Immigrant families and their stories


Immigrants leave everything behind–family, friends, home–and travel to foreign countries filled with new cultures and customs, and people speaking different languages–all for the hope of better futures.

Junior Ravneet Kaur was born in America, although her parents emigrated from India.

“My mom came to America when she was a sophomore in high school for a higher education,” Kaur said. “She had three years to get her diploma. Then when I was in sixth grade, she worked for her nursing degree. In India, she didn’t learn English, so when she came here, she was brand new to the environment and everything.”

Her father moved to America for a set of different reasons.

“My dad came here through a bhangra team {an Indian dance} and a karate team. He came because his grandparents didn’t want him to be a police inspector in India, which is a really high post, but it is also very dangerous. Another reason was that they needed money in India. My grandpa came here first with his brother to start a restaurant in Manhattan called Punjabi Kabab. My dad came a couple of years later to help my grandpa, and they both sent a lot of money back to India to my dad’s handicapped brother.”

Kaur’s parents met through the restaurant, and her grandmother searched her father’s background to see if he was cultured and suitable for her daughter.

“My dad was very mischievous,” Kaur said. “He threw guavas at old people’s bald heads, and he took motorcycles from people, saying that he would borrow them but wouldn’t give it back for a good year. Even though he did stupid stuff, everyone loved him. So my grandma thought he was the best boy for mom, and they got married. They had a big reception at the Indian Palace in New York, which is owned by my uncle.”

Junior Madelen Tevalan-Cruz is also the daughter of immigrant parents.

“My dad was born in Guatemala, and he moved to Mexico when he was 24, where he met and married my mom,” Tevalan-Cruz said. “They knew they wanted to have kids, but they knew they wanted to give them a better life, which led to them coming here. My dad came two years before my mom did, so they were separated for a while. My dad just wanted to come before so that he could support her and any future kids, which was me and my sisters. My dad worked in construction for a while in Texas with one of our friends who lived there. He bought a home, and that’s when he told my mom she should come because he had enough money now.”

Senior Stacey Tam’s parents traveled to America from China.

“Both of my parents were born in China,” Tam said. “They lived in the countryside in pretty close villages. They weren’t city people, which is pretty much why they came here. Even though my mom was a doctor, she lived in the countryside where it’s really hard to get to the city. They’ve been here for over 30 years. It’s a much more low-key lifestyle here, whereas in China, everybody knew each other, and gossip would spread around easily. So keeping up their image is really important, and there’s a lot of things you have to do or say. If you want to keep up, you’re expected to go out a lot and go to parties and karaoke. My mom really doesn’t like that. The culture is strict with image, unlike in America where you can do pretty much anything and get away with it, you’ll be frowned upon. They definitely like it better here.”

Similarly to Tevalan-Cruz’s parents, Tam’s parents were separated for a couple of years while her father first came to America alone.

“My mom knew who my dad was, but my dad was socially awkward, so he didn’t really know who my mom was. My mom was really good friends with my dad’s relatives, so that’s how they knew each other,” Tam said. “My dad came here right after high school, and they actually dated through letters for a while. Then, my dad came back to China, married my mom and both of them came to the United States.”

Immigrants leave most everything and everyone behind when they leave home.

“My mom has a big house in Garhshankar in Punjab, and my dad built his house in Jethu Mezara for his brother, and he left behind a lot of land,” Kaur said. “My mom left behind her uncles and aunts and all of her distant relatives. Her immediate family is in America, and her brother lives right next door to us. My dad left behind his brother, sister-in-law and nephew. It was difficult for them to drop everything because my dad was very attached to his homeland. My dad had so many good friends that he had to leave behind. He had to leave behind his grandparents, too. His grandpa was blind, and he was his world; my dad would go to great lengths to serve his grandpa. He bought expensive eyeglass-ware for him and a car and everything he could to help his family.”

For many immigrant families, years pass before they are reunited with the people they were separated from when they moved.

“They left a lot behind,” Tevelan-Cruz said. “The main thing they left behind was their family–their parents, their siblings. My mom has seven siblings, and my dad has 12. His siblings are still in Guatemala except for two of my aunts who are here now. One just recently came (to America) a year ago, and we went to Missouri for Winter Break. That was the first time my dad had seen her in 12 years, so it was a pretty emotional get-together. They left their family and basically their whole life–their friends and everything. My mom left behind her parents, and then after a couple of years, they found out that my grandpa had cancer, so he died without my mom seeing him. That was pretty sad. And my dad, who loves my grandma dearly, found out that she has cancer. It’s hard for him to take it in, because he grew up with her and now he won’t be able to see her.”

Trying to adapt to a new environment, new cultures and new customs is already difficult, but not being able to communicate with others poses a whole new level of difficulty.

“They won’t talk about it specifically, but I know it is difficult for them to adapt, especially with the language portion,” Tam said. “My mom worked and still works at an accounting place in Fishers, and everyone spoke really good English. She felt that she looked really stupid, and there was the frustration of trying to communicate something but you can’t because you don’t know the words. It wasn’t as difficult for my dad though, because he went to college and he learned English. Just having family here because all of my dad’s brothers came here too, and always having someone to come back to, helped them to adapt.”

Not only have her parents had to adapt to a new environment, but Kaur and her siblings have had to as well.

“I’ve moved from New York to New Jersey to California to Pennsylvania to Connecticut to Ohio and then to Indiana–all because of jobs,” Kaur said. “I was in second grade when we moved to Indiana. They love Greenwood; it’s better than most of the schools that I’ve seen. I understand that a lot of students don’t like this school, but I’m grateful for the education I get because the teachers have helped me through a lot. They are always ready to help me–ready to listen to my story.”

Growing up, Tam’s family was cautious, and she did not immediately connect with her peers.

“We were really frugal when we were younger,” Tam said. “We didn’t buy a lot of toys, and we didn’t buy cell phones, which was big. And compared to some of my peers, I got things later than them. It’s not difficult now, but when I was in elementary school I didn’t watch the same shows that they watched, and it was really hard for me to connect with my peers. I know for my sister, since they (her parents) didn’t know that great of English, that when she went to elementary school she had to learn it all there. I already knew English before elementary school, because my brother and sister knew it and they taught me, and I learned Chinese from my mom and grandparents.”

As Tevalan-Cruz and her sister Lindsey, a sophomore, grew older, they have become more curious about their parents’ backgrounds.

“My sisters and I are always asking questions, like ‘how did you come here?’ and ‘why?’ and whenever we can, we talk about it,” Tevalan-Cruz said. “Once the conversation turns to the more difficult aspects, we just kind of let it sit for a while and then come back to it, especially since Lindsey and I are getting older. We are starting to grasp the idea of everything they did–they did a lot to come here.”

To start their new life, to start their family in America, Tam’s parents worked extra jobs to make ends meet.

“They mostly talk about their life after they came here–how they had to work,” Tam said. “My mom had to work three part time jobs while she was still pregnant, and my dad had to go to college while he worked at the restaurant, too.”

Many immigrants travel to America to escape the hardships in their own countries.

“My parents knew that to raise children in Mexico, it’d be pretty hard,” Tevalan-Cruz said, “especially because of all the violence. And with the educational aspect, America is way better than Mexico. They also wanted us to have a better future. I’d probably have a better career here than I ever could in Mexico. My mom says all the time that she never imagined that she’d come to America, ever in her life. She just thought that it was one of those big dreams that you could never accomplish.”

Knowing all that her parents sacrificed for her, Tevalan-Cruz pushes herself harder for them.

“They have done everything for me and they are always telling me ‘You’re here in America. You can be whatever you want to be. It’s up to you if you work hard for it or not,” Tevalan-Cruz said. “So that’s made me push myself for them because I want to make them proud. They’ve done all of this for us, and I don’t want it to go to waste.”

Kaur also pushes herself to respect all that her parents have done for her and her siblings.

“I’ve learned to give back to the country, and I’ve also learned to give back to my parents,” Kaur said. “My parents, through all the struggles they’ve been through and seen, I don’t ever want to make them feel that they were wrong in coming here. In India, the daughters usually can only be housewives, but my parents never thought of us that way. They always wanted us to have an education that we could not have gotten in India. My sisters also respect that. My 7 year-old sister wants to be a doctor like me. The middle one is 13, and she wants to become a lawyer. And, I want to become a family physician.”

With immigrant parents and a Latino background, Tevalan-Cruz focuses on where she is from.

“This kind of shaped me to become who I am today because I have the cultural aspect of being both Mexican and Guatemalan,” Tevalan-Cruz said. “It has taught me that it’s good that we are here but not to forget that your parents are from another country and your heart will always be there.”

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