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My father, Raghbir, was born in Moradabad, India. Wanting to receive a better education and not having the means, my mother sold her jewelry to pay his airfare to the West when he was seventeen (the original plan was to travel by boat, but the Suez Canal was blockaded at the time). When my father arrived at Palam Airport, in New Delhi, his suitcase was eighteen pounds overweight. He couldn’t afford to pay the fee for the extra weight, so he went into the airport bathroom and put on eighteen pounds of clothes! When the plane stopped for refueling and cleaning in Khartoum, Sudan, where it was 118 degrees Fahrenheit, all the passengers were ordered off the plane. The flight attendant advised my father that he could take off the extra clothes, and he quickly obliged. He finally arrived in Birmingham, England, and worked as a machinist at a Goodyear tire factory. His supervisor instructed him to ensure that no manufacturing scraps remained on the floor after his shift, so my father organized his fellow workers into a team that kept the factory clean. They earned the factory’s “good housekeeping award,” a recognition that he treasures to this day.
My father saved his money and bought a ticket aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which was headed to New York City, where he arrived in 1960. From there he took a Greyhound bus to Birmingham, Alabama, to enroll at the institution that became Auburn University. He showed up as a brown man with a funny accent in the segregated South. Yet Americans made him feel welcome, and he was honored to have a new home. He proudly became an American citizen in the early 1970s. He traveled back to India to marry his wife, Surishtha, and they returned to the United States to start a new life. He began working at a small engineering company, and he eventually became its CEO, turning the firm into an international organization with sixty offices in the United States and additional offices in nineteen countries. He later served as the commissioner of industry, trade, and tourism for the state of Georgia. My mother Surishtha began her career by teaching psychology at a community college and later at a large university in Atlanta. She now writes children’s books about Indian culture. She became a US citizen in the early 1990s. I know that America gave my parents the opportunity of a lifetime as well as new lives. They are proud Americans and so am I.