My First Day in America - Episode 2: Jinal
"The first thought that crossed my mind was if I had to die, I wished I was back home with my family." Jinal moved to Philadelphia from India in 2001 — just weeks before 9/11. This is how she lived on her first day in America.
‘I don't want an ordinary life’
Hi, I'm Jinal Shah. I came to Temple University in 2001 from India as a student. My first day in America is now a blur. I can’t remember much other than being very, very sad and overwhelmed, and overcome with emotion. I think that's when it first hit me after I landed here, what I'd actually done, that I'd left everything I knew behind. I came here a few weeks before 9/11. My semester had just started. I was in my dorm room with my roommate and we had the TV on. And I think we were both catatonic. My roommate, I remember, kept repeating, “Someone just crashed into the Twin Towers. Someone just crashed into the Twin Towers.” And then there were rumors. We heard there was a plane headed towards Pennsylvania, you hear things. No one knew what was going on in those moments right after.
I remember the first thought that crossed my mind was if I had to die, I wished I was back home with my family. I didn't want to die so far away from them. A couple weeks after 9/11, my friend and I were walking on campus and someone just rolled down the window of their car and yelled at us saying, "Go back to your own country." That was a little, like, shocking. And we knew it wasn't me. You know it's not you as Jinal or my friend. But we also knew it was us as two girls who, you know, are brown.
I will always credit a lot of my success to what the city and the people here taught me and what it gave me in terms of the grit that I saw all around me, the determination that my classmates had that rubbed off on me. I always said to myself as an immigrant, I haven't come here to live an ordinary life. I don't want an ordinary life. It has to matter. There is so much sacrifice that has gone into my immigrant story.