Chitra Walker could consider herself an expert on prejudice and discrimination. After all, they followed her to three continents. Yet the phrase she most often uses to describe herself and her life is “I have been blessed.”
Born into a middle-class family in Bangalore, India, Chitra earned her undergraduate degree in history and economics at the University of Delhi, where she met and later married Nuruddin Farah, a Somali Muslim, against her will. of his parents. Racial prejudice and religious discrimination played a large role in her parents’ objections to the marriage. Shortly after their wedding, the young couple returned to Somalia, only to encounter similar racial animosity, this time directed at her for being Indian and Christian. “You see,” she said quietly, “there are prejudices all over the world.” Nonetheless, she settled down with her Somali family who were understanding and caring despite being shunned by family and friends due to Chitra’s Christian faith and Indian ethnicity.
Shortly after giving birth to her first son, Chitra learned that her father in India was ill. A sister living in the United States sent her the funds to visit India, and she gratefully left to visit her Indian family for three weeks, fully hoping to return to her almost one-year-old son and live in Somalia. But, while in Bangalore, her father received a letter from her husband, Nuruddin, declaring that he had divorced Chitra under Sharia. Chitra could not return to Somalia. To this day, she has never heard why this happened, or why no one in Somalia responded to her pleas to come back and take her child back! It would be almost two decades before she saw her son again. Divorce in India is rare and very stigmatizing, especially for women. Chitra suddenly realized that she had no future in India. Her family agreed that it would be best for her if she could immigrate to the United States and start her life over anonymously in another country.
An American student who had befriended Chitra’s family and witnessed Chitra’s struggle wanted to help. He asked his father in the United States to sponsor her, which he agreed to do, and obtained a visitor’s visa for Chitra. Once in the United States, Chitra, again with the help of her new friends, was able to secure a student visa for admission to the University of Kansas Art History graduate program. The head of the art history department, a Chinese immigrant himself, fully understood Chitra’s situation and announced that his classes would start in August. While waiting for term to start, Chitra stayed with friends in Denver, Colorado. One day while visiting the Denver Art Museum, she had a conversation with a woman who happened to be a wealthy donor of Indian art to the museum. After listening to her story and learning that she was looking for a job to pay for her education, the woman offered Chitra a job as a housekeeper from February to August at $90.00 per month plus room and board. Even in 1972, it was certainly a stroke of luck! Chitra realized that if she was careful, she would have enough by the end of the summer for her first semester’s tuition.
In school, Chitra worked full-time in two part-time jobs, while taking full-time classes to earn her master’s degree. She then obtained a scholarship for the University of Michigan’s doctoral program in Indian Art History. She did not graduate as she fell in love again and married her second husband, Richard Walker. The couple had hoped to return to India, where Richard had served in the Peace Corps, to live and raise his family. However, India at the time did not offer non-citizens the opportunity to work and live permanently. So the couple eventually settled in northeast Ohio, where they raised their three children. Chitra’s marriage, unfortunately, was not happy, and after twenty years together, the couple divorced.
Chitra has worked in healthcare most of her life here in northeast Ohio, starting at the Cleveland Clinic in 1989. While married to Richard and working at the clinic , Chitra had earned an MBA in Healthcare Administration from CSU. She has also volunteered at the Greater Cleveland Free Clinic (now known as Circle Health), testing and educating people about HIV, and at the Hospice of the Western Reserve and the Visiting Nurse Association, providing a spiritual support to those who were at the end of their life. .
After the divorce, she moved to Lakewood, first renting an apartment on the Gold Coast, then owning two condos, renting one and living in the other. In Lakewood now, and on her own again, she began to make friends in her new community. They introduced her to a few local groups and working on local political campaigns.
Then came the 2007 recession. Chitra lost everything, her homes, her job, her health care. With the help of her community of friends, she began to rebuild her life. She also became a member of the Lakewood Democratic Club and the Lakewood Chapter of the League of Women Voters. His interest in local politics gave him the opportunity to work on President Obama’s campaign in 2008 and 2012, and on a friend’s successful campaign for a seat on the Lakewood City Council. She is now a board member of the Healthy Lakewood Foundation, created as part of the settlement following the closure of Lakewood Hospital. Although now retired, Chitra continues to volunteer and is also deeply involved in supporting families who have or have lost family members who suffer from substance use disorders. As part of this effort, Chitra has undergone training to support these families through “peer coaching”.
Benefitting herself from the genuine kindness and generosity of ordinary American citizens, Chitra believes that every citizen knows and is involved in their own community. “We have a responsibility to our community to get involved, to register, to vote. Our democracy is in danger. This is my country now. I am an immigrant who has come back to a new country. I have been very blessed. I couldn’t have done this without friends who helped me and taught me how to get involved.
Although she herself fled her own country because of prejudice and discrimination, she says, “We all need to get along and understand each other through real conversation and involvement. It’s the only way for us to understand each other. »