Likely Stories : Here We Are, by Aarti Namdev Shahani

Aug 12, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, Welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

I rarely bother with nonfiction, but Here We Are by Aarti Namdev Shahani is a well-written story of her family's move from Casablanca to Pakistan to the USA.  The initial parts of the story detail the hardships the family had escaping from the terrors following the breakup between India and Pakistan. 


Aarti writes, “To migrate to America—to cross across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean or the Sonoran Desert—is the boldest act of one’s life.  You do it to be the hero of your own story.  Only, God must have a sense of humor because, as every undocumented immigrant knows, you can’t cross over and stand proud.  You have to be invisible.  That’s safer than being seen by the wrong people.  Invisible heroes.  That was my parents in a nutshell, until 1984. // In 1984 I went to kindergarten.  It was also the year two men were running for president: a man named Walter and another Ronald” (29).  Shahani writes, “A daughter presents, to a man, an existential crisis.  He’s spent his whole life learning there are three differences between the sexes.  Because that story has often worked in his favor, it’s in his self-interest to see his offspring leap as far as possible, to achieve the dream he could not. // Dad’s was a life of dreams beyond reach.  A lifelong migrant, forever set back and starting over, he had no firm ground to stand on.  Yet he was a truly ambitious man.  He knew how to spot ambition in others.  He admired it.  And it confused him when it turned out that in America, his most ambitious child—the one getting the highest grades, determined to leap the furthest—was not the eldest son (as it was supposed to be).  It was the youngest daughter.  Dad came to learn this when it when it was time for me to go to high school. // Every nerd in New York City public school takes a test to get into the top three high schools: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech.  I did that and was over the moon to get into each.  But I also got tapped to walk through a secret door” (51). 

The story is not all perfect.  Aarti writes, “Utopia was so close, I can still see pixels of what should have been: Dad and his brother should have kept selling Casio watches until the mortgage was paid, then retired to poker games and samosas.  I should have leapt into glory vis-á-vis college and law school, fulfilling my dreams and Mom’s.  We Shahani’s should have had the most food- fun-filled Diwalis and Thanksgivings, where I—more accomplished and powerful than any male in the clan—should I say without saying.  I told you so” (79). 

The story of Aarti Namdev Shahani in her memoir, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares is a picture every aspiring immigrant hopes to fulfill: American Citizenship.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!