Essay by Ramanjot Kaur

Ramanjot KaurUniversity of California, Berkeley


As an Indian-American, I’m often asked which nation I identify more strongly with - whether I feel more Indian or American. To be honest, I never know how to answer this question. I’m both. Indian and American. Punjabi and Californian. Not one more than the other.

I moved to the U.S. with my family when I was very young. My parents left behind everything they knew to give my siblings and I opportunities they never had. Growing up, everything I knew about India I learned from my parent’s stories about Punjab - about the dust, the heat, and the struggles they faced. My mother and father used what they learned in Punjab to build a home for us in California. They showed me how a simple cup of cha can make even the hardest days better and how there is nothing that can’t be fixed with persistence and creativity - whether it’s a ripped jacket or a kitchen faucet. Most importantly, they taught me that it’s possible to start over and build a home from nothing. And to me, that’s what being Indian means - to do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

And in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been shown this time and time again. Whether it’s using an old string to tie shut an open window in the monsoon winds, or building a community of strangers in a guest house, or developing much needed hospital guidelines to prevent antimicrobial resistance.

At times, the future can feel hopeless. The looming antibiotic crisis we were warned about in school is already here. Patients with multi-drug resistant infections are just down the hall. And so is climate change - parts of India are at a scorching 47 degrees and cities like Chennai are about to run out of water.

And yet, as I’ve been reminded in my time here, there are people all over India working hard to tackle these challenges. People who will open up their arms to catch you, who will open the door for you when your hands are full, who will wait with you until your taxi arrives, and who will invite you to their home for dinner when you haven’t eaten. In the same way my parents built a home for us in America, Indians today are working hard to build the India that they want for future generations. In all the frustrations and heartbreak - we are resilient and brave.