By Kirandeep Jhaj

Gurdev Jhaj was born and raised in a town called Chabbewal located in Punjab, India. As the youngest of seven children, she was encouraged to come to the United States by her oldest sister. At the age of seventeen, she journeyed her way to the United States to create a better future in America, the ‘land of opportunity.’

Before immigrating to America, I had lived in Chabbewal my entire life. It was the land of my ancestors, the Jhuty’s, the main clan residing in Chabbewal. I had never been outside Punjab and the only times we did leave our home was to visit relatives in other towns. In Chabbewal houses were either made of mud, of cement, or of stucco like ours. There were numerous acres of land because agriculture was the prime source of income. I was not allowed to work in the fields because I was a girl, and instead my daily schedule strictly consisted of attending school, doing homework, and then helping out with household chores. Back then we had bicycles which we  would ride to school, the costly motor powered scooters, and the very rare automobiles which we scarcely ever saw. We never had a wide variety of food and we basically ate roti, fruits, vegetables, and occasionally Indian sweets. I loved how very close knit how little town was. Everyone knew each other and it was like we were all one very big extended family.

As a young seventeen-year-old woman, I traveled to America with my older sister, my nephew, and my niece. We all came here legally and it took six months for my sister’s to petition us all. On May 4, 1980, I traveled outside of Punjab for the first time to catch our plane in New Delhi, in a car we had rented especially for the trip. I remember that it was an exhausting ride, but once we reached the city I was amazed  to have seen a completely different side of India. I was astonished by the airplane and even more of San Francisco because I never imagined it to be so clean. The architecture of homes here were different because of the material they were made out of and the basic layout. It was interesting to find the variety of foods here because I mostly just ate was roti in India. The number of cars and the advanced technology surpassed anything that India had back then because I did not even try to guess the functions of gadgets I had never seen before.

My first two to three years, I picked fruits at my sisters farm in Yuba City. America was different in a few aspects such that I was allowed to work in the fields, and because the community was not as connected as it was back home. Then I moved to the Bay Area with my new husband and I started work at fast food restaurants. When I first came to America, I knew a few words in English and I slowly learned more and more as I lived in San Jose. It was hard to learn but as I was able to progress, I was able to work in higher paying companies. After having three children and owning my own house in San Jose, I became a United States citizen in 1995.

I began in the U.S. as a farm worker picking peaches and living with my sister. Today I work in a company that is a branch of Johnson&Johnson, own my house, have three cars, and have my family. Everything that I have worked for is the product of my hard work. Many immigrants who come here have the mentality that everyone lives their life in luxury, but in reality immigrants sometimes have to work harder than native born citizens because of the new environment and different culture. In the land of opportunity, you get a chance to fulfill your ambitions, but in order to accomplish it, you must be willing to work hard for it.

Gurdev Jhaj