Immigrant And Author Chaithanya Sohan Talks Love And Loss In New Book ‘America Deconstructed’

By Chaithanya Sohan

I sat in my hotel room waiting to see him. It has been over seventeen years since I had seen my first love. The moment seemed too big as I sat there––sometimes prancing and in other instances nervously biting my nails. We both moved on and married other people. I still remember when we met for the last time. He sat on his bike watching me walk away from him; my eyes were filled with tears and so were his.

Neither of us knew the full meaning of that moment –– was it a goodbye forever? Or was it a goodbye for now? Friends since second grade and then partners, I had never known a life that did not include him. I had crushes, some significant while others a fleeting thought, but he was my constant. He was my home in more ways than one.

As two people who had always been in a long-distance relationship, neither of us knew how being on two different continents would change our relationship. Yet, here we were saying our final goodbyes, promising to always stay in touch. For fifteen years, we found each other even when the other person disappeared. We always found our way to each other. As kids there was no difference between us that seemed significant enough to break us.

When the talk about marriage began, we had way too many big differences we could not conquer. Did we love each other? Absolutely. As two headstrong people, neither could compromise on our differences and we decided to end it. But he was always omnipresent in my world. I always wondered how he was doing. When I finally made a trip to India after the death of a loved one, I was broken emotionally. I was back to being a broken child who stared death in the face. I knew I needed to find my childhood friend and make amends.

As I sat in that room waiting for him to show up, fifteen years flashed before my eyes. As an immigrant, yearning has always been a constant. The feeling of void has been in my life long before I became an immigrant. I first felt inexplicable emptiness when I lost my dad at the age of twelve. Since then that emptiness persisted. It finds me when I am alone and sometimes when I am in a crowd. As I sat there dwelling in my melancholy, I heard a knock on the door. I opened the door and there he stood.

Years melted, heartbreak healed and relationships were mended. We hugged, talked and laughed. We were not adults then, we were two kids who saw each other through it all. We didn’t need to explain anything. We just knew. It was in that moment I realized some relationships never die. They grow and morph into something new. I will always yearn to meet my friend just like I always yearn for my dad. These are people who have, in a lot of ways, been the foundation of me and in more ways than one, their existence in my life is chicken soup to my soul.

To the men of my childhood –

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Chaithanya conducted by JKS Communications about her book ‘America Deconstructed’, which she co-wrote with Shaima Adin. ‘America Deconstructed’ follows the journeys of sixteen immigrants as they maneuver cultural differences and uncomfortable situations while working to find a sense of belonging in their American homes.

What inspired you to pull together these stories? Were the contributors friends before starting the book?
As a teenager in America, I always thought my journey was unique. Nobody talked about the everyday challenges one faced. I thought I was unique in not knowing what a frappuccino or cappuccino was at Starbucks. It was when I met Shaima in college that I realized Starbucks might have been my sore spot but it was not unique. I always wanted to write a book, and I researched to see if there was a book like this. I then approached Shaima with the idea, and America Deconstructed was born.

Well between the both of us, we knew most of the contributors. Some were friends, friends of family, and coworkers. We wanted diversity in the book, and we approached few people online, expats, bloggers etc to get the diversity we wanted in this book. It was extremely hard to find Caucasians immigrants.

A major theme in the book is acclimating to American culture and creating a new identity in a foreign environment. What can you tell us about this idea of identity and belonging?
I have always struggled with the sense of belonging in America. As someone who is born and raised in India, my identity is pretty strong. I don’t see myself as an Indian- American as even my mom does a lot of times. I still identify myself as Indian. Belonging has been a challenge. As someone who still has strong emotional ties to India, and a certified mush ball, I have struggled with the notion of belonging and feeling at home in America.

In 2009, I went back to India for the first time since I immigrated to America. As soon as I reached India, I felt the sense of belonging that had always evaded me in America. I feel like I am home when I go back to India and I crave that feeling when I am here. I always thought it was unique to me, but then I interviewed someone from Ghana who had come here when he was younger than I was, and yet the conflicts of belonging was as strong in him as it was in me. I knew then I wasn’t an unicorn.

Why do you think it is important for people to hear these firsthand accounts?
These journeys need to be told especially in the political climate today. We always think about immigrants in terms of legal and illegal. We are not condoning illegal immigration in any way. We are trying to show the journeys of the people who call America home. We always think one can reach America and life is all good. It is not always the case. There is a assimilation period, learning a new language,etc that can be very funny yet challenging. Something as simple as a coffee run can be a daunting task.

What are you hoping readers take away from these stories?
I am hoping readers can take the book for what it is – a montage of the journeys of people who immigrated to America. I hope they can read the book outside of judgement, laugh, cry and just enjoy the stories for what they are. On a serious note, I am hoping people can become more tolerant the next time they see someone struggle with conversational English or taking time ordering at a restaurant.


Chaithanya Sohan immigrated to the U.S. from India in 2001. She received a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from San Jose State University and a master’s from Santa Clara University, and now works in Silicon Valley. She began writing for various websites in 2002 and decided to pen “America Deconstructed” in 2013. She has also authored pieces on political issues for One Earth One Mission and She enjoys traveling and runs and She and her husband, Denell Hopkins, live in Newark, California, with their daughter, Maya, puppy Zed and her parents.

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