How Parsi Immigrant Community Builds Support Network - Nina Godiwalla

In Chapter 6 of 14 in her 2010 Capture Your Flag interview, author Nina Godiwalla answers "What does it mean to be Persian-Indian-American living in the United States today?" Godiwalla connects her ancient Persian-Indian, or Parsi, culture to modern times through experiencing the benefits of immigrant community support across the United States.  Descended from 10th century Iranian Zoroastrians who immigrated to India and, the United States based Parsi culture is small and extremely close-knit. The culture values achievement and organizes a network to promote successful community members.  Godiwalla experiences this first hand as she relocates to Philadelphia to enter MBA studies at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.  Unexpected support provides Godiwalla firm footing to successfully transition into a new home and school.

Nina Godiwalla is the author of "Suits: A Woman on Wall Street" and the founder and CEO of Mindworks, a provider of leadership, stress management, and diversity training programs. Before starting her business and writing her book, Godiwalla worked at Johnson & Johnson and Oxygen Media and investment banking at Morgan Stanley. Godiwalla earned an MBA from Wharton, a MA from Dartmouth and a BBA from the University of Texas.


Erik: What does it mean to be a Persian-Indian-American living in the United States today?

Nina: Persian-Indian is kind of an easier way of explaining it to people what it is; it’s actually called, it’s called Parsi is the name of the community and it’s really based off of a religious background, it’s Zoroastrianism, which is, what I -- the way I describe it is some people remember the word cause you remember you learned it in your seventh grade history class, it was literally a vocabulary word as I remember it and it’s a very, very ancient religion that was based out of ancient Persia and it was a very prominent religion thousands of years ago. There’s a group of people, some of them stayed but some of them fled and moved to India and those people are called Parsis, they’re originally Persians and they fled to India but this was a very long time ago, like maybe a thousand years ago or so.

So that group has a mixed culture, because their ancestry is Persian, their culture is Indian and my parents, they grew up in India and then we were born and raised -- their kids were born and raised in America so I was born here and it’s a very small community, there’s only about a hundred -- the numbers are all crazy but about two hundred thousand in the world today. When they moved to the US, you tend to move to the cities where the other ones live because everybody helps each other out and so they’re in the largest cities, Houston, my parents came to Houston because it’s one of the places where there is this very tight Parsi community. And one of the things I’ve found from my experience is that they’re very focused on achievement and people being successful and just as immigrants, I think the combination of my parents being immigrants and going through such difficult times, and growing up in a community where, it’s also a community that is very tight and wants, I’ve found, people to be successful, their community members to be very successful.

The combination has been this incredible support system for me and every moment, like when I got an internship in New York City and we’d never -- I’d never been to New York City, we didn’t know anything about it, it was scary when you’re coming out of this tiny little suburb in Houston. I had a whole ‘nother community over there that was going to support me, somebody gave a place, one of our what we call “aunties” gave me a place to live and for free, she was just like ‘Absolutely we want you, you got a job here, this is fantastic come live with me for free, I want you to succeed, I want things to go well for you’. People would throw me birthday parties, I mean I’d never met these people. It’s just, you know, it’s just that kind of environment of, and my husband is in Mauritius right and he, somebody learned that he, he met a Parsi person and he mentioned ‘Oh my wife is Parsi’ and she was like ‘Well come on over! Come to our house!’ and it’s that kind of environment wherever you are in the world somebody’s going to invite you to their house if they know what you are and I actually, I was very insistent about keeping my last name because it actually, people find you, like the Parsis find you.

When I went to business school and I was Wharton I got an email within my first two weeks of being there and there’s so few Parsi but like one woman from some side of the Penn side emailed me and said ‘I found the two or three Parsis that were, like, enrolled this year’ and it was just this fascinating thing and then of course she had like little events for us and she kind of hosted us and it’s just this really fascinating, like, very unusual for modern day to grow up in that kind of a community.