For the month of September, exclusive for the Asheville Citizen Times, I will be photographing and talking with Asian-American immigrants living in Asheville. Chesky spent nearly two years living as a foreigner in Busan, South Korea before returning to his hometown
Shobhana Patel is the co-owner of Mount Vue Motel with her husband Kirit.
Nathan: How long has the hotel been here in Asheville?
Shobhana Patel: I have been here for 32 years. The motel has been here since 1953 or 1956. We bought it in October, 1984. I made changes inside – a lot, everything. Well we mostly changed the furniture, carpet, beds.
Nathan: Have you worked in motels before then?
Patel: No, I was working when my daughter was small, and she was getting sick so I had to take her to the doctors in New Jersey. So our babysitter told us we should buy a hotel so we did. She had a motel in New Jersey. We had other friends who lived here. My husband came here to see it. We had lived in New Jersey for 5 years and then moved here because we found this motel.
Nathan: Had you heard of Asheville before then?
Patel: Nothing. Nothing! It was a small town at that time. It was really small. They had a video game store next door, a gas station up there, and Godfather Pizza was here. Even the mall had a mountain in between us. They tore it down and put up a Krispy Kreme, then tore it down to put more roads. A lot of change. They have built a lot of stuff.
Nathan: So, you are here on Tunnel Road right before the tunnel. What was it like walking downtown when you first moved here?
Patel: Yeah, I used to go down there. It wasn’t that big over there, maybe a couple of shops at that time. And now it has gotten too big down there. I don’t hardly go. I don’t like to drive anymore because it’s hard to find parking. The last time I went was for Bele Chere. So after that I didn’t even go.
Nathan: When you first started, in the ’80s, were there a lot of people staying here? Why would they visit Asheville?
Patel: Yes, a lot of people came. It must have been because of the scenery. October and even the summer was the most busy time. In that time the whole town would sell out in one or two hours. Our rooms would sell out. It was great! It may be less busy now but the prices have gone up so much. They have built up lots of big hotels, and most people go to those, the chains. Sometimes it can be slow on the weekdays but very busy on the weekends.
Nathan: Do you advertise online?
Patel: We only have walking-in and phone reservations. I don’t have many rooms. We have just 9 rooms and my husband and I are basically retired people. We get just a little bit of work and just do what we can do. We also just live here in these two rooms. Just me and him. My daughter and my son live in Durham. Everything is walking distance, so I like it here. I told my husband if something happens and we have to move, but hopefully, otherwise we will just stay here.
Nathan: So, you have been in Asheville for 32 years now. New Jersey before that. How did you find your way into New Jersey? To America?
Patel: We moved to New Jersey from India. My husband’s family was here, in New Jersey, at that time. He told us it was a better place to live and we should come. At first I didn’t like it. I was crying for the first 6 months because I had a big family and I missed them. At that time I couldn’t speak English. I could understand it, but I couldn’t give an answer. Kirit would go to work from 7 to 7 so I was by myself all day. At that time I didn’t even hardly know how to use the TV!
Nathan: How long did it take you to get comfortable?
Patel: About a year. I started working and learning English. The women I was working with would teach me and I started to understand.
Nathan: What kind of work were you doing?
Patel: I was sewing. I learned how to do it in India. My husband would drop me off, and sometimes I had to walk home. But it wasn’t too bad because at that time I was young!
Nathan: How did you and Kirit meet?
Patel: I didn’t. It was arranged. I have a big family; about 60 people and we lived together. We have many houses with all of my cousins, brothers, sisters. We all lived on one property. We would eat in one place, one kitchen. Usually I stayed with my aunt and my uncle. My dad, my mom, my two uncles, and my two aunts lived in Bombay. So my younger uncle, with my grandmother, took care of all of us kids. (laughs) We had so much to do.
So my uncle met his (Kirit’s) father and they arranged it. It took only three months. I was excited but I didn’t know! I was very shy at that time, so I only talked to him for five minutes. If someone changed him I would even know! But last May was 46 years! And I told my kids, “If I can talk to him for just 5 minutes and we last this long, you guys are always talking all the time, you better last very long!” (laughs)
Nathan: Could you tell me a little more about your life in India? What part of India did you live in?
Patel: It was a small town called Pij. It was nearby a bigger city: Inadiad. It’s on the south side. We had to go to the city for everything. School was in Pij, but groceries and clothes, anything bigger, you would need to go into Inadiad.
I visited last year. It has changed. It has gotten better. Cleaner.
Nathan: Is there a good Indian community in Asheville?
Patel: Yes, we have ICAWNC, Indian Culture Association of Western North Carolina. We have about 125 families here in Asheville. They email about events and holidays. We will get together and have prayers to the gods and sing songs. After we finish the prayers have dinner together.
You know how you have Thanksgiving and then you have Christmas right? We have Duali and right after that is our New Year’s, Oct. 1st.
Nathan: What does your group here do for Duali?
Patel: On Duali we call a DJ and get together to get dressed up in Indian dress and jewelry. We put all the gods’ and goddesses’ pictures in the middle and we go in a circle around it. With our hands first: hand dance. We sing it together and then we have a stick dance. You have to go around and around and around.