My dad was a refugee. He was born in British-colonized India, and when the country was divided in 1947 along supposed religious lines, my dad was on the wrong side of the border for Hindus. He and his entire village left everything and fled for their lives, landing in Mumbai. He spent his entire life rebuilding.
I chose to move to the US 23 years ago from India for grad school, and over the next 9 years, I went through 3 visa categories (student, worker and permanent residency) before obtaining citizenship in 2009 through naturalization. During those 9 years, I experienced the horror of 9/11 as a spectator in Chicago and how half the country turned on its ‘suspicious’ residents of color with turbans or beards almost overnight due to gross ignorance and/or deliberate intent. Although I was fortunate enough to dodge hate crimes from living in a blue city, some of my friends in the Bible Belt weren’t so lucky. We came out of that experience a little subdued and sober but wiser and determined to make sure that we were around to help any way we can if the craziness occurred again.
Over the next 13 years, my life moved at the speed of sound. I chanced an amazing woman with a heart of gold and a social worker who worked with immigrant and refugee populations all her life in this country and overseas, she was compassionate and beautiful inside out. We married in 2009.
And then the Syrian refugee crisis unfolded. 5 million Syrians were forced to flee the war to survive. As the situation got worse, we felt helpless. We wanted to do something. She talked with her colleagues, friends who had been in the field as long as she. Many seemed frustrated with the system and felt a wider movement was needed. So one fine night in 2015, we made the decision for her to leave her job and establish a new non-profit; with a new concept and a full network of professionals ready to share their skills and knowledge. And Refugee Assistance and Information Network (RAIN) was born. We went to Greece, we worked in the camps, I met the people fleeing with just a backpack, reminiscent of my father’s journey. Their country has been divided too. We saw so many children, too many to even write about – with so much suffering in their faces already. I couldn’t imagine it until I saw it.
When the end of the world occurred – I mean the election – we realized RAIN is needed now more than ever, and the consciousness needs to change more than ever. RAIN is now creating partners all over the world, and telling stories – real stories – through this project. As someone who migrated myself, as a son of a refugee, I feel proud to be a part of something for those who need it most, especially during these uncertain times.
By Mahesh Keswani