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  • Writer's pictureSai Reddy

Subhashini Reddy's Story

Updated: Jun 9

At first glance, Subhashini Reddy, who still wears saris daily, may seem like a stereotypical Indian woman. However, she is anything but that. Subhashini, even at 91 years old, remains an independent, direct, and confident woman.

Subhashini arrived in the United States in 1960, leaving behind the familiar comforts of her village in Andhra Pradesh. Everyone there thought her father was a "madman" for insisting that his daughters be educated, but he saw potential and possibility where others were set on tradition. In a place where girls were often subjected to domestic roles, Subhashini's sister became the first female president of a university, and Subhashini herself became the second female veterinarian in her state. After college, her father suggested marriage, as per tradition. However, Subhashini thought that she had more to accomplish before being married, and rejected her father’s suggestion. This prompted her to take steps to come to the United States to further her education. She was accepted to a few universities, ultimately choosing to attend the University of Rhode Island because it offered her a scholarship to obtain a master's degree in poultry science. She bravely defied expectations, opting to pursue further education in America—a decision her father supported wholeheartedly.

Stepping off the plane at JFK airport, Subhashini faced a daunting world with nothing but determination. She did not know how to take a bus to Rhode Island and ended up in Kingston, New York, instead of Kingston, Rhode Island. Despite this setback, one kind stranger not only told her the process, but also walked her to a hotel, helped her check-in, and then the next morning, walked her from the hotel to the bus that was departing for Rhode Island. This experience became her first taste of American generosity.

In Rhode Island, Subhashini encountered assumptions and misunderstandings. Her professor had mistakenly reserved a spot in the boys' dormitory, assuming she was male. A compassionate graduate student and his wife welcomed her into their home until the university corrected the mistake. Her arrival also drew curious onlookers who had never seen an Indian woman before, mistaking her heritage for American Indian. Despite these challenges, Subhashini adapted quickly, braving the harsh winter with new boots, forgoing her staple food (rice), and thriving as the only woman in her classes. She earned her master’s degree in only nine months Financial constraints meant she couldn't afford much, but studying poultry genetics had its perks—she and her colleagues had access to all the eggs they wanted, and they ate a lot of eggs.

Later, Subhashini went to the University of Washington to obtain her PhD, and Subhashini received devastating news—her father had passed away. However, she did not learn about it until a few months later. She immediately wrote to her mother and asked her why she was not informed of his passing; her mother replied that she did not want Subhashini to stop studying in America, knowing that it would be difficult to return to the United States.


Subhashini eventually got married to another Indian who was also studying in the United States. Her husband obtained a job at Notre Dame University as a research professor, and she worked in a lab. Interestingly, while at Rhode Island, and even while working in a lab in South Bend, Indiana, Subhashini wore a sari. In hindsight, she stated, “I should have given it more thought, but I never received any negative comments and I was most comfortable in it, even when shoveling snow, so I wore it.” Perhaps her being oblivious to how others viewed her allowed her to take so many chances. 

There were very few Indians in the United States at the time, but they were very supportive of each other. Dealing with large life events was financially burdensome, but Subhashini and her husband received a lot of support from the other few Indians at Notre Dame. Subhashini stated that they had to borrow money from various friends to get married, when her son Sudhakar was born, again when Sudhakar was an infant and became very sick, once again when her daughter Sada was born, and then again when they bought their first house in Suffern, New York. She stated that they were very frugal for many years. Sometimes, they would not have enough money to eat dinner, but “whether we ate or not, we made sure and paid back whoever we owed money to each month” because the Indians who loaned them money were also struggling financially. To this day, she is still good friends with all of the individuals who lent her money. The risks that the community took for each other allowed each of them to succeed and create a support system in the United States.

Subhashini’s journey was never about defying stereotypes, but her courage and intelligence naturally shattered them. Wearing her sari proudly, even while shoveling snow, she stayed true to herself which made her a role model in the Telugu community. 

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