An Indian-American scholar talks about music, school, stereotypes


We started our New Americans series Sunday with a Personal Journey about Ryan Koirala, a Bhutanese refugee who recently became a Clarkston police officer. We continue the series this week with stories about German Botello, who was born at Grady Memorial Hospital to two Mexican immigrants, and Christie Thuy Pham, a Vietnamese-American and senior at Georgia State University. Here, we feature Sunidhi Ramesh, who was born in India but moved here when she was a toddler.

Sunidhi Ramesh was born in India but moved to America when she was just a year and a half old.

She is now a senior at Emory University and plans to go to medical school next year. Now, at 21 years old, she has wrestled with assimilation and trying to sculpt and create an identity for herself in her community. English was not spoken at home. She had high exposure to Indian culture through her parents.

The AJC recently interviewed Ramesh as part of a video story project.

The following is an excerpt:

Q: Do you feel there is a standard you have to live up to as a first generation, as the oldest sibling in your family?

A: The pressure is there and it is unspoken … . My brother and I talk about this all the time. We see how hard our parents work, and we know where our parents came from. When we go to India where our grandparents are from — my grandparents on both sides are farmers. They are wonderful, they work hard there, and they are very happy, but to see the fact that my dad had to herd cattle in the morning before going to school and then find streetlights in the middle of his village to study under, and to see he went from there to living in Johns Creek, Ga., in his lifetime. My brother and I started in Johns Creek. We want to make something of ourselves to prove to our parents that everything they did for us is worth something. The pressure is there, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Q: How do you feel being a first-generation American and living in this country have shaped who you are?

A: I was thinking about how amazing it is to have a culture to rely on. Over the weekend be running this huge (Bollywood Fusion, Bhangra, and Garba/Raas) dance competition, and then the next day come back and be listening to rap music and things like that. I think me and a lot of other first-generation Americans, I would say Indian-Americans just because I spend more time with people of Indian culture, the way we have mixed the two cultures together is absolutely amazing. But in terms of how it has shaped me as a person and my personality, I do think I am bit of a perfectionist. Everything has to be done a certain way, it has to be done right. If my name is on something, it has to be the best quality of work; I will not sleep, I will stay up extra hours if I need to. That is just the way I am.

Q: Have you encountered stereotypes?

A: My brother FaceTimed me yesterday. He went to the movies with his friends, and he told me he almost got into a fight. He said, “There were these kids yelling racial slurs at me.” He was very thrown aback. They were younger (than him), like maybe freshmen or sophomores in high school. He said, “I didn’t expect this” (in Johns Creek). I always say Johns Creek is a bubble because it is so racially diverse and we are in the South but it does not feel like the cliche South. He said they are kids and they have had to have learned this from someone or somewhere. He said he took it for the first 10 minutes and then he said after that, he got angry. I personally have not experienced derogatory terminology. … I have some unsavory experiences from middle school. Obviously, you are aware Indian food has a very strong scent. I remember in middle school I was sitting outside eating lunch and this kid started throwing rocks at me and making fun of my lunch. I remember a lot of kids who went to school with me who were Indian who specifically asked their parents not to pack Indian food. They said they will just eat PB&J. I thought it was so strange. It’s just food that people eat, and good food, in my opinion.



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