Rooted: Sense of Belonging

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The collection of art, poems, and photos within this zine breathes life into the immigration stories that shape our communities — its pages spill with experiences and memories ranging from hardships to immense pride. In a society that demands assimilation, we are often pushed to question whether it is necessary to shed our immigrant identities to become truly “American.” With this zine, we stand in proud defiance. By highlighting our unique backgrounds, we pay tribute to our heritage and hope to inspire appreciation for a mosaic of experiences. In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are bitterly reminded that our country is still rife with xenophobia. Our country suffers from systemic racism at the hands of inhumane immigration policies, police brutality, healthcare inequity, and countless other injustices. We are inspired by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement to come together as students hailing from immigrant families that do not conform to hegemonic America. Our differences are the threads that stitch us together. Through these pages, we are reminded of our childhoods, our upbringings, our families. We see ourselves in the stories that follow our fingertips; we embrace our roots. MIT ASIAN AMERICAN INITIATIVE

Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, I thought that every immigrant experience felt like my own. At MIT I was fortunate enough to learn that my childhood assumptions were wildly inaccurate—I met friends of all backgrounds and in the process of learning their stories, I came to better understand my own. I found communities that welcome diversity, nurture space for listening, and lift people up to share their stories. A Sense of Belonging is a celebration of sharing: our contributors have poured their dreams, hardships, and successes into artistic expression. I encourage you to read every single piece in this publication. Embrace their differences. Know that beyond the 25 in front of you, there are infinitely many more stories to hear.




Olivia Yao Alana Chandler Yu Jing Chen Amlanjyoti Goswami Dina Atia Dolapo Adedokun Einat Gavish Faizah Shareef Juan Aleman Julia Chatterjee Kathy Wu Kidist E Adamu Luis Solis Maheera Bawa Megan Xu Mydia Phan Naomi Michael Nikodimos Sendek Savannah En Sharon Lin Xiqing Wang Julia Chatterjee Olivia Yao MIT Mind Hand Heart Ohno Type Co. Google Noto Collectif We Open Foundry


For the Best

12 14 15 17

Bed Time Rituals

Under Foreign Skies



መስቀል The Pursuit of Finding of the a Better Life True Cross

2O 23 28 32 34

Rice on American Soil

There Exists a Worldline Where

A Tourist from America


Drifting Kites

40 43 48 49 53

In Motion

Connections to India


The 4 Soups Vietnamese America



Travel Banned

54 56 57 58 61


A Chinese American Love

Postcard to Ojiichan

New ‘American’

9:53 in Mumbai

63 66 67 74 78

Ramen Matzo Ball Soup



He weighs his suitcases. “This is for the best” He reassures himself under his breath. “Soon, we’ll have a home in the country of dreams, And this separation won’t be as bad as it seems.” He uses words he doesn’t believe to calm my mother, And his heart breaks as he kisses my older brother, When he arrives in the land of the free, He’s in a family of one instead of three,


Dina Atia

He spends his days busy and his nights alone, Occasionally calling his family on the phone, His hopes for our future keep him going, And when our family reunites, it starts growing, And I am born in Chicago, surrounded by December ice, For the next few years, everything seems pretty nice, We are a family of four, and then a family of five, Finally together, trying our best to thrive, Our bubble bursts when Sherif1 moves away, Deep down, we knew he couldn’t stay, And he comes home on the weekends, so it’s not that bad, But my high-school self is still really sad, It’s just four years, I think, this is for the best, He’ll spend those at college, then come home for the rest, And then his four years end, and mine finally start, Leaving home puts a crack in my heart, This is for the best, I remind myself once more, Hoping one day I’ll go back to my family of four,


my older brother


The first time I spend the weekend at school, I pick up the phone, To tell my parents that I have to finish my work alone, I expect “magayteesh lay? Ma’andikeesh dam?”2 But instead I get “Ma’lesh ya habibti, maslahtik aham”3 And somehow, that hurts even more When did my family of five become four? Suddenly, I am my father, an ocean away from home, And separation feels like all I’ve ever known, But I remind myself that this is all a test, And despite the hardship, this is for the best. ◾

2 3

Arabic for “Why didn’t you come home? Have you no heart?” Arabic for “Don’t worry, sweetie. Your work is more important.”


and she would tie us in, loops in a length of ribbon. our torsos like rice wrapped in seaweed, protecting 11

our precious flesh from the chill

BEDTIME RITUALS [summer] my grandmother sews bamboo sheets for our beds in the summer. they gather connected by a fishing line, laid on top of my mattress like toy soldiers guarding against the hot august air i’d wake up yanking my hair, thin strands left between the cracks of the covering, chained to their lustrous prison

[spring] we were warned that our baby smooth faces would turn wrinkled and coarse, collecting creases from evenings squinting at screens, a protest against time grandmother traced the valleys along our foreheads. i rubbed spoonfuls of pearl powder against my cheeks. specks dancing as they rolled off our skin Sharon Lin


[winter] she didn’t trust us to sleep soundly, so she folded bed sheets in half, their embroidered lilacs bending one over the other. we slipped our bodies in, twisting around and around and she would tie us in, loops in a length of ribbon. our torsos like rice wrapped in seaweed, protecting our precious flesh from the chill

[autumn] when the crickets cease singing we gather by the porchlight, night lights waltzing as the queens of the night reveals herself in full bloom. the sacred petals awaken only once a year; by dawn, wilted and we stagger into the orange lacquered front steps. callous stem and soil connecting the celestial light to earth we drink in the moonlight reflected in the blossom, a prayer to the heavens â—ž 13


We huddle in the corner bones aching from the weight of heavy furniture and heavier dreams we drink soup from the same pot, burning tongues warm us from the beatings of autumn wind But even warmer was my sister’s laugh bounced on anything it could find— cracked walls, deflated sleeping bags How it filled empty cabinets and bodies the way a child gives life to a balloon, swelling despite the pressure, the fog of uncertainty, the murk of strange lands. ◾

Kidist Adamu




Kidist Adamu


Hands clenched. Bags tight. Eyes forward.



Hands clenched. Bags tight. Eyes forward. Together, the mass of feet approach the sliding doors of the LAX terminal. Looking through the windows, everything is visible yet unseen. All that lies before us is unexplored territory: desires lie beyond those doors.


Looking up, I am comforted by the faces of my people. To the right, my mother’s warm hand grips me tightly as we move forward. The blinding lights hit us instantly, highlighting our differences — two contradicting tones.


Juan Aleman

Brown, the warm soothing color that grounds. All around me used to exist my tone, my security. Hard work and perseverance in the field yield the comforting brown common to our people. The tone that I usually associate with those who live and thrive on the ground. Even my mother’s fresh tortillas had this same hue. This warmth that used to caress my spirit. Now, white is all I see. White, the blinding yet revealing light. Within it, nothing remains unspoken. It penetrates the extremities from within, placing them out-front for all to see. The piercing reality of difference settles in. Never having seen people as pale as a sheet of paper brings a shiver of unfamiliarity down my spine. The unknown is different. The unknown is foreign.

NEVER HAVING SEEN PEOPLE AS PALE AS A SHEET OF PAPER BRINGS A SHIVER OF UNFAMILIARITY DOWN MY SPINE. My mother manages to secure a cab, and we leave the chaos of the airport behind. Sleep overcomes me. Soon enough, I awake to a variety of sounds all at once. My mother sobbing with tears, and what sounds like my father and sister pleading for a second consideration. As I look over my family, I am filled with joy at having them all together, yet mutual sadness is translated between the four of us. We are no longer in the cab or


the airport. We are on the curb of a dusty street. Cars pass by occasionally gifting us with a chilly breeze and abandoned newspapers drifting through the wind. I turn around to see my sister collapse to her knees while my dad incessantly pounds at the door of a building — his pleas remaining unanswered.

GIVING EACH ONE OF US AN EDGE PIECE, WE STRETCH OUT THE LONG CLOTH AND SET IT DOWN ON THE DAMP AND DIRTY FLOOR. Drained of energy and defeated, my family and I wander the streets. We find ourselves at the foot of a little closing next to the dumpsters of a hotel. He places his bag on the floor and with his beaten-up fingers takes out a long, beautiful linen cloth. Giving each one of us an edge piece, we stretch out the long cloth and set it down on the damp and dirty floor. Reclining against the dumpster, we manage to shelter ourselves from the piercing cold whose sharp needles still manage to cut into our very bones. Now, we huddle together with merged arms, hands atop hands, and fingers interlocked. All together, we combine into one. One disparity in the complexity of a new world. Within this foreignness, my father’s voice echoes: “We will get through this. Success comes at a cost, and I will never let you down.” ◾



Yu Jing Chen





Two burly Russian guards at the door. They usher me in. Munna and Pongkhi are outside. They have left me. I don’t belong. How many apartments? I ask, making small talk. The small of his eyes lights up egg white He stays silent. The other one speaks. Twenty four. But the other twelve are through the other door. From the other street. One building two gates. Just like America. Guard one sniggers. Ah I sigh as I remember the other exit from another life When I finally find What stopped me from finding out the first time. The only time the never time. There were no guards, no gatekeepers then.


Amlanjyoti Goswami

I am taken up a lift. An old one. Hundred years old. I am here To see Madame X. I repeat. I repeat. Madame X. In case they don’t hear me. In case They take me to Monsieur Y. Who I Don’t see, don’t want to see. Madame X waits for me, with a swollen tooth. I make small talk. Why am I here? It lasts an hour. The sun on my face it hurts my eyes. I shield - my - eyes - with my hands. When I talk, I forget what I say. Munna and Pongkhi Must be outside. Why am I here? She asks me Have you seen Accra? I have seen Akkaba I say Remembering Lawrence of Arabia. Munna texts: are you marrying her? Finally I leave. The sun down. The Russians at the door remember me. I wait this time.


Tie my laces take two deep breaths…. talk to…the walls… wear perfume, I am on my way To meet the queen next. I try looking As if I come every day. My beat. On 52 nd Street. I could rap my way out. Instead, I take photographs. I will never return. I know this-is-another-pitstop-inthis-journey-without-reason-or-destination. I walk round and round the building, looking for nothing. The first explorer to get lost on Google maps. 21 st century. Then I meet them. Kuki has also joined them. They are sipping something cool. Inside a Restaurant. They look distant, not the ones who left me at the door. They are changed. Dressed in the sheepskin of my thoughts, man from orient, inside the occident Where everything is a straight line, a right angle. No wonder people walk in circles. They are smiling at me. Munna and Pongkhi tell me I have arrived in America. ◾


No wonder people walk in circles


the intersection of fashion & culture



Dolapo Adedokun and Nikodimos Sendek




THERE EXISTS A WORLDLINE WHERE SOMEONE DIDN’T CARVE a swastika & the n-word on a dresser in a schoolyard. “Surprise inside,” it said. “Open me.” We didn’t because it was a bomb threat. I escaped my history exam but not history. & this is the crazy shit: It was 2014 & South Florida & 20% white. Nestled in an immigrant haven. (Or, as much as we’d get in the south anyways.) We were the teens

who jumped the fence

not from the not-bomb,

to run,

but from the idiot who dangled a finger over the trigger.

Four years later, a nearby school was shot up.


You, who remembered the colors of earth. You, who forgot the colors were always there. You, who found me out, my slitted black eyes, existing in the wrong timeline. “Open your eyes,” you said, & I did, damn you. I’m not blind. We just wanted to save the world our backs abraded by fire, our minutes braised in skin not of our own yet all of ours, & what for, if not the stuff of life, the wish to separate the fighter from the fight, the wish for one child to close her eyes & mother the threat silent without smothering a child again? ◾



Olivia Yao



“What do you mean you don’t know the address you’re going to?” A security guard behind the plastic divider scrutinizes my passport as I stand before him in the ‘foreigner’ line at the Shanghai Pudong Airport. I’m in pajamas and glasses, forehead greasy from the 16 hour flight. “I’m going to my uncle’s house in the city. He’s picking me up at the airport. So I don’t know the address. He’s waiting right outside.” My explanation comes out clunky—bursts of accented phrases separated by pauses to search for the words I’m looking for. I feel dumb: from jetlag, from my inarticulacy, from not knowing anything about Chinese addresses. I’m sent to the side of the line to figure out my address. A line of businessmen, families, and tourists shuffle past me. I call my dad, waking him up in the middle of the night so he can text my uncle for his address (I can’t read or write chinese). In my first hour in Shanghai, my dad in America speaks with my uncle, less than 100 feet away from me, because I can’t speak for myself. In my first hour in Shanghai, I’m alone. 36

On our second night in Beijing, my friends and I go to a restaurant in a mall. We sit around a circular table, scanning the pictures to look for dishes we recognize from family dinners at home. We have a discussion about how to say—do you have any recommendations?—in Chinese. Six years of Saturdays spent in Chinese school have amounted to nothing. When the waiters come, we point to the menu and ask them to read it for us. We explain: we’re from America and we can’t read it, but if you read it to us we can understand what you’re saying. They humor us. We order a long series of cocktails, and finish with a round of drinks called the B-2, made with baijiu. When we order, the waiters ask us twice to check if the girls at the table are sure we want them too. They arrive, and the waiters stand by our table, watching us curiously as we take the shots. Hao bang! 37

In Lijiang we stay in the ancient city, in the middle of knotted cobblestone roads lined with street vendors hoping to sell overpriced crafts to tourists. In Lijiang, I buy: -two sterling silver rings. My friend helps me talk the price down but bargaining is foreign for both of us and feels awkward. I’m sure we’re shit at it. -a lot of lamb skewers. One night we get drunk and stumble through the streets yelling about yang rou chuan. We find them in a food court and sit at a booth, using napkins as plates. The vendors laugh at us for being drunk, teasing us to try the bug skewers. -matching phone cases. Fake wooden backs with chinese script carved into them. The two sellers ask us: “Where are you guys from? Your Chinese is so bad” “We’re visitng from America” They looked surprised. “But you look so Chinese!” “We are Chinese—but we’re from America.” ◾ 38

Soy la experiencia humana, compuesta de recuerdos, emociones, y ambiciones.


IN MOTION I was born a star of sunshine, a mesh of unbounded colors coalescing onto one another. I was born beyond words. The body is an artwork, crafted by improbability and defined by complexity. I believed beauty was intrinsic.

Luis Solis


But beauty is nothing more than a metric, an approximation of the human composition. I was a flower, uprooted and foreign— my petals incited confusion, not admiration. I wanted to understand my design, to appreciate my existence for its uniqueness; I needed to learn about who I was, so I could prove I mattered. I was reduced to words: Mexican, gßero, spic, gringo. My canvas overwritten by the vernacular of others. I hoped to find the right words to outline my existence, to erase my uncertainty, to explain to others who I am. I stopped searching for terms and definitions. I am not an entry in a dictionary or a census. Soy la experiencia humana, compuesta de recuerdos, emociones, y ambiciones. I cannot describe the beauty in my petals, but I have learned to admire them regardless. ◞



After spending their entire lives in India, my parents, Ranjit Bawa and Manroop Ghai immigrated to New Jersey from Delhi just four months after getting married. I didn’t know why, and in the 18 years I lived with them, I never thought to ask about their journey and how their lives changed moving across the world. I felt that it was about time.


Maheera Bawa

When did thoughts of coming to the US first occur to you? How did you make the decision? RANJIT: The day came where my boss asked, “Would you like to be relocated to the US? There’s an open position there.” In my head, I thought, ‘Wow! A promotion, and I get to move to the United States!’ MANROOP: Though I had advanced in my work in India, Ranjit was earning more so I didn’t question for a second whether I’d move with him to the US, and if the roles were reversed he too would have moved so I could advance in my career.

“My family was quite upset that I’d be leaving for a whole new family was my whole life and all I had known for most of it.” How did parents, family, friends, others, react to your decision and did they have any influence over it? MANROOP: My family was quite upset that I’d be leaving for a whole new continent. Of course, I was nervous to be leaving them; my family was my whole life and all I had known for most of it. However, they were excited for Ranjit and understood why I was making the move with him.


What were major changes you experienced once in the US? MANROOP: After some months of doing busywork in a small shop, I decided to find work that aligned with my interests. [Finding work] back in India was simpler; there was a community I could turn to for help. Here, I knew no one. So, a big change was the independence I needed to reach my goals. In Newark [NJ], I went place to place handing out resumes, handing out at least 300 before getting my first interview. Having people who help with maintaining the household is another common thing in India that was very different from the life of independence in the US. At my first job it snowed heavily in February and the owner had told me to shovel the snow off the sidewalk. You might think it’s an easy, straightforward task, but until this moment I had done zero physical work in my life; I really felt that I was in a new world now.

“...what I thought was a ‘promotion’ wasn’t a promotion at all...Maybe I was just distracted by the shiny idea that was the USA.” RANJIT: The realization that what I thought was a ‘promotion’ wasn’t a promotion at all was tough. I learned that being so far from the head office, it was hard to climb the ranks. Maybe I was just distracted by the shiny idea that was the USA.


What has surprised you the most about life in America? MANROOP: Once you come here, you can’t go back — the country grows on you, the lifestyle grows on you and you get used to living in a nuclear set up of family. Living in the extended family set up is fun, but it feels too complicated. I can definitely say life here is simpler, at least for me. RANJIT: Out here, it feels like hard work is more proportional to success. In India, there’s lots of “red tape”: bureaucracy, more people, more corruption. You have to get lucky to succeed. In the US, with more opportunities and a fairer game, reaching your goals seems more in your control.

“Because my kids are American, I feel a sense of belonging here.” What experiences American”?






MANROOP: Because my kids are American, I feel a sense of belonging here. RANJIT: The extreme degree of patriotism felt here and the many flags hung all around streets and buildings makes me feel more American. I also think immigrants have a different sort of appreciation for America, compared to locals who are born here. Because we have seen more of the outside world, we appreciate how this country works, even though it’s far from perfect.


What experiences make you feel “most Indian”? RANJIT: Going to the Gurudwara (the Sikh temple), meeting my friends in the Indian community, and celebrating Indian holidays are all things that make me think of home. MANROOP: My faith definitely connects me to India because that’s where it comes from. Also Bollywood movies and music are things I love and definitely remind me of home.

Though neither of my parents had planned on a permanent life in the US, they have added a new facet to who they are. I look forward to discovering more about their immigration story and how their Indian and American identities have shaped them to date.◾



Savannah En



in the early days of New York’s chinatown women coalesced into a garment district a labor movement fast yellow hands forming shapes that became metaphor darting needle, dancing thread the easier sewn bundles ‘sih yauh gai,’ could earn you more— steam-press a dress a young woman can wear while falling in love


Kathy Wu

my parents came to America later that century masters degrees tucked into crisp shirts alongside white colleagues— my mother wove capacitors and diodes into green schematics so that electricity can speak to electricity in the palm of your hand our Chinglish stitches hyphenate space between PowerPoints and pork feet at the Super 88 i learned to sew, after four years of family-paid private arts education writing English poetry about how fast bamboo grows— a childhood memory so foreign to me i am a tourist within it i only know how swiftly luxury condos materialize— entire groves, several feet a day a force to be reckoned with a magnet for trust-fund whites and crazy rich Chinese as trade war makes headlines


fabric taught me namelessness the ways some people are artists and others workers needle taught me how two sides holding together with tension can almost create the shape of a story no one is surprised to see slanted eyes in corporate America yellowness weaves convenient allegiance across lines— professionals with Macbooks extract capital from silicon pockets, are also the adopted daughter of a Manhattan shopkeeper placing her hand on my shoulder— a touch that feels familiar ni de lao jia zai naer? “My mom is from anhui”— extra bag is free, she insists we are kin now, and in Chinese “home” and “family” are the same sound over and under— yi shang yi xia— hide stitch, cut thread remembering a thousand migrations that aren’t one’s own ◾




Someday, even the kites will fall and shred themselves into tears mid-flight, but until then, Mother speaks like a god unto herself, a queen reigning in another kingdom. Mother speaks like a criminal, clips the clandestine rules of another language. Her eyes are seaside grottos, so dark they hide secrets, inkwells that a brush could dip into them and trace her words into drifting summer kites, somewhere becoming light.




Savannah En


food food food food food


simmer until it smells like home

simmer until it smells like home

language language language

every Tuesday morning

pinch of salt splash of vinegar knob of ginger dollop of cream spoonful of spice



Mydia Phan



being told that the only time your parents “splurged” was on one $1 burger from McDonald’s on your birthday each year... that you ate while they sat and watched. ◾


Xiqing Wang


Love is… the sight of a table piled high with a dozen different dishes loud greetings in 3 different dialects 25 relatives piled in a crammed apartment once a year (including the 1 cousin that made the “10 hour drive” back from college in 8 hours) the smiling face of my grandma, always happy to feed us the hours of labor and days of prep work from arthritic hands red envelopes exchanged, Lunar New Year’s chants recited

Megan Xu


Love is… the stockpile of frozen dumplings and sticky rice reserved for me when I leave home for MIT my mother, who has never cooked before COVID, learning family recipes to remind us of happier days my father’s long drive to deliver Lunar New Year’s food to me the first time I wasn’t there in person the 2-hour long lesson my grandmother gave me on how to properly wrap zong zi my first winter break home the countless fresh cucumbers and vegetables bestowed upon me from a container garden on an apartment terrace I love by… video chatting my grandmother in quarantine to show her the neighborhood plant store sending pictures of family delicacies butchered by my college cooking skills hopelessly pouring over dozens of English-language recipes for the food of my childhood insisting that my grandparents’ cooking far surpasses every restaurant vowing to come home someday to take care of my older relatives An immigrant’s love for his or her children is sacrifice. An immigrant’s child’s love is one day realizing that sacrifice and unprompted paying it back. ◾



how are you, grandpa

? Alana Chandler


おじいちゃん、 お元気?

朝ごはん、いつもの食パンとイチゴジャム? おばあちゃんの仏壇には、 どの花を添えた? おはようって言った? 返事は風が運んでくれた言葉? それとも風鈴の音色?

庭の紫陽花は、 もう紫の花を咲かせている? 学校に行く道の田んぼは、 もう緑に染まっている? もしかして、待っている? 海の向こうのおじいちゃん、お元気?

Ojiichan, Grandpa, How are you? Did you have a slice of shokupan toast with strawberry jam — the regular — for breakfast? What flowers did you leave for Obaachan at her altar today? Did you remember to tell her good morning? Did the breeze carry her response? Or was it the melody of the wind chimes? Have the hydrangea in the garden bloomed purple yet? Have the rice fields on the path to school sprouted green? Have you been waiting? To my ojiichan across the ocean, how are you?




Sandwiched between two grandparents born out of two polar universes, I acted as their translator, my words unable to replace intonation and intimacy. Yet when we sipped matzo ball soup or slurped ramen noodles, what made us different

FLOATED UP with the steam from our separate bowls, swirling together. â—ž


A photo of my family and I moving to the United States from Israel in 2002. There were 14 suitcases (including 7 carry-ons, 2 car seats, 2 booster seats, a twin stroller, and my brother’s scooter which we couldn’t bear to leave behind). We meant to stay in the United States for two to three years, but 18 years later my parents still live in the same town. Even though we moved, my family’s connection to Israel remains strong and it’s hard to find a distinction between being Israeli and American. Both parts of my identity influence how I see and interact with the world for the better. ◾

Einat Gavish




Naomi Michael


Will the next time you visit home be your last?




Can you imagine all the places you’ll never visit?


9.11.2001 6.12.2016


NEW ‘AMERICAN’ I remember that day vividly, September 11, 2001. I was in my first grade classroom in Brooklyn, when someone whispered something into my teacher’s ear. Her face grew pale, as if the life had been sucked out of her. Only later, when my parents came to pick me up, did I learn what had happened. The Twin Towers had been struck by a Muslim group, leading to thousands of casualties on American soil, many of whom my father took care of in the hospital that very day.

I overheard a voicemail left by my father’s colleague, threatening to kill him and retorting him to go back to ‘where he came from.’ I overheard a voicemail left by my father’s colleague, threatening to kill him and retorting him to go back to ‘where he came from.’ I was in shock that someone could want the very man who saved the lives of his fellow Americans, dead. I was furious, and in a teary rage, I told my dad I hated that man on the phone.

Faizah Shareef


My dad sat me down and told me, “This is a small price to pay for the sacrifices I made for a better life. There is no country better than America. We must be quiet and remain compassionate towards everyone.” In that moment, his explanation softened my demeanor.

‘This is a small price to pay for the sacrifices I made for a better life. There is no country better than America. We must be quiet and remain compassionate...’ With time, hate crimes and racial profiling increased against immigrants. My parents responded with silence to the blatant racial murmurs that surrounded them, which I came to mirror. I became a passive citizen, and in reflecting the immigrant ideals of my parents, I solely focused on academics. Following my high school graduation as valedictorian, I had an interview at the National Institutes of Health set for June 12, 2016, right in the middle of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims. As I nervously awaited my departure, my eyes wandered to the many televisions at the airport, only to see that there had been a terror attack at the Pulse Orlando nightclub, only a two-hour distance from my home in Florida. My initial reaction to such headlines was hope that it not be a Muslim, followed by resignation once the name reflected that stereotype.


Yet, instead of my usual submission to the slew of ignorant assaults upon the faith, the familiarity of this name struck me. My desensitization quickly morphed into a visceral anxiety as they plastered his recognizable face across the screen. I knew Omar Mateen.

That same family who I had come to love became known to the greater masses as the family of the Pulse Nightclub Shooter. I had broken bread with his sisters at our mutual mosque the night before the shooting. That same family who I had come to love became known to the greater masses as the family of the Pulse Nightclub Shooter. I felt sick to my stomach at the pointless murder, pained for the victims and their families, and could not fathom what we might face as the Muslim community associated with the shooter. I instantaneously felt like an outsider in the country I was born in, the same feeling I developed after 9/11. Upon landing, I called my father, in tears, who remained quiet as I rambled incoherently. When I was done, he finally responded in the same way he had when I was a child. This time those words felt very different. In the weeks to come, our mosque would be burned down. In the months to come, the Muslim Ban, a blatant discrimination, would be put forth as policy.


My father’s words seemed too inert. I realized that my experience as an American by birth was different than his. My father’s words seemed too inert. I realized that my experience as an American by birth was different than his. I had, up until then, only been a passive force, but I realized the need for active compassion. As a result, I began working with the One America Movement, to bring people across religious, racial and political backgrounds together. I also integrated my passion for healthcare by providing services to refugee communities and displaced populations, and protested for immigrant rights. It was then that I became my own version of American. The experience of the first generation is one of dichotomous identities, one that entails forging contrasting personas into a cohesive individual. In my life, I have struggled with finding that balance; how to simultaneously assimilate to the American culture, yet maintain the values of my roots. With time, I have learned to navigate my role in a way that meshes the ideals of my immigrant parents into a personal framework that reflects my ideals as well. Throughout all of this, I have truly learned what it means to be who I am today. ◞




I cried while on the phone with my parents but they didn’t know “There are no quiet places in India”

Julia Chatterjee



Think I only slept from 11 to 2am Head pounding, dizzy and nauseous at breakfast “Abhay, I was a history major.”


This trip has been hard. Dida speaks to me in 10 min monlogues that I just nod to. Dadu repeats what the guide says to me as if I can’t understand English. Every Saturday after engineering class, Dadu would stop by Dida’s house to get a glimpse of her. He sent her presents, which Dida didn’t like.


“I have been on a diet my entire life.” -Dida. She plans to return in October for her sister; didn’t like that we only spent 6 hours visiting her. Wb the last 20 years in which you didn’t speak to her? “Sometimes I have thought about packing my bags.” Were there tears in her eyes? Dadu: So you have been writing all of this down? Me: No.


“You know Julia, in Indian families, it is all politics. His mother would not say a word to me.” This trip is never ending. Each day is a mountain to climb. 79



I’m tired of nodding, carrying a purse, of Dada reminding me that I am just getting a “glimpse” of India, of not eating lunch, of Dadu speaking on behalf of me, giving me permission I don’t need, of walking slowly, of Dida recounting every detail of her diet, of arguing, of thinking about getting old, dying. One time, Dadu drank a milkshake with weed balls and got high. He couldn’t believe how much he was able to eat afterwards. Dida always played the knowledge goddess in childhood plays because of her long hair.


I have never realized that my knowledge of my relatives’ pasts were really just clouds. Apparently after 18 months of BHU visits, sneaking out to movies, and picnics in Sarnath, they decided to marry (seems too simple). Ron went back to the US and they’d write each other letters. Manju had to bribe the mailman to deliver his notes to her at school at a certain time.

to my grandparents, thank you. ◾


Boston lies on the traditional Indigenous land of the Wampanoag and Massachusett People. Just as we commit ourselves to recording the experiences of our parents and grandparents, we must also learn and honor the history of the Indigenous people who have cared for the land we live on.

The MIT Asian American Initiative is a student run organization for Asian American advocacy, allyship, and civic engagement. Contact us at or on Instagram @mit.aai.

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