Lakshmi Shrikantia
Interview and Profile by Sunnie Ko
Audio Recording by Sunnie Ko
Interview conducted on 3/31/09, Hummlestown, PA

Lakshmi Shrikantia is an Indian-American born in the city of Hyderabad, India. After dreaming of immigrating to the United States, she and her husband packed their entire life and started a new life in the year 1988. Since then, they have established a comfortable life in the United States, have raised a family, and have embraced a new identity while maintaining their Indian culture.

HARI Sunday School Director

Lakshmi Shrikantia

Education was the initial reason Lakshmi wanted to immigrate. Her studies in computational linguistics were not readily or easily available in India at the time. Thus, she saw more opportunity to flourish as a student and person in the United States. After completing her undergraduate and graduate work in India, Lakshmi decided she wanted to earn her PHD in the US. Conveniently enough, her husband shared the same dream.  The couple moved from India to England where he pursued his masters  and after completion moved to Canada and finally to the United States where they have since lived.
Because she had family within the U.S, Lakshmi had a good understanding of what life was going to be like prior to her immigration. However, her brother-in-law’s letters could not have explained exactly what to expect or the difficulty of incorporating Indian culture into day to day life here.

“…the difficulties would be from the culture. How do we incorporate the culture and the same values that we were raised with in [my sons.] And for me, the other difficulty was I guess, just trying to see how can I adapt the way of life that we were raised with here in this part of the world? How do I make the best of both worlds work?”

Audio: “Perceptions”- Lakshmi shares her thoughts of the United States before immigrating and then the reality.

Regardless of the struggles, Lakshmi has found her own way of living and balancing the two cultures. The Shrikantias are Hindu but still practice the general festivities of Christmas, a Christian holiday. However, this does not take away from their Hindu roots.
“We are not Christians but we do celebrate Christmas with the trees and gifts, but at the same time celebrating all the festivals that we used to celebrate in India and explain to [her sons] the significance and meaning of them and although it’s a school day you wake them up at 4:00 in the morning so that we finish praying together as a family and do all the traditional ceremonies before they are off to school.”
Since moving to Central Pennsylvania, Lakshmi has become involved in the Hindu American Religious Institute (HARI) in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. One of  her motivation to do this derives from a realization she had while living in Toronto, Canada. She observed that there were many types of people coming from different ethinicities, races and religion. This diverse community made her children question why they were not going to church as the other children around them were. Lakshmi had a small temple in her own home and had always thought that to be sufficient means to help her young children understand their religion. However, the reality of it became clear. Her children needed a place to go where they could understand their religion and relate to other children of the Hindu religion.
I’m like ‘OK, I need to put in more effort and take them… That’s when I need to get involved, I need to make sure that my boys when they grow up they know where they are coming from and they know what their culture and religion is.”
She is now the Sunday School director and also conducts religion discussion groups for adults. Her involvement also stems from her desire to help other Indian children in America understand their religion. She also refers to the HARI temple as a “community center” which acts a place for small weddings, baby showers and group discussions. Temples in India, by contrast, are solely used for religious practices.

Lakshmi (on left) explains speaks to the Lived Religion class from Dickinson College about the HARI Temple

Lakshmi (on left) explains speaks to the Lived Religion class from Dickinson College about the HARI Temple

Although Lakshmi is involved with the temple, she is not consumed by it. Going only every Sunday, she finds that she mostly interacts with neighbors and other friends. Lakshmi stresses the importance of being open to people from all different types of backgrounds.  Even when living in India, she learned about various other religions in order to “have a better understanding of the people [she] was interacting with.” When growing up, she had friends who were Muslim and Christians, and she often asked questions about their religious practices.
“I would always go to their house and wish them on their, it’s called ‘Ramadan and Eid.’ I would go to their houses and learn more about their traditions and how they  handled it…”
This practice of accepting those different than her began during her childhood in India and has translated to her life in the United States.
Lakshmi Shrikantia identifies herself as an Indian-American and continues to encompass her Indian values and share her knowledge with her own children as well as the Indian community at the HARI Temple. She enjoys life in the US and looks forward to visiting her home country every other summer. For her, the US is a fast moving country where anything is possible. “The sky is the limit, actually.”

Audio: “American Dream” -Lakshmi discusses her belief in the said American Dream.