Lakshmy Parameswaran

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Interview with: Mrs. Lakshmy Parameswaran
Interviewed by: Dr. Padmaja Parthasarathy
Date: November 22, 2013
Archive Number:

 

PJ: Hello! I am Padmaja Sarathy. I am absolutely delighted to be interviewing Lakshmy Parameswaran on behalf of the Foundation for India Studies Houston for the Indo-American Oral History Project in partnership with the Houston Public Library and the Houston Community College System.

First of all Lakshmy, let me ask you about your early childhood years in India and about your schooling and all that. Let's begin with that.

LP: Okay, thank you very much Padmaja, and I thank Mr. Vavilala for including us in this very important interview. I am very glad that we are preserving some of our first generation immigrant’s experience through this format. What can I say, I am originally from Kerala; we are Kerala Tamilians.

PJ: So your mother tongue is Tamil?

LP: Yes, my mother tongue is -- so is my husband’s, we are both Kerala Tamilians, even though he never lived in Kerala. And you know you -- my husband, Dr. Parameswaran, was interviewed just a few minutes ago by you. We are both from Kerala, I grew up and I studied in Kerala. My father was a professor, Economics professor. I studied in Malayalam because naturally Kerala -- the language in Kerala is Malayalam. They had Tamil medium in certain high school and all but not middle school, so I ended up studying Malayalam, but my father also drilled in us a very -- a passion for English language.

He was a professor, he loved the language and he wanted us to not to confine ourselves to Tamil and Malayalam and Hindi which also I studied, I cannot speak or anything but I have studied Hindi. So he would teach us grammar, sentence structure and things like that. So probably it's because of him that I developed an interest in English language and ended up getting a degree in English Language and Literature.

PJ: I have had the pleasure of reading some of your articles and they are beautifully written.

LP: Oh thank you!

PJ: So now I know where it comes from.

LP: Thank you! I think I have to give him the credit, yes. After I got married I moved to Chennai, to my husband’s house in Nungambakkam in Chennai, and that was -- I was quite young, I got married in 1968. I lived in Chennai for four years and during that time had two kids. And then we moved to Michigan like he said to Detroit, Michigan in 1973 and he got a job at Wayne State as you heard. He didn’t even apply for that job that is how the situation was in this country at the time that there was a big shortage of professionals, doctors and engineers that you were getting jobs without even applying.

And his boss, as you heard, came to the airport to pick him up. So he came in 1973 January and then I came later on in April. So in essence what happened was that, it's the first time I am coming out of my comfort zone as a young mother.

PJ: So tell me about that initial shock or experience settling in the U.S., coming from India, you were still very young --

LP: I was very young.

PJ: And two young children.

LP: I was 24-years-old, I had two young children, three and one, and I was responsible for them because my husband worked very hard from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and all of a sudden I am thrown into this new strange world responsible for the children and for myself and for running a home. And luckily looking back I would say that I was so ignorant and so naïve and that helped me. It was a bliss that I didn’t knew what kind of a situation that I was thrown into. It was Downtown, Detroit and it was notorious even then in the early 1970s.

There were lot of drug problems and murders and all that was going on and I would happily walk with my children through the streets of Detroit to go to the grocery store and buy groceries and take them to park and things like that. And that was my education and I had to deal with building managers and neighbors and supervisor and all of that and little problems that would come up in my apartment.

For example we had a supervisor in that building where we stayed in Detroit that -- the funny thing was that I thought everybody had an accent, okay, and that no one in the United States spoke proper English and I wrote that to my father, they have an accent, they don’t -- I cannot understand them. And of course they thought I had an accent, they couldn’t understand me, so I had a tough time with that supervisor because number one, my children were trained at three and one years of age because they were born in India, their infancy was in India, they were potty-trained completely. That was our system, right.

(00:05:12)

And here the supervisor would look at me and say your children don’t have diapers what if they have an accident, she was worried about keeping the place so neat that I would let them run around in the hallway, she was always after me about not having diaper and I tried to explain to her that they are trained, I only put on diaper if we are on a long trip especially to my younger one, not to the older one, when we are on long trips or something like that. So that was my thing….Oh my God, what is the problem here?

So I learned. I grew up emotionally, physically, psychologically, all my growing up as to who I am, what my thoughts are and what my opinions are, all of that happened in this country. So I would say that this country has contributed as to who I became today even though the foundation probably was laid in India --

PJ: It was strength came from your sense of security, from your culture and background.

LP: I am sure, I am sure it was, otherwise I would have been scared to death. I was not. And there were situations that even operating a coin laundry and things like that. A lot of my friends would wait for their husbands to come home, because there were a good group of Indians in that building, it was provided to us by the hospital by Wayne State University, and it was only for doctors and nurses.

And they would say we don’t know how to operate these coin laundries, we are going to wait till 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock till our husbands came home and I thought, I cannot, with two kids. They didn’t have children. Even though we were all almost the same age, I was probably one of the very few with two kids that I would say I cannot, I need clothes and sheets and towels for my kids. So I would just go out and mess with it and learn.

So all of that in a way was good that I had to deal with the world on my own terms with all kinds of people, Anglo-Americans, Whites and African Americans and other immigrants. We had lot of people from all over Asia, Japanese, Koreans, South Asians, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, it was a mini United Nation I would say that building. And I am glad to have that opportunity to mingle with such people and find out who I am and then how I should express myself and to navigate the world.

PJ: So this explains what strengthened you for what is to come later and for your laying the foundation for all the contribution that you have made over the years.

LP: Thank you. Whatever I did, like all of us immigrants who came in the late ’60s and early ’70s, we all worked very, very hard and we have all thankfully contributed quite well personally and professionally and to the community, and I am just one among them, and whatever I did I am very glad to have the opportunity. For example when we were in Detroit being the only one with two kids, lot of the -- there were several Indian doctors there working and many of them were single and all of that.

So at the end of the workday, we were all right there among all the hospitals, the apartment being right in the Downtown area, they would all walk in to my apartment. And they would drink coke with us and play with my kids and if I am cooking something they would eat and there are men and women, some of them Parameswaran knew from Madras when he was working there. Some of them were new to us, lot of Malayalis, Tamilians and Andhra people and North Indians, whatever, all kinds of -- from various regions of India and they would all get together and we would have a good time in the evenings just chatting and talking and all of that and looking back -- I think that is how we found a comfort zone for each other.

I welcomed them. I didn’t have trouble, oh my apartment is dirty or when am I going to put my child to sleep because they are all showing up after 5 o’clock. We never thought like that. Parameswaran would come home very tired but he would be happy to see all these people.

PJ: So you welcomed them and in return you also felt a sense of security and a continuation of the culture and all.

LP: Exactly! And they also wanted to come because that’s the only way we could find some comfort from each other, what would you do going back to an empty apartment and sitting there after a long day of work? So I tell my children Ashok and Rajesh many times that you kept a lot of our friends from getting totally depressed and going crazy, because you provided a lot of joy to these people. May be they reminded them of their own nieces and nephews and things like that. And there were lot of pediatricians; another advantage was that even if they had a rash or a little cut, I had three doctors waiting on them, so it was overall a good experience.

PJ: So did you face any kind of prejudice or discrimination at that time when you came first to Michigan?

(00:09:59)

LP: Yes, I cannot think of anything overt like Parameswaran said. Probably there were subtle things because I remember with my long hair, braided, and all of that, sometimes there would be people walking on the street and making comments about my hair or something like that or my accent of course. So, I am sure that there were little subtle things, but being young and just starting out, it didn’t bother me, it made me think, okay, then they are not the only ones with accent, I also have an accent, maybe I should speak a little more clearly, a little more slowly, and things like that. But, nothing that hurt me or anything like that, no.

PJ: And I heard from Dr. Parameswaran that you moved to Houston so that he could start his own independent practice.

LP: Yeah.

PJ: So tell me about your experience here. By that time I suppose you were some sort of little older and you were settling down.

LP: That's right. From Detroit we moved to Flint where he did his training, and then we moved to this small town Sandusky, Michigan where we lived for 2.5 years. And that small town experience was my first foray into this community, the “American Community”. And I learned a lot, I learned about voluntarism in that community. Because I was the only surgeon’s wife, they wanted to keep me happy also because otherwise they didn’t want me to be unhappy and move the whole family away from there.

So, they included me in every one of their activities; Bridge clubs, garden clubs, I became a part of their volunteer group that provided the curriculum in the schools there, and some of us would get together and go shopping to Saginaw or Flint or Detroit, all these towns were about an hour away and stuff, because we didn’t have a mall or anything in that little town, so that honed my skill in driving. I learned to drive on freeways, long distance. They would encourage me and they would say don't be afraid, don't follow that Sunday driver. Just be bold and go to the left, and just zoom! Pass in. So, even those little things like that I learned, and I think it was a very interesting experience.

Like Parameswaran said we miss them, we almost cried when we left. Parameswaran became a citizen at that time when we were in Sandusky, and they threw a big party for him, and they celebrated his citizenship and the whole town celebrated. So, that was a good introduction to this culture.

PJ: So you were really honored in that community.

LP: Yes. It's a true America, it’s small town America. If I invited my Indian friends from Detroit, some neighbor would bring me a casserole, and say, here, you are having guests today, have this as an extra dish. So, they taught me about altruism, charity, giving, courage, and taking time for yourself, and enjoy shopping, or exercise and things like that, playing Bridge, all of that kind of thing. I never learned to play Bridge, I’ve forgotten it, it was very difficult for me.

So then, from there we moved to Houston in 1981, and the Indian community was growing at that time. And one of the reasons like my husband said was the weather, and this is the mecca of medicine, so we thought for him professionally this would be a wonderful place also, and Houston has been very good to us. When we came, it was very rural. My children, we only thought about school at that time, what would be the good school. And talking to some of the friends who were already in Houston, they all suggested Fort Bend County schools.

So, we decided, okay, we will settle there because the children cannot compromise on their schooling. And then wherever he would keep up practice, let it be, because this is a big city, not like Sandusky with one hospital. So, he ended up driving a lot to Southeast Memorial from Fort Bend. But, it was not a big deal for him, it was rural, a lot of the roads were -- even in Fort Bend County a lot of ranches there, cows would graze. I would take my children and show them cows grazing, and those empty spots where now there is Kroger and Target and things like that.

There were a lot of migrants from the north, and northeast to Houston because of the oil boom. So, when we were driving we would see other people with Michigan license plates and we would honk and wave to each other, because the auto industry was going down and Houston was booming, you saw a lot of influx of people from the north. So, that was another enjoyable experience. We thought it would be cowboys and Indians and it wasn’t like that. It was people like us moving from the north.

PJ: And then you started separate initiatives in the Houston area, and one of the most significant things that you have contributed, forever people will be thanking you (for) is the starting of Daya. I mean tell me about how you started, what sparked you into starting such a successful and compassionate?

(00:15:13)

LP: Thank you very much! I am glad you brought up Daya. Daya, as you know, means Compassion in Sanskrit, and it is an organization that helps South Asian battered women and children in the Greater Houston area. And I am so proud of it. I feel privileged that I got the opportunity to start it. I didn’t plan. It's not like I had a big vision or anything, it just somehow came my way, and I think some instinctual things through sheer instinct, I joined this effort and I became one of the founders, and it's an organization that is growing by leaps and bounds.

But, before I talk a little bit more about Daya, I want to tell you a little bit about, you know but I told you we were in Detroit and we had good times with other people and all of that, but it was not all good time. Sometimes many of us didn’t work, some of us were working, but many of the wives did not work and would be spending time walking around the apartment, things like that. And because I was also at home with my kids, sometimes other residents in the apartment would knock on my door, and say, hey! I am so and so, I live above you, and thought I will come and say, hello! And we would chat and go for walks and things like that. It was very normal. We would talk to each other and introduce ourselves. In those days, we would even introduce (ourselves) to someone on the street if it was an Indian person. I am sure you would have done that too.

So like that, there was one girl particularly that she would come and stay with me many days in a week, and she would stay throughout the day. In the evening, I thought she would go home because her husband would be home naturally, and she wouldn't go, she would just stick around in our house till we were ready to go to sleep ourselves. And once in a while I’d ask her, don't you have to go home, don't you have to spend time with your husband? She would say, well you know what, he is working, he is moonlighting, this and that which seemed normal because even Parameswaran moonlighted in Detroit General Hospital, we all needed extra money, things like that. I didn’t think anything of it, but after several months of friendship, she confided in me that she is not going home because her husband has a girlfriend, a nurse or somebody that he would bring her home and they would be spending his free time together in the apartment and that --

PJ: Even when she was there?

LP: Yes, yeah, so her escape was my home, and she didn’t want to go back because what would she do? She would have to sit in the living room and sleep on the sofa, and I would tell her, oh my God! That's horrible. Did you ask him, did you tell him? This is not right? She said, yes, I confronted him, and his answer is if you don't like it, you can leave. Where would she go? She is an immigrant like us. She is barely there for a year or two. She was a physician but she hadn’t finished all of her exams to work.

PJ: She was a physician?

LP: Yeah, she was a physician, and so was he. But, she said I have to take all my exam and I have to find a job and he is telling me to go, where will I go? And so that's why I am coming and sitting in your apartment, and it's the first time I am confiding in you about this and it was a heartbreaking story and I would think my God! If I had some inconvenience, if I felt like, if Parameswaran for example didn’t want her there all the time, and if I had suggested to her let's meet next week, not this week, I don't know what she would have done, you see? So that thing was there in me, oh my God, this is a serious situation. We are not all happy go lucky people.

PJ: So the seed practically was at that time maybe beginning of sprouting --

LP: Yeah.

PJ: That sprouted later on into your idea, vision --

LP: Yeah, I kind of knew that there has to be something that we have to do because if I was not here, I didn’t have a big ego but I am not doing anything for her. I happened to be home, I open the door and tell her, okay, you can stay here. That's all I was doing, but then that's not enough.

So, Daya -- probably that seed was there and then there was an incident in Houston in 1993 I believe where as a young South Indian girl shot and killed her husband and her three young children, and then shot and killed herself, and it became a major news in Houston, the ‘Houston Chronicle’ did a Exposé a Sunday front page Exposé on that, that she was going through abuse for over ten years. She had a job, she could speak English and all of that, but she never confided in anyone; the stigma of domestic violence. And her conclusion was to end it this way. She found no other way to come out of this situation that she thought this is the only way to end it. And at that time we had found a loose organization.

(00:19:58)

We took training from other women centers in the area and we had formed a loose group of liaisoning between the women centers and the Indian community, by which they would call us if somebody needed help, they would call us. If somebody called the women center, they would call us to be the bridge, language bridge, cultural bridge.

But they never called us and then this news comes. Then we thought, what we are doing is not enough. We have to start something structured, so several of us, Indian-American women got together and started Daya. And it was a voluntary thing. I used to take calls in my own home. We only had a voicemail system, we didn’t have a real phone even. And I would spend --

PJ: So you took calls in your own home?

LP: Yeah, home number, yes. No cellphone either. This was the ’90s still. Remember cellphones came only later on.

So we would pick up the message and call them back and provide them with some support services and things like that.

We stayed very grassroots like that for several years and now we have an office, three full-time staff. We have a home where women can stay up to six months and work towards economic independence. And we do lot of community education and outreach, because the community is a big part of finding a solution to this. It’s not enough if you provide counseling and group, the community has to be aware and support the victims in our community and refer them to us and support us through their financial and volunteer contributions.

So we do community education and outreach, and this year, for example, we have served close to 300 clients; last year it was over 300, so I know we will reach that in the next two months. And we have over 5,000 phone calls that we attended, that is this year. So it was from 20 calls a week at my home --

PJ: 5,000 calls?

LP: Yes. Well, I mean, not all of them are new clients; clients call several times. So it translates into about 300 clients. And I am very proud of Daya. We have a good group of Board members and supporters, and the Indian-American community, I must say I am very proud of them; they support us through their fund-raisers and things like that, and that is how we are able to provide the service.

PJ: And beyond just Daya; Daya, which is a fantastic contribution that you have made to the Houston community, you have also gone into writing about the domestic violence and all that too.

LP: Yes, because I have some interest in writing, I every now and then write for the ‘Houston Chronicle’ on issues relating to women, South Asian women, cross-cultural issues that come up. And after this murder suicide that happened I wrote a letter to the editor, a long letter that was published.

And I also wrote, I have this book with me, a chapter on the South Asian Domestic Violence Movement. Daya is not the only organization, there are 25 all over the United States, in different -- in each cities, like New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Detroit, there are 25, and the earliest of them started in 1983, in New Jersey and Chicago, and Houston, for the fourth largest organization I would say is a little bit late, because it was 1995 when we started Daya and 1996 officially it became a helpline.

So there was a movement along with the temples and the regional and religious organizations that we started, there was this domestic violence movement in the South Asian community happening, and many people are not aware of the strength of them, only to address domestic violence by South Asians for South Asians.

So in this book, which was published by the Seal Press; the editors are two professors from California, I contributed a chapter on this pioneering movement, which I titled Voices of the Pioneers: The Origin of the South Asian Domestic Violence Movement in the United States.

So I just want to bring it to people’s attention in case they want to -- that’s another historical thing (fact) that I believe our community needs to know.

PJ: Both in terms of what you are doing, as well as for people to access the services.

LP: Yes. And it will be of interest to college students, people who work in this field. This is our contribution. If there are a lot of talk about domestic violence and all of that now, it wasn’t there in the ’80s. We were busy building temples and dance schools and music schools and all of that, which is wonderful, we needed that too, but then like I said, even in 1973, problems have been there, you see, problems don’t go away. Lot of our problems we had in India, of course problems have followed us here.

(00:25:10)

PJ: And also maybe after you lived in this country for sometime, people, Indians, South Asians, we think less about the stigma as we grow into this culture, is that what you think happened?

LP: I think the stigma is going away slowly, but there is a lot of stigma. Our community has to go a long way.

I mean, even in the mainstream community, there is a lot of stigma attached to this. In this country they didn’t address domestic violence until the ’60s. And when I moved here in the early 1970s, the women's lib movement was going strong. I don’t know if you know, women were burning bras and things like that, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, and they were finding -- they were just voicing how they need equal rights and all of that. And those movements were not -- that was a movement by the upper-middle White class women for themselves, and I don’t think and my research tells me that even African-American women didn’t feel part of that movement.

Because as immigrants, as minorities we have our own issues, what they think is liberation may not be ours, and what they think is cultural stigma or backward thinking is not ours.

For example, we are from a very traditional culture and then we accommodate and we have strict gender roles and things like that, and sometimes it’s good, and we don’t think that there is a problem if you accommodate -- for example, if you put off your career for your husband’s sake and things like that. We take it as normal. At the same time, we also try to exercise our voices.

So people would ask me, for example, you asked about prejudice, they would say, oh, Indian women, some of you -- I have seen you, why are you walking 6 feet behind your husband? Number one, I am a slow walker, and number two, I don’t see anything wrong. It’s not because I am behind him in anyway. I may not know the route, he is leading the way, so I am following him. There could be a number of reasons. Not because I am emotionally or status-wise inferior to him. But that is the perception there that is still there about our countries from South Asia.

PJ: Yeah, it’s possible that sometimes we don’t even think of these things as serious and it can be. Anyway, moving from that, also I know, besides writing, and besides this fantastic Daya, you have also contributed politically also to the Democratic Party. Tell us about that?

LP: My husband became a citizen I told you -- the children when they turned 18, naturally they opted for citizenship, but I held on to my Indian passport till the ’90s, 1990s. Somehow there was this feeling that we would go back or we should -- by surrendering the passport, I am surrendering something, because it was a symbolic thing.

Like Parameswaran said, we were going to India every year; we still do, and we were comfortable there and I was also comfortable there. I don’t think -- culturally we have done our part. Parameswaran was part of the Meenakshi Temple and things like that.

And in fact, in 1981 when we moved to Houston, my in-laws were visiting at the time, Parameswaran’s parents, and they along with (Dr. Appan’s parents), Dr. Appan, who you interviewed sometime ago, those two couple laid the foundation stone for our Meenakshi Temple, as elders, and we are very proud of that and the way our temple has grown.

So we are as culturally aware and active as anybody else. But at the same time, the political -- because I was not a citizen, I would feel passionate about the issue and then I would say, what is the use, I cannot vote anyway, that was my excuse.

And even after becoming a citizen, I think Clinton presidency I believe, I don’t remember who -- or the Senior Bush, I was comfortable. There were no complaints for me to go to vote on every issue. But then after 9/11, a change happened within me.

PJ: It was like a trigger point.

LP: Yes, because I saw my son going through the security line, where he had to pretty much strip everything to show that he is not a terrorist or he is not a suspect and things like that, and that’s because of his color.

And at that time the children were growing up, once in a while they would have a beard, all of a sudden they would show up with a beard, things like that. I would tell them, please shave off your bread. So I thought, oh my God, it has come to this.

And the Patriot Act. Are we not partriots? You and I, people like us, and our husbands, they have contributed a lot to this country, but then all of a sudden we are labeled as -- you may not be as patriotic as we want you to be.

Then I thought, it’s not their fault. They are judging us by the way we look and by the way -- it’s purely based on outward appearance and what some people have done, anybody can do horrendous things, it doesn’t matter who are you.

(00:30:08)

So I thought I have to get politically active and that's when after the first Bush-43 administration after the 9/11, I worked very hard for the Democratic Party, and when Obama came as a candidate, I saw in him, he symbolized one of our children becoming President, a South Asian, because he is the first African-American President. If I don't support him, then who would support when down the road after 10 years or 15 years a South Asian child who wants to be President? So, even though I liked Hillary very much, I thought my legion should be for him first, and I worked very hard, I made 4,000 phone calls for him campaigning in the swing States. I did my part and I am glad that he is our President. I know there are a lot of issues in this country that we have to deal with, we don't have time to go into it now. But, I am very glad about it because now I can see slowly a South Asian President down the road. And so that is my reason for my political activism.

PJ: And you were active for that reelection too?

LP: Yes, both the times, yes, I was.

PJ: Now, coming from your own significant contribution, I know your sons have made their contribution too. They have kind of followed Dr. Parameswaran and your model, and kind of emulated them maybe not exactly in the profession but they have their own accomplishments to their credit too. Tell me about it?

LP: Thank you! Our sons are Ashok and Rajesh. They consider Houston to be their home. This is where their growing up years happened. And like Parameswaran was saying, they had other ideas when they were young because that's all they have seen, their doctor’s profession, but when they went to school, my older one Ashok decided to become an economist. I am not surprised; my father was an Economics professor. And he worked for the Department of the Treasury at the time of the Bush administration, and when Pakistan and Afghanistan, the war was going on after 9/11, he was part of the negotiations on behalf of Colin Powell. He went to Pakistan and Afghanistan and things like that. Imagine that, what an experience that was to be in that phase.

PJ: So, international finance?

LP: Yeah, he is in international finance. So, he got the opportunity to do all of that being in the treasury for four years and then he quit, and he is in the private sector now. He works for AIG, an insurance company, you may have heard of. He is also very socially and politically active as he can be, they are all socially conscious people like they say, and their social services are more global. We have to take care of our own community first. We have to build temples and form groups and nurture our language, and traditions and things like that and for them now because of us they have the luxury to think globally about volunteering and supporting and things like that. And Rajesh, I believe he got the passion for English language I believe from my father and through me.

PJ: And from you!

LP: Yes, and he did English Literature as an undergraduate. He became a lawyer, he studied Law also and became a lawyer because he knew we would want him to have a “traditional” –

PJ: A career.

LP: -- professional education. But, then his heart was in writing and then after working for a lawyer for some time, for a brief period he said, I have to pursue my writing, I want to do it when I am young, not wait till I am 50 something after working for 20 years.

So, let me try my hand in it, and if I become successful, I will go for it. If not, you know, I won't be too told to go back to something else. So, he spent seven years writing a book of short fiction. His short stories have appeared in other magazines. So he had some encouragement that way. This work of fiction called ‘I Am an Executioner: Love Stories’ was published two years ago, and now he is working on a novel, I don't know much about it.

So I think because of the moderate success of the first novel (book) which was published by Knopf 34:27, one of the top publishers of the country, and he got some fellowships to write the second book because of that first book, I think he will be a writer.

PJ: Okay, he has decided his career.

LP: Yeah.

PJ: And you have both been very supportive if they not be our what we focus as traditional job.

LP: Yes! They didn’t go into a mainstream traditional career, yes, you are right, and it is a scary thing, it is scary, and I don't blame other parents who drill in them, okay, do this, do that, it is scary. But, you also have to take a bold step sometimes, especially like Parameswaran said if your child has a passion.

(00:35:08)

It's up to his parents to stoke that and to give them a chance to see where it goes. If they become successful at it, that's fine. But they’ll let them have a plan B also. But, I think we should be risk-takers. That's what I think. I am not saying that we did anything brave. My son was very adamant about what he wanted to do. So we had to be give in. But, we had our concerns and he would alleviate our concerns. As a lawyer he could have made a decent income and all of that, it didn’t happen, and only now he is slowly getting to where he wants to be.

So, all of that is there. But, at the same time you will find out how rewarding it is when your child is successful at a non-traditional career, and it gives you immense pride and joy. So, I would encourage any parent, and I know we have a lot of talented children in our community, I see that in music and arts and theater, your daughter herself is an opera singer, I know that, and that is not very mainstream, that's rare. So, things like that I think should be encouraged and as parents we shouldn’t be close-minded about it.

PJ: Now, you have lived for many years in Houston, and Houston as you said was very different at that time when you moved here. It has changed a lot. I asked this question to your husband too. Do you think those years when there were a small number of Indians settling here to now a very, very large number of Indians settling here, do you have any kind of suggestions, guidance, recommendation that you have for these new stream of Indians coming from India? What kind of strategies or ideas for settling here as well as then they are living here that you would suggest?

LP: I don't have anything new. I am sure a lot of us know what it is, that be brave, be bold, don't lose your goal, be focused and there are a lot of phrases like this, and that would be my general advise. But, as I said earlier, I want them to be a little bit risk-takers, you see?

PJ: A little bit?

LP: Risk-takers.

PJ: Risk-takers.

LP: Yes. And starting a domestic violence organization, for example, or doing a Bone Marrow Drive, for example, was not something that other people had thought of at that time. Like that there are a lot of issues in our community, like we have depression, old age, illnesses, single parenthood, widow, and there are people who have (been) widowed in their middle years, middle ages, and things like that, second marriages. There are a lot of issues that are there that as growing immigrants we are facing, that our children, not only gifted children, I know you know a lot about gifted children as an educator, so do I, but there are also children with disabilities who are not able to make it, they are challenged. We should have a forum for all of these things.

We cannot say, oh, my children are doing well, I am volunteering in the temple, I am responsible for developing this area, because of me there is an additional, I don't know a building somewhere or a parking lot, we cannot be. I know those are all comfort zones and most people like to go into things that are comfortable and that are accepted. And that is fine, you can start with that, but you should also -- if there is something inside you that tells you, you know what, so many people are doing this, let me do something different. I have a friend or I know of this child or I know of this person with this particular problem, and that person needs a support system. So, maybe I have to look into that. If you feel that, just push the envelope, and start, and you will find that there will be support and somebody will thank you for addressing that particular taboo issue that hasn’t been addressed. So, don't always follow the crowd. That would be my advise to --

PJ: So be innovative and creative --

LP: Be innovative.

PJ: -- be a risk-taker.

LP: Yes, yes, exactly.

PJ: Now, do you feel there are more challenges? Did you feel you had more challenges when settling down because you were kind of a minority -- real minority at that time compared to the people, now there is a very large population, do they have more challenges, how would you compare that?

LP: Definitely we had a lot of challenges because we were the first set of immigrants to come, and we couldn’t use the strategies we learned from our mothers and fathers because that wouldn't work in this situation.

(00:40:05)

But then we had no one to look to and say, hey, how do I handle this problem? You have been here many years, tell me. We didn’t have anybody like that. So we have to find our own solutions for our unique issues, because we couldn’t accept the mainstream people’s problem-solving techniques because that didn’t fit in with our way of living, our cultural beliefs and values that we didn’t want to let go or we couldn’t let go.

So we couldn’t all of a sudden become “an American” and say, okay, I can do this, because all of these other people are doing it. No, we had to do what -- that fit in with our cultural norms and beliefs. Well then, there was nobody for us. So we had to find, we had to innovate many things through our dresses, you know all of us had trouble wearing western clothes. I know you had it too and I had it too. It was difficult for me to cut my long, long hair which was appreciated in India, slowly little by little. Because when I go out and wanted to work -- by the way I didn’t mention that I am a family therapist. I went back to school in this country -- I’ll come to that in a minute.

So for this generation of people who are coming, even our children’s – the second generation as well as the one and a half generation -- the new immigrants (from India), there is a big support system. We have created a soft place for them to fall back on which is wonderful. I am glad we did that for them. But that is also in a way may keep them from stretching out. We had to deal with all kinds of people and all kinds of situations. We had to join -- like when we were in the small town, we would join Thanksgiving and Christmas with them.

Diwali and all of that was not -- sometimes I wouldn’t even know when Diwali was because there were not many of us. It would fall on a weekday, how do you celebrate. But now look at the Dussehra celebration and Diwali celebration in Houston alone, fantastic! We cannot miss it. All of that is great. So they can do -- but I would think that that doesn’t mean you cannot celebrate other holidays with your other neighbors, go volunteer in like for example the homeless shelters and in the other forums where they volunteer, not just the comfort zones where you feel comfortable with, take up an issue. Americans are charitable as I mentioned and they take care of all kinds of people.

So stretch yourself out, talk to other people in your neighborhood and your workplace. Don’t just go to work and come back and get back into your mini-India.

PJ: And that’s true. Now, you need to talk about the fact that you went to do graduate work in family therapy.

LP: Yes I did. When I first came in Michigan, because my children were small and Parameswaran was -- as a resident it was 48-hour call routine. He would only come home every other night to sleep. That’s how he worked, at that time it was like that for residents. Now I think it has changed a little bit. So I had to be available for my kids. So even though at that time we thought we would go back in three years and that didn’t happen. So my thinking was to do something that would fit in even if I went back.

Even then we hoped that we would go back, I told you, I didn’t surrender my passport for a long time. So I thought early childhood education would be good, because in India these daycares are what they call Crèches were coming up for people to leave their children and go to work, because there were lot of two income families, it was more acceptable in India also.

So I went back to early childhood education studies in Flint and that did fit in with my children’s schedule because they were in preschool and things like that. And I thought because I didn’t have anybody to ask question about rearing children. I thought, okay, this would also help me in rearing my own children. I couldn’t -- now there is Vonage people can pick up and say the child is not sleeping or she has a temperature, what do I do? And immediately your father and mother is there to direct you -- we couldn’t do that, you know.

So I studied early Childhood Education and I thought it would help me personally, it did, and I also worked in daycare and after I moved to Houston, I did lot of substitute teaching. For the first few years I told my in-laws were here and we bought a house and I was really getting used to the life in Houston that I substitute taught in Fort Bend School and I didn’t take up any -- then my goal was, once my children were older and were ready to leave, I wanted to go back to teaching.

So I went to University of Houston-Clear Lake and looked at the curriculum, Family Therapy course -- Masters level Family Therapy course attracted me. I thought you know this is what I need. Probably it won't help me much at this time, but it went back to my experience with my friends in Detroit and other experiences I have had throughout my life with friends who are going through lot of problems.

(00:45:05)

Everybody didn’t have this model minority life that we are very proud of. There were difficult marriages, people didn’t have jobs, some of the engineers had to work as attendants and things like that some of us know. Even doctors were not getting -- unless you pass all the exams and things like that. Many of the doctors were working as orderlies. So all of those things were there, it was not all rosy.

So I thought my Masters in Family Therapy would somehow allow me to help our communities to cope with a lot of the problems. So that’s what I did in the early ’90s that I finished my course in Family Therapy and I worked at Fort Bend County Women's Center as an Outreach Director and that’s where I found out Fort Bend County being the largest county where -- one of the largest counties where lot of Asians also are migrating, in the women’s center which deals with domestic violence issues not one South Asian has called. That was in the early ’90s that I discovered that and it sounded very strange to me that nobody would have a problem with domestic violence or some (other issue).

So that’s another reason why when Daya’s idea came up, I just took it because my career was already getting established, helping domestic violence victims, I was a counselor with a license, so I thought, okay, if we do this through Daya for the South Asian community, then --

PJ: So you were able to blend it.

LP: -- blend it and I could serve my community as well.

PJ: Thank you. Now, it looks like your husband Dr. Parameswaran is joining you.

LP: Okay, great, okay.

PJ: I have had the great pleasure of talking to Lakshmy and I am simply amazed by the phenomenal contribution, not just in your professional fields, not just in therapy, not just in medicine but beyond just the narrow field of specialty you have contributed. I think you have truly enriched the Houston community and in a way America, they say America enriches everybody, but you have enriched, truly enriched America.

LP: Thank you Padmaja! You are very kind to praise us so lavishly like this, yeah.

P: Exactly! Just I --

PJ: To take that risk and at the same time it's not just taking risk; it's being innovative and trying things where no other person has tread.

LP: Thank you! Thank you!

PJ: That requires courage and also creativity and you have been both blessed.

LP: You know there are lot of people. Thank you! Thank you!

PJ: Now as parting words, what are your great statements for the future and Indian community as well as our younger generation that we have raised?

LP: I think we have said that a lot of things throughout and we have said our wishes and hopes and suggestions for the community like do the best you can and contribute to your own ethnic community and definitely to the larger community because this is the community that has nurtured us and this is where our children and grandchildren are going to live and call it home. So we have said that and we also want to say how proud we are of our first generation immigrant group that have crossed this ocean, not literally, we crossed the ocean; we also crossed the ocean figuratively too, we have come from a very traditional background where we had to write letters in those days and wait for a whole day to make a phone call to India to now Skype and then Vonage and texting and emailing where we can communicate instantly.

And then show off our homes and our other treasures and grandchildren, communicating through Skype and things. So we have figuratively crossed a long barrier, right? We come a long way and that is (what) we are very proud of -- all of us, not just us. All of us have accommodated to this great leap, and in many ways we have made great a leap, and all of us should be proud of it.

PJ: Yeah, both of you have indeed made a great leap forward and forever I think the future generations will be thankful to you for what you did.

LP: Thank you very much, Padmaja!

PJ: Thank you Lakshmy Parameswaran and Dr. Parameswaran. It was indeed a privilege for me.

P: Thank you Padmaja, I just want to add that you too have contributed a lot to this community.

PJ: Thank you!

LP: I also want to thank Mr. Krishna Vavilala.

P: Yeah, right.

PJ: Yes.

LP: And who is --

PJ: For making this happen.

LP: Yeah, who is spearheading this wonderful project.

P: -- for taking this initiative and going through all that.

LP: This is a very important project and we wish him all the best for this.

PJ: Thank you very much!

P: Thank you!