This item is an audio file.

Oral History Interview with Rajani Ramachandran

Oral history interview with Rajani Ramachandran conducted by Kim-Jamy Nguyen on October 28 and November 2, 2011.


Date: October 28, 2011
Subject(s): Rajani Ramachandran
Type: Oral History
Language: English
Creator: Kim-Jamy Nguyen
Location: Austin, TX

Interviewee: Rajani Ramachandran
Interviewer: Kim-Jamy Nguyen
Date: October 28th 2011, November 2nd 2011
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Transcriber: Kim-Jamy Nguyen
Length: Part 1-16:31, Part 2- 24:36, Part 3-27:34 Total- 1 hour, 8 minutes and 41 seconds
Biographical Information: Rajani Ramachandran was born in New Delhi, India on September 22nd 1964. She was the youngest child in her family, having one older sister (Hema.) She went to the University of New Delhi and got a bachelor’s degree in English literature. Before finishing her master’s degree, she decided to get an arranged marriage. Ten days after her wedding Rajani left for the US on February 14th 1988 with her husband. She stayed in Austin for less than a year, and when her husband gained his Ph.D. in electrical engineer from UT they moved to Boston for three years. In 1991, Rajani’s first child Tasha was born. That same year, Rajani and her family moved back to Austin and ever since have lived in Austin. For the most part, Rajani has not witnessed any discrimination besides pretentiousness within her Southwest Austin neighborhood. On the other hand, her daughter Rebecca remembers being bullied in elementary for being Indian. Rajani decided to go back and get her master’s degree in Human Services when her children had gotten older. She then began volunteering with different non-profit organizations to build her career, which led her to her work in SAHELI for Asian Families, an organization that provides assistance to Asian women dealing with domestic violence and abuse.

Abstract: In the interview on October 28th, Rajani talks about her family and her childhood in New Delhi and what she misses from her childhood. She goes on to talk about her arranged marriage and how that led her to America, because her husband was a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin. For her, religion and culture is important but she’s an accepting person and so she does not try to coerce anything on to her children. She speaks about SAHELI and her work with non-profit organization. She concludes the first interview by telling a funny anecdote about a stereotype she encountered in her first few weeks in America. In the third portion of the interview (the interview from November 2nd), Rajani elaborates on certain key points mentioned in the October 28th interview. She speaks about her older sister’s arranged marriage and her thoughts on arranged marriages in general. She goes on to speak about the differences between Boston and Austin and her aversion for Boston. She speaks about being a proponent for volunteering because it is a mode through which immigrants can integrate into society. She talks about intergenerational issues within her family, such as the tiny disagreements that arise from her mother and mother-in-law over the fact that her daughter dates. She speaks about SAHELI and how social work is seen in a negative light in the South Asian community, because it’s viewed as meddling into someone else’s familial problems. In conclusion, she wraps up her experience and what she gained from migrating to the US.

Context note: Rajani and I had two different interviews. The first interview was on October 28, 2011 and there were a handful of technical difficulties in which the recorder stopped recording. The second interview was on November 2nd, 2011. We interviewed both times at Starbucks. Transcription Notes: I have made a lightly edited transcript. Words such as “Ums” and “Ahs” have been deleted simply because I felt they interfered with the way the transcript is read. Words and phrases enclosed in a square bracket express a word implied by the conversation or are used to insert the time note. An example would be “[0:21:28.5] she [went] to the store.” Words and phrases enclosed in (parentheses) were used when conversations overlapped, such as when Rajani and I were speaking at the same time. Parentheses were also used to note pauses that occurred when the narrator or interviewer was speaking. Words and phrases difficult to understand were also enclosed in parentheses. Dashes – were used to note when the speaker changed from one thought to another, or reworded the sentence.

Part I: Kim-Jamy Nguyen: Today is October 28th. I’m interviewing Rajani Ramachandran. Can you tell me when and where you were born?
Rajani Ramachandran: [0:00:13.9] I was born in New Delhi, India
KN: Can you describe your neighborhood as a child?
RR: [0:00:24.7] I think there’s one part of the question I forgot to answer. I was born on 22 September 1966 in New Delhi, India and my father worked for the government. So, we lived in what is called a “government quarters” in South Delhi. This was a neighborhood with, you know, like houses. Row houses and with a huge playground in the middle for the kids to play and it was a great community.
KN: What was your favorite memory as a child?
RR: [0:01:10.8] My favorite memory was actually of being able to go out and play. We had kids—because Delhi is the capital and people from all over the country come to work there. It was very diverse. My neighborhood was very diverse. People were there from practically every state in India and you know there was no fear when I was growing up you know we were not afraid of terrorist or we were not afraid of being kidnapped. It was just so wonderful. So we would just play outside. Especially during the holidays you know summer vacation when the sun rises really early in India so we would wake up at like five in the morning and just start playing till ten in the morning because then it gets really hot and then we would go into someone else’s house and we would take turns going to each other houses and playing in doors and then again in the evening we would be out playing till ten, eleven in the night.
KN: Do you have any siblings?
RR: [0:02:15.5] Yes, I do. I have an older sister.
KN: What’s her name?
RR: [0:02:23.6] Her name is Hema and she lives in New York City now.
KN: Who was your best friend as a child and what did you guys do?
RR: [0:02:33.7] My best friend was interestingly my cousin. My dad’s brother he use live just a few houses down from us and this cousin and I are just four months a part. So, we practically grew up as twins and we just did everything together. We— since we’re almost like twins we would even get sick together. So if one of us got an illness the other one would get it too. We played together, we went to school together, we laughed at other people together, and made fun of people. We just did all kinds of things together. So she was my best friend growing up and you know her name is Radhika. And she is in the US too now, she lives in upstate New York and even to this day we talked to each other at least two to three times a day.
KN: Can you tell me more about your family? Like how your family was structured like?
RR: [0:03:37.6] Okay. I come from a very traditional Indian family. Unfortunately not a very large family because my mother has one older brother and my father had one younger brother. As far as immediate family was concern we were a small family. But I grew up with my father’s mother living with us. So from the time I was born my paternal grandmother use to live with us. And then I was about 11 years old my maternal grandmother also came to live with us because you know my grandfather had passed away. So, I practically grew up with both my grandmothers in my house. You know at times there were intergenerational conflicts but I think I learned a lot from them.
KN: Can you tell me more about the intergenerational conflict?
RR: [0:04:32.1] It’s very subtle. the conflict. You know both my grandmother are very dynamic women. Especially my paternal grandmother she had to go through a lot of struggle. She got married when she was 13 years old and then she had to practically take care of her family and raise her family on her own. And so she’s a very dynamic woman but that also made her a little bit cynical about the world. So she was not the kindest person when talking. You know she could be kind of rough when she talks. (KN: like blunt?) Blunt, yes. So that would cause a few problems. But with age she mellowed and it was okay. It was more—I think it was more my mother who had issues with her. You know like any other mother in law/daughter in law issues. But I think—and then she was stricter on my older sister. By the time I grew up she had mellowed on quite a bit. So.
KN: Who are you closest to in your family?
RR: [0:05:47.0] That’s a very good question. Growing up when I was very young I was really close to my dad. No, really young I was very close to my mom. And then as I grew older I became close to my dad but then about 14 years ago my dad passed away and I have now become the caregiver for my mother. So I feel our roles have reversed. So now I take care of my mom. So—and my sister and I are very close. Growing up my sister was nine years older than me. So I feel as if I didn’t know her at all at that time because she got married very young, too. She was about 20 when she got married. I was eleven years old when she got married but now that we’re older I feel like I’m close to my sister.
KN: Can you tell me about when you first migrated to the US?
RR: [0:06:47.9] I came to the US on February 14th 1988. It was Valentine’s Day and I had gotten married. I had gotten married on Feb 4th 1988 and my husband was a student here at UT at that time. He was doing his PhD. So yeah, I came with him here.
KN: How did you first meet your husband? Or how did that- how did your marriage become?
RR: [0:07:19.4] Okay, it’s very common in India to have arranged marriages. And I have to say that that’s different than forced marriages. No one forced me to marry my husband. It was through some mutual friends that we met. And you know, our families met and then I met him. And you know? We went out a few times and got to know each other and it was not like a long dating period but we met and we felt you know we could make this work. If you ask him he will say we had the chemistry right at the beginning.
KN: What year was it that you first met him? When you first started dating?
RR: [0:08:06.6] It was in 1988. It was January of 1988. It was like a month, a month and half. But I have met his family like six or seven months before. He was in the US. He was in Austin. And then he came and then we met and so basically my parents had “if you don’t like him you don’t have to marry him but you know- just meet him.”
KN: What did you first think of your husband when you met him?
RR: [0:08:36.4] If I tell you that, it’s going to be archived! I felt he was harmless (laughs.) He was very cute and he’s actually very good looking. And you know –I don’t think we have enough time for me to talk about everything but. You know growing up in Delhi. Delhi is very very notorious for what is called “eve teasers,” so the girls in Delhi have this “jerk radar.” We all have it. So I call it a jerk-dar. So you know you can tell which guy is within “cheap” so when I saw him I knew he was a decent guy and I met him. So that was the first impression I had of him.
KN: So your husband was in America working on his PhD. And you went to America after you guys were married or before?
RR: [0:09:34.3] After.
KN: Can you describe your wedding for me?
RR: [0:09:39.5] Okay, so we had a traditional South Indian wedding. And, you know he comes from a large family. He has eight aunt and uncles on his father side and eight aunt and uncles on his mother side. So it’s a large family. So for me that was like “whoa” you know? But it was a traditional south Indian family. Traditional south Indian wedding with basically in India when there’s a wedding you just invite everyone you know. So it was a lot of fun. The families – it was really nice because his family members were very welcoming of me and my parents, so it was almost like we became instant friends. So it was very nice.
KN: Did you guys have the same religion?
RR: [0:10:39.9] Yes, we come from the same religion. We come from the same sect of the religion. So basically everything was—most of the arranged marriage at least 25 years ago was still being arranged based on all of those things: similar backgrounds.
KN: What’s your religion?
RR: [0:11:00.0] We practice Hinduism, yeah.
KN: How old were you when you got married in 1988?
RR: I was 21 years old. Yeah, I was very young.
KN: When you first came to America, what were your thoughts? Were you—can you describe your first day?
RR: [0:11:21.3] Ooh. Yes, I can. Because Delhi is a big city. I didn’t have too much of a culture shock. It wasn’t like “Oh my God where did I land?” So my first experience was that I landed in JFK and my suitcase came through the conveyer belt open, with half my things falling out the suitcase. So that was my first experience but anyways we gathered everything up and got on the flight and came to Austin. And you know a whole bunch of my husband’s friends were at the airport to receive us. I guess he was the first one to married so they were all just very curious to see who I was. So they came and um, the first place we went to the next day was the HEB on Hancock center. The one near sears here. And I distinctly remember the smell of walking in that day into that HEB. It was –I don’t know maybe it was a combination of the perfumes of the soaps, of the bakery and everything. But there’s a distinct smell and even today when I walk into that HEB I can smell that smell and after that we went to MGM it was a grocery store in those days it was in north Lamar. And it’s an Indian grocery and now they’ve moved out of that area. But I remember going there to buy groceries and then my husband drove me around Austin to show me the place and in those days we could actually go for a drive on I-35 because it was hardly any traffic. So we would go for a drive, we went on a drive on I-35 and he showed me Austin.
KN: Were you scared or excited to come to the US?
RR: [0:13:19.0] I wasn’t scared. I was definitely excited but you know I’m one of those people who needs—I’m a control freak. So, I need to know my way around and so I was kind of – I was dependent on my husband at the time for him to take me around. So I wanted to get out and get to know my way around.
KN: What about food? What did you think of American food?
RR: [0:13:50.0] Okay, you know many of my Indian friends, they’ve complained about the food. The thing is I didn’t know how to cook when I got married (laughs) so my friends—my husband friends was the one who actually taught me how to boil water and make rice. So then you know you guys would cook for me and slowly I learned how to cook. And I loved Mexican food. I loved pizza. I loved everything. We went to—the first time I ate Tex-Mex was– There used to be a chain restaurant called “El Torito.” It was near 290 and I-35 and I remember going there and I just loved Mexican food.
KN: Did you ever miss Indian food?
RR: [0:14:44.2] I use to make Indian food at home. Even to this day I’m not big on going out and eating Indian food at restaurants. I just make it at home and when we eat out I stay away from Indian food.
KN: Did you ever miss India when you first came?
RR: [0:15:00.6] Horribly. I missed India, horribly. I missed my family. I use to work when I was India so all of a sudden I didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to do. So I was horribly horribly lonely. And that I—it was not in those days you could not call India so easily. It was extremely expensive to call India. And we would call once in two months or once in three months and talk for five minutes. So the thing we use to do which we don’t do anymore was write letters. Every week I would write a letter to my parents and my husband would write a letter to his parents and every week my parents would write to me from there. So that was something I looked forward to eagerly for the mailman to come so I could you know- get a letter from my family.
KN: Going back can you tell me about your education in India?
RR: [0:15:53.4] I have a bachelor degree in English literature and I was working on my master when I got married but because of visa requirements I had to abandoned that and come here.
KN: Did you learn English back in India or did you have to learn it when you came here?
RR: [0:16:12.5] Oh no, I mean—the thing with growing up in India is we learn English while we’re there. It’s one of the languages we learn (KN: because of British colonialism?) Yeah, exactly. So you know my education was in English. I went to school, my family spoke English, and the newspapers are in English. Every—
[Notes: the recorder stopped recording without my knowledge. There’s a missing section between part I and part II]

Part II KN: What’s the role of religion in your immediate family?
RR: [0:00:04.5] Religion plays an important part in our lives. But, we are very liberal about our religious views. Hinduism is more a way of life, so it does not—there are no rules in Hinduism. The extent of religion we practice is we celebrate all the holidays and festivals. We have our own—every day we pray. We have our own alter in the house and we pray every day, but that’s it.
KN: Did you guys celebrate Diwali yesterday?
RR: [0:00:44.0] Yes we did. We celebrated Diwali. So we put out some lights. But because of the fire ban we couldn’t really do any fireworks or anything, but yes. We put out lights inside the house and some outside.
KN: With your kids do you ever (pause) feel like they face any sort of – they’re treat differently because they’re Indian in America?
RR: [0:01:09.7] That’s a very interesting question. Okay, so my children are six years apart. And I live in a neighborhood here in Austin, in southwest Austin. It’s a fairly affluent neighborhood in southwest Austin. My daughter felt that she experienced – not exactly discrimination when she was there but she experience some animosity or some kind of bullying of some sort because she was different. But my son six years later went to the same school, has lived in same neighborhood and he has had no issues.
KN: How did you respond as a parent to your daughter’s bullying?
RR: [0:02:01.0] (Pause) That’s very interesting. When she was there she couldn’t really identify it at that time. When she was in elementary school she couldn’t identify it as bullying. But, (pause) she just felt that people treated her different. Yeah, now that she’s older and she’s talking about it now. You know in hindsight you can- you look- you realize it. But for middle school she went to Fillmore. It’s a magnet school for liberal arts, middle school magnet school and she had a really good experience. She got to see all different kinds of people from all over the city, and from different economic levels and everything. So that was a different experience. And once she came back to the local high school. It was not like anyone bullied her in high school or anything- so she was okay.
KN: Did you ever feel that you were treated differently because you were Indian?
RR: [0:03:10.3] I do see a lot of snobbery in my neighborhood. And, I just think it’s a joke in my family. We call them all amnesiacs. These are people I have seen in my son’s school, and I do things with them when I volunteer at school, but for some odd reason, especially the women have this ability to pretend as if they have never seen you before. They just look right through you. And I don’t know what’s the deal is with that.
KN: (Pause)
RR: [0:03:49.5] I have to say that not everyone is like that. I have some really good friends in my neighborhood though.
KN: What do you feel were significantly different in terms of culture in the US and India?
RR: [0:04:04.5] It’s after all a new country, where you’re trying to hold on to your old cultures and traditions. So it is different. You know when I first came to this country I would never walk out wearing a Sari or my Indian clothes. Now, there is so many Indians here that I’m totally comfortable wearing them. Actually, I see so many non-Indians wearing Indian clothes now.
KN: Going back to your neighborhood—how did you react- because they pretend they don’t see you- how did you react to that?
RR: [0:04:44.5] I just walk away. I pretend I don’t see them too.
KN: Do you have any intentions of going back to India to live?
RR: [0:04:53.8] You know? There’s a very interesting term called the “x+1 syndrome” that all immigrants have it. It’s to say next year I will go back to India or you know we just keep talking- you know that x is never happens and it’s the plus 1.So everyone talks about it now that there’s so much changing in India and it’s growing so fast. I think we all want to be a part of it. We do miss it a lot; you know I really admire the immigrants who that came. You know like the early immigrants and others who came back. Even from people from Italy or other countries, European countries and Asia, that they came and many of them never have an opportunity to go back to their home country because you know it was not an option. I don’t know maybe it was easy for them to adjust because of that but now with travel has become so much easier. It’s not cheap but it’s at least- it’s very easy to fly back and forth to India and you know communication is so easy. You know I was telling you earlier how I would call my parents once in three months. Now I call my mother 3 times a day. With Vonage now, I have unlimited international calling. So I make more calls to India than I make to I make local calls here to my friends. So I’m able to talk to my friends and relative more easily. Facebook friends with friends back in India. I’m able to instantly chat with people, instantly email people, send pictures to people. And you know the funny thing is now any time there’s a family reunion or celebration here we set up Skype. So we can see what’s going on in India or here. So we are all part of the celebration. So yeah it’s pretty cool, pretty amazing. But yes there are times I still say I want to go back to India or maybe split my time split my time six months there, six months here.
KN: Have you ever been back to India? Go back to visit?
RR: [0:07:05.7] Oh my god. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been back to India. You know we try to go every other year. Even when our children were younger we would go every other year. So that they can be in touch but now I’m going in two weeks to India. (Kim: oh really?) Yes.
KN: Whenever you go back do you feel like India has changed? Do you feel like it’s different for you?
RR: [0:07:30.6] Yes, it is. Actually I just feel that India is changing at such a fast pace that the people who left are – we are just in shock. I almost feel—sometimes I feel like an outsider in India now.
KN: Can you explain what’s different?
RR: [0:07:49.0] (Pause) There’s a lot of money in India now. As a result people are in this—in an attempt to be more western. I feel they’re losing their identity. My daughter was telling me something funny, she was India this summer and she was telling me how she ate more cakes and pastry and things like that in India than she has ever eaten here in the US. It’s like everyone – I mean not everyone, it’s not like that—it’s still a very small population that has the money but people with money are just—they’re living it up India. The simplicity that was associated with India seems to be fading away.
KN: How do you maintain an Indian identity with your family? Do you try to maintain like- uphold cultures and traditions?
RR: [0:08:53.6] Yes, I do. I very strong- I do, do all that. Like I said we celebrate the festivals. We eat the food, but both my husband and I we are very liberal in our views. As a result I don’t, I’m not fanatical or crazy about saying that that’s the only thing we’re going to do. So we have embraced all the different cultures that have come our way and try to create our own culture with that.
KN: Can you tell me about your job in SAHELI?
RR: [0:09:34.3] I work for SAHELI for Asian family. It’s a domestic violence agency that works to help survivors of domestic violence and these are people pretty much from the continent of Asia, not just East Asia or South Asia. I’m the volunteer coordinator at SAHELI.
KN: How did you get into working in SAHELI?
RR: [0:09:59.4] I have always- women’s issues have been close to my heart right from the time I was very young. And so I was a stay at home mom for a while. Then I went to grad school and got my graduate degree and then I really wanted to work for a non-profit. I wanted to work for a non-profit that focused on women’s issues. But since I’ve been a stay at home mom I didn’t have much of a work experience so I started volunteering at the national domestic hotline and then from there I started working at the Texas Counsel on Family Violence. And then I was on the board of SAHELI briefly and then I felt that I really wanted to work directly one on one with people. Because till then I was doing all the paper work things but not directly with clients. So SAHELI had a job opening for a self-sufficiency specialist in their economic empowerment program. So I applied for that job and I joined SAHELI. I did that for almost three years but then I decided that I wanted to move on and do something different. So then this volunteer coordinator position opened up at SAHELI and I took that job.
KN: Why are women’s issues important to you?
RR: [0:11:24.7] Because I have seen the way women are treated. I saw it when I was growing up. You know the bias that women went through. It was so obvious and blatant in India and then you’ll see around the world. You know? Everything that happens to women and that is done to women- I just felt that I had to speak up against it.
KN: (Pause) What are you most proud of in your life?
RR: [0:12:10.5] Oh god, that’s a really difficult question. You know what I’m most proud of—I’m proud of the fact that I came to America and you know the most amazing thing about America is that it gave me the freedom to grow as a person. I have to definitely thank my husband he was really really supportive you know and he has been very very supportive. And in America I got an opportunity to fully develop and grow as a person. Because here it’s okay for me to stand up and fight against –fight against or stand up for a cause that I strongly believe in. Not that in India that I cannot do it. People when they find out that this is what I’m doing people still look at me strangely.
KN: Did your life turn out the way you thought it would?
RR: [0:13:24.7] You know I was only 21 years old when I got married and when I came to this country. I didn’t even know what to expect from my life. But I have no regrets. Absolutely none.
KN: If you could describe yourself using three nouns what would they be?
RR: [0:13:45.6] (Pause) Three nouns, that’s a very difficult question. I would say-- Nouns or adjectives?
KN: Nouns.
RR: [0:13:59.8] (Pause) Oh god. (Pause) I can only think of adjectives.
KN: Okay, three adjectives.
RR: [0:14:15.7] (Pause) So okay, let’s pause this for a second I have to think.
RR: [0:14:28.8] Okay I have three nouns. I would say a woman. I am a mom and I am a citizen of the world. (Kim: oh, that’s a good one.)
KN: So you said you went to grad school, was that in the US and can you tell me more about it.
RR: [0:15:00.1] Yes, I went to St. Ed’s and got a master in Human Services here in Austin. St. Edward’s University.
KN: How was education different in the US than in India?
RR: [0:15:12.5] Back when I was growing up, education is more creative in the US and you know in India it was even in the best universities. I went to Delhi University; it was one of the best universities. Creativity had no role in our education in those days unfortunately.
KN: What university did you go to?
RR: [0:15:38.9] The University of Delhi.
KN: If you could if you could redo your migration process what would you change and what would, what would you keep the same?
RR: [0:15:52.7] I wouldn’t change anything about it. I think I came at a good time, I did everything. The only thing I would have changed is maybe I would have gone to school sooner and um, maybe joined the work force a little earlier. Even if it was on a part time basis I feel like by not – by staying out of the work force for ten twelve years I missed out some. I mean I’m making up for it now and I have no regrets but maybe that was something I would have changed.
KN: So did you go back to school after your children were born?
RR: [0:16:40.6] Yes, I went back to school when my daughter started middle school.
KN: Did you have a hard time juggling being a parent and then going to school at the same time?
RR: [0:16:51.2] Of course it was really hard and but my husband was supportive. And my classes were in the evening so he would come home and watch the kids so I could go to school.
KN: How do you see the Austin South Asian community changing from when you came to how it is now?
RR: [0:17:14.4] For one thing it’s really huge. And there are really good amazing thing is that both the men and women are highly educated the one that are coming here. So I think that is why the economic independence and the income level of South Asian families is high is because both people you know the couple are both highly educated and have good jobs.
KN: Who do you tend to hang out with? Who are your-- What are your group of friends like?
RR: [0:17:58.4] Okay and it goes back to my growing up in Delhi. Because I grew up in Delhi and I had a very diverse group of friends it is somehow I seem to be a person who is more comfortable hanging out with a diverse group of friends. So even among my Indian friends you know I have friends from all over India, in different places. And my non-Indian friends are also like that. I have friends from the Middle East. I have Caucasian friends. I have black friends so it’s like everyone.
KN: (Pause) I think we hit everything.
Is there anything—is there any advice you would give to someone just migrating over to the US?
RR: [0:18:54.8] you know working at SAHELI I see what immigrant women go through. I have the luxury of knowing English. I had the luxury of having an education and I had the luxury of knowing that if something doesn’t work out my parents would support me if you know my husband was abusive or whatever my parents would support me. As a woman, I would tell every immigrant women who is coming to this country to know find out about all the resources that are available in this country. The US is a great place, there are more social services and help available then probably any other country in the world and so I would advised them to be well informed get to know their surroundings and neighbors. It is great to just be- it is great to you know be proud of our culture and our home country but it is also very very important to learn about the country that we have come to live in. So I kind of digress I was kind of all over the place but what I would encourage new immigrants is you know now a days it is very easy to not mingle with the people or you know to know get your know your neighbors because it’s very easy to get to have as many Indian friends as you want because there’s a lot of Indian in here. You can sit and watch your Indian channel as much as you want because you get it all on Dish network but if you do that you never get know anything about your immediate neighborhood, your immediate city. You don’t find out what is happening locally you might know what is happening in India but you might you will not know what is happening in your own city, or your own town. So my advice to the immigrants is it’s great that we can be in touch with you know our home country but be involved in your local community.
KN: Was it difficult for you in when you migrated over here in terms of migrating here, meeting people and making friends?
RR: [0:21:28.5] it was difficult but you know two things I really did and which I’m actually very proud of. So when at work and I have clients I tell them this I watch a lot of TV. I watched everything from soap operas from General Hospital to All My Children I watched. First week I didn’t realize when one ended and the other began because they all look the same. When you’re a new immigrant everyone looks the same so once I figured out that was great—it really introduced me to the American culture and American way of life. I watched all TV shows from I Dream of Genie to Leave it to Beaver to Cheers to Family Ties to the Cosby Show. I got to know things. So and then I went out, I use to when I was here in Austin I would take the UT shuttle that comes to the married student housing come on campus go to the library read books meet people. I would take the bus and go to the grocery store. Whatever needed to be done I started getting out of the house and going out. When I moved to Massachusetts when I was there for three years I started volunteering at the local hospital. My visa didn’t permit me to work, so I started volunteering at the local hospital and I got to know people that way. I met people and got to know them.
KN: Are you a US citizen now?
RR: [0:22:58.0] Yes I’m a US citizen.
KN: Two ore questions. Where would you call home?
RR: [0:23:07.3] You know I had this conversation with my husband this morning? I think Austin is home. And when I go to India now, after about two weeks I’m just ready to leave- I want to go home.
KN: Last question, is there anything you would like to add or tell before this is over?
RR: [0:23:28.7] I have a funny story to tell- you know this was back in 1988 there used to be a gas station I don’t remember what gas station right at Lake Austin Blvd. and 6th street when it turns to Mopac there used to be a gas station there, and my husband and my husband and I were going somewhere and I was wearing a Sari and we went to fill gas for some odd reasons the attendant there came up to my husband and said “ is your wife a princess?” and you know I was dressed and he said “Is your wife a princess?” and my husband said “ Why? Why do you ask?” he said no, apparently his girlfriend was Indian and she had told him that all Indian women are princesses or something like that. This is a random guy that thought I was princess. So, that was why—that was something that happened the first couple weeks of coming here.
KN: Alright, Thank you.
Part III: KN: Today is—I don’t even know.
RR: [0:00:04.5] November 2nd.
KN: November 2nd, I’m interviewing Rajani Ramachandran. Rajani, you said your dad worked in the government can you tell me what his job was?
RR: [0:00:16.3] My dad worked in the Prime Minister’s office. He was associated with the Prime Minister’s office. He was—how do I describe it in American words. (KN: An ambassador maybe?) He was in the, he was involved in the security of the country. (KN: Oh wow.)
KN: Would you say that your family was well-off compared to others?
RR: [0:00:50.9] No, we were a middle class family.
KN: What did your mom do?
RR: [0:00:56.4] My mom was a homemaker.
KN: When your sister got her arranged marriage, what were your thoughts having your sister leave when you were only eleven?
RR: [0:01:10.5] It was hard. Although, it’s a very common practice for girls to get married at a very young age you know my sister got married in 1977. That was still very long back. So that’s what a lot of people were doing but I wish you know culturally women are not treated like they are a piece of properties that need to be handed over from one family to another and now that attitude is changing. Girls are getting, finding good jobs, and getting an education but back then still it was like the norm to get her married off. I was young, I was eleven. I was still kind of confused about the whole thing.
KN: Did you know if you wanted an arranged marriage? Was that something that was understood that it would happen?
RR: [0:02:11.7] My—actually because I’m the younger one and I was nine years younger than my sister I think my parents became more open minded about it and my father actually asked me if there was someone in particular that I wanted to marry. But I wasn’t really dating anyone at that time. So that’s how the whole arranged marriage thing happened.
KN: Did your parents have an arranged marriage?
RR: [0:02:40.9] Yes, they did.
KN: Considering how successful your arranged marriage turned out, would you want to have that for your children?
RR: [0:02:50.9] No, because I think its pure luck that it turned out so well. You know I think it’s okay for parents to introduce to people but I think they need a lot more time to get to know each other to see if it will actually work out. I really think that the success of my marriage is pure luck.
KN: This is a random question- what sect of Hinduism do you and your husband practice?
RR: [0:03:22.0] There is no real sect in Hinduism. You know? I mean yes there are different groups but they are followers of one particularly deity but we are the general Hindus. We practice, I mean, we worship all the deities.
KN: When you went to undergraduate you said you had like a bachelors in English literature? What made you decide to have that major?
RR: [0:03:54.2] It’s a long story. I was really good at it. That was the simply answer and for me it was either do biology or go to med school or doing literature. And I—you know I decided not to go to med school. So I chose English literature.
KN: Did your parents mind or did they want you to be like a doctor?
RR: [0:04:25.4] No, (pause) they were pretty open, cool about whatever I wanted to do.
KN: When you came to America, your husband already have his group of friends –did you get along with them? Did you guys have an instant connection?
RR: [0:04:44.2] That’s a really good question. Actually, you know my husband had a group of friend but he’s not one of those people who has like thousands of friends and is out partying a lot. He’s more of a home-body, so when I came he did spend a lot of time with me and he had one really good friend. And that friend would occasionally come and hang out with us. Actually more than occasionally he would come and hang out with us. I got along really well with him.
KN: What was your husband’s major, focus when he was at school at UT?
RR: [0:05:23.6] Oh he was doing his Ph.D. in electrical engineer.
KN: What did you do when your husband was at school?
RR: [0:05:33.4] I took the bus and explored the city that’s what I did. I went to campus or went to the libraries or sit and read there. I would take the shuttle and go to the grocery store. So basically I just got to learn the city.
KN: Did you like living in UT, around UT?
RR: [0:05:55.1] Yeah, it was really nice. We use to—we lived in the Gateway apartment and we use to walk down Lake Austin Boulevard all the way down to the lake there and hang out there. So I liked it.
KN: Did you say that was like a UT marriage apartment?
RR: [0:06:12.8] Yeah it was a married student housing at that time.
KN: Can you describe how it’s life or—because I don’t think we have it right now.
RR: [0:06:19.9] It is. It is still there. It’s still there. Gateway is not there but Brackenridge is and Colorado Apartments are still there. There are a lot of—it’s a diverse place because people from all over the world who come to go to school and who have family live there. So there’s a lot of kids, it’s a very interesting place and I knew a few people there.
KN: Do you think it was hard for your husband to be married and going to school at the same time?
RR: [0:06:51.6] It was for a very short period. He was getting ready to graduate when we got married so we got married in February and he graduated in August. So he was working on his dissertation soon after we got married.
KN: After your husband graduated from UT, you said you went to Massachusetts can you tell me about your time in Boston? Was it Boston?
RR: [0:07:20.2] It was not exactly in Boston. We were in the suburb of Boston, in this town called Marlboro and these – if anyone has been to Massachusetts and I love the state but those suburbs are really really really small. And the most exciting thing there that happened is when the dairy queen would open in April after winter. That kind of shows you my attitude towards that place, that place is dead. There’s nothing to do there but what I started doing is volunteering at the local hospital. So that was good for me. I was taking classes on the side at the local community college and I started volunteering at the local hospital.
KN: What did you do as a volunteer in the hospital?
RR: [0:08:04.7] I actually worked in the medical records department. First, I was—I worked in the food service. I would talk to the patients and see what food they wanted to eat and all that but that got to be too much and then I started working in the medical records department.
KN: Did you enjoy volunteering?
RR: [0:08:26.5] Yes, I did. I’m a huge proponent of volunteering because I think that’s a great way for new immigrants or people who are not able to work because of visa situations or whatever—it’s a great way of getting experience.
KN: (Pause) When you first left New Delhi. Is that right? Can you describe your feelings of having to actually pack up and leave?
RR: [0:09:00.5] It was hard. It was very hard. Also because I did not get married in New Delhi. I got married in Chennai which is the south part of India. So for me it was like packing up and leaving from Delhi and going to Chennai and then leaving from Chennai and going to the US. It was like – in about two weeks, two weeks? About a month’s time there were lots of changes that were happening and it was very hard. Interestingly enough my parents moved out of Delhi after I got married so in the last 23 years I’ve gone back to Delhi only once. And you know I really missed going to Delhi because now the place that I grew up in has changed so much and I don’t even recognize the place anymore.
KN: Can you tell me more about your wedding and then moving to America? Because I guess that process of leaving Delhi, and then going to a different city, and then going to America must have been tough?
RR: [0:10:00.6] It was. You know because my husband family his grandparents were already old. They wanted to have the wedding in Chennai so we said “okay” and we had the wedding in Chennai. So I met him in Delhi and a few weeks later I came to Chennai. That was a few weeks before our wedding and then we got married and then a couple of weeks after that we left. Sorry I forgot the question.
KN: I just wanted you to describe your process of leaving.
RR: [0:10:38.1] Ahh, it was really hard. I had never been away from my family before that I was coming to a new country with a totally new person. I mean what I had known what I knew about him was all the superficial stuff. I didn’t know the real person and I was very nervous and I was scared but not like panic stricken. It was not like that. I was more sad that I was leaving my home and my family and less scared to actually coming to a new country.
KN: Were your parents there to like say goodbye?
RR: [0:11:14.8] Yes, they were there. They were there at the airport. I saw my parents every day after I got married I was practically there. Yes my parents were at the airport to say goodbye and my sister lives in New York so when I landed in New York my sister was there to receive us.
KN: Can you tell—did you guys go to New York for just like one day or did you guys stay for a while?
RR: [0:11:38.1] Oh, no, no. We just landed and then we had to take the flight to Austin.
KN: What are the differences between Boston and Austin in terms of I guess the South Asian community?
RR: [0:11:57.0] Because that place isn’t- there’s a huge South Asian community in Boston but it’s in small pockets. So there is many many small towns that’s how that’s how state is made up. So it was not like they were out and about like you see them in Austin. But you know Austin is a city where everyone is out and you go to the grocery stores and the temples or I don’t know to the park and you see people. There it is— because of weather also people are indoors most of the years and then in summer. At least, when I was there I didn’t see that many but I did start- I made quite a few friends even when I was there.
KN: What did you think of the climate?
RR: [0:12:43.4] I hated it. I hated it, hated it. So when my husband—three years that was the maximum we could handle the place. We just said we had to get out of there.
KN: When was your daughter born?
RR: [0:12:56.7] She was born in 1991.
KN: In Austin?
RR: [0:13:00.5] No, no. She was born in Boston, and she was three months old when we left. Sorry, six months old, we left.
KN: Can you tell me about your household now? Who lives your house?
RR: [0:13:19.0] In my house I have my husband, and my son who is 14 years old. I have my mother in law and my mother. My daughter is now in college so.
KN: Does she live away from home?
RR: [0:13:31.6] Yes, she does. She lives on campus.
KN: Is it different that she lives away from home. Because, I know in my family my mom did not want me to leave Houston at all.
RR: [0:13:43.1] No, I’m pretty open about everyone doing their own stuff. You know—I mean it’s hard even now when she comes home and leaves it’s really hard. I mean I feel bad, I miss her. I’m glad she’s doing this because I feel this would give her an opportunity to grow up.
KN: You said there was some small intergenerational conflict in your house. Is it your mother or your husband’s mother that it’s not disagree but it’s strange to her that your daughter has a boyfriend?
RR: [0:14:22.2] It’s both the mom. It’s both the grandmothers. They are not sure how to react to it. They understand that times have change from the time they were raising their children and it was not as common and now it doesn’t matter if you’re whether in India or whether you’re in the US everyone is dating. So but there’s a little bit of a discomfort with the notion.
KN: Is your daughter’s boyfriend—is he Indian? You said he wasn’t right?
RR: [0:14:55.0] No, he’s not Indian.
KN: Does your mother, does her grandmother feel awkward that’s he’s not Indian. Is that something that they would want like her to date? If she was to date—someone that was Indian guy?
RR: [0:15:12.2] I’m sure they want her to date an Indian, probably a vegetarian, probably a south Indian, probably from the same state as us and the same city but when but they like but they’re okay with him because they understand that times have change.
KN: Do you want your daughter to date a South Asian?
RR: [0:15:37.1] No. Not that I have anything against South Asians. I want my daughter to date someone that respects her and values her.
KN: For SAHELI, your work is there any particular event, any one event that made you want to work in, like, women’s issue.
RR: [0:16:00.3] Like I said before, the women’s issue have been—I have felt very strongly about it from the time I was very young. Maybe from the time I was a teenager I felt very strongly about it. There’s no one particular incident that made me want to go work there. When I found that there was this opportunity I just took it.
KN: Is there any memory or any event that you can tell us that makes you really like your job at SAHELI?
RR: [0:16:36.0] Actually there are lot of incidences that happen. You know it’s very hard when a client comes and you know I use to work with clients before. When a client comes and they have all these hundred problems and then you work with them and they solve one after another and they work towards empowering themselves. And they work towards self-sufficiency. And then recently, last week I saw one of my first clients when I first started at SAHELI that was four years ago recently I met her and she’s doing really well and she’s has a good job. She’s finally settled in her life. And those are the things that make me happy. When I see people living without fear and that is the most satisfying thing for me.
KN: How did you hear about SAHELI like how did you?
RR: [0:17:38.9] Um, I think I had heard about it in the community. People talk- that was the first time I heard about it in the community. And I would see them at community events and so you know I knew about their existence and with internet now everything is you know you can read about any organization you want.
KN: In the last interview you kind of said that in America it’s different like if you tell people in India that you work in like social work and you work in SAHELI they look at you funny? Why do you think like why do you think that is?
RR: [0:18:21.4] Ah, because domestic violence is still considered a, considered a taboo subject. It’s a family problem. You know? People have a lot of prejudices in India, so when, you know my own mother when she first found out that I’m doing this work for SAHELI. You came here and she saw me doing the work. I’m not—I’m going to work. Her first reaction was you know other people are going to curse me for the work I’m doing. Because the idea is that people will be angry because they think we’re breaking up families. But then I explained to her this is not about breaking up family this is about people who are being mistreated, people who are being abused and who are asking us for help. We don’t go and break up families. We are just helping people be safe. So she understands the concept but still she feels that you know I’ll probably incur the wrath of families and the other thing is social work itself. There are two ways of looking at it—in India the way people look at social work as a rich socialites-time-past kind of a thing. Or they look at it as people who don’t have a life who couldn’t make it in the real world you couldn’t become engineer or doctors or accountants or make money decide to be social workers. So that is another thing that occasionally my mother feels disappointed that I don’t have a job that pays a lot of money but you know then I explain to her how that is what makes me happy and I get a sense of accomplishment from my work. So.
KN: How do you feel from-- when from time to time your mother does not approve of your work?
RR: [0:20:19.5] I’m 45 years old. I really don’t care.
KN: That’s really true.
RR: [0:20:27.2] Yes, that’s the best part about this age.
KN: I don’t know if this is a good question but I mean –Did you know – I mean growing up did you know that you wanted to work in social work?
RR: [0:20:42.7] No I didn’t. Actually, growing up first I wanted to join India’s civil service and then when I came to the US. I did think that since I have an English background maybe I should join the high tech industry as a technical writer or something like that. I did that for a bit, but I didn’t find the kind of happiness that I was looking for in all that the sense of satisfaction? So then I decided non-profit was the way to go for me.
KN: Can you tell me about that job you had in the high tech industry?
RR: [0:21:18.9] it was not really in the high tech industry actually. It was for, I did some writing work for ACC—their manuals and all that. But, I didn’t really enjoy it.
KN: [long pause] I had a question that slipped me. Can you tell me about your graduate studies at St. Edwards and why you decided to go back to school?
RR: [0:21:52.4] Ah, my biggest regret when I got married was that I could not finish my Master’s. I was like one semester short of graduating. And that was like forever- it was bothering me. I had to have my Master’s degree. So I don’t know I just felt that I was not complete without that Master’s degree somehow. So then once my kids were a little older I found out about the Human Services program at St. Ed’s and I applied and I got in. And so that’s how I ended up there.
KN: Did you not go back to school when you first came to America because of monetary reasons?
RR: [0:22:41.9] Yes… it was mostly because of monetary reasons. You know… I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do and we had some family obligations so that’s why I didn’t go back to school at that time.
KN: Going back to school did it put a dent in the wallet? Because St. Ed’s is a private school right?
RR: [0:23:00.4] Yeah, but not at that stage in our life.
KN: Oh okay.
KN: (Pause) For your son is there, I mean you’re pretty open, but is there a certain career that you would want to your son to follow, or you’re just open?
RR: [0:23:36.2] I’m open to anything he wants to do. I would really really like him to be a teacher because I think he would be good at it but no, it’s totally his choice. Whatever he wants to do, whatever makes him happy. I just want him to be passionate about something and do that.
KN: Your daughter is International Relations major, what is she planning to do after she graduates?
RR: [0:24:04.9] She’s International Relations and Social Work major. So she wants to do like international development, kind of work as part of her social work degree.
KN: Do you think your children follow you?
RR: [0:24:16.7] That’s what my husband thinks. That I influence them way too much, but my daughter I think she’s in the right place you know because she’s really enjoying what she’s doing and if she decides to change her mind later and go to med school or something that’s totally up to her.
KN: When you first came to America, did you and your husband- because you guys were a new couple did you like struggle financially, or had any problems getting on your feet?
RR: [0:24:49.9] We didn’t struggle-struggle, but it was—you know he was just starting out; he was a student so we never lived lavishly. Even now, we are very careful about saving like many immigrants we are about savings. We never struggled we didn’t you know live lavishly either. We were okay.
KN: What do you do in your spare time?
RR: [0:25:18.2] In my spare time I love to read I love to exercise, I love to walk (KN: Zumba) and Zumba and all kinds of thing. And we both love to travel. My husband and I just love traveling. So that’s what we do.
KN: Where do you like to travel to?
RR: [0:25:40.7] All over. We travel all over the world. Yes.
KN: What are some of the places or what is your favorite place to travel to?
RR: [0:25:49.6] We try to go to new places, every time and not repeat. Other than India, we don’t repeat the same place because you know there’s so much to see. This past summer we went to Alaska (KN: Was that beautiful?) Oh, it was fantastic. It was fantastic. My son and I have been watching the travel channel shows forever and we’ve been planning this trip to Alaska. So that was fantastic. One summer we went to Spain, so you know.
KN: Are you in any community organization, like cultural organization?
RR: [0:26:32.5] No I’m not. Unfortunately, I’m not. For whatever reason, I have stayed away from them.
KN: Last question- Is there anything you would like to share, wrapping up about your immigration?
RR: [0:26:58.4] I am no regrets immigrating and coming to the US like I said last time. The US has been wonderful for me. It has helped me grow as a person, and I have all the freedoms that I would—I have all the freedoms that I want. Not that I wouldn’t have had these freedom in India, but I think because of societal pressures it might have been harder for to have accomplished everything that I have accomplished here.
KN: Thank you!
RR: [0:27:34.0] Thank you!

Holding Institution: Austin History Center
Donor: Amber Abbas
Item History: 2013-05-18 (created); 2013-05-18 (modified)

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