HerStory: The American dream that became a child’s nightmare

Deep revelations were unearthed to me in a conversation I had with a young American woman who immigrated to her adopted country when she was three. As she eloquently re-lived her past, I knew I would have to keep her identity a secret. Not because this would implement her in any illegal activity, but because her culture carries certain stigma, especially when it comes to finance and the role of women. Her story of pain, injustice and willpower is powerful and uncomfortable. It is a true immigrant story of a family chasing ‘The American Dream’. That term was coined by ‘James Trulow Adams’ and it was the idea that America could rid you of your past and give you a path to financial freedom. In ‘Moonchilds’ story, we hear of how that quest turned into a financial prison, where the past collided with her future.

As I sit across her through zoom on my MacBook, a product of the genius of an American, I notice how calm and ready she is to tell her story. She has that big beautiful smile on her face, one that goes from ear to ear, as this young impressive woman has the poise of an English elite. She tells me she models herself on Kate Middleton and has lifelong ambitions of being as elegant as she is. Her rose white cheeks are more London than Mumbai but her Indian heritage is the start of her story. But her story may never have begun.

“I was going to be aborted, my parents couldn’t afford me.” That sentence sent tingles down my spine as I heard her express it nonchalantly. This truth isn’t a secret but just plain hard factual information. Her family couldn’t afford to keep her and at the time of her birth around 3% of Indians aborted their children for many factors, finance being one of them. Asking her how she felt about that she simply replies “With God’s Grace I made it.” She would not know this at the time but these two factors would have the biggest impact in her upcoming life. The role of her family’s finances and her relationship with her faith.

“We moved to America when I was three, due to my father undergoing a financial loss and America was known to be the land of opportunity.” Since 1980 till 2010 the population of Indian migrants in America has roughly doubled every decade according to the Migration Policy Institute. She continues to bring me into her world and a world which is common to most families who have left their home country. She lived with family and friends in a small apartment when they initially arrived. She saw her parents struggle to find their place in this new capitalistic society. She saw her parents having to learn a new language and dealing with the pressure of raising their child while they were in poverty. Yet for innocent Moonchild she looks back on that time with pride and joy. “My parents didn’t want this for me but I had the best childhood. I had an extended family so I didn’t have two parents, I had plenty!” The concept of poverty wasn’t something she knew at the time so there was nothing for her to compare her experience with. That is until she had a sister, who I call ‘Sunkid’.

“I didn’t receive my first toy until I was 5 whereas ‘Sunkid’ got to open my birthday presents because she was upset that she didn’t receive any on my birthday.” The tide had now changed in her family. They were in a much better financial situation and Sunkid was born into a settled household. Her parents now had time to raise Sunkid, something which wasn’t afforded to Moonchild. “I saw her as ‘that creature’, she was so different to me. I had to be so careful with money, even as a child, whereas she got whatever she wanted. I didn’t have the confidence to ask, but she would cry if she didn’t receive.” It was apparent to Moonchild that their life experiences were so vastly different even though they came from the same home. When we speak about her early relationship with Sunkid there is an air of envy in her tone. Luckily for both of them, ‘someone’ came into their lives and completely transformed their perception of each other and their world.

In the summer of 2011 the two sisters travelled to India alone for the first time. “I had to be an adult and look after my sister because India isn’t an easy country to be alone in. It was a bonding experience for both of us. We had to navigate a foreign country while falling in love with the same person.” That person being their Guru who they had met a few years before. “We could only share that feeling of falling in love between us as no one else understood what this was like, people thought we were crazy!” As she continues to speak to me about her Guru I see a side to her that was hidden until now. A relationship between a Guru and a devotee is a sacred and personal affair. When she speaks about Him her eyes light up with reverence and adulation. She is in full flow as she speaks to me about how much He has influenced her. “Meeting my Guru has shaped my whole life, I wouldn’t have been able to get through my family’s lowest point if it wasn’t for Him. His grace was working on me from the time I met Him, which gave me the courage to face what was to come.” At this point her and her family were on an upward projection. They were financially stable and becoming spiritually awoken. But all of this was to come crashing down when she became 17.

“When I was 17, my whole life changed, again. I had to go and speak to the guy that had stolen one million dollars from my family. I went alone to beg him to show mercy, even though none came.” Just when Moonchild felt safe and secure, just when she was about to embark on University and learn how to spread her wings and fly, her world came crippling down. All of a sudden, her dreams were over. She speaks of how she had to become a mediator in a struggle that wasn’t her own. She had to become the responsible one, she had to be the parent. Her father had to borrow an extortionate amount of money from the bank and friends to pay his debt off. America has the largest population in the world that is in debt; the land of opportunity has a hidden cost.

When I ask her how this made her feel she replies by quoting Bill Gates. ‘If you are born poor that isn’t your mistake but if you die poor that is your mistake.’ “When you live in a capitalistic society everyone blames the poor guy for being broke, even though sometimes it’s just circumstances.” There was no sympathy for her situation. There was no one to confide in because in an Indian household being disrespectful to your parents is the highest sin. I asked her what did you do? How did you deal with this? She replied succinctly and honestly, “I stayed connected to Him and worked harder than ever before.”

As a student Moonchild was just above average. Once this news hit, she knew she was the only hope her family had left. She took responsibility. “I would go to College and spend 14-15 hours a day there, I would do all my work and make sure I listened to satsang because I had to make sure my connection with my Guru was strong. His guidance would keep me above water.” From the desperate situation at home she had to turn this crisis into an opportunity. “Every day when I came home from studying I would ask my dad how are you? Is everything okay? Even though I couldn’t be home all the time I couldn’t sleep without knowing how he was doing.”

Her connection to her parents and her sense of responsibility can be perceived as a ‘sons’ role in the culture that she is raised in. “I had become the son” is a theme she met with over and over again, but to Moonchild “I was just doing what any child would do, how can anyone see their parents like that and not be called to action. After everything that they had done for me this was the least they deserved.” She didn’t come from a top university so she had to do extra internships, she was president of clubs in college and she got a scholarship for high achievement. This made the financial burden of her university much easier for her family to bear. Moonchild studied night and day and after four years of university she got a job as an investment banker which, according to a survey conducted by cosmopolitan, is the highest paid job after graduation. 

“Relief” was the word she used to describe getting this job. “Finally there was light at the end of the tunnel, finally I could provide for my family.” Even though Moonchild vocalises this to me there is still a sense of anxiety in her tone. Asking her why she doesnt sound relieved she replies by telling me “be careful what you wish for.” Investment banking is the highest paid job for a reason, they pay you handsomely and there is a clear pathway in which you can accumulate wealth. But they expect a certain level of enslavement. “If I dont reply to emails in 10 minutes, I get told that my communication needs to be worked on. I am expected to reply to emails when I am on vacation, my health is not a priority at all and I do what they tell me to do.” Andrew Gutmann, the former investment banker and author of ‘How to be an Investment banker’ says that a typical associate or analyst ‘can routinely expect to work 90-100 hours per week.’ “My typical work day was from 9 in the morning to 2/3am at night, it was relentless and probably the most unhappiest time of my life.” 

She was making money but at what cost to her mental and physical wellbeing? Due to Moonchilds new found financial power her family was beginning to pay back their debt, Sunkids education was being taken care of and her family was prospering. On the other hand, Moonchild was trying to juggle the constant pressure from work and her connection to her faith was waning. “I had no time to be connected to my Guru, I would spend most of my time crying, praying that He comes to save me from this nightmare that I am in.” 

Her prayer was answered. A trip to India wasnt on the cards in 2017. She was stretched at work and not in the mindset to go. “I did not want to see Him. I didn’t even have a valid visa to go to India. But God and His plan. I got a visa only a few hours before my flight. During that trip, my relationship with Param Krupaludev deepened. He showed me He went through the same situation. He had an intense longing for liberation, but He had to be married, He had to take care of His family, He also faced financial loss at some point. He played all his roles, but the only difference was, He never lost sight of His Soul. I had lost everything, but in that moment, I had gained my guiding light.” 

Param Krupaludev is Her Gurus Guru who was born in the late 19th Century. Gandhiji got his philosophy of ahimsa from Him and they had a very deep and close relationship with Gandhiji describing Him as ‘the greatest Indian of their generation.’ 

What did that trip teach you, I asked Moonchild. “It made me understand that everything in my life is a role, all I need to do is play it perfectly and keep my soul as my main focus.” 

Moonchild has played many roles in her life. From being a child in a poverty ridden family, to being a sister who had to understand another human who was completely different from her. From being a parent to her parents and becoming the breadwinner of her family and being a devotee to her Guru. Last year she managed to pay all her father’s debt off and her sister is thriving in her education. Her story is of struggle, Her story is of sacrifice but Her story is of success. She took responsibility and faced the toughest moments life can throw head on. Being a child of the moon the darkness brought out her light. 

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