Vinay Pai

Indian American from Boston, MA      

 “I can meet new people but my family will always be my family.” 

The first thing I noticed about Vinay was his infectious smile and humble personality.  Vinay and his family immigrated to the United States when he was 3. He lived in New York City before moving to Massachusetts. I was able to catch up with him about his childhood, family, and heritage before his big move to Albany, NY for his new job as a Semiconductor Process Engineer at IBM.  Congrats again, Vinay! 

“I think in general the hardest thing about coming to America was being assimilated. In India it was all about family;  family, family, family and when I moved to America the biggest difference was everything being separated, you know?  There’s more people you let into your life. Whereas when I lived in India and even when I visited India, everything was strictly in the family circle. My generation has started to spread off but with my aunts and uncles, they’re very tight and they still do everything together. That was the biggest thing. And I still struggle with it as I was always home doing things with my family.  That was the biggest thing, adapting to this new culture. Especially when I was three , I had to learn English , I had to understand how people communicated with each other here.”

Vinay shares his personal experience on moving from New York to Woburn, a white suburban city a little north of Boston, MA. 

 “It wasn’t as bad. I was definitely ostracized especially towards the beginning when I first moved to Woburn because Woburn is primarily white and so I had very different interests.  Like I said,  I was very family centric. I didn’t really have many friends because I moved around a lot and because I was so family centric I didn’t feel the need to have many friends. And So I was very introverted too. It was hard for me to express myself and so I always just became the weird Indian kid. I didn’t really talk to anyone and no one really knew anything about me. So even though I spent years with these people, I never said a word to them.”

“I have two or three really good friends that helped me through it but that’s why I really got into gaming. It was sort of like, I could be who I wanted to be and do what I wanted to do. I play a lot of league of legends. So it was sort of lien I didn’t have a fear of what these people thought of me. . . Because they were online. That was my escape.”

And he recalls this memorable moment from his childhood . . . 

“When I lived in New York, my dad came over first and then a year later he said for me and my mother, and he worked really hard and I didn’t know that as a kid. I didn’t really grasp that as a kid, I sort of just went wherever they told me. And did whatever they wanted me to do. And so I think the biggest defining moment was when my neighbors gave me some birthday money. My parents had put that away and I knew where they hid it or whatever and I sort of just took it.  Did whatever I wanted with it, because I thought it was my birthday money and I was only like 7. I went and bought a couple bag of chips and soda, and  then went to school and I would be the cool kid with all the cool snacks and food.”

“I didn’t really see anything wrong with it at the time because it was my money and I didn’t realize it but we lived in a small apartment in Queens, in a huge high rise and I guess one day I came home and my parents had found that I took the money, it was like $40 bucks. My mom was really mad and I was really confused. I got into the bedroom and I see my dad crying and I started crying because I have never seen my dad cry before and he’s a stoic man. Apparently he hadn’t been eating lunch to make ends meet and here I went and spent $40 bucks on junk. And I felt awful.”

“And so I never really connected the two things…  my parents do a whole lot and they don’t tell me. They just do it for me. And I never knew that my dad wasn’t eating. I didn’t really pay attention. And that was the defining moment for me and I think about that all the time. How they would make or endure hardship and make it seem so effortlessly.”

Of course we had to talked about how he got into engineering . . . 

 “I really had no idea. Initially I wanted to be a doctor because that’s what my parents wanted me to be. My dad is a software engineer and my mom is a head teller. They both wanted the best for me and doctors weren’t going anywhere soon. It was job security. So I was thinking about it (becoming a doctor) but I didn’t really like high school a lot, and I didn’t realize that college was going to be way different, I knew I didn’t want to go to school for 8 more years after. So my biggest option was engineering and that was blossoming. One of my closest friends was also going into engineering so I tried it out. I went in for BME ( bio medical engineering) and didn’t like it at all so I switched to chemical engineering. And even when I switched I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

“Advice I would give to someone who wants to do what I do ? Be open minded. Because chemical engineering there’s a lot and I really wanted to do pharmaceutical work. I didn’t get what I wanted but when I found this semiconductor stuff, it was really interesting. Chemical engineering is sort of so wide open in the things that you can do with it. It doesn’t even have to be  chemical engineering related . As long as you’re decent in math and have an interest in chemistry.”

Today, Vinay leads an active lifestyle after years of being picked last during gym class. . . 

“I remember in gym class in middle school, I was a really skinny kid and I knew nothing about sports so I was always shunned off, last pick, post picked after girls. I guess that’s sort of stereotyping but .. don’t laugh at me. It was miserable. I was miserable.”

“I am a late bloomer because in the Indian culture there isn’t a lot of child sports like there is in the American culture. When I got to Woburn, pretty much everyone has done like soccer or a baseball  and I never had any experience in any of that. I felt a little behind. Even now I’m sort of still growing into my body. Every year I come back and play with my friends and they’re like ‘oh you’ve gotten so much better’ and I’m like ‘ yea! I now know the rules of the game’.”

“It was hard for me to be open and candid at school but on my swim team, I ended up meeting two of my girlfriends there. I was more open there, I was like a completely different person. One of my friends even said it, ‘in school, you’re like Vinay, and then there’s another Vinay that’s just at swim practice.’  It was strange for me.”

Vinay reflects on how college helped him to break further out of his shell . . . 

“I think college was the biggest thing for me because I spent 8 months out of the year away from my family. And so when I was home I supported most of my parents views but when I got to college I got to deal with my own issues and think for myself and find myself. So I mean, one of the things was the whole doctors thing. My parents really wanted me to be a doctor and I knew I didn’t want to go to school for that long. And in college I still struggled with who I wanted to be and what I wanted to be so.”

“I’m far more open minded than I seem . I’m really introverted but once you get to know me , my volume level is 1 when you first meet me but it’s 10 after they meet me. So I guess . . . I never really was a confident person but people in college started calling me social and was like ‘that’s not me at all, I don’t know who you’re talking to’.  I guess it’s this whole college thing . . .I sort of had to grow up.”

Lastly, we touched on his experience with being brown . . .  

“A few years ago I went to a red sox game with my dad, we always go especially for birthdays. The past few years I started growing a beard and I went one day, and I was about to leave and my dad was like,  ‘do you want to shave’?  I said no. But it looked awful, weird and straggly. And I wanted to go and see what kind of reaction it would provoke. So I went down to the Red Sox game and as we were walking,  some guy was leaning up against the pole and he called me a terrorist e right to my face.  I walked away,  I smiled, and laughed because this is exactly the reaction I was trying to provoke.  And thought. .  that was so easy! I laughed and I told my dad about it and he didn’t really have a reaction . People will be people.”

I mean I have friends who are from Pakistan and they have brown skin as well and the first thing people ask them is, ‘do you speak Indian?’.  That’s one thing that bothers me a lot when I get asked, ‘do you speak Indian?’.  No! There’s no such thing! There are actual names for these languages and it’s not just Indian!

At the beginning, you asked me if I felt pushed over being brown skinned, but I feel more crowded than anything else with people thinking all brown skin is India. I mean, we already have enough people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *