Immigration: A Story of My American Family

AnnPKalayil photoJune has been designated Immigrant Heritage Month and I wanted to share my immigrant story and join the conversation happening across the country. My parents’ journey to our country and their experience as new Americans helped shape who I am today.

My great uncle came from Kerala, India, to Chicago in 1954 to pursue his graduate degree at Loyola University. After pestering him to come to America, my father was able to leave his job as a high school economics teacher in rural India, leaving behind his wife and three children to make the journey by ship. He enrolled in the graduate program in Sociology at Loyola University. In 1959, my mother joined him here and shortly afterwards I was born.

My parents came at a time prior to the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, which meant that only 100 visas were allowed for India and the Philippines on a yearly basis.

My parents also learned how to navigate their space in Chicago prior to the passing of the Civil Rights Act and made the best of living in a segregated society. With the elimination of quotas based on nationality and being highly engaged in their community, Dad and Mom quickly became the resource for most Indian immigrants coming to Chicago. They were relied upon to help others integrate into American society. My parents helped start organizations – be it cultural, social service, inter-faith, and civic in nature – for the community.

Their experiences taught me to cherish America’s core values of freedom, equality, and service. Growing up around these activities sparked my interest in working with and speaking for all people. The notion of service – or seva according to the Indian tradition – was the norm for my family. What my parents instilled in me is what I bring to work every day as a public servant. I’m proud of my family’s history, and proud to play a role in service to my community and our country.