Photo: Fall 1998 at Maryland Avenue Elementary School in La Mesa, CA.
Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mayesha always looked up to her father, an engineer, and her mother, who was among the first generation of women in the Bangladesh civil service. When Mayesha was a child, her family moved to Jakarta, where they lived under the Suharto regime. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and received a master's degree from Georgetown University. Her 2014 book, Women and Transitional Justice: Progress and Persistent Challenges in Retributive and Restorative Processes, was inspired by her work at the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya and by her parents’ experiences surviving the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Mayesha is now pursuing a PhD in political science at Yale University.
My mother is strong but sensitive,
Principled yet pragmatic,
And, above all, selfless.
She is love.
- Mayesha Alam
Photo: My mother playing with my little brother and me in Jakarta in 1994.
Born in New York to Jamaican immigrants, Caleb remembers a childhood that was defined by his grandfather, a strict but loving reverend who cherished the pursuit of the American Dream and believed there was no excuse for anyone who fell short. It wasn’t until Caleb’s family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he began to grapple with systemic racial and economic injustice, an experience that led to his interest in nonprofits and government. After completing an MBA/MPP at Harvard, Caleb eventually hopes to return to philanthropy and emerge as a political leader.
Photo: This is my mom's citizenship ceremony in Tulsa, OK last June. My mom is from Jamaica. Hobbies: gardening, writing, and watching Columbo and Monk reruns.
Though Ellora was born and raised in the Bay Area, she often returned to Poona, India, where her grandparents lived. Her parents, both Indian immigrants, were themselves the children of immigrants—Hindu refugees to India. They instilled in Ellora a commitment to help build a world that offers more equal opportunities. Now a JD candidate at Harvard , Ellora hopes to leverage the intersection of technology and law to change the way we define and deliver justice in the United States.
I was raised to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be, and I don't think I realized how remarkable that was until recently. You grew up in a culture that was constantly telling you what you couldn't be - professional, career-driven, independent - and what you could - a daughter, a wife, a mother. Even when you came to the US, where many more doors were open to you, you made sacrifices so your daughters could have opportunities of which you never dared to dream. We grew up believing, even expecting, that we would study whatever we wanted to study, work in whatever field we wanted to work, and live wherever we wanted to live. What a privilege that is. Thank you for giving us the world.
- Ellora Israni
Photo: This photo was taken in January 2016 at my cousin's wedding in my mom's hometown: Poona, India.
Joseph was born in Recife, Brazil, and immigrated to the United States in 1998, when he was in fifth grade. Joseph remembers the day he learned his family would be moving to the US. It happened with very little warning or discussion. Joseph is currently a master’s student at the Yale School of Music and an active advocate of music education and its positive impact on the human condition. He hopes to reform the current status quo of music education.
Born in Bellevue, Washington, Kaveh is the son of Iranian immigrants. His parents had a rough start in the United States but they persevered in hopes that the American Dream would come true for their children. Now at the University of California, Berkeley, Kaveh is working on a PhD in economics while taking journalism courses. Indebted to his parents’ perseverance, he plans to document the obstacles facing society’s most vulnerable people—the poor, sick, uneducated, incarcerated, or otherwise disenfranchised—through applied economics and narrative writing.
Dear Mom: You always say how proud you are of my sister and me. Today I want to let you know how proud we are of you.
Your life has not been easy. Growing up in Iran, you lost your father at an early age; you lost a sense of freedom when nearly sent to prison for wearing fishnet tights under a manteau; you lost a sense of pride when denied your first-choice college major by clerics who decided too many women would become business leaders. Then you moved to a country you had only seen in movies. You had dreams to chase, but soon you gave birth and started raising two children to have dreams of their own.
You have made all these sacrifices throughout your life. Yet somehow you keep on giving more and more of yourself to the people around you. We are so proud of the amazing person you are, and just as lucky to call you our mother.
Photo: Sept 4, 2015 at Chinook Middle School in Bellevue, Washington, where my mom was working at the time. This was a surprise visit where I tried to do her job for a minute and failed miserably. Born in Tehran, Iran, my mom loves hiking, cats, and Costco. She makes the best home-cooked food a kid could ask for.
- Matthew Nguyen
Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Mariana was surrounded by a culturally homogenous world. It was largely Hispanic, Catholic, and conservative. That all changed when she enrolled in public school in the suburbs of Washington, DC. As a legal director of the International Refugee Assistance Project chapter at Yale Law School, Mariana coordinates outreach and manages students' legal work in support of refugees. She also conducts research on potential legal reforms to ensure a human right to citizenship in the context of mass cross-border migrations.
Don't worry, mami, I am by your side.
It was our first week after landing in the United States from Venezuela, and you were driving me back from my first dance class at the Washington Ballet. The road was pitch-dark, an autumn fog clouded the windshield, and we were struggling to find the way to our new home in the suburbs of D.C. All at once, I realized the magnitude of your sacrifice in leaving everything behind for my and my brother's sake, and I felt an overpowering sense of indebtedness. You later told me that my words of reassurance provided comfort as we were passing through the labyrinthine suburban roads. I want you to know that this voice will always be by your side, even when at times we find ourselves living thousands of miles apart.
- Mariana Olaizola
Photo: Taken in Venezuela when I was 10 years old.
엄마, I am in awe of the foresight and thought in each of your gifts. One gift gave me lifetime music appreciation. Without your tireless effort and encouragement, I would instead have regret for succumbing to childhood resistance to practice. Your gift of daily lessons in Korean language, culture, and food allowed me to share your experience by visiting locations and eating food foundational to your childhood. I treasure most the gift of your love, the lifeblood for my aspirations and my confidence amidst doubt. Happy Mother’s Day!
And peanut brittle will never simply be a snack.
- Peter Hong
Photo: Mid-90s, celebrating my mom's graduation with her master's degree.
Born and raised in rural Virginia, Sanjay is the youngest child of parents who emigrated from Hyderabad, India. Both of his grandfathers were Gandhian-era civil servants in the state of Andhra Pradesh who supported socialist land reform and helped operate medical clinics for the most vulnerable. Now a second-year medical student at Harvard, Sanjay aspires to use his clinical training to serve not just as an advocate for individual patients, but as the foundation for a career organizing for a more just society.
"Service to mankind is service to god, bangaru." Mom, I remember listening to you repeat this mantra to me over and over to me as a child. At that time, I didn't quite understand why you kept telling me this; now, in my twenties, I'm eternally grateful that you did.
Taking care of others has always given you joy. You overcame the odds, as one of the first foreign women to train as a doctor at the University of Arkansas. You devoted your life to those in need, caring for those too sick and too lonely in rural Virginia. And, throughout this whole time, you were the most amazing mother who provided Ana and I with more love than we could have ever deserved.
Mom, you are my hero and inspiration. You gave me my values. You taught me, through your words and your actions, that the purpose of life is to serve. You are my moral compass. I love you so much, and can't thank you enough for all you have taught me.
Photo: Approximately 1996 in Radford, Virginia.
The daughter of Indian immigrants who raised her in Bible Belt Georgia, Sanjena connected with her twin cultures through the page. The granddaughter and great-granddaughter of respected South Indian translators, she always hoped to become a writer. Sanjena is thrilled to begin study at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the same institution that educated O’Connor. Sanjena’s work engages Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, technology, diaspora, and gender.
I'm awed by what it took to raise us while you pushed your way through residency and fellowships in a new country, what it took to leave India, and what it took to build us such a strong home in Atlanta. As I get older, I keep seeing you in me, whether in a photograph in which I suddenly seem to resemble you or in my habits -- and most importantly, in what I know about how to love and give. Thank you for taking the bold steps you did to give us this life. Love you!
- Sanjena Sathian
Photo: Taken in 2009 at my senior prom.
Shivani was born in Middletown, New York, to Indian parents from Bangalore and Baroda who met while working together in the Catskills. Growing up around Gujarati and Tamil, and studying Russian and Latin, Shivani became interested in linguistic and social identity. Shivani is now a PhD candidate at Columbia University, where she is studying philosophy’s role in social transformation.
My mother has her own relationships to everyone. Jon and Ashley, friends from high school, drive forty minutes to have masala tea with her when I’m away. My roommate Jess asks to speak with her on the phone. The local credit union has changed names at least 4 times in the last decade, my mom points out, but the staff has remained the same, she says, going through a litany of saints: Carmen, Linda, Theresa. Growing up in the 90s and in school in the early 2000s, I remember hearing the phrase “Word to Your Mother” everywhere. One day, I remember arguing with my mom, who had her own take on the expression: “Word from your Mother.” My mother moved to New York forty-one years ago with a single suitcase and began to look for humanity in an alien world, fashioning it to be a bit more humane after she encounters it. I’m forever grateful.
- Shivani Radhakrishnan
Photo: It was a 1990s birthday party with my parents in New York. My mother is Gujurati and was born in India, growing up in Bombay. She loves her masala tea, dancing to Afro-Latin music, and often laughs so hard that she cries.
Lorenzo was born in Paramaribo, Suriname, to Indo-Caribbean parents who migrated there in the 1970s from Guyana. Lorenzo spent his first sixteen years in the former Dutch colony, exploring his neighborhood, reading books of places real and fantastic, and working at his family’s store. Now at the Yale School of Medicine, Lorenzo is pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering and an MD. In the future, he aims to practice cardiology as a dedicated, compassionate patient advocate, and to investigate human disease as a rigorous, imaginative scientist.
Photo: Taken around 1990-1991, in Paramaribo, Suriname; I was probably 1 year old; she is from Berbice, Guyana, and she is an amazing cook, singer, businesswoman, and homemaker.
We were both very fashionably dressed at the time!
At the age of seven, Jinyan immigrated to the United States from China with his parents, who came for better work opportunities in Rochester, Minnesota, and, later, Boston. Growing up in a household of medical researchers, he gained an early appreciation for the power of science and how to establish new facts through scientific experiments. As a PhD candidate in government at Harvard, Jinyan is excited to continue working on integrating American values into new technologies by identifying conflicts between technology and the nation’s laws and traditions and looking for solutions in policy and design that ensure technological progress supports all Americans.