I n the summer of 2006, Rashida and Farukh drove from Mountain View, CA to Philadelphia, PA to pick up their daughter, Sabiha. She had just completed a two-year fellowship and her apartment lease was ending. The three of them then drove back to Mountain View with all her things tightly packed into an SUV. She insisted on keeping a plant which is now a large tree that reaches the ceiling if her home in Oakland, CA. She also held onto a large, wooden trunk she found on the street in Philadelphia.

Rashida and Farukh emigrated from Mumbai in 1979. Both of their families are originally from the Gujarati port city of Surat. A few years after they got married, Farukh began a Masters program at Stanford University. As an English undergraduate, he was unique among the small Indian expat community, many of whom were engineers or doctors. Sabiha was born at Stanford Hospital. At the time, Rashida was working at Stanford as a graphic designer. Back then, she remembers only a few doctors of Indian or South Asian descent at Stanford. Eventually, they bought a home in the nearby town of Mountain View in 1987 and have lived there since. Over the past forty years, they’ve witnessed the development and growth of Silicon Valley from farms, ranches and orchards into one of the world’s most influential global economic hubs.

In August and September of 2006, they put 10,550 miles on a Dodge Durango, generously loaned to them by a family friend, while crossing 17 states and visiting 15 national parks. They intentionally took a circuitous route, visiting friends and getting off the interstate highway to take smaller, state highways and country roads off the beaten path. They were even able to visit Dallas to attend their friend’s daughter’s wedding. Along the way, they spent two weeks staying with friends, another two weeks staying in roadside motels and hotels and another two weeks staying at campgrounds in national parks. Farukh felt that the cross-country trip should be “a rite of passage” for every American to experience the country’s geographic and cultural diversity.

The superb sightseeing left them with many happy memories. They came across a dilapidated silver mine, sand dunes where the ground seemed to be constantly shifting, and vast cave networks, including Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Farukh and Rashida were astonished by the clear, still water of Mirror Lake, near Colorado’s northern border with Wyoming, where they met and chatted with a local fisherman. Other major highlights were the five national parks along Utah’s southern border, where they spent one week. Rashida expressed amazement at seeing the night sky so full of stars, made possible by a lack of light pollution. It was so dark they could barely see each other standing side by side. Farukh recalled the scenery of Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon with awe, describing it as “nature carving” and “an alien landscape.” Rashida, who chronicled their daily movements and interactions in her diary, recently went back to her entries. Re-reading her words, she remembered she had wished her parents could have been with them at Bryce Canyon.

Having never been to the rural, Western, Midwestern, and Southern areas of the U.S. before, the trip became about seeing “flyover country.” Farukh had traveled to lots of cities for work but not many rural parts of the country. This trip was the first time he and his family really experienced small town America. Silicon Valley being so different from other parts of the country, they found it to be “a real eye opener.”

This was all the more true because it was only a few years after 9/11. All three of them had concerns about being a Muslim family traveling through areas where they expected they’d be the only people of color. They often didn’t know what to expect or how they’d be treated. Farukh emphasized that he was struck by the fact that “by and large, most people were very good to us,” even when it was clear that some of the places they visited didn’t share their politics. Sabiha added, “all my preconceived fears melted away on this trip!”

This being the era before the widespread use of cellphones (Farukh had a flip phone at the time), a friend lent them his first-generation portable GPS machine. They mostly relied on paper maps, planning one day at a time. They would call lodgings as they neared a town or village and book a room for the night. One evening, they found themselves in rural Mississippi, outside Jackson. It was getting to be late and they weren’t able to find a place to stay for the night. Sabiha admitted she began to feel scared. Finally they found a motel but no one answered the bell at the front desk. With no choice, they headed back on the road. Eventually, they came across a second motel, which coincidentally was owned by a Gujarati family. They were relieved to find accommodations and excited to meet another Gujarati family. The family that owned the motel was surprised and happy to host them. The next day in Jackson, true to the adage of Southern hospitality, they felt everyone they came across treated them very courteously, even as many townspeople were curious to meet a South Asian family. Despite these positive experiences, they were also aware of other motels advertising “American Owned” businesses — implying that they were owned by white people and that brown folks were not real Americans. This was a troubling reminder of how white supremacy was alive and well.

Another time, in rural Utah, they found themselves being the only non-white family. They stumbled into a small diner called Blondie’s, owned by a tall, gregarious blonde woman. The cozy restaurant felt like a family living room. They ended up talking with Blondie and her family for over two hours. These sorts of local encounters constituted enduring memories for the Basrai family.

Farukh fondly recalled how the family discovered the Natchez Parkway System in Mississippi because they stopped to ask for directions. Having lost their way, they stopped in to fill up on gas and asked the woman behind the counter. As she was explaining how to get back on the freeway, two young black men entered the gas station and persuaded them to explore the Natchez Parkway System. It roughly follows the Old Natchez Trace used by Native Americans, European settlers, slave traders and soldiers. It was along this parkway that many Civil War battles were fought. By witnessing local interactions and flavor, they experienced the country’s history, geography and regional diversity. It was a trip of a lifetime for their family.

Sabiha ended our long interview by discussing how important it was for her family to bond with each other during the trip. As an only child, her time in Philadelphia had been the first and only time she lived far away from her parents. At that time in her early twenties, she was forming her own identity. During the trip, she spent quality time with her parents for the first time as an adult. While driving, they had long talks and got reacquainted with each other. She added, “I learned a lot about myself, my parents, and my country on this trip.”

Basrai Family
Mountain View, California
Photo Location
Springdale, Utah
Moorestown, New Jersey
Rashida, Farukh, and Sabiha

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