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Monday, January 28, 2008

Unhappy Indian immigrants express their disillusionment with American life

Little India magazine, a US publication for Indian communities in America, published a story about unhappy Indian immigrants in America, some of which came here against their will, interviewing several of them to reveal their thoughts and feelings. Among their complaints were the feelings of isolation and stress, the cold indifference of strangers and neighbors, general boredom, and feeling “unnecessary” and meaningless. You can read the story on their website at the link below. I’ve also included some key excerpts and quotes from the article: (I always enjoy hearing from East Indians by the way, because like me, they are spiritual and philosophically oriented)

The colors seemed to have been drained out of her life. Says Aparna, "The small pleasures of life I used to experience in India, I do not experience here. In India, standing on your balcony, you see life, you see kids playing, you see people sitting together. Neighbors stop to laugh and chat and find out how you're doing.
Here I would sit on the deck in the suburbs. All around me, there are beautiful trees, beautiful landscapes, and lovely cars. But there are no people. You might as well hang up a pretty picture in your living room and just keep on watching that. What's the difference?"

"My daughter is growing up here and I worry about her - that she will pick up the culture here and that constantly depresses me. I'm trying to blend in, but at times I still feel depressed and lonely. I think if I were 40 or 50, I would still prefer to go back. I cannot live here for good."

She adds: "I think each and every individual is here to make money. Personally if given a choice, each one of us would be there and not here. So I guess each one of us is compromising and trying to adjust."

"Everything seems to be artificial and formal and people seem to be pretending. You feel as if everyone has a mask on their face. They are not the same any more."

She feels in America, people are running on mental treadmills, with no time for anyone. You dare not drop in on a friend uninvited or dawdle with extended family, chatting over dinner on a weekday. She says, "It's this 'I'm really busy' attitude. It's the same 24 hours we used to have in India, the same 24 hours we have here. It's the same time, what's the difference, I don't understand. Yes, I know we don't have help here, but I'd make sure I give a hand with the dishes before I leave."

She feels the financial rewards of America are overrated. So what if you have a house or car? "You have a car to drive, because here it's a necessity. In India it's a luxury. Here, you have a car, but it's not your own. You have a house but it's not your own. You don't pay two installments, they'll come and take it away. "

Well-wishers point out to her the glittering wonders of America, the many malls where you can get anything your heart desires. She says, "Yes, because you don't have a family or circle of friends whom you can be with, you walk around malls and ultimately buy things. It's a consumer society and that's the only entertainment."

Even more grueling than the poverty was the loneliness. He says, "If you live in isolation, if you live in loneliness, that is the worst thing that can happen to an immigrant."

His life in Southern and Central Illinois, andlater in upstate New York was very spartan and emotionally bare: "These are small, cold desolate places and you have no friends.

It's miserable. If you have no job, you are ill or have some health problem, then that's the time you feel more isolated, more lonely. And that's the time you wish that you hadn't come to this country."

Partha Banerjee who works with New Immigrant Community Empowerment: “There are so many stories of unhappy people.”

It is often a rude awakening for a new immigrant to find himself in a rundown seedy apartment crawling with roaches and rats, counting pennies and struggling to hold on to a miserable job that he hates, if only for survival.

The faces of indifferent strangers greet him in the corridors and on the streets. At that moment, the string bed in the open courtyard of his village home, surrounded by loved ones and a pot of saag cooking on the family hearth, seems incredibly inviting.
This too is somebody's American Dream gone awry.

A reader on Little India’s site concurred, posting her feedback:

“1) Feedback added by Madhvi / 09-10-2005 (id 39)

What you have written is quite true. I also came here two months back and really feel like I am trapped in a gold cage. I was working in India for almost 10 years as an IT professional and now for everything I am dependent on my husband. It is so frustrating. My father is a heart patient in India and I have no mother. I feel so guilty at times that I wished I have never come here.”


  1. I have been in the US 16 years and made and lost good friends here, and in India. It is important to TRY and immerse yourself in another culture - that is the only way to relate to people around you. After that if you don't like the culture, you can do something else. I immersed myself in the American way of life for the most part, and I don't have a single Indian friend in this country. My friends are kind, helpful, enjoyable and not overly demanding. But somewhere there is a little bit of is not a logical feeling. I don't consider myself second class citizen here but there is a nagging feeling. I get along with almost everybody I meet but there is no deep connection. Maybe as an Indian I have more emotional needs than I thought I had. My suggestion is to get out there, experience life as changing and keep your options open to go back to your old way. So many Indians compare amenities in the US to those in India and say they are better off...yes they are. But are you living life to your fullest...without anger, fear, hate or any of those emotions that make you care too much. When I came to this country my first big boss told me a rule of negotiating was "never care too much" - I believe that to be the rule of life.

  2. Ok, so I don't know much about spending many years in the US, but I have moved to the UK 15 years ago and here I am sharing my experience.

    For the first 2 years, I was extremely unhappy as I had to learn a new way of life, one that did not have maid servants or family members around to help with 'chores'. There was also no time and a lot of stress as I had to travel 2 hours each way for work. But the most irritating and depressing thing was that everything was temporary. We didn't know when we would go back and hence all the furniture, etc the way of living was 'temporary'.

    Once we crossed 5 years and got a 'permanent residency' that is when some form of normalcy returned in life. By that time, we also had friends here, so instead of the mentality of 'them and us' it was about individual people we got along with or didn't get along with. We realised everyone moving anywhere would have an adjustment period, even if a person moves from UK to India, they would go through an adjustment period which involved loneliness.

    After 7 years, I realised a lot of my own personality and traits had changed. I did not mistrust people the way I used to in India. I did not think, 'what is the ulterior or money motive or bribe another person is looking for' in my interactions with people. I did not feel unsafe on the roads or in the local trains on my way to work. I did not hate the police or government or politics in the same way as I did in India (I will always hate some part of politics, but not in the way I hate Indian politics when they lynch someone to death for eating meat or police young lovers without them performing any kind of crime). I realised that a lot of things that Indians take for granted for living in fear simply do not exist in western society. Its not just about the first few things you see when you land here like houses and cars, its about letting go of many presumptions and ways of thinking.

    After 10 years, my India trips started feeling like tourist trips rather than 'going back home'. I equiped myself with medicines, dust masks, hand sanitisers and other things.

    The key fear I have visiting India is picking up dengue, typhoid or other tropical diseases. In India I used to get a 4-6 week bout of flu every rainy season when I was growing up there. Here, I have been disease free for at least 5-6 years apart from a slight cold occasionally when the weather changes.

  3. In India, I never got any work done without paying bribe, here I have been completely honest (including buying houses etc) without having to pay anyone any sort of black money or bribe money.

    In India I used to carry pepper sprays for people who molested me in local trains on a daily basis in Mumbai. Here, I cant even imagine anyone touching even my nails without my permission.

    In India, I had to leave my dream of higher education when my dad lost his job. Here I know at least we wont live on the streets or die if all my family members lose their jobs, the government will at least give us enough for a piece of bread for all of us to eat.

    In India, I cannot really exercise freedom of speech and say out load I hate BJP's violence or lack of logic without wondering who is listening and will come after me to kill me like neanderthals. But in UK I can easily voice any opinion knowing people will argue like adults and not resort to undue violence.

    In India, I cannot trust that if I buy any food, spices, vegetables, then food officials have not been bribed and omitted food regulations. Here I can buy things with the confidence that my family's health is not endangered because someone decided to take a bribe.

    So yes, I have to do my own dishes, I have to travel to work and work hard, and I can't go uninvited to anyone's house. But I have learnt how to 'trust' people, 'trust' officials and 'trust' medical establishments. Something I did not even know I needed to learn before I left India.

    Its not just about a house or a car or money - that we had in India as well. It about a way of life full of trust, respect for individuals and their personal space, and widening your horizons beyond immediate needs. Its about understanding another culture, going out there and interacting and learning and making new friends. Its about growing as a person and not clinging on to old ways which may or may not be the right ways.

  4. This is my first time i visit here. I discovered such a significant number of engaging stuff in your blog, particularly its talk. From the huge amounts of remarks on your articles ...
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  5. Indians are very cultural peoples and they live very happily in india but because of money and better lifestyle they move to abroad. So, loneliness is the thing they have to face. India is underdeveloping country. Well i'm IBPS PO officer in Bangalore India. I did preparation of exam from Prasads Academy and they teaches me that what you have is good and go for better in life.

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