Immigrant stories embody the courage and resilience that define this country. It’s awe-inspiring to think that individuals were willing (or had no choice) to leave behind everything familiar and comfortable, embracing a new country with its language, currency, social norms, and laws. Immigrants are amazing people!

Whenever a family hires me to interview their parents or grandparents about their immigrant stories, I get so excited to learn about their journey. In all my interviews over the years, I’ve never been disappointed or bored by immigrant stories. Humor me for a moment and imagine if you were an immigrant. Name a foreign country. Whatever comes to mind first. Now, think about the process of moving your life to that country. Paperwork aside, which is often a tremendous and challenging undertaking, walk through the process of leaving your home, family, career, friends, and comforts and starting over. It’s a remarkable achievement that should be remembered and proudly shared with every generation that comes next.

I’ve recently interviewed several people who all had incredible immigration stories. Some were refugees fleeing violence or war. Others were born into poverty and wanted better financial and educational opportunities. A few were adventurous spirits who dreamed about life in a different place. It’s incredible how much you learn and are motivated by immigrant stories. Above all, I feel honored to be the one asking questions and hearing their memories. As an entrepreneur, I am humbled and motivated by the risks they took, the endless hours of hard work, and the extra challenges they faced by being strangers in a new country.

This spring, I finished the final revisions on a book for Ray, who immigrated to the U.S. from India in the late 1970s. Ray is a big personality with an infectious enthusiasm for life, learning, and taking risks. I hope you enjoy this abbreviated story about his life!

Ray’s Immigrant Story

Ray grew up in a remote village in southern India, where his family has been farming the land for many generations. He lived in a tiny house without bedrooms or indoor plumbing with his five siblings and parents. Ray was the ambitious middle son who loved school and wanted to be the first in their family to attend college. So, he studied hard, lived as an indentured servant to attend school, and eventually earned a civil engineering degree.

In the 1970s, many young Indian professionals obtained visas to work in the U.S. Ray dreamed of moving to the United States to work and live. Consequently, he scraped together the money to travel by train to his region’s U.S. Embassy. He applied for his visa even though he had no personal identification. However, when Ray met a challenge, like not having an ID, he figured out how to solve it. In this case, he found a lawyer who agreed to vouch for his identity and create the necessary paperwork. Most importantly, Ray was tenacious, resourceful, and determined.

His mother did not want him to leave the country. She found him a good wife through an arranged marriage, as was the custom in India then, and he worked until the birth of their first son. Finally, when promotions and better jobs were difficult to find, Ray could live out his dream. In short, he moved to the United States and pursued a career in the booming nuclear power industry.

Ray and his young family crisscrossed the nation to help open new nuclear plants, often moving with the same community of Indian engineers and workers. When the industry began to downsize, he switched careers to become a stockbroker and, unfortunately, lost his entire savings during the 1987 crash. As a result, he took a chance and bought a convenience store on owner financing.

He worked 18-hour days for 365 days straight, trying to turn a profit. He’d never worked a cash register before that job. But, he persevered and eventually bought the land where his business was located. He began collecting rent for other commercial companies and soon had enough money to buy cheap residential houses after the 2010 real estate bust. Ray runs a highly successful commercial real estate venture. His vision is to cross the $1 billion threshold with his company. “My journey is a testament to the power of seizing opportunities and working tirelessly to make the most of them,” he told me.

There’s much more I could share about his life, but that’s a good summary of it. I enjoyed my time with Ray and he’s now considering working with me on other books. But, the stories I will always be most impressed by are those of him taking risks, losing everything, and getting right back up to try again. Those stories help younger generations navigate life and learn that failing is part of the journey.

Questions to Record Immigrant Stories

In conclusion, while unique, each family’s immigrant stories typically share these common threads: hard work, constant learning, risk-taking, entrepreneurship, mistakes, luck, and the pride of providing opportunities for their children and the family members they left in their home country. Immigrant stories are not just incredible; they are a precious legacy for future generations of your family to cherish and learn from. The responsibility to preserve and share these stories is ours.

If you have a living relative with an immigration story to share, now is the time to record it! Plan to spend an hour or two asking them questions and recording their memories. For example, some of my favorite questions to ask:

  • What was happening in your life that led you to move?
  • What would have happened if you stayed?
  • Why did you come here instead of somewhere else?
  • What was the most challenging part about leaving?
  • Did you know anyone when you arrived?
  • What was it like during your first year living here?
  • What did you miss the most about your former home?
  • Who was the most helpful person you met?
  • What were your hopes or expectations for your new life?
  • What surprised you the most about your new community?

Need Help?

Want to get your children involved? Here’s a great site to help young people appreciate immigrant stories. Finally, do you want to hire me to record your family’s immigrant stories? Please send me a message or schedule a call to discuss your project!

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100 year old man in a recliner chair leans forward with a big smile as he speaks to a middle aged woman who is interviewing him about his life