1972 | Khambhat, Gujarat, India | Age: 21
Damyantiben: I came here in 1972 from Khambhat, India. I was about 21. We we got married in India when I was 19, and my husband came here to study. I stayed there.
Alpana: See, they didn’t let my dad come here without getting married first. He sponsored my mom, and she was able to come as his wife 2 years later.
Damyantiben: Once he got his Master’s degree and got a nice job, then I came here. At first I was so excited. Then I didn’t feel so good about it. I missed my family. I was here for 4 years before I could go back to visit. The first time I came here, I didn’t bring a lot. I brought some sarees, some things for my hair, some cooking items, and that’s all. At that time we were limited to 20 kilos each, so it was hard to bring much.
We settled in Illinois. It was so cold! Oh my god, I remember my first winter! I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t have good clothes to wear, or the right shoes, so I just stayed home the whole time. Winter was hard for me. It still is! I go back to India in the winter. I can’t take the cold here.
Alpana: They were from a very small community in Khambhat. People at that time would marry their daughters and sons amongst each other. So their families had known each other. Their mothers were friends. They had lived on the next street over growing up.
Damyantiben: We did that back then. We gave our girls to them, and they gave their girls to us. Now it’s different.
Alpana: You’d marry within the Patel community. There were clusters of the Patel groups and you would marry within that cluster. And the Patel community where my parents are from was not part of any such cluster. If you have a brother, and I have a brother, I would marry yours, and you would marry mine. Give a daughter, take a daughter type of thing. It was common to be related in multiple ways. An aunt on your mom’s side could also be an aunt on your dad’s. Otherwise It was difficult to find women for the boys to marry because there was a shortage of girls.
Their community never practiced dowry. It was never part of their traditions. It was actually unheard of to ask for dowry. That’s very unique because most communities practiced dowry. Some still do, though it’s illegal.
Damyantiben: My parents weren’t required to give a dowry, but my mom had jewelry that she gave to all the daughters and daughters-in-law anyway, and there were 9 of us children.
Alpana: Traditionally the jewelry is inherited and passed on. Back in the day, there were no banks, so whenever they had extra money, they would buy gold.
Damyantiben: That was your insurance.
Alpana: People would buy land to build a home, and they would find buried gold in the ground. Gold was a woman’s sense of security because she didn’t work outside the home and didn’t earn money. But if anything were to happen, her gold was her insurance. Now women have jobs, savings, bank accounts. My grandmother didn’t even know how to read or write.
Damyantiben: My dad, however, always encouraged education, and he did so much leadership work in Khambhat. He was the mayor of the town and the head of the village. He did so many things for other people. He had built an English school and was able to make change happen for the community.
Alpana: My grandfather helped a lot of people. He gave so much money to kids for their education. After he passed away, people would come by randomly for years to return the money he had loaned them.
Alpana: This is a very precious item. You would have your name engraved on it.
Damyantiben: This is my dad’s name. This pot is for clarified butter - ghee. When the son-in-law or the daughter-in-law come to the family home for the first time, the mother pours the ghee over the food.
Alpana: It’s a special serving utensil for that first visit after the wedding.
Damyantiben: I lived with my mom for 2 years after I got married because my husband was away studying in America. But most girls wouldn’t live with their husbands right away anyway. After some time, on an auspicious day, the husband’s family would ask for the young wife to come back with them. That’s the way it was. They’d get married at 15 or 16, and they didn’t know what married life was like. Now it’s different.