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January 11, 2011 > American Stories

American Stories

By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By courtesy of Sandhya Sridharan and Subu Gupta

Editor's Note: This is the final article in the series profiling local residents who immigrated to the Bay Area from different parts of the world. In TCV's December 14, 2010 issue we recounted the life story of a couple from Greece and Germany. The January 4, 2011 issue focused on a couple who emigrated from Mexico.

Picture Sandhya Sridharan growing up in the far-off country of India. Although her life was full, it was quite different than life in the United States. In India, changes are evident now; in her earlier years, women had few rights. Moreover, the media is more democratic.

One of her childhood memories is at age eight or nine. Riots occurred near the border of southern India and refugee camps were close by. Many nights she heard the screams of women and children being brutalized in detention centers.

Sandhya's childhood in the very conservative and family-oriented culture was active and happy. She and her sister liked the outdoors, playing badminton, cricket, and jumping rope. Folk dancing, a means of Indian storytelling, was another attraction. Each state in India has its own form of folk dance. Because of family travels, she witnessed many varieties of folk dancing. Although Sridharan did not dance, she and her family enjoyed watching.

Sridharan's hometown was fairly large. The family home was in a remote area with plenty of open space. Her mother stayed home to give Sandhya and her sister her undivided attention. Her father worked in high-level management for a paper company.

Both she and her sister attended an English speaking school 35 kilometers - approximately 22 miles - from their home. Both parents highly valued education, especially math and science. Sridharan enjoyed math more than science.

While in India she continued her education and became a computer science engineer. She experienced life in large cities while in college and during her early employment. This gave her the impetus and courage to travel and work abroad. The United States offered better job prospects, so when Sridharan was in her mid-twenties she obtained a job in the Bay Area and immigrated to the U.S.

Upon arrival, her new boss met her at the airport and got her situated in a local motel.

Then her cousin came from Irvine to help her find and settle into an apartment. For a few weeks, she was rather lonely and scared. She had never lived alone before.

When Sridharan arrived, she knew no one here. Then she made friends at work and life improved. About six months later, she met Subu Gupta, her future husband. Gupta, also a computer engineer, with a degree from Arizona State University, had grown up in India like Sridharan.

Two years of dating culminated in marriage. The wedding was held in India so family and friends could attend. Her father invited 500 guests to this gala affair. The families planned a special day for the couple, but sadly, the day before the wedding, Gupta's father suffered a massive cardiac arrest and died.

Due to Indian customs, the earliest the wedding date could be reset was 13 days later. Their belief is the soul remains in the house for 13 days after death. So, they married 15 days later in a small ceremony at a Hindu temple.

The couple returned to California and settled in Union City. Now they have two children. Their daughter Mahika and son Krish attend New Haven schools.

The environment is different here. Both parents work but emphasize involvement with the children. Sridharan commented that life is a juggling act.

The two share the same goals of raising their children to be independent and strong individuals while having a comfortable life. So far they are succeeding. They miss their families, but good friends and great neighbors compensate.

Home cooking is typical in this family. Approximately 80 percent of the meals are Indian cuisine. Sridharan varies it for the children's sake. Sometimes on the weekend they go out to eat. She laughs that stuffing samosas with varied vegetables is "a good way to get the children to eat their vegetables." Krish, like his father, is a vegetarian, whereas the two females in the family are not.

Reading to her children is one activity for which Sridharan makes time. Her daughter especially enjoys books. Right now Mahika is reading "Ghosts of the White House" to her mother. Many of her choices have extra benefits by helping her mother learn more American history.

Realizing the advantages of citizenship and planning to stay here, Sridharan and Gupta felt citizenship made sense so two years ago, they took the necessary actions to become Americans.

The three immigrant families, profiled in this series, have contributed to our culture, in their own ways, and represent the essence of America. All are Americans.

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