Kanti and Hansa Jasani

Interview and Profile by Lia Choyce

Interview conducted on 3/26/09, Harrisburg, PA

Kanti and Hansa Jasani are from Baroda, in Gujarat, a state in the western part of India, attending college there as well. Mr. Jasani’s degree is in Textiles, and Mrs. Jasani’s degrees are in Economics and Banking. Mr. Jasani immigrated to the US in 1969, and 5 months later Mrs. Jasani joined him. They have lived in the U.S. for 40 years now, raised a family, and maintained and added to their cultural identities.

The impetus to come to the US was the graduate education Mr. Jasani hoped to receive: “Well obviously my very big desire to go to NC State to pursue the graduate degree, and to work for Burlington, which was the largest textile industry in the world. It was the main reason for coming to the USA. And fortunately I was able to accomplish both while I was going to NC State, and working…at Burlington, which was satisfying to me.” They first arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina to study at the NC State University for Mr. Jasani’s graduate degree, and stayed with a host family, whom they fondly described as being very warm. On his experience being in a US college, Mr. Jasani says, “One big similarity was that the university where I came from was very much of the same caliber as the NC State University. All the education in English, as opposed to many universities in India…are not all in an English medium education. So that was once getting to classes, or grasping on what’s being taught was not a challenge for me at all, because all the education was in the English medium in India, at the University where I came from.

After arriving, the Jasanis stayed in touch with family through letters, “….we did communicate through the letters, always, which was very good because in the letters you can write so many things, what you are doing, things like that.” Because of the huge expense calling home transcontinentally in the early 1970s, they called very rarely, and didn’t return to India for 5 years. However, they do mention that it was not a month in between two letters, which highlights the length of travel between India and the US, including plane travel to get to the US of over 24 hours.

In these five years, Mr. Jasani began working for Burlington, and in 1972 they moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where they became involved with the Lion and Lioness clubs, where they organized fundraisers such as bake sales and Christmas tree sales. They later moved to Glass Falls, New York, and continued to work in community service, and joined the Rotary club as well as an organization that worked with the handicapped. In Glass Falls they did such projects as renovating both a boy scout camp and a canal, and helped in other areas as community needs arose. The experience proved to be fulfilling for them as Mrs. Jasani describes: “I got involved with the school, but it was rewarding when you get involved with the community; at the same time we [also] maintained our old culture too. And so, that’s like a blending, that was good.

Although the Jasanis don’t believe they faced any grave challenges when they moved to the US, they certainly had some difficulties—a lack of warmth in the community, learning to become more independent, and even finding vegetarian food in restaurants. Vegetarianism is a core value of Jainism, as a part of the religion’s belief in nonviolence. In some instances, they didn’t find their beliefs respected, as a visit to the Grandfather Mountain illustrates: “In fact, the places won’t even make a grilled cheese. So, what do you eat? You eat plain bread, and a slice of cheese, and they don’t want to even take the time to make a grilled cheese for you.” Often, in restaurants, they would only be able to eat cooked vegetables and bread, but as they put it, they improvised.

They managed to maintain their culture through involvement with local Indian families and religious practices, like Diwali and Navaratri. In this way, they explain,“You don’t lose your identity, you have to maintain your identity. All you do is create an identity, you create your place in the community, you create your position in the country, you create….By making everybody feel comfortable, by being a part of it, you become part of it, and then your identity’s maintained. You don’t lose your identity, by being part of a group, you become an integral part of a group.


The Jasanis identify as Jain, and described coming from strongly religious families in India. However, coming to the US allowed them to explore a new dimension to religion, by allowing them to become better acquainted with the tenets of the religion and becoming involved in all aspects of religious activities. They feel that they are more religiously conscious of the meaning of their rituals, and don’t make superfluous visits to the temple just to maintain rituals: “That way in India, we go to temple because we’re supposed to go to temple…the rituals were more important in India, here it is important, but I think I see it with the meaning.” They see this change as for the better, and they also have taught classes on religion to toddlers through adults, so what they have learned they have put into practice.

In the same vein, both strongly believe that learning both cultures is important, and that their identity has remained unchanged in how they perceive themselves. There has been a world of difference in terms of experience between India and the US, and Mrs. Jasani talks about one of her greatest changes in coming to America as the exposure to the varieties of culture. Not only has she learned about the variety of cultures present in the US, like religious or ethnic cultures, but also her exposure here in the US to other Indian immigrants from a variety of places in India taught her more about the cultural diversity in India. She even included this cultural awareness into some of the most important things she taught her daughters as “learning to respect different cultures and different people…and don’t go by the first impression

The Jasanis have now lived in Central Pennsylvania for 16 years, and in the US for 40 years. They have two daughters, and one grandson. When speaking about the important ways the second generation learns Indian culture and values, they agreed: “You expose children to that. You explain to them what’s important about that, and so they learn out of it, and naturally they can choose some of it, and some things they will enjoy more than other things, you know. This is how you maintain the culture. You teach them the language, as best as you can communicate in your own language, as often as you possibly can so that they stay in touch with it. Take them to visit family in India, or visit families here in the United States. We have a number of families now. They come here—they joined [us] here since we came. So, you go visit them, so everyone gets to know each other and creates a bond, and that bond is what really creates the warmth, and that’s what helps you maintain the culture. And that is what is important—America is a melting pot, it doesn’t say you have to give up your culture. You take the benefits of it


Mr. Jasani still does consulting in textiles, and Mrs. Jasani recently retired from her job. They still return to India every two years, and when asked about which country they feel more comfortable in, Mrs. Jasani answered: “See, let’s put it this way, home is here, but our heart is still Indian.