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Shuffering and shmiling

My mother’s ability to hide pain and endure trauma all with an Indian hostess smile was legendary. It made my mother quite sought after by the American men she worked with. As they ran away from the demands of emancipation from bra burning American women, they moved closer towards their projections of domestic simplicity featuring my mother. To disillusioned American men, my newly arrived immigrant mom stood in sharp contrast to spoiled native lasses. She was their goddess of docility. There were invitations for motorcycle rides around the Bay Area and offers for trips to Reno. But mostly her male coworkers, black and white, would tell her “I’m goin’ to India and get me a woman just like you.”

Such flattery graced my mother’s crippling workdays.  In fact, my mother did cook traditional foods, keep a clean house, work 60+ back breaking hours a week in an almost exclusively male factory and still found time to dress herself and her three daughters with style and elegance. She was always faithful to my father but her marriage to him remained a constant source of bitterness throughout her life. I’m sure this wasn’t what she thought her life in America would look like but she found solace in her new found purchasing power and flexible credit lines.


If she was in pain, none of us knew. As a habit, she worked until she dropped. This was literally true because she kept falling. Out of the blue, without reason, one minute she was standing next to you and the next she was taking a tumble down a flight of stairs at the train station in Amritsar, or losing her balance in the living room in Vallejo. In the early years it was always sudden and unexpected somehow. It was infrequent enough that we didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong. Much more worrying than the falls themselves, were the outcomes of bruises, sprains, concussions and damage to her spine and neck.


As a five year old, I knew something was wrong when I saw a white man enter our home. He was the plant foreman and he came bearing my mother wrapped in a thick white neck brace. I was only told that she had an accident at work. She had fallen down. Years later when I was a teenager going through things that didn’t belong to me, I found a journal entry in broken English, less than a page, the only one in the book. My mother wrote that a coworker, one who didn’t try to put her on a pedestal, caused her fall by dropping an elevated platform she was on, too fast and too hard for her to remain standing and uninjured. He was one of the men who resented her rise in seniority over him. He had been in the union longer but had not managed to work as many days as she had in a shorter length of time. He gained revenge and I gained a mother who started losing her ground.

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