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Road Trip Stories: ‘I Started to Imagine the Narrative of My Novel Into Being’

In anticipation of the Fourth of July weekend, the South Asian American Digital Archive's Road Trips Project is continuing to collect photos and stories of journeys across the country told through the lens of a community too often excluded from mainstream narratives of American culture.

Manil Suri with his partner, Larry, in Rhode Island. Courtesy of South Asian American Digital Archive

"Here's a picture of Larry and me at Ocean Drive in Newport, RI. He's from Providence, RI, so we drive up quite often. This one's from July 1994." -Manil Suri

Jessica Namakkal, pictured with her sister, on the Mississippi River. Courtesy of South Asian American Digital Archive

"This picture shows us sailing down the Mississippi River, America's iconic river. We were actually just on a day cruise, we weren't actually traveling all the way to New Orleans at the end of the Mississippi, but this picture is representative of our lives in Minnesota in the 1980s. Living in Minnesota was out of loop of the South Asian diaspora, so we found ourselves regularly on road trips surrounded by white folks, finding our own 'American dreams.' My dad is a huge fan of the famed Minnesota Bob Dylan, and he always loved a road trip: it doesn't keep much more American than that." -Jessica Namakkal

Uma Krishnaswami, in Yuba City, California. Courtesy of South Asian American Digital Archive

"I was working on the background for what would become a children's (middle grade) novel, now published, titled 'Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh.' I wanted to see Yuba City for myself. I wanted to meet with descendants of Punjabi Mexican families like those in my novel. Two memories endure. One is of meeting wonderful, generous people who shared their time, stories, memories, photographs, food. Another is of walking around Yuba City with a 1945 map in hand, printed out at the library. I wanted to get some kind of sense of what that landscape was like decades earlier. It worked. As I walked, I started to imagine the narrative of my novel into being." -Uma Krishnaswami

Jigna Desai with family members at Niagara Falls in 1975. Courtesy of South Asian American Digital Archive

"Niagara Falls held a great fascination for many of our friends and family. It was both close and far enough from New Jersey to feel like a real road trip. Most of our weekend jaunts were to parks in the NJ and NY area. But Niagara was saved for special occasions and we went more than once. I remember that it was not only the day time scenery, but also the night time lights that made Niagara especially attractive. At least once we rode on the Maid of the Mist boat at the base of the falls.

In this picture, my brother is about 6 months. Pictured also are my widowed maternal grandmother who lived with us on and off during my childhood as my mother was an only child. She had an adventurous spirit that loved to travel with and without us. My mother does too. In fact, she had one condition for marriage proposals — they had to be willing to emigrate to the United States. Once she arrived in North America, she loved road trips and adventures." -Jigna Desai

Kaumudi Pandya, with her husband, at Yellowstone in 1991. Courtesy of South Asian American Digital Archive

"We flew from New York to Boulder, where we met up with my sister-in-law and her family. My sister-in-law and I spent a whole day prepping for the drive to Yellowstone — idlis, puris, yogurt rice, carefully packed pickles — we were so worried we wouldn't be able to get Indian food on the road! The drive from Colorado to Wyoming was so fascinating to me; we would go stretches of miles and miles without ever another car — the total opposite of New York! One day during our trip, the freezer in one of the Yellowstone ice cream shops broke down, so they were giving away free ice cream cones; we ate cone after cone, until the ice cream shop gave us an huge container to keep in our motel room refrigerator. (I was excited for the ice cream, but my sister-in-law astutely noted that once the ice cream was eaten up, the container would be the perfect size to store bags of rice in!)

I hadn't packed enough pants and tops for the entire trip, but I did have a saree, which I think worked out quite nicely in the photographs!" -Kaumudi Pandya

Sharmila Rao Thakkar, with her father, in front of the White House in 1973. Courtesy of South Asian American Digital Archive

"My dad and I in front of the White House nearly 44 years ago. Appropos as I submit this Fathers Day, and credit this man, my father, for passing on his love and interest in learning, reading, journalism and politics. I often wonder what our conversations would be like now... vividly remembering discussions during the Carter and Reagan days, the many piles of various newspapers and magazines in every room, and the news on morning, evening and late night. I loved doing current events homework, miss my dad's insight these days ...

We took this trip with my mom and his mom (who passed a few years after and whom so many say I remind of). Visiting DC, seeing the White House, Washington Monument and other historic sites along the way so meaningful to my immigrant parents who had immigrated just 2 years prior, for all the better opportunities this country would afford them. My mom tells us my dad had planned to go back to India. I think he struggled with that sometimes, it wasn't always easy for him here." -Sharmila Rao Thakkar (Editor's note: Read the rest of Sharmila’s story here)

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