This week, my TimeHop app brought back something I had posted on Facebook 3 years ago. It was this quote from a Humans of New York photo with a taxi driver who was hesitating to pose with his cab. This post is so significant, not just because my dad drives a cab, but because it took me a long time to appreciate that he does.
I grew up in a town where there’s a large Sikh/Punjabi community, in which most of the dads drove cabs. A lot of families moved to Carteret because of its proximity to NYC, and a lot of our fathers still carpool together to the city for their shifts. It’s always just been a part of my life.
The first time I remember being embarrassed by what my dad does is maybe second grade. Till then, I never thought twice about my dad’s occupation. I always took a bus to school, but one day I missed the bus and was dropped off by my dad. When I was dropped off, so was a classmate who I had a little girl crush on. I remember walking into the classroom and pointing out to him that I saw him getting out of his parents’ car. And he turned around and in an “ew you have cooties get away from me, female” tone of voice stated, “haha yeah and YOU were dropped of in a CAB!” And the way he emphasized the word “cab” confused me, but I instantly realized that it wasn’t cool. Maybe he didn’t mean it in that way. Maybe the fact that I had just learned English (I had ESL in first and second grade) led to a misunderstanding in how he meant it. All I know is that I realized around that time that, although “my people” (my Punjabi classmates) would not have thought twice that my dad dropped me off in a yellow cab, it was not something that my “American” (I didn’t think of myself as American for a looooooooong time) classmates would think was cool.
For the most part, in middle and high school, my circle of friends were Punjabi so it was never a concern. If I meet a new Punjabi person I can easily tell them that my dad drives a cab. Chances are, their father/uncle/cousin does, or at some point did, the same. In college it was also never a concern. But then I moved to Baltimore for law school and for the first time I was one of MAYBE two Sikhs in the student body. Which was great. It was refreshing. It allowed me to meet people from all over the country and relate to them on a different level. But it also led to some unease when it came to talking about our backgrounds.
At some point when you make a new group of friends you get to learn about their families and their backgrounds. People would talk about their dad the doctor, the lawyer, the engineer, the architect, and I would always hesitate. And sometimes when I would say my dad drives a cab, I would make a joke about being a typical Indian. Like, “haha yeah it was either that or we own a 7-11” or something equally as stupid. I know nobody ever cared what my parents do for a living and it was all in my head, but I could swear that some people paused or hesitated to respond when I shared that part of my life.
So this brings me back to when I originally posted that Humans of New York quote to my Facebook. Halfway through law school, after having spent 3 weeks in Curacao for a winter “semester” abroad program. I had so much time to think about my life when I was sitting on the beach. How did I get here? What did I do in my life that allowed me to experience this? And I could go back and really see all the work I had done and changes I had made and opportunities I had taken advantage of to get where I am. But then I went further back. How did I get here? Because at some point in the last 30 years, my dad left his country without any money, education, or support, to find something better for his family.
Yes, I took many steps to get where I am in my life, but it all started from Papa Mann. For as long as I can remember he’s worked 6 to 7 days a week, woke up early, came home late. I can brag all I want about how I paid for school and was never dependent on my parents but I wouldn’t have that sense of independence nor the opportunity to even work if my dad hadn’t made the sacrifices he made. That bright yellow taxi that embarrassed me in front of my second grade crush and made me feel inferior to my classmates is the actually one of the biggest factors in where I am today and everything I’ve accomplished, and that’s something to be proud of.