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First Days: Family and Food Ease the Transition to America

Dashini as a baby in Malaysia.
Dashini as a baby in Malaysia.Dashini Jeyathurai
/ Source: NBC News

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 Dashini Jeyathurai - who left Johor Bahru, Malaysia for New York, New York in 2004 - as told to Samip Mallick.

"So the first day I arrived here I arrived a month before I was going to start college in Minnesota at Carleton College. And we arrived in New York... I think it was Laguardia. We got there and my sister and brother-in-law who already lived in Queens came to pick us up. And the thing that I remember the most clearly about the first day was that we drove past the New Yorker building and I was like 'Oh my god!! That's the New Yorker?! That's where it comes from?' That was really cool.

Dashini stands in front of the Malaysian flag after delivering the commencement address at Carleton College.Dashini Jeyathurai

I remember the air smelling really different. And I know it sounds weird to say that, but American air smelled different. It was really crisp and clean and it's weird to say that for New York, but that was really strange. And then we got back to their house in Queens and my brother-in-law had made his famous pork curry for us and I think it was a welcoming because we had just had this really long flight and my mom and dad were with me and they were definitely not going to subject us to American food. So yeah, we had that lunch.

Dashini and her family take a picture together after a meal, during a recent trip back to Malaysia.Dashini Jeyathurai

I think later that day my sister and I went to the laundromat, which was a foreign concept. And I was like 'Why don't you have a washer and dryer in your house? Also, why do you need a dryer... can't you just hang it outside?' Yeah, so that's what I remember from my first day.

We were in New York for like two or three weeks before my parents dropped me off at Carleton and one memory... which I don't know if it should be aired is... my sister was going to take us to the city and we had to take the train and we were going to take the elevator and we opened the elevator door and there was human feces in it. [Laughs] And my dad was like... 'Oh my god, America...' [Laughs]"

Dashini with her husband, Byron, at a holiday party.Dashini Jeyathurai

Read the original story, and more like it, here. You can also submit your own story or interview your parents or friends about theirs. Your story may be featured here during Asian American Heritage Month in May.