Editor's note: More today from the first generation!  Today's guest blogger, Meera Menon, is a graduate film student at the University of Southern California.  Meera's mother, Dr. Radhika Vijayan, who works as an emergency room pediatric physician in New York City, immigrated from India to New York in 1976.  Meera writes:

My mother had only one line.

My father had realized at the last minute he needed someone to play the cab driver in his first feature film as a producer, America America, a film about an Indian woman from Kerala, a small sliver of a state on the southern tip of India. The story evolves as she finds a second chance at marriage with an Indian man after her American husband is shot and killed in front of their home in Queens. It was a story about finding love in a new land, thousands of miles away, and learning to build a home anew.      
My mother, ever reluctant to get in front of a camera, dutifully threw herself in, willing to do whatever my father needed to see his dream through. Her line was eventually dubbed over by a voice that wasn't hers. It's customary practice to do so in Indian films; nonetheless, I often make fun of her paying her dues as a New York City cab driver in her first years in America.

My mother initially came to this country in 1976, 24 years old, a few weeks after marrying her husband, and hid herself in a closet for a week in protest. My father would bring home apple pies from McDonald's to make her feel better, the only vegetarian option the restaurant had to welcome her to the American way. He had been in New York already for several years, working in the mailroom at MetLife during the day, then screening 35mm prints of films from Kerala and hosting its movie stars in the big city at night. He thought it glamorous; he owned a car and took pictures of her in front of it. He had lived in all five boroughs before deciding to settle into Queens with his new wife. She found it all too shocking, and went in the closet.

Slowly, she emerged. She had come to this country with a medical degree in hand, ready to begin her residency in pediatrics. My father started a radio show around the same time, broadcasting songs from Kerala from a small room in midtown Manhattan, and unable to pay a host to maintain the show, would make my mother quietly serve as the nighttime radio DJ.

She began to speak. And so she did her residency during the day, and at night, quietly spoke through the airwaves to all Keralites in the greater New York area, bringing them together, reluctantly participating in the vision my father had for a new world born of the old.

But there was always the specter of home in the back of her mind. There was always an assurance that she would one day go back to the place she held onto so fiercely as a source of national pride. To this day, she cannot listen to the Indian national anthem without tears coming to her eyes, a reaction she inherited from her father, who participated in Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent resistance movement.

By the time America America was made in 1982, my mother had been in this country for six years, and had a three-year-old daughter (my older sister Tara, also featured in the film as the daughter of the Indian woman). She had completed a fellowship in pediatric hematology and oncology when they decided that they would move back to India.

On the way, they stopped in Saudi Arabia for a few weeks’ layover. It was there that, in a moment of anguished irony for a recent pediatric oncology fellow, my mother discovered Tara had leukemia. In fact, she was the one who looked through the microscope and saw the discoloration of blood cells that sealed my family’s fate at that moment.

They promptly returned to New York, knowing they could find better care for her in American hospitals. As time went on, and my sister's illness became worse, they realized they would be prolonging their stay in America, and her visions of returning home began to fade further and further away. It took three years for my sister to enter remission, and during that time, my mother's mother passed away from an unexpected brain hemorrhage, I was born, and my mother accepted that our young family was here for good.

It is those first years of her life in America, filled with a series of shocks and turns, that made her who she is today. The impassioned determination she had as a youth to be a top student and ambitiously pursue medicine, has, over time, become a determination to live her life in service.

The great ambivalence of her life today is how to balance being the perfect wife and mother and being the perfect physician. She has worked as an emergency room pediatric physician for the past thirty years, at one point serving as the chief of staff at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in Morningside Heights. In the years after her fellowship, she had professional aspirations to teach, but found that most schools were reluctant, albeit unfairly, to hire a foreign medical graduate as a professor.

Guilt-ridden about working so much while I was growing up, she would do things like volunteer in a parent program to teach a class in history for a day (something she knew nothing about, but studied up on in order to fulfill the task). She never talked about work at home: when she was home, she was there to listen to me and to talk about how my day was.

Perhaps the one thing I wish her to know now more than anything else is that I would have never wanted her to be a PTA mom, much as she wished she could have been that mom. Her professional ambition and work ethic is what has inspired me to work at anything in my life, and I believe it is the greatest gift a daughter can inherit from her mother. Even today, she talks about going into service after retirement, perhaps going back home to India to work in underserved areas on a volunteer basis, a lifetime of working and serving without pause.

Much of her strength comes from a spiritual identity that embraces all faiths and creeds: I've seen, over the years, a star of David and a small image of Jesus Christ placed in our basement prayer room filled with images of Hindu gods. In whatever spare time she has, she volunteers to teach Sunday school to pay her message of love and spirituality forward. With a crinkle of her nose and a gleam in her eye she will often espouse Hindu mythology about love, duty, and kinship. Her greatest hope for us was that we would understand where we came from, and know how to share that with the world.

My father continues to bring artists and musicians from Kerala to America to perform all over the country, and she had never once failed to give them home-cooked meals during their stay (often in our home). Home is wherever she is, wherever she makes it. It is in this way that her life has become bigger than just one piece of land, one nation, one identity: starting from her family and reaching outwards, to a world with no boundaries.

I am in awe of her strength, humbled by her faith, unable to find words to describe the kindness and generosity with which she lives her life, every day, in service of others, tirelessly selfless, in pursuit of a greater world in which her children and their children can thrive. India is often referred to by its citizens as "Mother India," and to me, my mother is Mother India, she is my Amma, and if a woman in this world can live her life with half the grace, elegance, love and commitment she has, then I think we are doing just fine.