We were two frightened young girls leaving our home village for the first time.: 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
  • Senator Walter Mondale exchanges the namaste greeting with an Indian boy, 1967.

    Asian Indian, Education

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    Essential Question

    Coming to America: What did coming to America symbolize for this person?

    Push & Pull Factors: Why did this person come to the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Although India has a very good educational system, many students decide to go to college in the U.S. to pursue more or better opportunities.  In India, extended families are normally very close.  In fact, it is common for grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins to all live together in the same house.  The children all grow up together more like brothers and sisters than cousins, and all of the adults work together to take care of all of the kids.  Family members support one another, and have a lot of respect for what it means to be part of the family.  Because of these tight-knit families, it is a very difficult decision to move away from important family support systems to come to the U.S. 

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Pennamma Cherucheril 2
    2:22 Minutes | 2.27Mb


    Narrator: Pennamma Cherucheril (PC)

    Interviewer: Polly Sonifer (PS)

    PC:  I came from the southwest corner, a state of India called Kerala.  Kerala means "land of coconuts."  I was born in a small village, probably 600 people or something like that.  Everybody knew everybody. I came here shortly after finishing high school back in 1959.  I came here about mid-September.  I came here to study nursing.

    PS:  And how old were you at the time?

    PC:  Sixteen. My sister who was 18 at that time also came with me - the two of us came together.  We were two frightened young girls leaving our home village for the first time.  We had never traveled anyplace by ourselves. 

    PS:  How did your parents decide that you should study nursing in the United States?

    PC:  The reason was that my uncle was in Milwaukee studying at Marquette in the early 50's and then he had met the director of the nursing school in Marshfield, Wisconsin, a small town of maybe about 10,000 people.  Maybe more than that.

    Anyway, it was a farming community and they had quite a large hospital in that central location in Wisconsin.  We had no idea what we were going to study after high school.  So then, when he said this and we thought, "Well, it sounds pretty good."

    PS:  So, you had never thought about being a nurse before that?

    PC:  Never.

    PS:  How about your sister?

    PC:  Neither did she.

    PS:  Did you leave any siblings behind in India?

    PC:  Yes, there were 10 children in the family.  My sister is the oldest, and I'm the second in the family. 

    PS:  Was it somewhat unusual for your parents to send a 16 and 18 unmarried girls to the United States?

    PC:  Oh, yes, it was very unusual.  They were quite afraid.  They were scared to let us go that far by ourselves.  But they had so much faith in my uncle. He said that would be all right.  We were going to a small town and to a school where the sisters ran the school.

    PS:  So, this was a Catholic school?

    PC:  This was a Catholic school and we are Catholics. So, he said that they would take very good care of them; he assured them that there would not be any problem whatsoever. So, then, my uncle of course, knew them quite well.  That's the reason they sent us.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Verb:  To guarantee; to promise that something will happen.  (assures, assuring, assured)


    Noun:  A group of people who share a common understanding of the same language, manners, tradition and law.


    Noun:  A trust in the intentions or abilities of a person, object, or belief.


    Noun:  Nuns, or religious women of the Catholic religion.


    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: 597