What a twenty-year-old Rakhsha Kahtri,
a Shaker Heights High graduate, remembers about growing up in Karachi,
Pakistan is that her family had a very comfortable life there.
Her father, Naresh, was the CEO of a successful family business. The
family lived in a spacious, renovated apartment with Internet service,
television, and a desktop computer. Rakhsha’s parents are Hindu, so her
mother, Vidya, didn’t require her daughter to wear the traditional Muslim
dress, the shalwar kameez, or a duppatta headscarf. Instead, she encouraged
Rakhsha to wear whatever she wanted – jeans, t-shirts, and the occasional
sleeveless tops. Rakhsha attended a private school, where she was one of
only a handful of girls (and the only Hindu student), and her parents paid for
tutoring in math and science to help their oldest daughter get ahead.
“If someone else was in my parents’ position, they never would have
left,” Rakhsha says. “We had everything there.”
Everything, except a bright future for herself and her two younger sisters,
Yogeeta and Vandana.
My husband and I both had a dream for our daughters,” says Vidya.
“We wanted them to have an education and careers.” The couple knew that
staying in Pakistan meant that any hopes they might have for the Khatri girls’
professional futures would be compromised by Pakistani cultural norms for
women: arranged marriages and lives as homemakers.
So in 2012, when Rakhsha was entering eighth grade, her parents
surprised her with the news that they were leaving Pakistan for the United
States. The Khatris had family in a city called Shaker Heights and they would
move there along with Naresh’s mother. Rakhsha’s parents told her she would
attend a school called Shaker Heights Middle School.
She was terrified and resistant, yet she understood.
Photo by Amy Moore