When I arrived in Iowa on a late summer night in the mid-nineties, with two suitcases and two hundred dollars in my pocket, I was the first person in my extended family of artisans to set foot on this continent. I had left behind friends and family, along with the leaking roof of my ancestral home and the invisible baggage of caste I had lugged around all my life.
It was a fresh start in a new land with a generous scholarship and work study opportunity at a liberal arts college. I was ecstatic. I did not yet know the debt I would incur in the pursuit of my dreams.
The U.S. was billed as the land of opportunities. By the time I arrived, genocide and forced relocation of Native Americans was a distant memory in most American minds. Slavery had been legally abolished. Jim Crow laws had officially been scrapped. Racism too, supposedly, was history.
Personally for me, other than minor roadblocks, the country has lived up to the advertisement. I was able to spread my wings, dream. I was able to build a comfortable life with all the trappings of a middle class living. In many ways, my immigration journey is not very different from that of other Asian, particularly South Asian, immigrants, who arrived riding the waves of the Civil Rights movement led by Black communities, in pursuit of education and the American Dream.
I ended up following a career path different from most first generation immigrants of my background. Instead of going into a technical field or academia as I had originally planned, I became an organizer, eventually starting and leading a social justice organization. I connected with other immigrants for whom the U.S. did not honor its promise. I worked with immigrants, mostly from South Asia, who were relegated to backbreaking jobs in restaurants and salons, as drivers and nannies, and paid a pittance, and at times not paid at all. Together, we fought bad employers, advocated to change laws, and held government agencies accountable to immigrant communities.
I had the freedom to pursue a social justice career because people long ago had lost their freedom, and their lives, and also stood up for their rights and dignity. My road to freedom was paved on the backs of enslaved and indentured labor in an occupied land that continues to stand on racist, classist structures that are the…