My dad, Partha, moved to the United States in the early 1980s to study; my mom, Jhumkee, followed soon after. They ended up staying for more than a decade before uprooting the family and moving back to India when I was four. My sister and I grew up in their hometown of Pune with US passports and came back every summer, enjoying, as the cliché goes, "the best of both worlds" and an extraordinary level of privilege.
I made the customary thank-you call again last month after Trump's executive order suspending several work visas
for the rest of this year, including the H-1B that allowed my parents to build a life in America nearly three decades ago.
The H-1B visa was created for "specialty occupation" workers as part of the Immigration Act of 1990
, a law that provided the framework for today's legal immigration system. It's one of the most popular work visas, with tens of thousands of workers using it to come into the US each year — more than half
of them Indians. But the Trump administration has repeatedly targeted
the program, accusing companies
of using it to bring cheap foreign workers to replace Americans and enacting a series of restrictions that have created a climate of fear and uncertainty for many immigrants.
So when I called my parents this time, I decided to also interview them — about their pursuit of the American Dream, their decision to give it all up, whether they had any regrets, and how their experience can help to understand this moment of tremendous turmoil for immigrants.
America: A land of opportunity, and 'computers'
My father ended up in the US by process of elimination. He dreamed of being a pilot in the Indian Air Force but didn't make the cut. He then went to college, got a degree in engineering, and made it to the final interview round for Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever) — the Indian subsidiary of global consumer brand Unilever (UL)
— along with four other candidates.
"If I had got the Hindustan Lever job I probably would not have come to the US," he said.
The company hired three of the final five candidates. He wasn't one of them. He also didn't get into any of the top Indian business schools. But at one of those school interviews in 1980, he ran into an acquaintance who was visiting from the US and told my dad he should think about getting into this "up and coming" field called computers.
"This friend asked: 'Oh are you interested in hardware or software?'" my dad recalled. "I had no clue what he was talking about, what hardware is and what software is, so I said 'Both! I want to do both!' I was that clueless."