I spent the majority of my life living in Massachusetts, in a suburb north of Boston called Dracut. My parents moved to the area from India in the late 1980s, shortly before I was born. Although the small city adjacent to us, Lowell, was home to several waves of immigrants from around the world, the location I grew up in was very homogeneous – I was one of the only minorities in my entire grade at school. (In hindsight: I did not even realize until years later just how much of an effect this had on my self-esteem at the time. As a child, I remember certain instances of being very aware that I was the only different person in the room.) It was also somewhat isolated from other bigger cities in the area: there was no direct public transit into Boston, and I was not old enough to drive at this point in time. Therefore, this bubble was my entire world for a large part of my formative years. The space I took up in this particular town was largely relegated to what little I had access to and where I was allowed to go safely as a child: school, the library, the streets within my neighborhood, the streets in my friend’s neighborhoods nearby, and occasionally the convenience store or local ice cream place downtown.
Below is a picture of the street I grew up on, with my family’s old townhouse unit in the right-hand corner.
I lived here when I was about 4 years old, but I don’t remember much – my viewpoint of this city seems very much like that of a spectator or outsider. Most of what I can recall comes to me in the form of random, disjointed scenes: the pattern of the speckled tiles on our kitchen floor, the echoes of nearby trains passing over tracks as I was falling asleep in my bed, watching television commercials about Caramello candy bars while passing time at the laundromat, the pineapple pizza sold at our nearest pizzeria, the distinct smell of eucalyptus trees while on a field trip to the zoo, walking on brick roads in the rain and passing underneath stone arches for cover during thunderstorms, and so on. I don’t remember the address of our apartment, but it was located somewhere near Thai Intra, a now-defunct restaurant. The Thai woman who owned the establishment would occasionally let me sit here after school and she’d teach me how to make flower blossom shapes out of piles of rose-colored dinner napkins.
I also spent a lot of time roaming around parks in the Sydney Harbor area while admiring the views of the Atlantic Ocean and city skyline views. We’d watch boats go down the Harbor at Observatory Hill Park, and I remember being astonished that the water there during the day was the most intense blue-green color that I had ever seen. I work as an environmental scientist nowadays, and I sometimes wonder if the amount of greenery in this country was what initially sparked something within me.
Summers at my grandmother’s apartment (Andheri West, Mumbai, India):
When I was younger and had 2-3 months at a time off of school for summer vacation, we spent the entire time at my grandmother’s apartment every 3 years or so in Bombay. I’d pass most of my time playing cards with my grandmother, meeting relatives from my extended family, roaming around the neighborhood on foot, or just staying inside and staring out the window (there were always heavy rains during this time of year because it was monsoon season). Our street was located off of a busy road filled mostly with open-air grocery bazaars, so I would occasionally wander around the area and practice my Hindi by asking people all sorts of questions about what they were selling.
Spending time here was always an enriching but simultaneously jarring experience. It was a reminder that even though I was living a full life on my end of the world, my extended family was living theirs filled with their own stories and numerous milestones… and I had missed all of it. Although our parents would bring us here with the intention of teaching us about our heritage, at times it also was the one place where I had become more conscious of my own nationality. I felt like I was living in perpetual limbo between two worlds that would never touch each other, despite the fact that they were both clearly a part of me: my ethnicity as a marker of my difference in one, and in the other I was labelled as a foreigner.
San Francisco Bay Area, California:
I attended middle school in a small suburb outside of San Francisco called Walnut Creek. My life here was similar to that in Massachusetts, except I made more frequent trips out into the city of San Francisco because we were located near public transit. We lived in an apartment complex near the downtown area, so I also spent a lot of time walking around town and exploring various local shops. Below is a picture of the area where our apartment was.
Years later, I moved back to the area for a job in Oakland, while living in the suburb of Fremont. I commuted to work daily via the train, and on the weekends I traveled into San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley to explore and visit friends. Because of this, the space I took up during my stay here was largely defined by my time spent on public transit. I would watch the sun rise and set through subway windows, while winding around neighborhoods and coming into contact with people from nearly all walks of life.
I was living in a room in one of these houses:
Below is a picture of a street in the Mission District neighborhood of San Francisco, where I would often visit friends:
The Bay Area has an increasing problem with income inequality, resulting in segregated neighborhoods along certain lines, and it was interesting to see this in the form of who got on and off at each stop during my commutes. This was the first time I had seen this amount of diversity in addition to the effects of gentrification, all while coming to understand that I was also a part of the problem partly because of my economic status.
Yashika is an environmental scientist who recently moved to Boston.