Originally published on January 23, 2014, my 40th anniversary of entering the shores of America. This morning's Facebook Memories highlighted this article which I thought is appropriate given the current climate in the country. Republished with updates and the comments (worth reading) from the original post.
POINTS TO PONDER:
“No matter what your background, no matter how low your station in life, there must be no limit on your ability to reach for the stars, to go as far as your God-given talents will take you. Trust the people; believe every human being is capable of greatness, capable of self-government . . . only when people are free to worship, create, and build, only when they are given a personal stake in deciding their destiny and benefiting from their own risks, only then do societies become dynamic, prosperous, progressive, and free.” ― Ronald Reagan, An American Life
STORY LINE: 43 Years since arriving in the Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave (and also what I had known as the land of Gregory Peck, Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Raquel Welch)
On January 22nd 1974, my colleague PG and I set foot on the shores of America in Los Angeles International Airport. Our Japan Airlines (JAL) flight was delayed due to mechanical troubles and arrived late in the evening. We went to the only open food place at the airport (in those days there were not many) and inquired “We are very hungry, what food do you have?” The guy said “Only thing I got left is a hot dog.” Coming from strict vegetarian families we were in total shock. “Hot Dog?” We had heard that in America, they ate cows. But Dogs? Yuck! We turned around and left.
The next thing I did was to call the phone number of the USC foreign students office. Since it was late the phone was directed to the university security guard. I informed him that we had just arrived in USA and wanted to find out if there was a pick-up service. The guy said “Take the number 8 to downtown.” We thought we were already in town and were thoroughly confused by his instructions. So I used the SOS instructions that were given to us before we left India. I called my uncle in Anaheim who picked us up after a few hours.
The following day, we went to the USC foreign students’ office. The head of the foreign students office was Mr. Khetrapal, an immigrant from the northern part of India. While roaming around in the office, we met Saeed, also a new foreign student from Iran. We hit it off well and decided to be roommates. That afternoon, we found an apartment just across the campus. From his accent, the owner Mr. Kinarthi did not seem to be Amercian and on further inquiry told us that he was from Russia. I was wondering where Gregory and Sidney and of course, Audrey and Raquel could be hiding.
On our third day, we were moving to our new apartment. My Anaheim uncle who worked in the city of Compton, dropped us at the bus stop near his office. Early in the morning we were still drowsy and waiting at the bus stop with all our bags and backpacks. Suddenly a van came zooming in near the bus stop. Most of the people who were waiting with us started running shouting in some strange language. Two guys in suits and ties jumped out of the van. One of them approached PG and the other one came towards me showing me a badge with his picture and some strange emblem on it that said, “Immigration.” I extended my hand to him and said “Anand Shah” and told him, “you do not need to show me your picture, I trust you.” I was wondering why Americans have such strange way of introducing themselves until PG who had paid more attention told me “Show him your passport and USC ID card before he throws you in to that cage in the back of his van.”
That semester, USC had launched a new degree program in the area of Semiconductor Physics and Processing. It seemed to me that it was “A Road Not Taken (by many)” which meant learning new things and also chances of discovering (getting) new degree faster, I signed up. I had two other classmates in that inaugural semester, Pradyuman Patel- the guy from my home town I had never met before and Way-Seen Wang, a student from Taiwan. Coincidence or what but very first class, an elective, that I attended, the teacher was Professor Hwan Sha Ho.
That was my first week in the Land of The Free and The Home of The Brave. I had yet to meet Gregory Peck, Sean Connery, Sydney Poitier and of course My Fair Lady Audrey Hepburn and 100 Rifles leading lady Raquel Welch.
During the second week I met Professors Steir and Andrews and Whelan and Crowell which reconfirmed why I had come to America. Over the next several months, I met people from many different cultures and countries and started realizing the true power of this land. The people from all over the world come here and bring with them their rich cultural heritage, ideas, opinions, and cuisines, and not to forget to the original inhabitants of this country who have a very rich cultural heritage of their own.
The past 43 years have been so fulfilling and enriching with the experiences I had in meeting some of the most creative, brilliant people from all over the world and witnessing the power of unlimited creativity and resulting innovations.
I realized that: Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common and to Celebrate it every day.
So looking back, I end this reflection with that Sherman brother’s song in Disneyland..
“There is so much that we share that it is time we are aware, it is a small world after all.”