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Interview with: Nita Mehta
Interviewed by: Smita Mehta
Date: September 22, 2011
SM: Hi! I am Smita Mehta. I am a resident of Houston for the last 30 years, and I am doing this on behalf of the Foundation for the Indian Studies, with The Houston Public Library, for the Indo-American Oral History Project.
Today I am speaking with Mrs. Nita Mehta, a resident of Houston since 1981, who is very active in the Houston community and the Senior Citizens Association. Nita Ben, at what age did you come to America?
NM: When I came to America, I was 39 years old.
SM: And when did you come to Houston?
NM: I came to Houston in 1981; before that I was in Philadelphia. We landed in Philadelphia and we stayed there for 11 years, 11, 12 years, and I did all my studies and my boys were in school there. And when they went to college, Philadelphia was very cold, and that snow just made us to decide to move from Philadelphia.
SM: That’s the reason you moved to Houston?
NM: And my husband tried for a job, and he got a job with Brown & Root here, and they moved us and everything. So it was a good opportunity, boys were in the college, so we decided to move to Houston.
SM: Nita Ben, give me some of your -- tell me your husband’s occupation and children?
NM: My husband was an engineer. He studied at Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and he was a J.N. Tata scholar and he started in England. And he was working in India with ACC, Associated Cement Company.
SM: And what was his name?
NM: His name was Padmakant Mehta, and when we marry, I married to him on 1958, and we stayed in Dwarka. For better job and opportunity he decided to come to Bombay. So I said, we will go to Bombay; I followed him.
And in Bombay, then I decided not to work or do anything, and we planned our family. And I had my first son, Pranav, who was born in 1960; another son, Utpal, he was born in 1963, and I started working and everything.
SM: Tell me a little bit about your family, your family background?
NM: See, originally I come from a family which was like a joint family, a large family, and we were grown up on a farm. My father had a big farm, agricultural farm and dairy farm. And he had a Padma Shri in Farming from the President of India, Rajendra Prasad.
And he was so much keen for the education of children and everybody, and they were very, very caring and loving parents, and whoever came in touch of them, they all got the love and care.
SM: What was the name of your parents?
NM: My father was Shantilal Pandya, and my mother Lilavati Pandya, and they lived in Dahod. My education, primary education, everything was in Dahod.
SM: Dahod, Gujarat?
NM: Dahod, Gujarat. It was called Dohad before, dohad means twohad. Twohad means two boundaries. So it was on the boundary of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, but later on they changed the name to Dahod, and it’s called now Dahod. So I went to school up to 12 standard in Dahod.
SM: What were the conditions like when you came to Houston, tell me a little bit about that?
NM: When I came to Houston, it was like everyday like new construction was coming up and everything was like -- something new coming everyday. It was not this much developed what is developed today
See, the road which I go now, it is so crowded you cannot look behind, so many shopping centers and everything; before there were 00:05:37 there.
SM: What year is this that you arrived in Houston?
SM: Tell me a little bit Nita Ben about your early experiences as an immigrant regarding racial and color discrimination, etcetera, if you could elaborate on that?
NM: I didn’t have any like discrimination or color prejudice or anything, because we first lived in Philadelphia. We were in an apartment. All the people were so nice, they were helping each other.
Then after two years we moved in a house and there also people were so nice. When we moved in, we were the first non-White people to move in that area. But the whole street got together and they gave us a welcome party.
SM: What year was this that you moved to Philadelphia, Nita Ben?
NM: Philadelphia, we moved -- I was in Philadelphia in ‘70. I came from India in '70. We stayed two years in the apartment and then in like ’72, we moved in a house, and then at ‘72 they gave us a party and they were all so nice, and they said, if you need anything --
SM: Very welcoming.
NM: Very welcoming.
SM: Tell me a little bit about your educational and skill training before and after your arrival here in U.S.?
NM: See, before I came to America, in India I went to Jamnagar. I had to go out of Dahod’s town for further studies. Then I study Integrated Medicine, which means they taught us both allopathy and ayurveda. And I graduated from there and came back to Dahod.
And then I went for my internship in Bombay for six months in Cama Hospital. After doing that, I came to Dahod and I started working with tribal people, just giving them free services.
And Sarladevi Sarabhai, who was running a customer trust near Ahmedabad, Koba, she had started a school for village workers, lady village workers, and she wanted some residential doctor residents -- doctor and some caretaker for the ladies.
SM: Where was this?
NM: This was in Koba, near Ahmedabad.
SM: Near Ahmedabad, Gujarat?
NM: Gujarat. So she invited me and I went there, and I enjoyed that job. I had to take care of the clinic, and sometimes I had to do a house call, and I had to go up to five miles. And there were no transport then. So they will come in a bullock cart and take me there, or on a camel back ride I did, for five miles, and I come, and I just treated them and I enjoyed there and I taught all those ladies, those students first aid and what to do, hygiene, and took care of their health.
SM: What year was that in the --
NM: That was is 1955-56. Then I got married in 1958 and moved with my husband in Dwarka. And there I -- in Dwarka I did my medical practice. From Dwarka my husband thought that Bombay is a better place for the upcoming and not for the job and everything, so we moved to Bombay.
And in Bombay I planned my family and I had two boys. And then after my second son was seven months old, I started my clinic again.
SM: In Bombay?
NM: In Bombay. And I worked there till I came to America.
SM: And what year was that, that you had come, I believe you said --
NM: I came in ‘70. My husband came here, what happened, like my husband was working for one British consulting firm, and that firm had to wind up from India, and they offered him -- being a senior consultant, they offered him a job anywhere in abroad, but not in America or England, and we didn’t want to go back to England and we said let’s try to go to America.
One of my cousin, he was insisting that you should come to America, so my husband called him and talked to him and sent him a resume, and he talked to some companies and he sent him a job offer and appointment later, and within six weeks he came here.
SM: And you said he had come in --
NM: I stayed behind to take care of everything there, so he came first and then I came after ten months.
SM: Nita Ben, tell me about your interaction in the neighborhoods, the formation of social organizations, and your involvement with religion, including construction of temples, churches, so and so?
NM: The temple and churches, when we came they were just -- everything was starting. Houston was coming up, all the Indian community was. And we saw the Meenakshi Temple building, Hindu Worship Society, and we were so much involved in it. We were going to all their social functions, helping them out. And my husband was on a Trustee Board of Meenakshi Temple also, this Hindu Worship Society.
But when I came to America, I had little -- see, when I came from India, I thought I am not going to work in America. I will stay there. I will be a good mother. I will be a good wife and take care of everything.
But what happened, early morning my husband will go for job, and the boys will go to school, and then whole day I have nothing to do, I started getting bored and depressed.
NM: So I thought I must do something here. So I started looking for a job. And my degree, which I held in India, was not valid here. But I thought I can do some paramedical work. So I started looking for the job.
Wherever I go they will say you are overqualified. Otherwise, sometimes -- one time they gave me a job. So I took that job, but all the coworkers were so much afraid and not cooperative with me, so I just got myself feeling tired 00:13:34 and I quit that job.
Then I went to one place, and one good guy I met, and he was from Cuba. He told me that, look Nita, I will give you a good advice, that if you go in this, I will train you in two days and you will be a best person for me, but as soon as this people will get somebody with certificate, they will give your position to that person who has a certificate. You don’t have a certificate.
So he said, go and get some training as a technician or technologist or whatever. If you take technologist, it will be four years, and if you seek technician, one year. Then I came home and I said -- he gave me addresses and some people’s name and he said, this Hahnemann University is starting a new school for the --
SM: Hahnemann, which is?
NM: In Philadelphia. So he said, they are starting a new school for respiratory care and you go there and all that. So I decided, if I want to go to school why I have to take a shortcut, I should just take a full technologist course.
So I worked so hard and I did that four year course in two years. Two years I took so many credits and all credit goes to my husband. My husband, he helped me a lot to finish my course; my boys also helped me.
SM: Which year was this, Nita Ben?
NM: It was in 1973 to -- I graduated in ’75. And then I got my National Registry also. And then I was working with dignity. Wherever I go they were asking me, they wanted me. So at that time, very good advice.
SM: Very good! Tell me about, Nita Ben, about your gradual integration into the mainstream communities while preserving your separate cultural identity?
NM: See, when I worked I was like -- now I am wearing saree, but in working I found out myself the saree is not a right thing to do, because it was catching this and that. So I changed my clothes, like I started wearing pant and shirt and everything, but my original, put bindi in my forehead, I didn’t give up.
SM: You didn’t give that up?
NM: No. That was just my original and I kept it. And people, in the beginning they will come and ask me, Nita, what are you wearing on your forehead? And then I had to explain. But when I forget, they say, you don’t look good without it. They will come and tell me, and they say, Nita, you should wear it.
So that way I just kept like -- and it has been so many things. Not eating -- I won’t eat any meat. I am a strict vegetarian, so they will order pizza, I will tell them that I don’t eat meat, and I used to argue with them and explained them, and they understood. And whenever they ordered pizza, they would specially order for me without meat, vegetarian.
SM: Oh, that’s very thoughtful. Tell me about your concerns and your anxieties as a first generation immigrant about the future of your children and your grandchildren growing up in the American culture and the erosion of Indian cultural and religious values?
NM: The thing is, I am not really -- I don’t have anxiety or I am not worried for that, because time is changing and by time everything is going to change a little bit. Like my parents were not like what their parents were. I am not like what my parents are, and my children are not going to do what I am going to do, but at least they have the value, and I have taught them my values.
SM: The good values you have instilled in them.
NM: Yeah, so I am not worried for that. It’s going to change.
SM: How about your concerns regarding the gradual erosion of Indian identity due to the increasing number of interracial marriages?
NM: See, marriages is just love and it’s destiny. I believe in destiny. See, my brother, he married a White girl, it’s 33 years now. I supported that marriage. 33 years back I supported their marriage and they are really happy.
So marriage is just, two people, they have to stay with each other and they are getting along. That’s what I think.
SM: Tell me a little bit about your support in the immigrant businesses, particularly in Hillcroft area, that’s the Indian sector of the Mahatma Gandhi district in Houston?
NM: I support them, because they are trying to survive and they are trying to do business, but they should be competitive. If one person is selling me something cheaper than him, definitely I won’t spend more money for something. But I support them all the time, because they have to do business, and as I had to struggle to live, they have too, so we have to support our own people.
SM: Tell me a little bit about some of your unique experiences at your workplace and businesses that have shaped you into the person you are today?
NM: See, working with all these people, sometimes you have to take it like some bite or something, but you just take it, and sometimes you just get up and face it and talk to them. So you got it -- when you have to say something and when you have to keep quiet that I learned.
And another thing I learned, I worked in a cancer hospital, so I learned that every person is same, even he is a very rich guy or a very poor guy, when some disease or something hits them, they are human beings.
SM: Basically the same.
NM: Basically the same.
SM: Human beings.
NM: So we shouldn’t be proud of anything or we shouldn’t feel small or --
SM: Absolutely! Tell me, what do you see in your children and your grandchildren’s future in America?
NM: See, everybody has, wherever they live they have to work hard to survive. So if they do good things, if they work honestly, I don’t think they will have anywhere -- person will have trouble.
SM: And tell me Nita Ben, in which ways are you making a difference in your community?
NM: I don’t know which way I am making a difference, but I am trying to help older people, because I am old right now, and most of our Indian seniors, they come from India and they come at later age, so they are not so much used to these American people or American ways and all that. So I work for them and I help them to meet their peers and we have our Indian Senior Citizens Association.
SM: Could you tell me a little bit about the activities of your Indian Senior Citizens Association and how you have helped in developing it?
NM: What we do is -- it started with five people. Some 00:22:53, they started it. Now we have 600 members. They started in a small house and then slowly we started in county’s community center we are meeting. We meet twice in a month. We have some doctors coming and talking to them. Some entertainers comes and entertain them. And we get lunches people sponsor lunches.
SM: Wow, that’s very nice!
NM: On that day seniors can come there, enjoy, talk to each other, meet their peers, have a nice lunch, and have all this knowledge, and they just feel better. And every month we go 200 miles radius off Houston for picnic.
SM: Oh, for picnics. Very good! Very good! And lastly, Nita Ben, what made you decide to come to USA, tell me about that?
NM: Yeah. I told you I think before also that my husband was working for that company and they were winding up from India, so we said, let’s try Houston -- I mean, America. And he got a job and we came, and then afterwards I got a job, and then my two boys, they were going to go to school and colleges and so --
SM: Is there any other topic of interest you may want to discuss?
NM: No, nothing. I have two boys. I have a small family, and I told you, Pranav is MBA in Finance, and my second son, Utpal, he is an attorney. His wife is an attorney, and he has a 16-year-old son, my grandson, Narendra, and Narendra is in high school.
And they are doing okay. They are right now in Indonesia, Jakarta. And that’s it.
I have my whole -- most -- half of my -- we are nine brothers and sisters and half of my brothers and sisters, my three brothers and we two sisters are here, and my two sisters all children are here. So we have a big family.
SM: Yes, you do.
NM: So I was Pandya before, so big pandya family.
SM: Thank you very much, Nita Ben.
NM: And thank you Smita for giving me the opportunity to talk with you.
SM: You are most welcome.