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I Am Living Proof Of The American Dream: With Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

It sounds silly but living abroad makes you appreciate the little things that are so easy to do in the US. Things like mail order clothes…


It sounds silly but living abroad makes you appreciate the little things that are so easy to do in the US. Things like mail order clothes or asking your doctor questions during routine appointments; we take these things for granted but they are part of what makes living in the US so wonderful and what other countries aspire toward.


I had the pleasure of interviewing award winning author and academic Mohana Rajakumar.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in one country (India), raised in a second (the United States), and living with my children in a third (Qatar).

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?

My parents and I moved here when I was 9 years old with my younger brother. We had been living in Canada but my dad had heard so much about America that he had to see it for himself.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I remember moving to California in elementary school and feeling like a whole new world had been opened up to me. Before that my world had been mostly made up of Indian people in the academic communities where our father worked. California was the first time I made my own friends and realized there were differences between us.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

My second grade teacher sent me to the library with the African American students in our class to be interviewed by the local reporter for the newspaper so that we could share what Martin Luther King Jr meant to us. I had never heard about him so I was panicked to let the reporter and my teacher down. We were posed around a book for a photo and during the photo shoot I read as much as I could about him; when it came my turn to answer the question, I said “He went to jail for what he believed in” because that’s all I knew about the Civil Rights movement. That moment of racial confusion set me on a journey of discovery which lasted through my twenties.

So how are things going today?

I am so encouraged by the work I see young people doing and how much more inclusive American society is these days. We don’t talk about assimilation anymore; we encourage people to balance both (or multiple) identities. This is wonderful progress and gives me hope for our future as an egalitarian society.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Culture shapes who we are, the decisions we make, and the lives we lead. This deeply personal element is the cornerstone of all of my books because understanding others helps us understand ourselves. Whether it’s immigrants in America or expats in Qatar, my novels explore the stories of people who have largely been at the margins.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?

I can think of two simple ones:

1) Train everyone who works at border patrol to begin with “welcome to America” and a smile. Lines are so long, people overworked, that they don’t realize the impact a little friendliness can have for someone — especially at international airport arrivals. This doesn’t take away from their ability to enforce the rules.

2) When people are sent for secondary screening, provide access to bathrooms. This seems really basic but people can be held there for thirty minutes or longer and often with their children without access to restrooms.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

One of the things you hear repeated over and over is that hard work can get you very far in America. That is very true — and I would add that maximize the resources available to you. As a kid this meant being involved in as many activities that interest you in high school from theater to sports to languages. Those activities will then lead to new relationships, skills, etc. that help you develop and grow.

Land mass wise, America is larger than Europe, and that means you can move around to see which state suits your career, lifestyle and personality. Many people don’t go from coast to coast — Florida to Oregon for example — so take advantage of the diversity within the US to see what might suit you best. My family certainly did this as we moved from the west coast to the east coast and then I moved up north on my own as an adult.


We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

Young people today really give me hope; activists like the Parkland high school survivors who speak up for what they believe in make it easier for all of us to stand up for each other.

It sounds silly but living abroad makes you appreciate the little things that are so easy to do in the US. Things like mail order clothes or asking your doctor questions during routine appointments; we take these things for granted but they are part of what makes living in the US so wonderful and what other countries aspire toward.

I love that we are seeing more diversity in film, theater, and music produced by American companies and artists. This diversity, like the recent Broadway hit Hamilton, or the film Black Panther, shows the world that the US has much more to offer than simple pop culture.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’m a morning person so breakfast is my favorite meal. There are so many brilliant people to brainstorm with … I would love to chat with actor Mindy Kaling and compare our growing ups as we share lots of similarities.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Originally published at medium.com

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