“You can do this.”
It wasn’t until Vidya met her
husband that she realized the
difference an education could
make in the lives of women. In her
family, women assumed traditional
roles and received only a limited
education. But Naresh came from a
family where a premium was placed
on education, even for his four
sisters, all of whom have college
degrees. Naresh also had family
members who moved to the United
States and had successful careers.
He wanted the same opportunities
for his children.
“When I was a student, I was
one of three girls sitting in the
classroom of 100 boys,” says Vidya.
“I was worried more about whether
I was covered up for the boys than
studying. I didn’t want our girls to
go through that same frustration.”
The couple moved away from
the villages they’d grown up in
to settle in Karachi, where it was
more acceptable for girls to be in
school. They applied for a visa in
1998, even before Rakhsha was
born. As she grew older and as the
Khatris visited with family who had
already moved to the United States,
it became clear to Vidya and Naresh
that leaving Pakistan was the only way
to fulfill their dream for their children.
Rakhsha’s parents: Vidya and Naresh Khatri.
But assimilating and adjusting to life in America wasn’t easy. Companies
in the U.S. wouldn’t recognize Naresh’s engineering degree, so he took a
job as a machinist and worked the night shift. Eventually, he purchased a
gas station in Painesville, where 17-hour days were the norm. Vidya stayed
at home to watch over the family, but she didn’t have a driver’s license.
All the while Rakhsha did her best to navigate a new language, a new
country, a new culture and a new school.
She remembers going to a new families orientation at Shaker Heights
Middle School and feeling like she didn’t belong. “I tried to open my locker
and I couldn’t do it,” she recalls. “Everyone around me seemed to know
what they were doing and I didn’t. And the clothes I wore didn’t help.”
Her feelings of insecurity and new-school anxiety would be common for
any teenager, but the added layer of being in a new and unfamiliar country
proved overwhelming for her.
So when school started, the daily tears did, too.
“One day she went to school and came back and cried, ‘I can’t do it! I
can’t go to school here! It’s too hard for me,” says Vidya. Her response to
her daughter was always gentle, but clear. “You can do this,” she would say.
Over time, she did, thanks to her own persistence and to the many teachers
who looked out for her.
Photo by Jen Kuhel
58 SPRING 2020 | WWW.SHAKER.LIFE