Eternal Optimism of the Immigrant Mind

*flexes fingers* It feels good to get my thoughts out there. Even though I know I am holding back on some things for obvious privacy issues and discretion, it feels nice to get something down-both for feedback and to remember what I felt like at this time in my life (approaching my mid-30s and newly married). I feel sad about all the times I trashed past blogs. I had some funny posts. I think reading some of them now would hard (time teaches us so much!) but I think I’d still make myself laugh. Once a McWearingChaps always a McWearingChaps (I changed my name for B’s readers, did you know? His was prettier than mine but I still miss mine) and a McWearingChaps will always laugh at his/her own jokes.

I’m also listening to Fleetwood Mac and drinking a beer so I’m feeling all contemplative-like.

When B and I were looking at neighborhoods we kept coming back to the schools thing. “We can’t compromise on the schools,” we’d say to each other. I know everyone wants good schools for their kids, I mean no one sets out to be like “Hey, I’m just looking for mediocrity here!” but education is something dear to the hearts of S. Asians. It’s the greatest gift we try to give to our children and while you may say “yeah, but Monkey all those other yuppie assholes are trying to give their kids the same gift, damn!” it’s a little different with desis, I swear. Immigrant Indians come to this country with nothing, even today. My parents had $50 Canadian in 1981. I’m not sure how much B had but he’s just as scrappy as they were (my father and B are alumni of the same university even) and his personality falls in somewhere in between my parents’ weathered first generation determination and my second generation insouciance/guilt. So what I was saying was that Indians, even today, come to the US with very little but hopes and dreams and ambitions and often feel that part of their responsibility as human beings, is to provide their children with all that the US has to offer in terms of high quality education. And second generation immigrants like me feel like “oh sh*t, I can’t slide back to where we came from in India so I need to do better!”

Anyway, when we were looking for homes, B and I kept coming back to the education thing and the fact that urban schools are often hyper-localized in terms of quality. I went to pretty much one of the top 2 school districts in Taxachusetts so the thought of putting any future monsters in a less-than-stellar environment was weighing fairly heavily on my mind. We kept circling around one particular town in Hudson county with reasonably good schools but fact that it was only 8 city blocks across in length meant that there would be maybe 1 or 2 listings at anytime. “We can’t just rely on magnet schools!” I wailed to my husband one day.

Booboo’s ears immediately perked up. The think you need to know about B is that he’s absolutely obsessed with Big Cats. As in, frequently watches lion documentaries and we have far too many pictures of tigers around our home (for reals…I have a tropical bathroom planned for them). On the other hand, B always comments that living with me is a bit like living with a feral cat and truly B is the most dog-like creature I’ve ever observed. Whenever something new and unknown comes into Booboo’s universe his ears perk and twist, and his nose climbs a few inches into the air, exactly like an inquisitive wolf. “What is…this magnetic school you are talking about,” he inquired curiously. So then I had to explain the concept of the magnet school to B, in great depth. I watched as he knitted his brows together and the idea was slowly processed, deconstructed and absorbed into his prodigious, engineering-esque brain. “So…they will have to take a test to go to the magnetic school?” he observed to me after some time. “Yeah, they’ll take a test, it’s competitive, like getting into a college and they only admit the cream of the crop. We shouldn’t rely on them, I think,” I pointed out lamely. B turned to me and I could see confusion creep across his face.

“Why not?” he responded.

“Don’t you understand? They don’t let anyone in. It’s competitive.”

“So these magnetic schools are in the other towns? And tests can be taken to get in?”

“Yes, but it’s not like, automatic, I just told you, they make the kids take a test. Not everyone gets in.”

Booboo’s confusion was replaced by the same look I often note on my father’s face. Complacence.

“If all that is required to get into a magnetic school is to take a test, then we can go ahead and expand the zipcodes right now,” he responded to me.

I was baffled at his confidence. “You do understand that they may not GET IN, right?” I asked him.

So I say that Booboo reminds me of my parents in some respects and the specific trait in question is that when his complacent conclusions are challenged Booboo immediately moves from placid calm to affront and righteous indignation. “Why the hell not?” he responded. I tried to explain that magnet schools admit children on a merit based test in combination with other factors. “See, it’s not automatic, they actually have to do WELL on that test and we can’t predict that.”

Booboo moved from indignation to steely determination (also so so like my father, Babs). “I’ll tell you what…if they don’t place on that test after all we are doing, I’ll beat the sh*t out of them. Because that’s how we do in India…it’s not like here.”

Alas, there was no reasoning with him and here we are because we just bought a home in the city that houses the best high school in NJ (magnet of course). There’s a blue ribbon elementary magnet school next door and our plan is to buy an investment property there fairly soon while prices are depressed. We are playing magnet school craps, I guess, and I am a bit nervous about it. Where my visions lie in the realm of hazy hope and careful planning for eventualities, Booboo lives firmly in the world of first generation expectations, hope and optimism. And I think it is the generational difference of taking such a huge risk to come to a different country with so little. After all, if you leave the life, culture, people you’ve known since your birth and gamble on a completely different part of the world with nothing more than hope and prodigious brains, what’s a little roulette when it comes to your kids’ education? But at the end of the day I think it’s the combination of hope, optimism and desperation of the immigrant experience that drives that curious sense of expectation that so seems to define first generational Indians. I find it hilarious because you’d think that I’d be the risk-prone one, having known mostly stability…but it’s Booboo who finds it incomprehensible that our monsters wouldn’t get into magnet school.

After we bid on our (now) home I called my father up and was talking with him about the bid and our plans. “How are the schools?” my father asked (as one of the first questions, of course). I responded carefully. “Well, the public schools aren’t great but we get a very high quality free pre-school program that will save us a lot of money before any kids turn public school aged and there are very good magnet schools, the best in the state, actually.” I could hear relief flood through my father’s voice.

“Oh a magnetic school? That’s alright then. You two are all set.”

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