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NIMRTA SINGH RIAR, Medical Student & TV Presenter (Baaz TV)

My name is Nimrta Singh Riar and I was born in Punjab, India. I came here when I was 10. 

I am basically in the middle of a life crisis right now. I am a second-year medical student which in itself is very hard, and I recently lost my father which was pretty traumatic. Ever since, I have been diagnosed with major depression and I am also going through conflicts in my so-called relationship. So, I am at a very hard point in my life, but I am trying to be as positive about things as possible. 

My dad came here when I was two. I basically lived with my mom, my brother, and my grandparents until I was ten. So, we lived apart for eight years. The reason why he decided to come here was because his sister was here. Basically, it was just easier for him. Now he was a journalist back home. Back in the 90’s, Punjab was going through a rough phase and being a journalist, a lot of people were after him so he seeked asylum in this country because a lot of politicians wanted him dead at the time.

One thing about my dad was that he loved journalism. He lived for journalism until his last breath. He was 13 when he started journalism and when he started writing. What a guy! I get very excited when I talk about him and his journey. When he came here, his sister bought him a laundromat and that is when he felt like he was not comfortable. He was living, he was breathing but he wasn’t enjoying life. For the first few years, he was just struggling to make money and send money back home. My dad was really good at making contacts and talking to people and finding people. He found a Pakistani guy and he went back into journalism through a channel called ‘Raavi TV’ which was a Pakistani channel. He was able to step back into it. You know, you couldn’t really take the journalist out of him no matter what and it always stayed. 

As a first-generation immigrant, I had two different battles. I was kind of like a rubber band. I felt like two sides were literally pulling me apart. When it comes to American culture, as a ten-year-old, my English was bad. When I was back home in India, I was a pretty competitive child. I used to always get A’s and get perfect scores. I still remember my English was weak from the beginning. When I first went to a private school, I was asked to recite this poem in English. I came from a public school and public schools in Punjab primarily spoke Punjabi. This teacher laughed at me because I couldn’t read this simple English poem. I remember her telling other teachers “she’s good for nothing.” When I came here, I started getting C’s because of the language barrier and that was very demotivating. That was my biggest challenge and it felt like I had no help. And even though I am super Americanized, I still feel like I can catch my accent when I am nervous or if I am talking to someone older. I do feel like this is one of my weaknesses because I feel insecure about the way I talk and the way I speak English sometimes. I just feel like I’m not doing it right. On the other side, when it comes to the Indian community, I was always just expected to be ‘more Indian’ than the other kids simply because I was born in India. No one focused on the fact that I grew up here even though I was born there. I was 10. A kid. I grew up here, with the mentality of people in this country. Or the democratic beliefs this country gives the children here while we’re growing up. My parents have always been super supportive of everything I do but the pressure came more so from family and relatives. I just feel like they’ve always just held me as someone who should be traditional just because I wasn’t born here. Say, I do something that is ‘too American’ for me, they’d be like oh yeah “Riar’s daughter has gone wrong.” As an example, when my dad passed away, three months after his death, I was trying to take care of my mental health. I was trying to make sure that, you know, the platform that he created stays and keeps going so I took over the TV channel with my brother. I would do shows and interviews in the summer when I had the time to. Someone very, very, very close to me and someone very close to my dad said, “the absence of his presence hasn’t died down and you’re already doing this.” I was humiliated because I was trying to do the same thing that my dad did, but it wasn’t okay for me as an immigrant daughter to go against family and do my dad’s job and to continue what my dad did.

I would say the mentality that girls are worth less than boys has played an effect in my life many times- especially after my dad’s death. I don’t know if it was just the fact that my dad had always protected me from that side of the world or if people were not as mean to me with his presence because they were scared of him. I don’t know what it was. As I said I am having marital issues. My would-be husband—who I don’t know now—he said to me... well, his family was against me doing TV, so I stepped up and said I was going to do it because no one controls my life. My dad never controlled my life, so no one tells me what to do and what not to do. At that time, I remember his response was “well, I hope you realize that girls have responsibilities towards their in-laws. Boys don’t.” 

I was frustrated and culturally we do think that girls are supposed to take care of the house and not go out. I remember when I was younger (in high school), one of my dad’s sisters would talk to people and say “oh yeah, my brother’s daughter, she’s useless. She wears dresses. She takes pictures with boys and there's too much makeup.” I was just like, what’s wrong with that? But for her, it was like why; why are you going out? When people would ask her what I was doing in comparison to her son, she would say that her son goes to school but my brother’s daughter applied for medical school and got rejected (which is false). I never understood the concept of why girls are treated differently than boys. I was actually fortunate that both of my parents are no less than angels. It is to a point where my brother is jealous of me because according to him our parents love me more than they love him. Another example (this one thing made my brother super super angry; I have never seen this guy so angry) is when my grandma looked at my awards and she goes to him and says “you get awards also. Look what your sister got. She’s going to do better than you.” And he was like “I would be more than happy if she does. What’s wrong with that?” It checks back to their mentality of why a girl is doing more than a guy or why she is filling that role of a guy. 

Growing up in a cultural community, it is a lot easier for us to build emotional connections with people. Our community in general is so close knit and we just have this tendency of “community.” Just because I am a part of this community, I feel a lot more and I connect to people a lot more and on a deeper level. I also feel like just because our parents have struggled so much and just because they have always been a bit harder on us to be successful and to study, they constantly stress the importance of getting an education. Their sacrifices have inspired us so much that we are so driven towards success. I can’t give my parents enough credit because I feel like the only thing that is keeping me driven is my parents’ sacrifices. Whenever I want to give up on my goals, on whatever I am doing, I look back at everything they went through just for me to be here. Just for me to have these opportunities. Their struggles make us stronger. To some extent, us kids have laughed at how strict they are, we’ve laughed at their broken accents and that was comedy, back in my day at least. If you think about it, they did all of that for us. They have a broken accent so we don’t. And they still spoke in that broken accent. Kids my age would be embarrassed to take their parents out with their broken English. Well, if you’re so embarrassed by their broken accents, think about how embarrassed they might feel if you’re not proud of what they have done. They bring that broken accent out so you can have a life with a perfect accent. They still bring it out. They still make it work. That accent still pays your bills. I didn’t even do my credit card bills until my dad passed away because his broken accent did it over the phone before we even knew. I am stronger and more empowered because even though I came from a culture that told me to stay quiet, they told me to speak up. Not only are we growing, but we are also giving our parents a new life. 

Also, we come from a different culture, so we know more languages. No matter how much fun we make of our culture, it gives us a lot of power and advantages to build towards success. That is what we have been taught: chase after success.

Up until last year, I was very dependent emotionally. I was strong headed. Even then, I feel like I depended a lot on others. Be it my dad, my brother, or my husband. I was always just looking up at someone. But when I lost my dad, I lost a lot of other support that I really needed. It taught me that life still goes on. I had to come back to school a week and a half after my dad’s death. Nothing changed. 

I’ve been chasing my dad’s dreams because to some extent I have the guilt that I wasn’t able to do enough for him. I was still in school. I didn’t give him the life I wanted to give him. So, now I want to make all of his dreams come true. When dad wasn’t there, I had no other option. I had to face people on my own. I had to face my problems on my own. When I say my dad spoon-fed me, I mean it. I had everything on my plate and even then, I thought I was struggling. When reality kicked in, I realized I had the potential to do so much more. I have been very open about my grief journey and my journey with depression. I wanted to start using my loss as my power and my strength. 

I’ve learned how to live by myself, and I had to learn because there was no one to look to. My dad’s side of the family abandoned us after his death. One of his sisters actually even said that we killed him. And no child takes that. I know how much I loved my dad and how much he meant to me. I have no one. It’s just me, my mom, my brother, and my dog. It took us some time. We went to zero in terms of wanting to live. There was a point where all three of us would randomly look at each other and wonder why we didn't die with him. And one thing about grief is that you don’t know how it feels until it’s someone you know. It takes away a lot from you. You lose your family. You lose your friend. You lose your sanity. Sometimes I’m okay but there’s always the guilt of moving past your loss. You feel guilty about smiling. Grief in general is so complicated so I don’t have an answer to how things are going right now. One day it's different and another day it's different. 

To every child of an immigrant, whether you are first generation or second generation the biggest thing I would say to you is to be yourself. To be real. Be who you are because to be very honest, that is the most beautiful and pure part of you.


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