GREAT BARRINGTON -- Life would be different for the Mahida family if they were still in India. With hired helpers caring for their house and children, Jignesh Mahida, an electronics engineer, would probably be working for a large company and his wife, Rita, free to pursue a career. But, like most immigrants, the Mahidas came to America for good education, opportunities, and better futures for their children.
Jignesh Mahida became owner of Mountain View Motel in Great Barrington on Christmas Eve, 2009, where he and his family, including his parents, live. His father had a long career as a successful mechanical engineer in Gujarat, where engineering has contributed significantly to the region's commerce and trade since ancient days.
Until 2009, when the youngest Mahida child began school, Jig-nesh's mother had never worked outside the home.
Were he living in Gujarat, Jignesh's days would begin early, as they do here. Waking and showering, he'd walk to the temple for morning prayer, come back for a light breakfast, and leave for work at 8.
Home midday for a lunch hour with Rita, he'd finish work at 6 p.m., and come home for tea, prayer, and dinner. Everybody in the family would eat together.
"Here our days also begin with prayer and tea," he explains. "We take short calming walks. But in India, men go out and do the hard work. Women have defined roles. Though things are changing, some fine Gujarati ladies with professional credentials still choose to stay home -- because we believe a mother needs to be with her kids, teach them, and keep the home. Here Rita and I share housekeeping -- cleaning all the rooms together every morning. After lunch, prepared by Rita, I go to a Certified Nursing Assistant training program. Rita is home to welcome the children back from school, give them snacks, help them bathe and change. But at 4:30 she leaves for her part-time job at Subway. We have a plan for each day, and we must all help -- to save money so our children can go to college. We live here, we accept the situation, and it's a good life."
In 1996, Rita's family left Gujarat to join relatives in Pennsylvania, when Parts and Packaging Departments in big companies were hiring so many Indians there was no need to learn English. In 1998 Rita's family began looking for a husband for their daughter and, through networks of relatives and friends, found Jignesh -- then completing the second of his three-year engineering degree. The two married in May 1998.
Do the Mahidas foresee arranging marriages for their children?
"Certainly if they want us to," Jignesh answered. "We'll talk about it with them. But we know it may be another story. They're growing up in a different world. As a peaceful person, I will not argue. I'm doing my best to teach them all the lessons that have been important to us. But the final decision will be theirs. I never want our family peace compromised because of fighting."
Uncles and cousins on both sides own motels in America. Why do Indians find this business so appealing?
"That's easy," Jignesh answers. "In the family, we trust and help each other, share resources. With motels, we achieve two things -- a home for our whole family, and a way to make a living. Here in Great Barrington, it's a safe, quiet, peaceful neighborhood where my guests tell me they have never slept so well. This is important to me. It's in the Indian nature to be helpful. And, with my family here, we can maintain our cultural and religious traditions. We've already taken the children home once for a traditional ceremony.
" But we see the differences. Though kids here are on their own when they turn 18, we continue to depend on our parents and nurture our children. Family is always a presence in our lives."
First generation immigrants commonly share homes. Slowly, generations move apart -- around the corner, into different neighborhoods and, eventually, farther away.
Anyone may long for relatives nearby. Family -- even when it's absent -- is a universal ‘presence.' At the Mountain View, guests are welcomed like relatives by members of a helpful, kind, hard-working family who are glad to see them, here, in a new world.
On the Bridge
Multicultural Bridge and Berkshires Week have partnered to create a column and a blog that will share voices and stories from all corners of the county and the world.
Meet a professor of languages from South Sudan, a mother from Peru, a rancher from Becket and many more neighbors, at www.berkshireeagleblogs.com/onthebridge.