My family, like many others is an immigrant family and we are celebrating 50 years since we immigrated to the United States. In my case, my sister and I came with “Mommy” and “Daddy” from Hyderabad, India. And recently, I’ve had time to reflect on my five-decade immigration and assimilation journey and how that journey impacts my family’s philanthropy.

Throughout history, the U.S. has benefitted from the arrival of new people who bring with them fresh energy, ideas, and ambition. My immigration story has always brought mixed feelings—from appreciation for opportunities for growth, to anxiety over thorny conversations at our kitchen table around issues of “belongingness.” My birth family of four had to deal with financial insecurities, safety concerns, and loss of family as we transitioned into our new surroundings in 1972 Chicago. My husband’s immigration story is similar, but personal to him.  The significant commonalities are the strength of shared family values, our faith, and devotion to raising our sons, living out our values, and faith in our daily actions.

In our early lives as a married couple, even before we were blessed with children, we practiced annual giving. As the years passed, we continued this informal practice, largely around the kitchen table, learning from the giving modeled by our parents. It is only since my father-in-law passed a few years ago that our family has become more intentional and strategic in articulating our values of transparency, collaboration, economic advancement, and trust as the guiding principles of our granting and regranting decisions.

How did we arrive at these principles? This country gave my family many opportunities to thrive that I could not have had in India. For my sister and me, education was one area in which the US opened many doors. School provided a formal and informal education, which were formative experiences that guided the development of the principles of the Waraich Family Fund (WFF). Attending school gave my sister and me our first experience of living in two worlds: the public secular world and the private Muslim world. During our schooling, we had to navigate cultural insensitivity in the educational system. To survive, we mastered the art of code switching. With gratitude to the efforts of diversity, equity, and inclusion work of so many people, most people know what code switching means for Black people living in a predominantly white America.

Our immigrant story and history also allow us to authentically engage with the organizations to which we are providing financial support. When my family arrived in America, we lived in the area where when someone broke into your apartment and stole your sewing machine, you watched them walk away with it, and lived to buy a new one. It was also an area where your community, hearing of your misfortune, would help you get the funds for a new (used) sewing machine, knowing you would pay them back or pay it forward. This showed me the power of community collaboration, something that is integral to the way the WFF funds today.

Read the full article about immigrant experiences and philanthropy by Dilnaz Waraich at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.