BRUNSWICK — As an immigrant from India, Deepak Singh said he knew what it felt like to be “from away” even before he moved to Maine.
Singh, 43, will share his thoughts when he reads selections from his new book, ‘How May I Help You?: An Immigrant’s Journey from MBA to Minimum Wage,” at Gulf of Maine Books on Maine Street at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 4.
During a recent interview, Singh said he used his experience working at a Virginia-based electronics store to stage a meditation on his move from India to the United States – a transition that forced him to reconsider what he’d taken for granted about American life and his identity as an immigrant.
Singh, who has written and produced stories for NPR, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, and the BBC, has written primarily about his experience as an Indian-American.
In the 13 years since he moved from Lucknow, India, he’s hopped from college town to college town with his anthropologist wife. They moved to Brunswick last summer.
But Singh said he resists those who want him to generalize the immigrant experience, including editors who try to guide his writing to fit broader political narratives. Through writing, he said, he prefers stories that locate broad themes within quotidian, personalized features of American life.
“I like to keep my politics out of my chicken curry,” he joked.
Though he arrived with an MBA and experience producing local news segments for the BBC World Service, he said he struggled to find similarly challenging work.
Forced to take a minimum wage job at an electronics store, he met a lot of everyday Americans at the counter.
“(But) the novelty wore off pretty fast,” he said. “You feel helpless.”
Singh writes about how his experience as an immigrant not only forced him to examine himself as he adjusted to a new culture and society, but his preconceptions about American society itself.
That introspection often resulted in dissonance, he said.
“I was shocked by the poverty in the world’s richest country,” he said, noting the economic strain that hampered the lives of his co-workers, who lived on minimum wage.
The poverty in Lucknow was more apparently displayed, he said, while in Virginia, it was “more subtle.”
“People are not supposed to be poor,” he recalled thinking. “You should not be asking me” – a recent immigrant working minimum wage – “for $10 so you can go have lunch.”
Singh hopes his upcoming reading will be as much a chance for him to share his stories as it will be a conversation about broader themes of everyday life, difference, and identity.
“I like that part (of being new to a place)” he said. “To take the extra time to explain (thing),” he said, “it makes me think.”
Brunswick author and journalist Deepak Singh will read sections from his new memoir at Maine Street’s Gulf of Maine Books at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 4.
Edited: to correct Singh’s age.