I had never been academically inclined like majority of the Indians who migrate to this country. Not having a degree in engineering, medicine or any other science related field was a huge roadblock. I was constantly advised to study and take tests for admin jobs with the state of California. This, I was told would open doors for me and secure my future with solid benefits and a great pension plan. There was just one problem; I was young and restless and had absolutely no interest in doing anything I did not quite care for. Who am I kidding. I’m much older and wiser now and still won’t do a thing I don’t give a rat’s ass about. So, I decided to pursue my design career instead and spent my meager savings on out-of-state fees at a community college to brush up my graphic design skills.
This was in complete contrast to the Desi Dream in America and meant I would never be prestigious enough, earn tons of money, live in humongous homes in the best school districts, throw fancy parties, and drive fancy cars among other things.
Back in those days, if you were from India, and a woman, it was most likely you did not know how to drive. Which meant going to school in a public transport became quite the adventure in this California suburb. Most times I was not quite sure if the passengers were plain sleeping, drunk, drugged, or actually lived in that bus. This might sound terrible, but I think I was happy to know poor people existed because I had never felt poorer during my first few years of moving here. I converted everything to Rupees and was severely confused as to why nothing had a fixed price. The fact that the same bottle of shampoo was priced differently at each store I visited was mind-boggling. This meant, no matter how much research I did, there always remained the possibility I paid more. This, I believe led to the onset of stress in my previously simple life.
Little did I know that the words “simple” and “life” would soon not gel. It all started when our friends began to graduate from their two-bedroom apartment to their four-bedroom “starter homes.” Inevitably one bedroom was for the future child, a guest room for visiting family, and of course the fourth bedroom to always be converted to an “office” room. I immediately wanted all of that, including that darned “office” room because I was a poor design intern earning minimum wage and really needed an office at home to make me feel I did important work too. So we spent money we did not have to own a 2,300 sq. ft. house with a two-car garage, four bedrooms, large backyard, and yes, good elementary school. Now my parents, or their parents, and all generations above, (I guess you get my point here) had never taken a loan from any bank or living being their entire lives for anything. So the first time I had to sign a loan for 30 years, my heart almost skipped a beat. But I told myself the whitewashed walls, the new cream carpet, and my ginormous walk-in closet were all worth it. To make things sweeter, I convinced myself, like most of us do, that the house was actually an investment. Several years later I had a good laugh though my bank balance probably did not think it to be the least bit funny.
When I think about the Indian dream in this country, I notice a shift between the generations. Here I will tell you a little story to hopefully explain what I mean. Several years ago, an older couple once bought a new leather couch for their house from an outlet store. It was a great leather couch and was not cheap by any means. However it was at a discounted price than it would be at Macy’s. Two things happened right after the new couch found its new home. The couple threw a party to display their new living room and made sure everyone knew the couch was from Macy’s and bought at full price. Their friends in turn would go back and look into redoing a part of their homes with more expensive furniture from a better store and the parties would continue. My generation on the other hand loves a bargain and will boast about the deal that was found while friends will try to beat that deal by a cheaper bargain on their end. But what has changed is that these days, the competition does not end at mere furniture, but homes, cars, designer stuff and kids.
Yes, kids! A key ingredient to this Desi dream is our kids and as they grow older, which school they go to and how many extra-curricular activities they are involved in. If you thought my previous couch story was bad, this gets worse. Our kids are expected to be good at everything, especially math and piano because they are related like asthma and eczema. Bad analogy, I know. The pressure is tremendous to be enrolled in the advanced learning programs since Kindergarten to then move on to IB programs/private schools, and eventually become a doctor or an engineer while performing piano recitals or earning Indian classical dance diplomas (because we want to stay true to our roots), which later in life these over-achieving kids will never have time to pursue. Along with homes getting bigger, cars more expensive, vacations more exotic, chaotic party schedules, Michael Kors being replaced by Loui Vuittons, comes extensive resume of our kids that become key to measuring the family’s success.
Living the dream continued for me after moving into my first house followed by the path to earn more money, buying more stuff, having a baby, showing up at parties, shopping, and socializing with people I did not care about, till one day I woke up and realized I would never have enough money, I would never be good enough, my child would never be good at piano, and I was going to lose my mind if I tried to keep up with this insanity. So here I am today, falling in love instead, and dreaming that our lives are full of living in the moment, love, laughter, and an urge to be true to not only ourselves but also to those around us. As for my kiddo, my dream for her is to continue being the rock star she is now and know she can be ANYTHING in life she wants to be. Namaste!
My utmost regard to all immigrant families who have come to this country, worked exceptionally hard and become successful in many aspects of life. This post is in no way to disregard my people and their efforts or my culture, but mere personal experiences that were and still are a part of my journey here.
Coming up…”The Desi Dilemma”