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Great Changes

More than thirty years have passed since Amna Khan has arrived to the United

States. She has not only learned to work harder here, but also to respect others more

regardless of family or financial backgrounds. Upon entering her house, which is in a

leafy and very clean neighborhood, to interview her for three consecutive days, on not

one incident was she annoyed by my appearance, instead she constantly told me to do my

best on this project. I realized that her standard of living has increased in a great way after

my acquaintance with the two BMWs parked in her garage, and the 60” flat screen

television in her house. In India, their household did not have a television, a telephone or

a refrigerator. Now, at least thorough my eyes, I think that she has more than necessary

things to subsist in this world. Other than this, she also always asked how the interview

went and even offered to redo it if the information she said was acceptable. Her age is

over fifty and her husband passed away only several months ago. She has not lost her

spirit partially because of her family’s intense consolation and her pre-occupation with

kids, thus she loves her job as a daycare owner. Claiming that she made the correct

decision to immigrate to the United States with her husband (who was a student at that

time), she does state throughout the interview process that “Americanizing” was

inevitable and that change was necessary to fit in this society.

Born to a humble, but well off family in Hyderabad, India, Khan was given to the

best possible secondary education in India at that time in an ‘all girls’ school, “the school

that I attended was a very good school. It was the best school in India,” said Khan after

being asked about the quality of education in India.


“Over there children, until they graduate, they don’t work. The only thing is that they have to go the school, and basically do their best. Like over here, after you are sixteen, you go for a part-time job.”

Her mother was a housewife and her father was an accountant for the Public

Works Department, which has affiliation with the Indian Government. He entered his

career as an accountant and retired as an accountant too. Life in India, as Khan recalls

was “very peaceful” and that her father was the only working member of the family --

yet, his income was ample to live a prosperous (but not a luxurious life). Her family

consisted of seven brothers and sisters; Mrs. Khan was the eldest of them all. Family

structure in India was very different from the American system, where elders were

greatly respected. “We used to greatly respect our elders, if they said something that we

didn’t like, we still obeyed them.” Not only were elders greatly respected, but they were

loved and looked upon as a role model too. Khan’s role model was her grand mother who

took great care of her and loved her a lot too.

“My grandma, my father’s mom, was a very good lady. She used to like me more and then since my childhood, she used to take good care of me and used to love me. When I grew older, she was sick -- she had paralysis. She couldn’t walk, eat with her hands -- and I used to help her out. She could talk, but she couldn’t some things like talking a bath or changing her clothes, you know stuff like that because her hands and feet were not working. She trusted me a lot; she was a very great lady -- very great lady you know. She worked very hard and took care of my father and my aunt -- became a widow after two years after marriage and she was very young then. My grandma - she didn’t get married again and stayed a widow and she went to school because she was young. Anyways she went to school and became a teacher, and then she earned money and took good care of her kids and she later became the principal of that school. I always follow her like my role model because at that time, about a hundred years ago, a woman in India could do it, so why shouldn’t I do it? In the United States, it is a great country I could do a lot, right? So I always keep her as my role model.” Mrs. Khan’s fondest memories of India were her parent’s huge house with fruit

trees of all sorts -- which she said the numbers of varieties of them were too large to


name, but the notable ones were the mango trees, coconut trees and banana trees. Their

house was so large that they did need to go outside because they had a colossal front and

back yards to play in. Another notable aspect of her house was that they had large gates,

compared with American counterparts, where there are really have no gates, and that the

garage takes most of the space of the back yard. An average American reader will be

astounded by how a middle class family can have such a large house, but by conducting

some background research, most houses and properties are passed on from generation to

generation, and sometimes someone form a generation may wish to add onto their

parent’s property.

In her childhood, Khan claims that she did not really travel a lot. The only places

where she traveled were to her father’s lands and also to her relatives nearby. Their

standard of living was decent, but not “luxurious.” Luxurious in this case means that they

did not have televisions, refrigerators or anything of that sort in her house. Another

reason Khan’s family did not travel that much was because they only got one day off for

weekends and also the summers beaks were short. Even without all these luxuries, Khan

claims that life in India was “very peace” and there were “no pollution” and the weather

was very beautiful.

With all this good memories of India, Khan states that “one bad memory ruins it

all.” This “bad memory” refers to the fact that she was unable to fulfill her dreams of

being a doctor.

“America is the land of opportunities, here everything is possible .So I didn’t go for medicine. But I feel bad about it; you know if I was here in America, I could have gone to medical school by taking loans and by taking financial aids. There is nothing over there. There are no loans and no financial aid at that time. The people who couldn’t afford it -- you cannot do it. But United States there is a great thing that over here, even if


you cannot afford it, the government will help you out. When you get a job you could pay back again. That’s the great thing about America.”

Unable to study medicine, Khan was forced into the science field and went for

bachelors in science in biology, chemistry and anatomy. This especially happened

her family because she had six other siblings after who were in dire need of

decent education too. If all the limited financial resources are spent on one person

then the others will be unable to get the same privileges later that the eldest had

already enjoyed. Again the college she attended was an ‘all women’ college

called Wonitama Mahatma Alley. She also says that getting a college education in

India has helped with getting the daycare license here. “If I had not gone to

college, I probably would have not passed the exam,” said Khan. Just getting to

school was also different he her. In India, if you were a woman, then you would

be escorted by someone or travel in a group of other women when going to

school. In America, she could travel alone, without anyone forcing an escort to go

with her.

Right after Khan became married to a student, who was studying civil

engineering in the United Stated, she applied for the F-2 (which is what the

dependent of a student is called). After arriving in the United States, Khan was

disappointed to see that when she became sick, see went the Cook County

hospital (which is free for all patients) that it she was the most crowded hospital

she had ever seen in her life; waiting in the long queues was also new to her:

“Over there, we have some government hospitals and they are free and you could go there. Anyone can go there and receive medical treatment. If you want private doctors, you can get them cheap too. Here, if you have no insurance, it means that you are dead. Even for a minor surgery, you cannot afford to pay -- but over there you could. If you cannot afford the


private doctors, you can always go to the government hospitals and they do it free for you. They were big hospitals. You know Nizam, the King of Hyderabad, he built a big hospital there. They are very big and well equipped. But most of the people try to go to the private doctors. They are not bad, they are lot like very expensive like here. The main thing is that you can afford it.”

Khan’s arrival to the United States was not really a challenge. She came as a

student’s wife. “The security in the airport did not interrogate us, as they do today,” said

Khan. She also added that “even though it is harder to become an immigrant these days,

back then, the American airport guards were relaxed; the only thing they looked at was

our visas.” From the “easiness” of entering the U.S. that Khan talks about, we can

without any difficulty surmise that the airport guard or the immigration officers were not

that strict as they are today. “While even getting my Indian visa to visit my motherland,

the Indian authorities asked for proof that I was really an Indian, imagine what entering

the U.S. is like now,” said Khan after explaining how many of her friends, who were not

successful to become American citizens are unable to now enter the United States after

they have left for a vacation to their country of origin. “One person was not allowed to

enter the United States for ten years because he had lived here for a short period of time

illegally,” said Khan. Khan has learned to be very thankful after seeing the various

situations of people.

Her initial goal for coming to the United States has been fulfilled. Her husband

successfully finished his studies as a civil engineer and later obtained a good job. The

primary reason that her husband took the chance to come to the United States and study

here was because studying here means that he has a higher potential to accepted for a job

in another country (such as in India) than another candidate, who has the same degree

gained in India. Then through her husband’s job, she got her green card and then later the


American passport. “Overall it took us about ten years to get the passport. Five years to

get the green card and then another five years after the green card to get the passport,”

said Khan. After she and her family received the passport, her husband got an even better

job, and finally she began to settle down permanently in the U.S. by buying a house in

West Rogers Park, where she had previously lived in an apartment. She decided to

permanently settle after receiving the passport was primarily because her family feared

that they might get deported, while they have large amounts of assets here. Other than

this, she also included that her immigration process and initially arriving to the United

States was not at all a challenge. “The process was neither very hard nor adventurous,”

added Khan.

“I was just eighteen years old at that time -- I knew that this United States was good and everything; I did not have any idea about it. When I came here, I liked it because it is a good country. I should say it was harder to be an immigrant than now; at that time very few people used to get the green card at that time. We came here in nineteen seventy-two. It was very hard at that time. Now it changed a lot, now I see so many Indian people and all the people across the country, but at that time there were not all this people. It changed a lot!”

She also thinks that immigrating to the United States the right decision. “I would

under no circumstances go back to India,” said Khan, who has now spent more than two

thirds of her life here, and also become a grandmother several years ago. All her children

were born here and because these reasons, she believes that if she goes back to India, this

would detriment her family greatly -- but she does miss her country:

“I did feel very bad. I used to love my mom and my dad a lot -- also my brothers and sisters. I missed my country. When I came here, I missed them a lot. At that same time, my husband was studying so I cannot leave and go back home -- I have to support my husband too, so I was living with him here.”


The key to happiness and prosperity is hard work claimed Khan in her interview.

She first stayed as a housewife for two years after her arrival to the U.S. and studied the

English language. After getting a hold on English she started a day care service because

this would earn her money while also taking care of her beloved children. “Basically it

takes two or three years to get a daycare started,” said Khan after she was asked how a

day care center would operate if she is new to the U.S. and that no one would know her.

Then after this job, she also worked at St. Francis hospital in the billing section and the

records room. The shifts she worked were all night shifts because all day she helped her

children and also sent them to school (she also helped her husband prepare his lunch).

When tranquility was restored after her children went to sleep, Khan would then go to

work. She is not just industrious, but adventurous too; this can be proven by hearing the

story of her owning and operating a gas station in downtown Chicago for some time. This

was a major change in the life of an Indian women as she stated, because in India women

stay as housewives. “They take care of their children, their husband and cook food --

basically they take care of the household affairs,” said Khan. Being able to juggle both

the “household affairs,” and also to earn money simultaneously, the work history of

Amna Khan is extraordinary. Owning the gas station helped her with the daycare

business: “Through this, I learned to interact and meet many different types of people and

also respect them very much,” said Khan. She was correct, some basic research of the

Indian Subcontinent will lead everyone to the reality that it is a very conservative area,

where interactions between the different genders is very limited, though trends are now

going in the opposite direction. Here in the U.S. Khan was given to opportunity to act

like a professional and build her career easily without any obstacles.


Being the first to come to the United Stated, Khan’s relatives also followed her

here. For example, her brother came as a student and has now settled in Texas and her

sister married a person who was already an American citizen. “When I go for a vacation

in India, there are no relatives there.” This shows us that entire families move/ immigrate

to the U.S. after just one couple come here.

“Everybody came here by themselves. Like my sister, she got married into a man who was already an American citizen and she came here. My brothers, they came here by their own visas. Everybody came here eventually. We came here and after two or three years we got the green card and then we have to wait five years to get the citizenship, and overall like ten years.”

Luckily for Khan, the security in the United States when entering through the

airport did not interrogate her at all; it was not just her, but the whole batch that came in.

Other than this many people had the same reasons as her to leave her country.

“Yeah lots of people. Some of them came here as student wives. What happened is that students used to come here, and then go back to India and then go home and get married. It was not very rare, but quite a few came this way. It is hard for the student to live alone here because they need a company at home when they get here from college. Studying is not like one year or six months, it takes like five, six years. Then you have to get a good job.”

While coming and immigrating to the U.S. was not really much of a challenge for

Amna Khan, she does say that in some ways she did feel different from everyone here

culturally. Even asked about what kind of cultural differences was observed between

India and the United States, Khan said that:

“Like you know the people over here, the kids especially, they don’t have respect for the elders. Like back home, we had a lot of respect for our parents, our elders, and teachers and so on. If our parents said something, we never used to give back answers to them. When the teacher entered the classroom, we used to stand up and greet them like good morning and good afternoon whatever it is, and then when the teacher used to tell us to sit down, then we used to sit down.”


Other cultural factors like food were not very hard for Amna Khan. This is

because of the big Indian community in Chicago and lots of Indian owned businesses

which provide Indian foods at modest prices. Overall, Amna Khan likes the American

culture and she had no problems adapting it. Out of all the things to adapt in the

American culture, she especially loves how Americans are open-hearted and free. Here

she can open her heart and say what ever she fancies; the open-mindedness of Americans

was not seen by her in any country that she lived in. Open-minded to her means that there

all many different cultures in the United States (people from Europe, Asia and the Indian

Subcontinent), you can express your culture by wearing what you want and “no one

would care” and they will still respect you. Comparing with both Indian culture, and the

current American culture, Khan thinks that this culture is better:

“I think that the American culture is better. In many ways, this culture is better -- like over here, we respect work. Like what kind of work you do. Any kind of work is work. Everyone is respected -- like our garbage man. We respect everybody. We don’t care even if they are the garbage man or you know -- anything. In India, back home they don’t do that. They look down at those people. This is very bad, I don’t like it. Because work is worship, they are not begging you, they are not stealing anything, they are working hard for money, and it is their right. Everyone is equal, we should not make these kinds of differences between people -- I don’t like it. This is a great country, and because of these kinds of reasons -- I like it.” It has now been more than thirty years since Khan has immigrated to America. She has

claimed in the interview that she has changed a lot -- especially in cultural aspects. “I like

to adopt the good things of all cultures, whether or not that culture is a thousand miles

from where I am from,” said Khan. One thing that she specially liked about the American

culture was that everyone can “Americanized” once you come here.

Mrs. Khan has no relatives in India anymore, and since she has lived in the U.S.

for such a long time, it is a foreign country to her now. “I cannot think of living in India


anymore, this is my country now. We go and visit sometimes, but I cannot think of living

there,” said Khan. One fact that she stressed on was that how you can fall in love with

this country and how fast time can pass away.

“I spent eighteen years in India -- that is it. I was eighteen when I came here and now I am fifty-two. I spend thirty-four years over here. I love being here and this is my country and even my kids -- like my oldest son is like thirty-three years old and he has his own kids. They all think that this is their country because they are born and raised here and they don’t want to go back to India.” Amna Khan thinks that she is more financially secure here than she could have

been back in India. India currently has no social security system and when you retire, you

practically have to live off your own money. When Amna Khan’s husband became

extremely ill due to uncontrolled diabetes, the U.S. government paid for his

hospitalization and eventually for his full recovery. This all happened without negatively

affecting their household’s standard of living, thus her children were able to attend

college simultaneously. Khan thinks back in time to when she was unable to attend

medical college because of her family’s financial conditions which was because to her

own father’s medical conditions. “This is what makes America so great,” said Khan.

Other than this she also added that her father’s illness gave her mom many sleepless

nights; she was worrying about the family’s slow depletion of financial resources because

the government did not help them at all. From the dialogues of Amna Khan, we can infer

that she has become more care free and more dependant on the government.

She recalls that the people here are very welcoming and that they do not

discriminate anyone because of race, jobs or anything. “From them, I learned to be more

respectful,” said Khan. The clients of her babysitting service are very respectful and are

helpful too. One example of this is when the tragedy of September 11 th happened, the


parents informed her that if she needs anything, just tell them and they will shop the

groceries for her. When asked about her worst experiences acclimating to the American

culture, she proudly stated that “there were no worst experiences!” When the opposite

question was asked, she said that it would take a lot of time to explain them all, but she

was astounded by the people’s friendliness.

Mutual friendliness was one of the most common terms that appeared in her

interview process. Settling in the U.S. was only an easy process because everyone was

helpful to her. From the days she attended an English learning institute to owning a small

independent business, Amna Khan has changed a lot (“Americanized”) since her

immigration from India. She has not only learned to work harder and help other people,

but also to retain her own culture by still respecting the elderly. Retaining some portion

of ones own culture, makes someone a true American because United States is a mixture

of all the world’s cultures and a culture only develops by accepting the best portions of

all cultures in this world.