I didn’t know what a library was.: Becoming Minnesotan

Nayana Ramakrishnan, July 24, 2008.
  • Name - Nayana Ramakrishnan
  • Age at interview - 47
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 04.03.2001
  • Punjabi level 1 class, SILC, Como High School, St. Paul, April 13, 2002.

    Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Problems in America: What could have helped this person’s adjustment in the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    India has a very good educational system.  The free public schools have offered opportunities for many young Indian men and women to earn college degrees and even advanced degrees, as well as gain advanced skills and better jobs.   Beyond schools, though, there are limited learning opportunities in India; public libraries, for example, are not widely available. 

    To learn more about Asian Indian history and culture, visit our Asian Indian Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Nayana Ramakrishnan 10
    1:50 Minutes | 1.77Mb


    Narrator: Nayana Ramakrishnan (NR)

    NR:  The one sort of consolation or one friend that I always had was books. In fact, I recall that first week of school, they took me to the library, the school library. They were giving me an orientation of the whole school. Somebody was, I’m not sure who. But then they took me to the library and I saw all these books, these marvelous books. They said, “Every day you can have two, but only two books a day.” That was just perfectly all right.

    So every day I used to take two books, and then the first thing I did on each of the books was write my name on them because that was an Indian thing. When you get a book you write your name, so you immediately know it’s not anybody else’s. Then what happened is, I got a call shortly after. The teacher got a call and I’m sent to the principal’s office. They said, “Why have you defaced all the books? Look at your name on these six or eight books.”

    I had it in four places. I had it on the side. I put my name, “Nayana.” And in the inside and the back, and just about everywhere. So in four places in about six to eight books. When they asked me, “Why did you put name on there?” I wouldn’t answer. I thought I’d done something bad, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t answer.

    Then I think somebody, one of the administrators or the principal, figured out and said, “Do you know what a library is?” I didn’t know what a library was. I didn’t know what you do there. “Do you know that you’re supposed to borrow the books? You don’t get to keep them. You borrow them and then you return them.” So I got that concept down. After that I used to take out plenty of books, but I didn’t put my name on it.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  An idea; an understanding; a generalization.


    Noun:   Something which consoles or comforts.


    Verb:  To damage or spoil the appearance of something.  (defaces, defacing, defaced)


    Noun:  An introduction to a new environment.


    Verb:  To remember; to recollect.  (recalls, recalling, recalled)


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 623