Citizens’ Journal is proud to present the Coming to America series of immigrant related interviews conducted by Ventura resident Dr. Kathleen S. Roos. CJ publishes a new story each Sunday. These stories describe what life was like in their native country, the whys of wanting to come to America and what they have found here. It is the hope of each interviewee that those born in America, who have not had these experiences may reflect on what it means to be an American by these immigrants. Many have risked their lives and their families to come to America. Some have had an easier road, but the desire to be free, to make choices and what it means to become an American is a thread found throughout these interviews.
In current news today look at the young man Enes Kanter, the Boston Celtics basketball player speaking out about human rights and comparisons to China and the companies who do business there! He is from Turkey and Muslim and his family is paying a price for his decision to speak out. He is also taking a lot of heat from others here in the U.S. to risk his career to take such a stand. A very decent guy who makes a great example to Americans. He is well-known and appreciates the U.S. and our freedoms and deplores the atrocities in China and other parts of the world relative to abuse and lack of human rights. Most of these interviewees are not well known, or famous but their stories matter. All the varying perspectives of the interviewees are presented. Each one is their own story.
For the Citizen’s Journal readers who want to go back and view previous interviews we have included a list of those already published which can be located through the journal’s search engine box by typing in Coming to America, and the name of the Country. These include interviews from Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge through Cambodia: The Next Generation (installments 1-3), Oaxaca, Mexico (4), Santiago, Chile (5), Aligarh, India (6), Santiago, Cuba (7), Cambodia: years later told by an American dental professional (8), Jalisco, Mexico (9), Bagdad, Iraq (10), Bulacan, Philippines (11), and United Kingdom (12).
This week’s installment CJ is presents Mark Lai’s story from Saigon, Vietnam. Future interviews will include Plauen, Germany, Rimmanapudi, India, Great Urswich, UK., Helsinki, Finland, Tehran, Iran, North Korea, Riga, Latvia, and Dr. Roos’ story from her travel and experiences.
Editor: Anne Albaugh
Interview with Rama Koganti October 14, 2021
Though most of the interviews conducted in Coming to America have been local and in-person interviews, I have been contacted by others outside the area who felt their stories support my intent and would be of interest. An acquaintance reading Coming to America in Citizen’s Journal, shared Rama’s contact information believing it would benefit readers and present a possibly different perspective about India. The following interview was conducted via internet and phone.
Rama; Where were you born? Country, town?
I was born in India, Rimmanapudi, a small village, in Southern India. The closest large metropolitan area would be Hyderabad, known as the Silicon Valley of India. (Bangalore is also known as the Silicon Valley of India due to its’ promotion of the IT sector). I left India to continue my education at about 24 years of age.
Tell me about growing up in your country and any comparisons to U.S. if applicable.
I grew up in a middle-class family in India. My father was a farmer, and my mother is a housewife. My mother raised 4 children. I was the 3rd child in
I went to a private school from 1st grade to 5th grade and public school from 6th grade to 10th grade (there was no kindergarten concept in public schools in India then). You will have to sit on uncomfortable wooden chairs whole day. Up to 5th grade, we had only one teacher and he teaches all subjects (for all 5 years)
From 6th grade to 10th grade, I attended a public school. It was a change for me to see different teachers for different subjects
In India, after 10th grade we had to decide math, or biology, commerce/ economics, or history majors. I chose Math to pursue my passion in Engineering. (Authors note: The thread on education and making a specific choice early on appears similar to interviews with those from the UK and may tie back to their history).
Did you travel to other countries prior to coming to the U.S.?
I never went to other countries prior to Canada. My first trip after graduation was to go to a Canadian University known as Concordia University. However, throughout my career I have traveled and experienced countries such as England, Sweden, Brazil, China throughout Europe and Central America.
What were your experiences in the college educational system in your native country?
After 12th grade, I attended my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering in India. It was a great experience. It was not a semester system as you have in the U.S. We had to remember 7 to 8 subjects and we had to take the tests at the end of the year. There was no cheat sheet concept in India. (Author’s note: I mentioned to Rama, that that is a more recent concept in the U.S. education system. When I attended school there was no cheat sheet, or calculators allowed in any class. I think Rama was a bit surprised by this. The U.S. educational systems have changed due to changing philosophies.) Only for Design engineering courses, are we are allowed to take in a design formula book and only the formulas. All the tests were closed book tests. All the test papers were graded by different college professors to avoid any favoritism to students. For every subject, we had to pass the lab and theory subject. If we are not humble with the professor, you can forget about your lab test.
I worked as a site engineer after my graduation at an industrial construction company. After one year of my work, I decided to pursue my graduate studies overseas.
When did you come to the U.S.?
I applied to the Universities in the U.S. and Canada. Concordia University in Montreal, Canada offered me a scholarship for my graduate studies. I came to Canada in 1990. I worked as a Research Assistant at Concordia while I was studying my graduate studies in Mechanical Engineering. I received my first Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. I really enjoyed my work at Concordia University as it gave me an opportunity to think about my interest in advanced research and engineering which I pursued after my graduation from Concordia University.
I decided to pursue my second master’s in Industrial Technology at Eastern Michigan University in Michigan, U.S. I moved to the U.S. in 1993 and I completed my requirements by 1994 to work in the industry. My first job was at an automotive supplier company in Michigan. After one year, I was hired at Ford Motor Company as a Research Engineer to work on Electric Vehicles in 1995 to meet the California mandate of zero emissions by 2000. My job was to develop an advanced manufacturing process using lightweight composite materials to build a lighter vehicle. This was my dream job.
I asked Rama if he always had a passion to work in the automobile industry?
Yes, it was always my passion, even in India as I studied mechanical engineering. I loved to fix and repair things, mostly bicycles, Mopeds, and scooters which are very common in India. I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do.
Why did you want to come to the U.S.? Have you become a U.S citizen?
The U.S. is way ahead in advanced technologies. My dream job was to work in Automotive Engineering. That was my motivation to come to the USA.
I got my Green Card in National Interest Program which is considered a fast paced program, based on my Research Work at Ford Research and Innovation Center, within a month and I became a US Citizen by 2006.
How do you perceive the U.S. today as compared to when you first came here? (Especially during these times of change)?
My impression remains the same. It is a great country with great opportunities. Generally, you are recognized based on your talent. That is true for the company I worked at also: Ford Motor Company. You are recognized based on your talent and level of work.
Are your parents and family here or in India?
Both parents are in India. They have visited me afew times and it never interested them to remain here regarding the cultural and language aspect. My brother lives in San Diego so I do have family here.
How does your family/friends perceive the U.S.?
They perceive the US is a great country.
Do you see parallels of things happening in your Country compare to the U.S.? Good and bad?
India is growing technologically. There are many opportunities now that did not exist when I graduated. Many young Indians work for multi-National companies and they are making decent salaries (generally $1500 to $10000 per month). These companies were not in India when I was growing up. When I worked in India, my salary was $100/month.
Opportunities are much more prevalent in the U.S. than anywhere in the world, especially India. I grew up in a caste system in India being Hindu. Yes, it still prevails. I was born in a higher caste. That is how the government labelled my caste. It is a very complex subject whether jobs or educational admission should be based on reservations (caste system) or based on their economic conditions of the family. Though a majority of the lower caste people are economically challenged, and hence the Government allocated the Government jobs based on the caste system (to bring lower caste people to the normal level). My chances were lower to get a job and private industries opportunities were also very limited, at that time, hence I had to move to North America for better opportunities. (See Chapter 6 for varying perspective on India).
Do people own guns in your country? Did they ever and were they confiscated?
Only rich people can own guns in India. They have to apply and complete lots of documents to get a gun.
How does the education system work? How is it paid for?
I did my Graduate studies in Canada. It is a great country. I got a scholarship and the University paid my tuition fee and living expenses
See previous input on education.
How does the public health and medical system work?
The public health care system in India is terrible. Even today. You go to the public health care system only if you are desperate and many are. They have nothing to offer and their doctors are not great. All good doctors go into private care or to the bigger private hospitals. I have never gotten medical care in India and never visited a government operated hospital. In the U.S. it is so much different. I worked in a County hospital in Texas in Tarrant County so I am familiar with medical care. The hospital provided excellent care and it was free to those who were economically challenged.
Explain what you mean by freedom and liberty?
In general, I believe most educated people coming from democratic countries can openly say what they want. You can speak your mind. You can criticize the government policy or ruling. However, if you make any personal allegations (rude comments) on the ruling party leaders, you can actually be arrested.
India is going through growing pains. Many of its leaders are not educated though I can’t put a number to it, and become leaders only due to hierarchal structure. So, if one speaks out against them on social media they can be silenced and arrested.
India is trying to move away from the caste system. In my opinion jobs should go to those that are in financial need or economically challenged rather than to one in a higher caste but that is not how it works in India. In the U.S., I do not see any disparity among races or religions or beliefs. U.S. does not care, all things considered. The opportunities are there and if you are willing to work for them you can achieve. At least this is what I experienced.
Describe religions of your country? Is there religious freedom or if you saw any persecution?
By birth I am a Hindu. I practice Hinduism today. India has religious freedom and they allow many religions to practice in India. People are free to choose their religion.
I did not see persecution. I think India allows all religious practices. There are many Muslims and Christians and many are friends. People are free to choose. There are pockets of prejudice. It is not perfect, but I think much unrest is politically motivated.
What things do you like most about the U.S.?
People are very kind and philanthropic in general. The Country offers opportunities to everybody. It is up to the individual person how they will receive it. America is the land of opportunity. I have traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Central America and seen firsthand. America is by far the best. Americans are philanthropic, more than most.
I have worked for Ford Motor Company and did work for the U.S. Army for a couple years in White Sands, New Mexico. I was proud to work for them and understand the Army culture and the sacrifices soldiers and their families make to serve this Country.
What thing do you miss about your Country?
After spending 32 years in North America, I miss my friends and families. I try to spend time with my friends and families whenever I visit India.
What do you dislike most about U.S.?
Social Media, guns, and drugs. They are spoiling the younger generation. I am fine with social media to communicate, however, people are spending enormous time on social media and I think it is damaging especially to young people and many studies exist to prove that.
What similarities do you see between the two Countries and or other countries you have been to?
Cultures are different and yet democratic values are very similar. In India, children take care of their parents in general. This is an expectation from your parents in India. I would not say it is happening to every family.
In the U.S. parents are given to nursing homes and they have a terrible experience with loneliness, depression, etc. at the nursing homes.
How does your country’s market economy work? Largest industry, agriculture’s imports and exports.
India is generally doing well in technology, commerce, agriculture, manufacturing and IT.
Does your Country secure its borders? Do you think that is a sovereign right of a country to protect its citizens? Can someone just come in from some country and take up residence in your country?
I do not know of anybody who can do this in India. If somebody marries an Indian, they can become an Indian Citizen. But I am not sure if India has a permanent residence or Green card equivalent. I am not aware of this.
Can you describe some instances or personal experiences that happened in the US that would be different in your Country or vice versa?
My supervisors Adrian Elliott and Matt Zaluzec at Ford Motor Company recommended me to lead many visible programs at Ford Motor Company. It would not happen in India, at least 30 years ago. Now things are getting better in India because of global exposure. For my surprise, they created the innovation bug in my mind and I do not see that innovative culture in India as much as we see here. They nominated me for many awards at Ford Motor Company. I was co-recipient of the Henry Ford Technology Award in 2006 and 2007. This is the highest recognition that anybody can get. I have received it two years in a row for my work on the Ford GT (Supercar) and Ford 150/250 vehicles. I also received the Society of Automotive Engineers Henry Ford II Award for Excellence in Automotive Engineering. The Indian system is very hierarchical, and you have to please the superiors to be recognized.
Are you glad to be in America? Why/why not?
I am very glad to be in America. My wife ‘Madhuri Koganti, also from India is a successful Neurologist. My son Kireet Koganti is attending his final year medical program at Texas A&M University and my daughter, Avani Koganti, is applying for her undergraduate programs. This country gave me and my family so much and I am very glad to be in USA.
Rama, what is your take on things you see happening in the U.S. now as compared to when you first came here?
My opinion is that things in the U.S. are becoming more politically extreme. Moving to two extreme positions. Did I see this when I first came here? Maybe, or possibly I was just too involved in my work or too far down the ‘food chain’ to know. But I saw the Bush and Clinton and Obama presidencies and things appeared more diplomatic. This is just my opinion. Everything seems to be very polarizing now.
For example, the questioning of science and the COVID vaccine. I find if the science says the vaccine is required then people should be vaccinated. You can’t choose which side of the science you are going to follow. If you follow or believe the science, then get the vaccine. I believe one should follow the rules based on the science and evidence. If you don’t believe in science, then don’t go to a hospital, don’t drive a car, or don’t take a flight. I respect people’s choices, either religious or their personal choice.
I posed to Rama that many Americans may not oppose the vaccine but based on our Constitution and freedom to choose, being mandated to get the vaccine put a different perspective on the vaccine for some. It was no longer science, now it was politics.
I can see that.
Rama kindly provided a brief list of accomplishments of which he is very proud. Rama also mentioned that Ford Motor Company does not give their Prestigious Awards lightly and he is grateful to have received two.
– I have 5 US patents (and many in pending)
– Published over 100 publications
– Chairman for international Mechanical Engineering Congress in 2015
– Currently, active Vice-Chair for Society of Automotive Engineers
– Received two Henry Ford Technology Awards (from Ford)- Prestigious Award in Ford Motor Company
– Received Henry Ford Award from Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)
– Received numerous Awards at Ford Motor Company
– Worked briefly at US Army/DoD and received a U.S. Army Civilian Award