My name is Humaira Basith.
INTERVIEWED BY Lauren Edstrom


DEPARTED FROM
Hyderabad, India

ARRIVED IN
Schaumburg, Illinois

YEAR
1980

AGE
6

NOW LIVES IN
Darien, Illinois

HUMAIRA BASITH'S FIRST DAY

TRANSCRIPT

Okay, I’m putting on speaker and recording. Is that okay?
HB: Yes.

Okay. Can you state your name for the record?
Sure. My name is Humaira Basith. And, I’ll spell it for you. It’s H-U-M-A-I-R-A. Basith is: B-A-S-I-T-H.

Okay, thank you. And then, can you tell me what year you moved from…Hyderabad?
Yes. Hyderabad is a city in India. And it’s where my family lived in a neighborhood called Mughal Pura. And I’ll spell that for you: M-U-G-H-A-L P-U-R-A. So, that was our neighborhood in the city of Hyderabad. Kind of like how Chicago has neighborhoods, it’s the same sort of idea. And we moved here when I was 6 years old, in 1980.

So, it was 1980. Can you tell me anything you remember about your first day here?
I can remember arriving at O’Hare International Terminal. And, I remember that it was June, when we came. And I remember looking around and people looked so different from anything I had ever seen. And…the way the international terminal was set up at the time, there was a glass wall on the second floor and it was kind of like a viewing gallery, down into the customs area. And people could look down and see their families come in, you know. And you’d do a frantic wave from the other side of the glass when people would recognize their family members. And, I remember just looking up at the sea of people standing behind that glass…and just thinking, “Wow that’s a lot of people and not very many of them look like my family, like…I don’t know who these people are.”

Oh my gosh.
The mind of the 6 year old.

Yeah. Was that scary for you? Was it exciting?
Yeah. I remember being very quiet. Just taking it all in. There’s a little anxiety there’s a little fear...but it’s more just like a hyper-awareness.

And then in the days afterwards and everything, can you remember how your family dealt with it? How they were feeling? Maybe like, your first days of school.
So...my uncle, my Dad’s older brother came to the United States in 1968 to get his Masters in Engineering. So he and his family were established. And he petitioned for all of his six siblings to come to the United States. And, everybody got their visas and because that was my Dad’s brother, my Dad got his visa long before my Mom and I did. And we, my mom and I, were the last of our family to come from India. The house was empty, we put a lock on it, we went to the airport with our extended family to see us off. We were the last of our family to make it...to come to America. And so, when we came my Uncle had a house in Elk Grove Village, and he had been here for quite a few years already. 18 years or whatever that adds up to. His family was well established and we had a little raised ranch house in a nice, cute, little suburb of Elk Grove Village. And so when we came, we came to his house as everyone else, who had come before us, in my family, had done. And his house was always the transition ground...where people would come, they would stay for 6, 8 months...a year, two years...whatever it took for them to kind of get on their feet. And then, they would move out. Because my Dad had already been here, and working, we were there for about six months. And that was really an important time. Because it meant that my Aunt.... my Dad’s sister in law and my Mom got to spend some time getting my Mom acclimated to what it means to be in America, to run a household, how do you get groceries, how do you work appliances that you’ve never seen before, right? All those sorts of things, just the cultural...you know...small things. You have to...like, India is a very traditional, classical society. And classical societies didn’t have a culture of smiling at people. This was a new thing for us in America to be like, “It’s considered rude if you don’t smile at people when you see them in public.” Things like that...the soft skills that are a part of acclimating to a new culture. And for me, it was really interesting because... my Uncle had four kids. I had four cousins. And, his oldest daughter is about four years older than I am. So she was the perfect kind of...gateway to what it means to be a kid...things that are normal, things that are not normal, stuff like that. In India, I went to an English private school. I went to a Catholic school, in India. But, when it came to actually...like speaking English, and being comfortable in English...that was a whole ‘nother world. So I found myself being quiet, more than anything else. I remember very distinctly, the first weeks that I was here...the oldest two are girls, and we are probably 5 or 6 years apart. And they were having a typical sibling spat, right? The younger sister was mad at the older sister and the older sister was like...whatever she said...and so, the younger sister was like [imitates voice] “So?! I don’t care anyways!” and she went and stomped to the living room and sat on the couch. And so, there were so many elements here that were foreign to me. As a child, from an Asian culture, you do not stomp on the ground in anger.

[Laughs] What was that?
She did that, and her parents didn’t immediately give her a whooping? I was like, “Oh my gosh! What is happening here?”

[Laughs] Oh my gosh.
And I remember, so clearly, her saying “Sooo?!” And afterwards, I went to my older cousin and asked, “What does ‘so’ mean?” The first question...the first English word that I remember hearing from their little argument and then asking her what does it means. And “so” is kind of an interesting word to translate, right? So, my cousin’s like trying to figure out how to translate the word “so”, right? Because, as a English student I kind of knew nouns. I knew what an apple was, I knew what an orange was, things like that. I just remember asking, “What does ‘so’ mean?”

That’s kind of a weird thing to describe. Yeah, I wouldn’t know how to. Alright, so I think we’re a little over our time limit but that was wonderful, thank you so very much for everything.


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