I was making small talk with one of my cousins on a visit to India maybe 10 years ago.
“Did you ever think about moving to the West?” I asked him. He’s a doctor in a very remote, very poor village where snakebites are the most common cause of death.
“Never,” he answered promptly and enthusiastically. “When I was young, I would lie there next to our grandmother and she would weep each night about how much she missed her son.” How much she missed my father.
My father’s immigration story is not completely unusual. He grew up in a small village, the youngest of three children. When his brother and sister had both started families and it became clear his sister’s family would need some financial assistance, his brother raised the money for my father to go to a western university and earn money to send back to the family in India. When my mother married my father, she contributed her income to the same cause without question.
My parents’ best friend in England tells stories from before I was born about how my mother would only buy carrots if they had the tops on, which their friend found odd until she realized my mother would use the tops to make carrot top curry to give them an extra meal so they could send more money back home.
I grew up wanting for nothing, but we didn’t live comfortably by middle-class American standards (I earn less than my parents did but live much more lavishly today than when I was growing up).
My grandmother knew all of this. She knew why my father had moved away, and I know she was grateful. I am really proud of how my cousins today are all flourishing, some of them doing things that give back to the community (including the doctor in the remote village and another cousin who works for the government’s pollution control division). I know my grandmother was proud, too, and I know she was grateful for my father caring so deeply about his family, and I know she loved my mother and appreciated how she cared just as deeply about his family. And she wept every night to my cousin when he was a boy about the son she loved but rarely got to see.