Immigrant stories: Short hair was a big cultural change from India
Meeta Goel came to the United States in 1984, but her initial immigrant experience came in 1967, when she left India for Canada at the age of 9.Goel: My parents and my younger brother came over from Sweden. My dad had done his masters and doctoral work in Germany and Sweden. So the three of them had been in Sweden. My brother was preschool age. I was in school, so I had stayed in India with my grandparents. When my parents were settled, my grandparents put me on a plane, and my grandmother said, “Don’t cut your hair, don’t eat meat, and bring them back,” because the family ties were so strong. She was suspicious of Canada and wherever else. So, as soon as I got off the plane, I ate a hot dog, because they offered it to me, and my mom cut my hair within a few days, to my ears. It had been as long as to my knees.Gallacher: Did you want her to cut it?Goel: No, it was tough. And my parents stayed, so we did not go back.Gallacher: Did you feel like you let your grandmother down?Goel: I did, and I’m sure she thought that, too. But my parents were in charge, and I didn’t have control over what they were going to do.Gallacher: Why did you think your mother felt so strongly about cutting your hair?Goel: She was practical, and she cut it to untangle it. Really, in Canada and the U.S., kids don’t have real long hair, and they didn’t back then.Gallacher: So she wanted you to be able to fit in on some level?Goel: Yes, although, she didn’t work that hard at it. Oh my gosh, she’d make these homemade dresses for me to wear and tie my hair in pigtails. But on the way to the bus stop, I would take the pigtails out. And I quickly learned to sew my own clothes, instead of shopping. Because when my mother did shop for clothes, it wasn’t at the cool department stores. She always shopped at places like Sears where clothes were cheaper. So, no, she didn’t help with fitting in, I had to do that on my own.
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