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Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). At ACT, we’re celebrating the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., including those of our team members.

Through a series of telling vignettes, our recently hired ACT Chief Financial Officer, Santonu Jana, shares his story, and those of his parents and children, providing insights into both his personal and professional perspectives. Read this post and then share your story to inspire others.


I had a happy childhood growing up in a middle-class family in Calcutta, India. In this congested city, now spelled Kolkata, we all lived in a rented two-room apartment about the size of my current office.

My ma was a homemaker, always fussing over us. My baba – who occasionally went hungry during his childhood and was the first in his family to go to college – worked in the government. He often reminded us of our “lavish” childhood versus his. I try not do the same with my kids, but it is hard.

Baba, the iPhone X is so cool. You have one. Can I please, please get one?

Of course not. And I don’t have the iPhone X – I have the iPhone 6. How about a flip phone for you?


__________

Wealthy Indians typically dispatch their kids to the West for higher education. To ensure a modicum of access for the rest, Indian taxpayers fund higher education for a few. I was fortunate to study electrical engineering in one of those government-funded colleges, the Indian Institute of Technology.

Demand for admission far exceeded supply. About 11,000 students were accepted from an original pool of 1.2 million hopefuls, fewer than 1 percent. In contrast, the current admission rates at the American Ivies are about five to 10 times more merciful.

__________


Jana’s family at a roadside shop during a trip to India.



I followed my wife to the United States. She moved from India for work and I went to business school at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where generous alumni partially funded my studies.

It was a big change from Calcutta. It was more than a hundred degrees colder. The local Walmart was the largest building I had ever entered. I saw snow for the first time.

One day a moose got into the school hallway. Thinking that was typical, analogous to the stray dogs on my Indian campus or the occasional cows at some Indian schools, I brushed past the moose on my way to class. Only later did I learn that moose were dangerous.

I kept mostly to myself after an early socializing experience blew large chunk of my budget. It taught me a lesson not included in my business school lectures.


 __________




Jana celebrating Christmas with his son and daughter.


I visit India regularly with my kids. It is fascinating to see India through their eyes, as children growing up in the United States.

Look, Baba – an abandoned house. Do the stray dogs live there?

No, Honey – a family lives there. See, they are gathered on the other side.


 __________




Jana’s daughter and son playing cricket in India


I have hugely benefitted from decades of efforts to provide quality education to everyone. But, of course, for every person who gets access, many others don’t.

My new role at ACT is more than a career. It is a passion to alleviate educational inequality, to provide opportunities that I, my baba, and now my children, have enjoyed – and that all people deserve.


Jana’s father with his first family “car.” Jana recalls “It was with us for nearly forty years before he sold it – probably as someone else’s first ‘car.’”





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