Looking down at India from 1000 feet and climbing, I never cried so hard in my life. We were really leaving. 2 months before this flight, I was the happiest I have ever been. My mother worked tirelessly for months and finally her hard work paid off, she got a nursing job in America! Wow, America! In my mind, the whole United States was Disney Land, where dreams come true. I was 11-years-old when my mother told me we would be leaving. The following months I studied everything I could about the US. I went to the library and checked out all the books I could find. I watched as much Full-House and Fresh-Prince of Bel-Air that I was allowed to watch. I couldn’t wait to find out where we would move. San Francisco, California? New York, New York? No and no, we were moving to Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville didn’t have a hit TV show and it wasn’t mentioned in any of my books.
So here we are on the airplane, 1000 feet and climbing, leaving everything I knew for something I knew nothing about.
Our first apartment didn’t remind me of any TV show, not by a long shot. We settled in what I now know is a low-income neighborhood. Police sirens and forced entries weren’t foreign happenings to this area. But there were families; air-tight families that welcomed us into their community. We didn’t have a car for months, but the community was always there to help. We had a neighbor who took us to school, another neighbor who helped get us groceries, and a neighbor who let me use his bike at my discretion, as long as I remembered which streets we couldn’t play on.
My parents relocated our family to the opposite side of town where the crime rate was less concerning. I was surprised to realize that even here, the community’s embrace was the same. Again, they welcomed us with open arms. They helped my father find a better job. They kept my brother and I safe. We got more involved in the community than ever before. I began working with Big Brother Big Sister of America and met my first mentee. I joined the church choir and worked with the local Sign Language Clubs. I finally became a part of the community that embraced us so much.
America as it turns out, wasn’t at all what I expected and it was nothing like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It was something even better. It was a community filled with amazing people, people our immigrant family came to depend on. My community accepted us wholeheartedly and taught me one crucial thing; Jacksonville is a city that gives. I’ve spent my whole life trying to return the favor. I hope one day to feel like my debt has been repaid.