How Paati Learned to Swim

Kavya Padmanabhan, Winner
11th Grade
Los Altos Hills

My grandmother, Paati, rebuilt her life seven years ago. After living in India her whole life, she moved to California to live with my family. In one move, she lost her country, her house, her friends, her language, and her identity. She had to construct her new world with few familiar tools to rely on.

Instead of drowning in this new life, Paati began to learn to swim. She started to read newspapers in English. She began to experiment with incomplete phrases, like “eat dinner,” or “are you leaving?” She made new friends, she took care of us, and she became the central force in our lives.

Many share Paati’s story. In fact, she is like a tiny patch on a one thousand mile fabric made up of immigrants and their hopes and dreams. She and other senior citizens (65 years or older) like her make up twelve percent of the whole immigrant population. Paati embodies the spirit of perseverance and endurance that the old and young have founded this country with.

Our ideal immigrant shows a desire to succeed, is a hard worker and respects our great nation. Paati unveiled all these qualities when she was studying for her citizenship test. Every day she would study from the list of 100 questions that my mother printed for her. Although Paati failed her first test, her determination to succeed made her study even harder the second time. I remember the day she became a citizen. It was a day we celebrated.

In February, President Obama gave a State of the Union Address where he spoke about immigration, encouraging young immigrants to approach our borders and join our workforce and keep the American dream alive. Our senior citizen immigrants are rarely mentioned, since they don’t directly help the economy.

If I were President, I would ensure that the process of becoming a citizen would take in to account the applicant’s age as well as their desire to succeed. Paati, as an immigrant, has knit our family together and made it stronger. Deserving candidates, those who work hard and show dedication and passion should become citizens easily, regardless of their age.

As a child of immigrant parents, immigration reform affects me personally. Although we accept immigrants from all over the world, we should find a way to attract the smart, kind, accepting people of the world- the people who we aspire to be. We have to show them that the United States is a place where perseverance is rewarded and opportunities abound.

Seeing Paati fail but not give up hope reached out to me. She taught me that I could change the world by embracing both my cultures, just like other immigrants do. By restricting some of these immigrants from entering our country, we are limiting ourselves from new ideas. Our “city on a hill” can become a reality if we treat immigrants- legal and illegal- with generosity and kindness.