India, America, DAD discussed on On Point with Tom Ashbrook | Podcasts
Org RV welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me great to have you. I first of all want to ask you if when you decided to write this book about your family and particularly about your father. Did you have any hesitation tation in writing it as givens word of the great controversies. The nation has experienced. I'm experiencing about immigration right now. The hesitation came in the years before I finally decided I was going to write it. there was a lot of hesitation like I had spent my life life pretty much from age sixteen to thirty with my father's legal problems constantly hanging over our heads you already gave great summary of my family's trajectory into America once we got here and we thought that we were established here. Dad opened up a store He actually opened up a small business on the exact same street where he used to shovel snow for four dollars an hour. So you know I achieving my dream being the precocious kid in school and he was his own business owner small business owner one day dad got arrested. He was at rikers island and apparently he he had sold watches and calculators to the Cali drug cartel shocking. I was as a kid interested in becoming the prosecutor side was actually ashamed of Dad. I didn't know how to wrap my head around my ideals of justice and what my father had been accused of and then what slowly happened over the years this was by no means immediate what slowly happened was that while data agreed to take a guilty plea because his lawyer urged him to the eight months and tints it was supposed to be eight months and he was supposed to put the matter behind him. It ended up spiraling into legal legal problems that lasted until I was thirty and I basically grew up in the shadow of a legal legal case that would not go away and that seemed determined to destroy my family and I wanted to keep my family together well if I may I mean just we can slow down a little bit here because we have an hour and I do want short. I mean the the beauty of your book is the detail with which you tell this story because it's true. It's a true I it's a glimpse into the story of of American family that is lived by millions of people here so let's let's go back. Let's go back to the start. Okay what I brought your family to the United States the I'll let you sound like my dad telling me to slow down. Thank you what brought us here. you know. I did not no the real story of why we came here until I stopped to write this memoir and I asked mom hey you and dad would always say we came here for a better life for you. Kids what does that even mean and it was kind of made no sense to me because while my family is originally from India I was born in Morocco and we had a relatively stable life there so I thought why would my parents leave relative stability and come to America and choose to live undocumented with three children. I thought that was crazy. I mean you know that that is a lot of risk not him with me. Came originally on a tourist visa right correct. We came on tourist visas which we overstate how was a infant or a toddler the time and mom. Tom told me and I had never known this before that she apparently back home was dealing with a really really difficult extended ended family situation. She didn't call it abuse and that's not a word that was really in circulation at the time that she was going through it but they lived in what what many of us will know is a joint it family with many extended relatives and mom and dad loved each other a lot and my father was a gentleman but not everyone in the clan was and something pretty horrible happened. and my mom tried to take her own life. She swallowed pills. She didn't want to wake up again. I didn't know this before. I didn't know that my mom attempted suicide at tell you when she told me it shocks me because my mom is one of the most resilient human beings. I know so to learn that she had reached that level of desperation was it just was incredibly painful. We'll she came back to eventually my father agreed that we would they would take the family and come to America because coming to America was easier than moving across the street in some ways. I just wanted to say that there's so many parts parts of your story that I kind of intrinsically feel like I understand because my parents are obviously immigrants from India as well and there's something about what it takes sort of the fortitude and the resilience that it takes to be an immigrant rights to to leave everything you know that's familiar even when it's very very hard that familiarity full of heart and dark things to come to another country because I just feel like it makes sense to me that you didn't know these things before because I there's a lot that I didn't know about my parents because for forty years forty five years they were so focused on making their lives here as Americans yeah I also think that's the tricky thing about how trauma works right because Verret so much to be learned in the pain that we go through and the trials that we face but they're hard to talk about and so they often get lost so I think in part it's our parents or our own lives. We're so busy trying to make it but in part it's just painful to revisit well and when you in growing up in Queens your mother was I mean like you said she was very resilient and an incredibly active also Yeah Yeah Yeah my parents actually together a spoke six languages or six and a half languages you could say though they lacked formal education. My mom just finished grade school but she is a sponge for languages when we landed in Queens which was one of the most diverse zip codes on earth when I was growing up one one three five five. I'm incredibly proud of I remember growing up and there was Beverly Hills Nine O. to anno- and that became like a button and I was like one one three five five. That's the real deal but you know basically we were working in class. United Nations every nationality represented mom could speak to a lot of them and she basically became an organizer without even calling it that or knowing that it was that what she helps for example Central American Day labourers and the leaders of a of a Hindu temple. We'll get along with each other because the Hindu temple didn't like the day labor is standing on the corner waiting for work and she could speak each of their language and help them to get each other and she she did amazing work that is AFFEC- note in in most people's lives that a prominent factor in mind will tell us more about your dad than because he you left India I when he was just barely in his teens right yeah. My father was unfortunately faded to start life over and over and over again. It's funny but you know we some of us. Believe in reincarnation. I feel like that had to keep re living life over and over in this just one this one time he was given he was uprooted from his home as a child in nineteen forty seven and there was a horrifically violence partition of India and Pakistan when the British decided to leave the subcontinent that they'd colonized colonized. They left very haphazardly quickly. horrific violence sued and millions of people had to leave their homes. My father as well as my mother were among them. Dad was old enough to remember it. As a child after his family fled from their native Karachi down into India crotch now being in Pakistan Gaston Dad by the time he was a teenager had to leave the subcontinent altogether to become a migrant worker in Beirut so he works in Beirut Lebanon. He sat money back home to his family. he actually I. I learned this When Dad was in jail. Let rikers at which is where I really got to start knowing who my father was he was not able to attend his own father's funeral because he had to keep working and being you know continente way to support his family and from Beirut. He traveled around Northern Africa and the Middle East Mom and dad met in Casablanca where I my siblings were bored and then we came over here and it's just what I say he. It's like every time when you're a migrant you have to pick up and go and pick up and go and pick up and go. You're not seen for who you are in the new place that you come to your seen as the alien as a foreigner as an undeserving as someone to be suspected in many cultures not every and so- dad was unfortunately personally forced to keep starting over and I just know it in my steps you know I appreciate how graciously you describe the steps. I've taken in my own life and I imagine what would it look like for me. If every time I wanted to make a pivot people had no idea what my backstory was and it was irrelevant what we're talking this hour with Arthur Johnny. She has a new book out. A new memoir called here. We are American dreams American nightmares. It's the story her immigration story story her family's immigration story in America of course you know arthis work because she is NPR's correspondent from Silicon Valley as well but when we come back we'll hear a lot got more about what happened to her father and how that.