Ryan’s Interview with Sahana Dodballapur

Sahana Dodballapur is the mother of my best friend from high school. Sahana uses she/her/hers pronouns. She is in her early 50’s and is a first generation Indian immigrant. She grew up speaking various dialects of Hindi and went to an English-speaking elementary school. Following her education and the beginning of her career in India, she and her husband moved to Wisconsin. She moved to the United States in her early twenties. The suburb they lived in was predominantly White and served as a contrast to the environment she was used to at home. Since then, she moved to Granite Bay, California, a suburb thirty minutes outside of Sacramento. She raised her two children in Granite Bay and worked with a real estate company. 

In terms of prevailing ideologies I found within her words, I would say that there is a general tone of optimism and gratitude towards her time in India as well as the importance of motherhood. When describing what she liked most about India, she highlighted her proximity to family, culture, and food: 

A lot of family, not just my immediate family, but extended family. And just having so many people that knew you and had your back you know, and life in general, it wasn’t that we had everything back then, but, it was simple enough, but we had enough, we never ever talked about, you know, we didn’t have this, we didn’t have that.

When speaking about Indian culture, Sahana claims: 

It’s a beautiful culture. It’s a very respectful culture. I’m not talking about religion at all

These quotes align with many of the texts we analyzed in this course because many of the authors still have gratitude for their homeland and its culture even after they move away. This ideology is particularly present, in Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”, when Tan refers to her mother tongue as “vivid, direct, full of observation and imagery.” This feeling of awe towards their native culture and language is important to note because it proves the falsehoods of the American narrative that claims that all immigrants dislike their home country and are so thankful to no longer live there. These two women show that it is possible to move away from your home country and still have respect for the people and the culture. 

Another similarity between “Mother Tongue” and Sahana’s experience is the treatment of language in the United States. During our conversation, Sahana recounted an experience of being told that she speaks “so well for an Indian person”. She remembers being offended by the expectation that Indian women didn’t speak fluent and grammatically correct English. Amy Tan shared a similar experience of being offended by the comments made by American citizens surrounding her mother’s English.   

Later, when asked about her experience as a mother, she emphasized the importance of providing opportunities for her children. 

I think all of that probably is among the top three and wanting to follow their passion and completely getting into following their passion.

This mirrors the message found in Bhoomi K. Thakore’s “Hopes for my Daughter” because Thakore speaks to all of the opportunities and experiences she hopes her daughter will be able to experience. Thakore claims “I hope that, unlike me, my daughter will have the ability to be whatever she wants when she grows up.” Both Thakore and Sahana are raising their children in completely different environments than their own when they were growing up. 

However, Sahana spoke to the misconception surrounding how women are treated in India in the professional industry. Just because Sahana wants her daughter to be able to follow her passion and believes she can accomplish that in the United States, that does not mean that Sahana was unable to do that during her time in India. Sahana reflected on her time in India and the gender demographics of certain careers:

We were all given the equal education-wise. You will probably find more women engineers in India than you would in the United States here. I think. That gender stereotype is far more relevant I find here in America more than India. That does sound kind of weird because you would think America is so far, we’re very modern, very Western in their thinking, but you know, just to give an example, you still have, we still don’t have a woman president yet.

This is important to note because, like Sahana said, it contrasts the prevailing Western ideology that the United States is so progressive and provides more opportunities for women than India. 

A quote from Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere that I believe summarizes Sahana’s words is “to a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all at the same time.” I believe this reflects much of Sahana’s sentiments because it highlights Sahana’s remembrance and fondness of the past, but it also indicates a hopefulness for the future. 

For me, as a white man whose parents were born and raised in the United States, I appreciated hearing Sahana’s story because it provided the reality behind many false Western perceptions behind the immigrant experience. Growing up in the United States, the only exposure I have to other cultures is through the media and the news. However, these outlets often rely on false stereotypes surrounding other countries and their cultures. Because of this, I was surprised to hear that Sahana spoke fondly of the opportunities she had access to in India and the gender demographics that are present. However, something that didn’t surprise me was the importance of motherhood to Sahana. After growing up with her daughter for many years, it is apparent that Sahana cares deeply for her daughter and wants to provide her with the most opportunities while still staying connected to her culture.

You can listen to my interview with Sahana here:

Sources:

Ng, Celeste. Little Fires Everywhere. Thorpe, Isis, 2021. 

Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue”. 2013

Thakore, Bhoomi. “Hopes for my Daughter”. 2020