First Days is a weekly series in partnership with the South Asian American Digital Archive, documenting the first-person stories of immigrant America. This week, the story of Madan Vasishta - who left Delhi, India for Washington, D.C. in 1967 - as told to Sarika Mehta.
"When I had first flown to the US, as a student learning about American culture - in those days, we never talked about Deaf Culture. That wasn't a topic of discussion. And we didn't call it ASL (American Sign Language). Nothing like that! Just... signing. There was no separation between American culture and Deaf culture."
"I was really shocked by the kind of questions people asked me about India - what little knowledge they had! They asked me things like 'Do you ride an elephant to go to school?' 'Do you live with monkeys?' Those kinds of questions. I had to just bear with it! 'Do you find enough food in India?' 'I've seen pictures of people starving.' 'People die in the streets. How do you look healthy? How do you find food?' They would ask me so many stupid questions back then!"
"But even my own experience, I had the wrong idea of America - just what I had read in books. I assumed people rode horses and were cowboys like in the 'wild west'. Just like in the movies. I was shocked when I arrived at Dulles airport, taking the bus to Gallaudet University. I kept looking, but never saw any cowboys. I was so disappointed! It seemed there were only cars in America - no horses! So we all had our own misunderstandings about each other."