A distinguished NPR journalist’s account of how the concept of the American dream gave her the chance to succeed while simultaneously destroying her immigrant family.
Shahani’s parents met as Indian Partition refugees in Morocco. In 1981, they came to America and settled in a multiethnic Queens neighborhood, “one of the most diverse tracts of land on the planet.” There, her family’s “most aggressive war” was not with members of other cultural “tribes” but with vermin in their apartment. Optimistic that they would soon succeed, they experienced their first disappointment when the author’s father, a “big brain” man, had to settle for manual labor. He left the family to work with brothers in Dubai, returning only when Shahani’s mother became disabled after a freak accident. Their fortunes changed soon after her father collected money from relatives and opened an electronics store. His hard work allowed them to move into a house in New Jersey and live a comfortable middle-class life. In the meantime, Shahani became “Nerd Girl,” winning a scholarship to the prestigious Brearley School in Manhattan. Her connections eventually landed her a well-paying summer job that, unlike those her father had taken when he first arrived in America, “came with a desk, a computer…a view,” and a good wage. Everything changed when the author was in 12th grade. Her father had been arrested and sent to prison for mistakenly selling merchandise to a drug cartel. As her father struggled, Shahani’s grades dropped. Though she found a place at the University of Chicago, her faith in both the American dream and the justice system was shattered. Becoming an active seeker of social justice, the author spent the next 15 years using her connections and journalistic savvy to help exonerate her father. Barely escaping deportation, he finally became an American citizen only to die shortly afterward. As it chronicles immigrant tragedy and triumph, this provocative book also reveals the dark underside of the American judicial system and the many pitfalls for people of color within a landscape of white privilege.
A candid and moving memoir.