Classroom Resource: Jhumpa Lahiri and Transcultural Identities

Best selling author Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London to parents from West Bengal, a state in Eastern India. Her family moved to the United States when she was just two years ago, making them among the 2.4 Indian immigrants in the country. The author was born with the name Nilanjana Sudeshna but her teachers in Rhode Island came to call her Jhumpa, her nickname because they found it easier to pronounce.

According to the Migration Policy Institute,

Immigrants from India first arrived in the United States in small numbers during the early 19th century, primarily as low-skilled farm laborers. In recent decades the population has grown substantially, with 2.4 million Indian immigrants resident in the United States as of 2015. This makes the foreign born from India the second-largest immigrant group after Mexicans, accounting for almost 6 percent of the 43.3 million foreign-born population.

In 1960, just 12,000 Indian immigrants lived in the United States, representing less than 0.5 percent of the 9.7 million overall immigrant population. Migration from India swelled between 1965 and 1990 as a series of legislative changes removed national-origin quotas, introduced temporary skilled worker programs, and created employment-based permanent visas.

In this short reflection, collected in Facing History and Ourselves’s book Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration, and Belonging in a Changing World, Lahiri reflects on what it means to live in two cultures.

  • Use this link for to access the text of the reading,
  • Use this link for an audio version of the reading as read by an actor.