Knocking on Opportunity’s Door

Neha Harpanhalli, Best in Class
Grade 8

America is another name for opportunity.
I hear it everywhere.
Immigrants flock to our nation only armed with their courage,
aspirations, and
an “unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

My uncle was one.
Wavering from the beaten path
To make his mark in a foreign country.
My grandmother wept on the threshold of her humble residence
Uncle Satish gently removed her wizened fingers from the hem of his shirt
as he zoomed off
A brilliant, confident twenty-one-year-old who would soon arrive in America,
knocking on opportunity’s door.

He stepped off the plane in Oklahoma with only five hundred dollars in his pocket,
Staggering through hard years at the University.
Four nights a week he worked behind the counter of Angelo’s Pizzeria
Gone were the fluffy rotis and exotic curries of grandmother’s kitchen;
Replaced with dry crust and canned tomatoes.

And how he missed home! He wrote letters to India every week,
rocking back and forth on creaking chair legs,
His head in ink-stained fingers.

But then it came.
“The University has admitted you to a Masters in Civil Engineering…”
The enlightenment.

He settled in the City of Angels, and after six years,
saved the money to visit India.
As he left he told my grandmother:
“I have a dream and it is possible in that country, Amma.”
The year was 1993.
He never looked back.

One by one, his three siblings followed.

Aunty Jaya completed her Masters and settled in the East Coast.
Uncle Suresh saw much potential and opportunity in America.
He forsook his identity as an established physician,
Starting from the bottom, climbing to the top like so many before him.
All that stoked the fire within was an unwavering belief:
the American dream.

In 1999, my parents came to America with only four suitcases.
It affected my mother more than she let on.
Sacrificing a job she loved, leaving the recently purchased flat
for an uncertain future.

My Mama and Papa took an opportunity hoping we would have a better life
And a future child would be exposed to wonderful opportunities.
And I have. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

I love being raised among various ethnicities,
watching them discover their own cultural identities as I search for mine.

I know I am one of a blended culture.
Born and raised, I am American through and through
But I cling to the remaining shards of my heritage:
Aromatic spices, the vibrant saris and salwars, resonant thrums of exotic dance,
And the importance of family.

Sporadically we gather around
And everyone begins to speak.
They pour out vivid memories of their juvenescence; struggles;
and achievements.
All with common themes:
determination; and that
hard work is always rewarded.

As I piece together their stories, I marvel at who they were once, and
who they have become.
And I know that in a country like this, success is within my reach.

My family knelt at the threshold of opportunity.
America opened the door.