circles.
Shauna and I feel that the Emory bubble could serve as a microcosm for New York City life, for a variety of reasons. Although Emory students are surrounded by an amazing diversity of people, both faculty and peers, most tend to stay within pre-determined social circles, or make friends predominately with people sharing a similar background. For example, many Emory students from the Northeast tend to stick together; some come in with already-formed friend groups. These trends have been replicated in Emory’s Greek Life, which is often criticized for lacking diversity.
Many freshman students have a fear of feeling disconnected or feeling out-of-place. In trying to find “community” at Emory, we may have subconsciously ended up forming friend groups with people already similar to us. After the interview, Shauna and I realized both realized that we had met multiple people from NYC (who we’d previously had no knowledge of) after coming to Emory, including some who lived within two or three blocks of us.