We came in January to Minnesota, which was quite a shock in itself.: 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
  • Magan Agrawal "India Bazaar", November 25, 1997.  Photographer: Mark E. Jensen.


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    Essential Question

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

    Assimilation: Does a person have to give up part of his/her culture to become more American?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Immigrating to a new place is scary - especially when you don’t know the local English dialect, the language, or the customs.  Many Indians come to the U.S. willing to take on the challenges of a new culture in order to have better educational or job opportunities.  However, their first challenge is to get out of the airport!

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

    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • Chapter 3
    • Chapter 4

    Download Nayana Ramakrishnan 4
    1:43 Minutes | 1.65Mb


    Narrator: Nayana Ramakrishnan (NR)

    Interviewer: Polly Sonifer (PS)

    PS:  How old were you when you came from India to Minnesota?

    NR:  I was exactly seven and a half years of age.

    PS:  What was that like for you?

    NR:  Well, it was certainly different. I had no conception of what the United States was, and definitely not what Minnesota was. We came here on January 26, 1961, basically one week after John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Not that I knew who he was or anything of the kind.

    But we came in January to Minnesota, which was quite a shock in itself. My father had said it was cold. Our concept of cold was more or less Pune, Pune cold. Pune is located in a mountainous region, so it’s more like a hill station, so we had to wear sweaters there. That was the extent of the cold that we knew about.

    Although my father said, “Make sure you have warm clothes, warm clothes,” in most of his letters, what we did was, my grandmother took some of my grandfather’s, who was deceased, his woolens, and had them altered to fit my sister and I, and sweaters from cashmere and we had little coats. Our outerwear was a cashmere shawl turned into a jacket for us.

    In terms of shoes, that I cannot really remember, although I know that my feet were very cold so I can imagine they were just - I don’t think they were slippers. I know we had socks. But they might have been open-toed.

    Continues in Chapter 2

    Download Nayana Ramakrishnan 5
    1:11 Minutes | 1.14Mb


    Narrator: Nayana Ramakrishnan (NR)

    NR:  They put us up in a hotel [in New York] and we saw TV for the first time, in our room. We didn’t know what to order. We were very hungry and we were supposed to do room service and the bellboy who brought our suitcases up, he said, “Oh, you can order by room service,” but we didn’t know what "room service" meant.

    And so we didn’t do that for a while and then when he came back with more bags, he said, “Well, did you order from room service?”

    We said, “We don’t know what room service is.”

    He said, “All you do is you pick up the phone and order your food.” So we didn’t know what to order because we didn’t know what kind of food. We were only sure of what our food was and we knew that that was not American food.

    So my mother, who knew English but not very well, she picked up the phone and dialed and they said, “What would you like?” and she said, “Sandwich.” They said, “What kind of sandwich?” She said, “Tomato.” That’s the only kind of sandwich she knew about, so we got tomato sandwiches, after this long journey.

    Continues in Chapter 3

    Download Nayana Ramakrishnan 6
    1:47 Minutes | 1.72Mb


    Narrator: Nayana Ramakrishnan (NR)

    NR:  My mother had heard so much from Indians who had actually taken a plane and so many people were trying to be helpful and tell her, “Well, make sure that your children don’t eat on the flight because they’ll throw up.”

    So what happened is, she did not let us eat on the flight very much, so we were just absolutely hungry when we got to New York. And at that time it was not a nine-hour journey or whatever. It was a very, very long journey. So I remember that we just were famished and the first thing my mother did is we went to a restaurant in New York, before all these other things were sorted out.

    We walked into the restaurant and, again, didn’t know what to order, so it was 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. in the morning and there was a black waitress there, and she must have looked at us and decided that we needed help. So she said, “Would you like pancakes?” and we said, “Pancakes? What’s pancakes?” Anyway, that was a breakfast food, we found out. We had heard of cake. We had cake in India.

    So we said, “Cake, that sounds good,” so we ordered that, and she brought these flat-looking tortilla-type cakes, for us, like something called dulces, and we said, “This doesn’t look like a cake.” But anyway, we ate that. We liked it. We were eating it plain and then she came over and she said, “Oh, no. You should put syrup on it,” and she helped us do that. So we had our first meal, and then after coming into the hotel we had our tomato sandwiches. So I do recall that.

    Continues in Chapter 4

    Download Nayana Ramakrishnan 7
    1:34 Minutes | 1.51Mb


    Narrator: Nayana Ramakrishnan (NR)

    Interviewer: Polly Sonifer (PS)

    PS:  When you first got off the plane in Minneapolis, what was that moment like?

    NR:  Oh, it was great. My father was there. We saw him from a window. The current airport was not built at the time. You know that little tower that’s still there? That was the only thing I remember. That, to me, was the airport. It was an observation tower or something. We saw my father looking from above, because people couldn’t come straight to the plane or something at the time, or whatever. We were so relieved to see him, especially my mother. You could see she was visibly relieved to see him.

    Then we got out of there and my father said, “I brought our car.” Well, it was a major thing, having a car. We’d never owned a car before. We saw all these cars in the parking lot. I was expecting one of them to be ours, one of the red ones or, you know, very spiffy-looking cars. My father took us to this old Dodge and I had a little disappointment. This car looked too Indian, like something that I had already seen, whereas the other cars looked very nice. That was my first impression.

    I did not remember feeling cold at the time. Maybe we’d become used to it or something. My father had brought some coats of some friends to us at the time and I’m sure that helped.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Verb:  To tailor clothes to make them fit.  (alters, altering, altered)


    Noun:  An expensive, soft fabric made from the wool of a Cashmere goat.


    Noun:  An idea; an understanding; a generalization.


    Noun:  An image, idea, or notion.


    Noun:  The space, area, volume, etc., to which something moves to, stretches, or encompasses.


    Adjective:  Very hungry.


    Noun:  The overall effect of something on a person.


    Noun:  The act of inaugurating, or inducting into office with solemnity.


    Noun:  1.  The act of following the custom, practice and rules, especially of a religion.  2. The act of viewing.


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


    Adjective:  Feeling relief, the removal of stress or discomfort.


    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
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