A different way of thinking.: Becoming Minnesotan

Aparna Ganguli (right), c.1995.
  • Name - Aparna Ganguli
  • Age at interview - 52
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 12.06.1994
  • Indian American woman and her baby at the Sikh Gurdwara, Fridley, Minnesota.

    Class & Work

    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Class & Work: How important is work in defining a person’s identity?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    India’s society has operated under a caste system for hundreds of years.  In a caste system, each person is born into a family that is part of a specific group that has certain expectations placed upon them and limits to what they have access to in society.  At the top is the Brahmin class (teachers and priests), the second highest is the Kshtriya (warriors and kings), the third is the Vaishay (traders, craftsmen, and farmers), and fourth is the Shudra (laborers and servants).  Below even this are the “untouchables”, now called Dalit, people traditionally kept separate from the rest of society.  Although the caste system is dying out in India, especially in cities, and caste-based discrimination is outlawed by the Indian constitution, a lower caste person will still not have the same opportunities to go to school and get jobs as a person of a higher caste will.  Many people of lower castes work as servants in other people’s homes, doing cooking, laundry, cleaning, driving, or other tasks. 

    To learn more about Asian Indian history and culture, visit our Asian Indian Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Aparna Ganguli 1
    2:26 Minutes | 2.34Mb


    Narrator: Aparna Ganguli (AG)

    Interviewer: Polly Sonifer (PS)

    AG:  When I went back with three children my maid servant was watching.  She was asking, “So how many servants do you have there?”  She thinks this is a rich country and everybody has a lot of money.  I said, “Nobody.” She was so surprised, "Really!?"  Then, my mother was telling me "Don't tell," because she wouldn't understand, she would misunderstand what kind of family you are married to.  Because that’s the way in the status.  They will say, "Ooh."   My mother, they will blame her: "Why did you give that kind of marriage where she doesn’t have any help."  This is a different kind of, they are not used to.

    This is one story; another story is we never wash our dishes there; always is the servants.  So, one day, I was watching the same maid-servant, she was with us a long time.  We use an iron pot to cook, and it gets kind of, especially in coal…now, everybody uses gas, but sometimes when too many people in the family, we still use coal, charcoal oven.  If you cook with iron pots, it gets really charred.  So, it takes a long time to wash the dishes.  So, she has some trick to clean that iron pot.  She really makes it like silver.  So, I was watching her.  She asked me, "What are you watching?"  I said, "How you clean the pots."  And she said, "Oh, you don't have to do those things. You should not do those things at all."   But, it's the kind of work that we have to do here every day, dishes.  But that's a different culture.

    PS:  But, you didn't tell her that that's why you were watching?

    AG:  No, I didn't. NO NO NO! (Laughs)  Because it would be hard for her to realize what kind of system is here.  But, they think here that everything is done by machine.  You don't wash your clothes; a machine does.  Yeah, that's what it is.

    PS:  But you have to put them in the machine.

    AG:  Yeah, but we have a dishwasher.  Yeah, the dishwasher cleans all the dishes (laughs).

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adjective:  Blackened by fire.


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.


    Noun:  1. A person’s position or standing relative to that of others. 2. Prestige or high standing. 3. A situation or state of affairs.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 595