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Immigrant voices

Fara Li came to Bellevue with her husband from Beijing. Both had worked at Microsoft, but when he transferred to a team on the Eastside, Li decided to take up a new career in human resources. - Courtesy Photo
Fara Li came to Bellevue with her husband from Beijing. Both had worked at Microsoft, but when he transferred to a team on the Eastside, Li decided to take up a new career in human resources.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Bellevue is increasingly heralded for its diversity. The most recent census data indicates that just over 30 percent of the population is foreign born, up from 13 percent in 1990. A growing number of people from Beijing, Chennai, Moscow and lesser known locales are calling the Eastside home, even if just for a short while.

Below meet some of the faces behind the city’s changing social fabric.


JAYSHREE'S STORY

Jayshree Dugar recently returned from a four-month trip to India, for her two-year old son’s hair-cutting ceremony, a ritual performed usually before a boy’s third birthday. In the year she’s lived on the Eastside, maintaining her dual identities has been a careful dance. She can find certain ingredients from home at ethnic grocery stores, has met others who moved from India to the Eastside and says she’s finally gotten a grasp on the bus system. But some things are nonnegotiable.

So when her husband suggested that rather than performing her son’s hair-cutting ceremony as tradition dictated, they send his locks to a relative back home to take to a temple, she resisted.

“I said we need to go, we have to go. And we went back to India,” says Dugar. “The whole family went to Rajasthan, to a temple for the ceremony.”

Dugar was born in India and for much of her youth called Nepal home. When she married her husband, she relocated to Hyderabad before again moving to the coastal city of Chennai. There, her husband began work for Microsoft. When an opportunity arose for him to relocate to the company’s Redmond headquarters, he seized it. The couple knew it would be difficult to live away from the family but thought life would be more comfortable stateside.

“We didn’t have any plan to come to the U.S., but somehow things clicked,” says Dugar.

Though her son is young, Dugar says the move has maybe been most difficult for him.

Sometimes when she Skypes family in India and Nepal, she’ll find him packing his suitcase afterward as if to go home.

For Dugar, the autonomy of being stateside is something she is still acclimating to. Back home, and surrounded by in-laws and cousins, meant that she couldn’t leave the house without checking with a relative first.

Dugar says she doesn’t know how long her family will stay in Redmond. The couple frequently visits India and when they aren’t on the phone or Skyping relatives, she’s sending photos of her son.

“Life is more comfortable here,” says Dugar. “But for me, at a certain point, I want to go back and to raise my children with family and relatives around them.”


JULIA'S STORY

Julia Chikulaeva’s first moments on the Eastside were like a movie, she remembers.

“When driving from the airport to Bellevue and we [hadn’t] slept for more than 24 hours, but it was a shock,” she says. “I remember I was sitting in the cab and watching through the window with an open mouth.”

An engineer from a hometown just outside of Moscow, Russia, she and her husband had moved for her husband’s job as a software engineer at Microsoft. Chikulaeva’s H-4 visa prevented her from finding work. But because she knew no one but the pet dog the two had moved with, Chikulaeva found herself wrestling with symptoms of depression.

“The weather, the grey sky, they don’t have a driver’s license yet,” says Estrella Chan founder and ESL instructor of English Around the World who works with many recent immigrants. “Until they learn the bus system, they have to wait until their spouse comes home.”

Chikulaeva spent her spare time studying English, walking her dog, taking classes through Bellevue College or watching TV, but the isolation soon got to her. Chikulaeva’s husband had his peers at work and the stability of his job. Other members of his team were also from Russia, so he enjoyed some familiarity there.

“At first I wanted to go home to Russia...Now it’s better,” she says. “Here, people are more relaxed, people smile [at you on the street] and it makes my mood better.”

FARA'S STORY

When Fara Li first moved to Bellevue from Beijing with her husband, she was struck by the beauty of the Northwest – the clean air, greenery and comparative vacancy of the streets. But the first moment she felt definitively that she was in a new country was when she realized how little she knew about the laws and systems of her new home. Driving one night she heard a cop car's siren behind her, but didn't think to pull over.

“There were so many thoughts going through my mind. I felt really bad. Can they keep a record of that? Can that affect my credit?” wondered Li aloud, who except for the Internet and a few close friends, didn't have anyone to consult for answers. “It was really a bad feeling – to not know.”

Encouraged by Chan, Li began volunteering at Mini City Hall, a neighborhood service center that specializes in nine different languages and connects East Bellevue residents to neighbors less likely to take advantage of City Hall. In China, Li was also employed at Microsoft, but she decided upon moving that she wanted to pursue a different career in human resources. Socializing also helped Li's initial symptoms of depression.

"I'm not that extroverted…I like to talk with people, but I [have to] make an effort" says Li. "I had that concern when I came here."

Though she’s since found work, she struggled at first to develop a routine: "I had things to do, but there's not a deadline or a fixed schedule, so you don't see the point in getting out of bed."

Volunteering helped her build a connection: "It was only a couple hours a week, but it was something to get involved with. And I was so excited about that."


 

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