By Sonali Yaddav:
I was chasing my dream of doing something big with my life when I turned to the United States of America (USA) to pursue my master’s in Business Administration. My dad had to face a lot of difficulty and everyone scoffed at my self-inflicted marathon to go to the USA. I needed to be far from the protective umbrella of my parents and relatives. I needed to grow. I knew that I wanted more exposure, more global experience and I wanted my own human revolution. Let me tell you, I did get one.
As an Indian woman, I had felt so self-assured when I was pursuing my master’s. I was probably the youngest in my class because my classmates had more professional experience than I had. I was studying full-time while my fellow colleagues were attending classes after eight hours of work. I was happy. I was doing well in class and I could return to my apartment in the wee hours of the morning feeling safe. I could roam around the city in short clothes, and would not have to worry about eve teasing. I was answerable to myself alone. My performance in class was exceptional and I was getting the confidence that I needed. There were some hiccups here and there of course, but I was flying with vibrant colours.
I am pointing out that as an Indian woman, I felt beautiful. I realised how precious I was and how precious my assets were in a foreign country.
Once, there was this classmate who was doing a group project with me. I knew she had already got into trouble with another girl in a previous class. She had been sending nasty emails about the other girl to her fellow teammates. During this semester, she was grouped with me. I felt that I needed to maintain distance.
Once, I was giving a brief of our project guidelines in our group meeting when she blatantly told me that my English was terrible. I looked at her, smiled, and started talking slowly. She interrupted me again. She said that she could not understand anything I said because of my Indian accent. I understood what she was saying. It is not a new problem. Some Americans have problems in understanding what is being said in an Indian accent, as both accents sound very different. I stepped aside and allowed an American fellow to speak.
In one of the consecutive meetings, when I took the responsibility of editing the final paper, she said that if my native language wasn’t American English, I should not take the responsibility. I told her that we are taught English from prep school and English is our official language. I told her that the number of English speakers in India is second to that of USA. She was garbed in ignorance and I wanted to tarnish that garb and tell her that I was very much capable of editing a paper. Just like anyone else in the group. When she was still resistant, I stopped wasting my time on deaf ears and complied. Not long after, I overheard her saying to a fellow classmate that I had an attitude which was completely unjustified because I was from a country like India. She further mentioned that I should be grateful to be allowed to enter this country, given my country of origin and lack of opportunities there. I feigned ignorance and rolled my eyes. After all, it was her opinion and her opinion about me is none of my business. Also, she never said anything directly to me, so I preferred to walk off.
Let’s fast forward to a couple of years later when Donald Trump was made the presidential nominee. My current landlord is a naturalised American, a college dropout and works in a call centre. She would drink wine every Friday and shout “Trump, Trump, Trump,” outside my door and would ask me earnestly to leave her country. She called me an immigrant, which had magically become an offensive term within the few months of the presidential drama. While she was drunk on her wine, she would say that I’d taken away her job. Never directly to me, but loud enough so that I could hear her. I have been educated in college, have a double master’s, work on a legal VISA and have a legal status in the country. She never told me anything directly, so I huffed and puffed in silence, engaged my close friends in her madness, but kept my mouth shut.
Then came the fateful day when Donald Trump finally became the President of USA. I think my landlord had grown wings as she started saying the same things even when she was sober. She would say that I should go back to my country as I was taking space, and that my country is just like the movie Slumdog Millionaire and that I am from a slum with uneducated parents. I opened my mouth, in all soberness, that the entire length and breadth of my family is college educated and she should not be concerned about my VISA status. I am here on merit and not on someone’s charity. The day I opened my mouth, it went for a showdown and I was not backing down. From that day she started picking on me for trivial stuff. Not only that, my other housemates also started being intolerant about small things. They’d make an issue if I’d leave an orange peel in the trash which generated smell and would expect me to walk in the house with sneakers (in a negative temperature) because me wearing boots in the house before I went to work created ‘noise’. I was not allowed to use the microwave after 11 pm, not allowed to do laundry in the house, not allowed to take my dog out after a certain time, and so on. I complied because it was a no lease house and I was paying cash every month. The rent was low and I had recently moved. Then one day, she texted me to move out on the last day of this month. With less than a 10 day notice, I said, sure. The same hour, when I was walking from my kitchen to my room, my landlord barged in my room and shouted at the top of her lungs and said that she would have me arrested. When I asked on what basis, she walked off. A classic example of a bully
I have done nothing wrong and I still have to move out. But at what cost. I came from India for a better future. But what I went through was clear racism. The president of United States of America has all of a sudden taken my safety. Racism is real, very much so, because I have been a victim of it. Dirty thoughts which were in the minds of filthy people are now lashing out in public. I am sceptical of finding a new place or having a new partner for my project since I do not know who else will call me an immigrant. The new word to create an aura of inferiority.