StoryCorps Atlanta: A remembrance in honor of Mother's Day
In honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday, and as an expression of gratitude, Zach Johnson has a conversation with his mom Sheila Zachariah. In it, he asks her to reflect back on a decision she made nearly 50 years ago to leave India.
Zach Johnson: The younger generation today in India is not as keen on immigration. There was a different sentiment during your time there. What was the thought process that you went through when making that decision to leave everything behind?
Sheila Zachariah: I fell in love with your dad in college and then you don't see anything that makes sense. I thought that was the best thing that ever happened to you. So you take a chance. Those days, it was like, okay, if you want to make a better world for yourself, you have to go somewhere like Canada or the U.S.
Zach Johnson: At the time. Did you understand that you were setting up the next generations in your family to be raised as Indian-Americans?
Sheila Zachariah: No, not really. I remember we landed in Ottawa in September of 1975. It's so cold. My feet.
Zach Johnson: You haven't even seen the snow until you landed.
Sheila Zachariah: I remember my first snowfall. I walked out of the apartment and this thing's coming down. And this is Canada, not Atlanta. Snow. Big chunks of snow just coming down. I'm looking up and thinking, what is this? I'm putting my tongue out and letting it fall over me so I can taste the snow. It was fun. The first few days we had these plastic shoes and they were like $5 from the Army surplus store. Zach, I used to come home and I still don't feel my toes because I thought they were falling off or something. Like, what am I doing here in this country? It's so difficult, so difficult. I would stand on the street and just cry because I wanted to be back and it didn't want to be anymore. Yeah.
Zach Johnson: So I have to ask, did you really only have like $6 in your pocket? Because we heard that.
Sheila Zachariah: So eight dollars, the government would only give you $8 to come to this country. That's why everybody said.
Zach Johnson: In our family and in our relationship, there's been so much joy, laughter, you know, so much love. At the same time, there's been pain, tears, sadness. How is it that you've persevered through it all, you know, with this sort of optimistic outlook?
Sheila Zachariah: I'm not sure how, you know, you had to put that brave face forward with the children, and everybody that's around you, and then it becomes part of you. And there's always a ray of hope everywhere. Right. And I think faith. I don't think I could have lasted otherwise. There are going to be tough times ahead. You know, you face it the best you can and then move forward. There's no point in harboring the old unless you lay all those old things down. You don't pick up new things in life and move forward. And I think that's what helps me going.
Zach Johnson: What are the things you miss most about India?
Sheila Zachariah: You know, it's funny, when I've been in this country for 47 years, I still miss that camaraderie between people. It's not the place, it's the people that make that place that I miss.
Zach Johnson: You knew I was going to ask: Who's your favorite kid?
This story was produced locally for GPB by Brenda Ford and recorded in partnership with the Atlanta History Center. You can learn more about recording your mom’s life stories at GPB.org/storycorps.