REMEMBERING OUR ROOTS
Before the story of the "discovery" of America that we learn in school, this land we call Phoenix was inhabited by Native nations, including the O'odham Jewed, Akimel O'odham (Upper Pima), and Hohokam, for centuries. We make this land acknowledgment because the systems of oppression that dispossessed Native populations then continue today, oppressing the Native groups that continue to live here as well as other black and brown communities.
We also recognize that on this stolen land, all but those who are Native and descendants of enslaved peoples are immigrants whether we arrived days, years, or decades ago. To remind us of our foreign origins, we are starting this series to highlight PLAN's immigrant roots - it will feature the immigration histories of staff, community members and partners, and board members. First up, PLAN's new Executive Director, Rekha Nair.
Rekha's Immigration Story
My father, like most immigrants, came to the United States looking for a better future for himself and his family. In the 1970s, he moved from a small village in Kerala, India's tropical backwaters to the University of Minnesota's snowy campus. He spent his first Christmas in the U.S. with his mentor's family and bought his mentor the only useful gift he could afford - a pair of socks. In 1977, he and my mother had an arranged marriage and she immigrated to the United States. A few years later, they had the good fortune of being sponsored for a green card (legal residence) by my father's company. In 1987, they became U.S. citizens - sworn in by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Along the way, they had three kids and made Mesa, AZ our permanent home.
As a daughter of immigrants, I grew up on the "hyphen": speaking a mix of Malayalam (the language of Kerala, India) and English, eating both American and Indian food, and celebrating a combination of Indian and American traditions. In Mesa, I got a great education, but often felt isolated and out of place as one of the few non-white, non-Christian,
non-"American" kids. Because of these childhood experiences of being the other, it took me many years to find pride, comfort, and confidence in my hyphenated Indian American, daughter of immigrants identity. And if I am honest, some days I am still not truly comfortable in my own skin, but I know I am better for having lived between these two worlds (fellow desi and poet Rupi Kaur puts it best). It is what inspired me to go to law school to become an advocate for black and brown people who are othered and marginalized by our legal system and what motivates me today to continue to stand with my Phoenix community and fight to ensure we are all seen, loved, and valued in America.