We didn't know how to ask anybody for directions.: Becoming Minnesotan

Pennamma Cherucheril and husband, c.1995.
  • Name - Pennamma Cherucheril
  • Age at interview - 50
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 07.22.1993
  • Family Fun Fair, SILC, Como High School, St. Paul, July 24, 2002.

    Javascript is required to view this map.

    Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Problems in America: What could have helped this person’s adjustment in the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Immigrating to a new place is scary - especially when you don’t know the local English dialect, the language, or the customs.  Even meeting another Indian person is not always helpful because there are over 150 different languages spoken in India, though today most Indians speak Hindi as a first or second language.  Many Indians come to the U.S. willing to take on the challenges of a new culture in order to have better educational or job opportunities.  However, their first challenge is to get out of the airport!

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Pennamma Cherucheril 4
    4:12 Minutes | 4.03Mb


    Narrator: Pennamma Cherucheril (PC)

    Interviewer: Polly Sonifer (PS)

    PS:  When you arrived in Chicago, what happened?

    PC:  I'll never forget the experience that we had during the trip.  We had to change our planes in London, so somehow, we made it to London but all the way we were scared to death.  We both couldn't eat anything; we didn't sleep very much and we didn't know what would happen when the plane lands. I think we had a couple of stops in between; I don't really remember. 

    But we got to London. It was at night. We were sort of wandering around because we knew we had to go to a different location to get to the next plane.  We knew we had several hours there.  We didn't know how to ask anybody for directions.  We just looked around and we were walking back and forth looking at signs, and all of the sudden a fellow who was an employee of one of the airlines walked over to us and spoke to us in Malayalam.  We thought "Whew, what a welcome relief!"  And we wanted to just grab him and keep him with us until we boarded the next plane, but he said he was on duty and he had to leave shortly. 

    So, he told us exactly where we should go to get the next plane.  And he said, "You'll have several hours and you'll be really hungry," so he gave each of us a meal ticket. Apparently he worked for the same airline we traveled by - I think it was Air India - anyway, he gave us each a ticket and he took us in this hotel that was right in the airport, which was close by.  We went in there and he said, "You just tell the waiter what you want."  He couldn't stay with us, so he had to leave.

    The waiter came and said something, we didn't understand a thing.  He gave us each a menu, and we looked at that and just pointed to something that said chicken. That was the only thing we recognized.  He brought the meal, and I'll never forget; it was baked chicken, but it had absolutely no flavor, and peas and mashed potatoes, and a bun. And the dessert came later.  We didn't know what to do with this chicken.  We saw salt and pepper, so we put some of that, and tried to eat, and we could not eat it.  We were scared to death, and we looked at each other and thought "Oh no, if we could only be home now."  So, we kind of picked at it and looked around and watched what the other people did.  We just wanted to go.  There was coffee, so we had some coffee.  Then he came back and he said something, and we didn't know what he was saying. Now that I think back, I think he was asking if we wanted dessert.  But we didn't understand anything. 

    Finally, we started to leave, we thought that was the end, and we gave him the ticket.  And then we picked up our bag and started to walk out.  And then all of the sudden we could hear someone yelling, and we thought, "Who is this?"  And we looked back and here this waiter was coming after us.  And we thought, "Oh no, is he going to charge us money?"  We didn't have much.  We had some dollars, maybe $10 or 15 with us each and we thought, "Oh no, he's going to ask us for money and maybe we don't have enough money.  Maybe the man who gave us tickets - they weren't supposed to be tickets or whatever."  So we thought, "Let's get away from him." 

    So we were running.  We ran away as fast as we could. Here he was running all the faster and saying something and we couldn't figure that out. All of a sudden, we thought, "We can't get away," and he had something in his hand.  There he was. We had left our passports at this restaurant.  He was telling us, "You need your passports. You'd better have this!" He was running after us with our passports.  So he gave it to us and we were so thankful that he did that.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun: 1. A committee that manages the business of an organization. 2. Regular meals or the amount paid for them in a place of lodging.


    Noun:  1. Participation in events, leading to knowledge, opinons, or skills.  2. The knowledge thus gathered.


    Noun:  A Dravidian language spoken in the states of Kerala and Lakshadweep, India.

    Listen to this word: 


    Noun:  An official document normally used for international journeys, which proves the identity and nationality of the person for whom it was issued.


    Noun:  1. Aid or assistance offered in time of need.  2.  The removal of stress or discomfort.


    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: 626