irmala Swamidass McConi-
gley’s Facebook bio says:
Lives in Casper, Wyoming
From Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
That, in seven words, briskly
summarizes an unusual, eventful 38-year journey that began shortly before
Nirmala met a young Irish Peace Corps worker
in an embassy party in New Delhi.
When journalist and broadcaster Nirmala
moved to America with her husband Patrick their
life narrative, thereafter, was quite different from
other desi migration tales. Or stories, even, of
other mixed race couples. Simply, because they
opted to move to Wyoming.
Nirmala can’t forget how it first felt after she
and Patrick, settled with their young daughters
Nina and Lila, in the Rocky mountain town of
60,000 (whose population has since declined, which perhaps says much), on a cold snowy day in 1976. It was as if
she had arrived at the edge of nowhere.
It took many years for her to come around to the charms
of the Cowboy State, even as she brought India to her little
town. Through those decades, that quietly crept up on
them, the McConigleys always knew they would soon be
moving on. Till one day, she realized, what she knows
today: She had become a Wyoming citizen. “I’ve put roots
over here; I have history here.”
She didn’t want to move away from Wyoming, ever, if she
could help it.
The struggle to fit into that environment and society —
that had rarely seen an Indian; “I had two small children
(ages 1 and 2). I drove on the wrong side of the street. I
spoke with a British accent. I wore a sari. I had long hair. I
was the first visible Indian woman in Casper when I
arrived” — challenged Nirmala.
She worked hard to be able to make a difference, estab-
Let’s talk about when you were Nirmala Swamidass grow-
lish credibility, and finally succeeded so beautifully that she
became the first Indian-born person to serve in any US
state legislature, when she joined the Wyoming State
Legislature in 1994. And today one of her daughters con-
siders herself “a Wyoming girl.”
Nirmala pieces together her American journey, as she
describes growing up in Chennai, and her move to
America, first to study and later to live:
ing up in Chennai.
I came from a traditional Indian family. My family had
been involved in the freedom struggle. One of my uncles
was a close follower of Mahatma Gandhi; had gone to jail
during the freedom movement. My family was very nationalistic.
So, when I went to a British school, it was a sort of conflict for me. My brothers and sisters all went to Indian
schools. I was the only one of five children who got a completely English education.
Even as a child, I showed a lot of promise. My father felt
Arthur J Pais tracks the passage of a young Indian broadcaster from
Chennai to the quiet town of Casper in the American West.
COUR TESY: DUS TIN BLEIZEFFER/ WYOFILE. COM Nina McConigley on her mom: “My mother wears a sari often, and she has never worried about what others thought. She is such a force, a larger-than-life person, who is sure of herself and her worth. She has no problem fitting in anywhere.”
Nina McConigley with her mom Nirmala McConigley.
‘I achieved that kind
of identity in Wyoming’