June Samuel struggles.
Her parents moved to Alabama when she was 8 years old, leaving her in India to be raised by her grandfather. They kept a relationship across the seas, but traveling or communicating back and forth wasn’t easy in the ’60s.
By the time Samuel completed medical school and married, she had amassed enough funds to follow her parents, who lived and worked in Tuskegee at the time. There she experienced the culture shock and fear that comes with being the only Indian family in a small, rural town.
She became a mother herself when she met her own mother, but a few years later her parents decided to move back to India.
“It’s a torn life,” said Samuel.
Now a retired doctor, Samuel still lives in Tuskegee with her husband. They are also still the only Indian family in the city.
However, she claims to have learned one lesson through each of these chapters of her life: how to carry on.
With that in mind, she decided to write a collection of short stories about her life in India, her relationships with those who raised her, the faith that pushed her forward, and her love for rural Alabama. Covenant Books published Samuel’s book, “The Audacity to Carry On,” earlier this year, and it’s now on sale at Amazon and other online bookstores.
“I’m so excited that they’ve accepted the book to be published,” said Samuel, “It was one of my life’s wishes to write mainly about my grandfather.”
Samuel’s grandfather passed on his values of education, community, and the Christian faith, and she said her relationship with him was crucial to getting to where she is today.
‘Everything is relative’
In one of her short stories, Samuel reflects on the advice her grandfather would often give her:
“Everything is relative,” he would say, “We humans are tiny creatures living on a planet called Earth who look out into the vast universe. While it was hard to experience disappointment, it wasn’t literally the end of the world.’”
Her grandfather was a captain in the British Allied Forces during World War II. He was a scholar in English and in their native language, Tamil. He was a gardener in his spare time, and he was like a superhero to her.
It wasn’t until Samuel built her life in rural Alabama that she began to recognize that her grandfather had such a complex identity—and so did she.
‘I am Indian. I am American. I am tamil. We have so many different identities and people try to pigeonhole us,” said Samuel. “When you go to India, every part of India has its own culture.”
That’s something people often confuse.
Samuel usually has nothing but positive things to say about her adopted home state, but one criticism is the way strangers can group her into a “different” category.
In a short story, she recalls an experience she had while volunteering at a suicide prevention hotline. A man called and chatted with her for a while before starting with her “weird accent,” saying it annoyed him.
Samuel recalls thinking something along the lines of, “If he notices my accent, maybe he’s paying attention to what I’m saying, and maybe I’ll get through to him.”
Later, she personally met the same man, and he called her “a strange Mexican woman.” Samuel simply corrected him.
She has other friends from India who live in Auburn and Montgomery, but they don’t share the same native language or dialect. When they spend time together, they speak English.
“We kind of feel at home here because you form your own little identity and you know you’re not like anyone else,” Samuel said. “It’s still funny how people get you mixed up.”
For the readers of her book, she hopes that by the end of her story, they will really know her. Above all, she hopes she will be encouraged by her perseverance.
Hadley Hitson covers the rural south for the Montgomery Advertiser and Report for America. She can be reached at [email protected]
Editor’s Note: The Montgomery Advertiser has partnered with Report for America to bring our readers coverage of the rural communities in the Black Belt. We can fund this work through reader subscriptions and the generous donations of those who support this unique partnership. For more information, please contact Paige Windsor at [email protected]