Negative Pressures in the American Educational System on Hindu Identity Formation: The Effects of Tertiary Education
by Rodney F. Moag
If elementary school and high school classes and the misinformation and ignorance about India and Indians on the part of peers and teachers can have negative effects on the self-image and identity formation of second generation South AsianAmericans, tertiary education provides, at least for some, the opportunity to c, orreet and counterbalance these effects. Indeed, the college years play a major role for many of these young adults in coming to terms with their South Asian-ness. Though the study of high school xperienees reported on above by my colleague, Yvette Rosser, deals specifically with events inside the classroom, my examination of the effects of tertiary level education on these same students casts a broader, if less empirical, net, for this part of the paper identifies both academic and non-academic factors prior to, during, and alter the college experience which can impinge on the identity formation of second generation South Asians, either positively or negatively.
No aspect of the identity of second generation South Asians in North America is more pervasive than the issue of color-race. I purposely hyphenate these two distinct, but in North America, inextricably interlinked terms since, in a powerful way their reflects the juxtaposed aspects of the hyphenated identity with which South Asian-Americans struggle. Kibria asserts that the understanding of the connection between color and race are very different in South Asia and North America. According to her formulation, color is the index of racial status in America, while it is distinct from the issue of race in the Subcontinent. South Asians come in so many shades, even within the same family, that it is impossible for them to credit a direct linkage between color and race. Their strong color prejudice in the form of a preference for fair complexion over darker ones; though an extremely powerful issue in South Asia, is not a racial issue for them. Confusion over their own racial status was revealed in Maxine Fisher’s survey of Indians in New York City (1980). Her respondents listed a variety of terms for themselves including Dravidian, Aryan, and Caucasian.
When South Asians emigrate to North America, they become exposed to the racially polarized society of the U.S. or Canada. Unlike other changes which occur more gradually (see below) this paradigm shift is immediate. They have moved from a society in which color is unconnected to race to one in which their color is an immutable statement of their racial status. As Kibria (1996) points out, the normal representation of North American racial concepts are stated in terms of black versus white, but the true categorization is white versus non-white. It is for this reason that she labels South Asian-Americans as “ambiguous nonwhites.” For a modern treatment of the theory of race see Carter (1997).
The critical issue for immigrants from the Subcontinent of course, is how they perceive and respond to this new situation. Rajagopal (1997, p. 51-52) attributes much of Indians’ behavior motivated by a fear of blackness brought with them from the natal society. He describes their situation thus: “Coming to the United States, Indians are confronted with the return of the repressed; th blackness they denied at home now threatens to encircle them.” Quoting various informants, he concludes that first immigrants are driven by anxiety over the prospect of being sidered “black” by mainstream whites.
The way in which South Asians accomodate this anxiety is noteworthy. Kibria (1996) have remained “ideologically disengaged from the U.S. order,” and that “confronted with their non-white ambiguity, generation) South Asian-Americans can turn to alternative ceptions of race to interpret their identity.” In a similar vein Rajagopal (1997, p. 45) states that Indians “… substitute religion for race.” One of his interviewees, a second generation member of a Hindu Student Council (see below) expressed it more dearly, “to assert Hindu-heSS is to attempt to declare difference without confrontation, diverting the issue of race into one of congenial cultural variation. This does not succeed in evading either marginality or imposture,” (ibid. p. 55). Though some second generation Hindus make a rational, or better said rationalizl, decision to follow their progenitors’ example in sidestepping the issue of race as young adults, this is only one more milestone in a life long process of negotiating their racial status within themselves and with the society at large. The various stages of the identity formation process will be discussed below. It will be shown how traumatic experiences with the issue of their own racial status are eventually reshaped into a “… culturally congenial way of asserting their identifies without reference to race” (ibid. p. 45). It will also be shown that some members of the second generation are now seeking different ways of working out their racial identity by allying themselves with other non-white groups.
Kibria writes that the largely professional immigrants in the post-1965 wave of South Asian migration were sheltered from the racism o’f the larger American society by the privileges of their upper middle-class status. Helweg and Helweg (1990) state that the caste and class background of this type of immigrant lead them to the privileges of the upper-middle-class life style as their just due or right. In the $0’s and 90’s, however, the makeup of the 8outh Asian community in North America has diversified with respect to exlueation, professional training, and, thus, class and status. Leonard (1997) documents that those nmnigrants coming since 1985 show a much lower percentage of managerial and professional jobs, a much lower median income, a reduced level of education, plus a higher rate of unemploy-who came during the fL,t two decades ater 1965. (1997) and Helweg and Helweg (1990) write of the unskilled immigrants” who have come recently, others through the auspices of relatives and how this seeks menial jobs in the big cities. Leonard reports on a mid: study of three Western U.S. states – California, Oregon, and Washington – which found that 10% of Indian-Americans there were living below the poverty line. This contrasts starkly with the median annual income of $17,777 for Indian-Americans in 1989, over three thousand dollars above the U.S. average and exceeded only by one other ethnic group – Japanese – Americans at over $19,000 (Rajagopal, 1997). Gender imbalance in earning power is exaggerated in the South Asian community. In 1979 Asian Indian males earned $20,643 annually, while women earned only $9,685 (Daniels, 1994).
It is far more difficult for less affluent South Asians to remain insulated from the racism of their new society. As Kibria suggests, the less professional occupations such as taxi driver or attendant in convenience stores and gas stations are much more vulnerable to racial hostility. Advani (1997) points out that when the taxi industry was deregulated, bullet-proof shields between driver and passenger compartments were no longer required. This rendered drivers much more susceptible to violence and much of this violence was racial in nature. The magnitude of the vulnerability of South Asians in the service sector can be seen in the numbers. A full 43 percent of Yellow Cab drivers in New York City are from the Subcontinent, with roughly equal numbers from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (Advani, 1997). Advani was part of a group comprised mostly of educated South and East Asian females, which organized the Lease Drivers Coalition (LDC),”probably the first South Asian-based labor organization in the United States.” She concedes that their efforts to organize these men in the early 1990s was limited by the drivers’ view of taxi driving as a temporary step on their way to a professional career. Perhaps, then, they also viewed the often-racial violence theyexperienced as a temporary circumstance which they would leave behind when they achieved their upwardly mobile career goals. Whether or not this is the case, the LDC survives, though still limited by the fact that its membership is mainly Pakistani. According to their web site, they are striving to broaden their membership to include Indian and Bangladeshi drivers as well (LDC 1997). Daniels (1994) estimates that 40% of gas stations in New York City are run by South Asians. He goes on to suggest that gas . stations and the ubiquitous Patel motels are ideal for immigrants practicing chain migration, since both are labor intensive and require relatively small capital investment.
The Race Issue in the Second Generation
The children of South Asian immigrants are also much more vulnerable to racism in a very real sense than were their patents. This is particularly true in the early years through adolescence, and is in large part centered in the public schools – the place where many of them first engage with the mainstream in an institutional sense. I invited a small group of second generation Hindu students at the University of Texas to write a short essay describing their personal experiences with, race. Each of them reported verbal taunts as children relating directly to their skin color and the ambiguity which it bespoke for mainstream whites, and sometimes for blacks as well. All had received questions such as, “what are you, you’re not black.” One wrote of being called “poo-poo” by her peers in nursery school. The effects of the North American racially polarized society on the second generation go far beyond verbal taunts, however. As one student expressed it, “as a South Asian American in the U.S. it was a struggle growing up, because I was socialized into thinking that not having a racial identity o meant alienation from the rest of society …. I did not realize that I was also a victim of internalized racism. I internalized the idea that white was right. I used to obsess over wanting blue eyes and blond hair.”
Due to their residential pattern of isolated households rather than in enclaves, and their upper middle class status (Helwig-and Helweg, 1990), the children of post-1965 Indian immigrants have frequently found themselves the only brown-skinned their street, or often in their neighborhood. Even here are not always safe from racism. One student confided, “I remember a white child telling my mother she wasn’t allowed to with me.” Those living in upper middle-class suburbs often find only Indians in their school as well. This is not true, for the more recent immigrants of lower socioeconomic who tend to live, in the early years at least, in large urban centers in proximity to other South Asians (ibid.). This naturally results in numerous South Asian playmates near the home and a significant number of fellow South Asians in school. For example, a goodly number of Panjabis in the California high school studied by Gibson (1988) were of lower middle class status. Similarly the six percent Pakistani component in the student body of Barrington Elementary School in Austin Texas reflects the fact that their parents are recent immigrants who work largely in nonprofessional occupations.
The experiences of second generation South Asians in school vary widely according to the racial makeup of the student body. A student of mine contrasted her experiences in two schools, one where the student body was split equally between blacks and whites, the other with nearly all affluent white students. The students in the racially mixed school were polarized, socially in the lunchroom and academically because of tracking. This student found that she was able to be accepted in both the black and white groups there, and reported the same for other South Asians of school age. While this seems positive on the one hand, it also signifies less than full acceptance in either group. One of the true marks of membership in this racially polarized school apparently was a kind of group exclusivity, borne out by the fact that blacks who associated mainly with whites and whites who associated largely with blacks were criticized by other members of their own group. This student indicated that she and other IndianAmerican children were not criticized by members of either group. This represented one more way in which they were marginalized, and how their liminal status was communicated to them by both groups.
When my student moved into a largely white school in an affluent suburb, she was amazed to find racial stereotypes and prejudices against blacks and Hispanics openly expressed by her new fellow students. Being of upper-middle-class background, the majority of South Asian students currently in college, or college-bound within the next few years, have attended just such schools where the enrollment is overwhelmingly white. As a small minority in such a school, South Asian youngsters are especially subject to peer pressure. Helweg and Helweg (1990) write ofa Sikh father who insisted that his son maintain the symbols of the faith such as ” not cutting the hair, wearing the steel bracelet, etc. The father finally relented after seeing his son become more and more introverted. Bringing his outward appearance more in line with his non-Indian peers allowed the son to be accepted in sports and other activities.
Mainstream Pressures for Conformity
Dress is one of the areas in which pressures for conformity are strongest and standards for acceptability are most rigid among teenagers in the U.S. Indian parents have the greatest problem with daughters in this regard, for the concepts of modesty are simply very different in the two cultures. Indians will bare their midriff without the slightest thought of this being suggestive, but not one inch of skin must show above the ankle. American culture, on the contrary, sanctions, even encourages, showing bare legs up to mid thigh or beyond, yet a bare midriff, though increasingly practiced, is considered extremely risqu6. South Asian families are continually reminded of these North American norms, so diametrically opposite to their own, in all manner of functions in the public sphere from work to parties, to school sporting events with their scantily attired cheer leaders. As if this were not enough, North American near nakedness (from the Indian point of view) born – both generations in the sanctity of the South Asian home magazines, and particularly television. There is a similar clash of values in the area of social behavior.
Here the normal generational differences found in any family are exacerbated by both cultural and generational gaps in case of South Asian immigrant parents. The conception of ‘lndian” behavior held by the parents is that which was prevalent in South Asia during the time of their youth (Agarwal, 1991). Most not aware of the change in customs in the urban centers which left twenty or more years ago. There is a kind of siege men-immigrants which makes them cling with extra and almost desperation, to what they feel makes them “Indian”.
Helweg and Helweg (1990) characterize parents’ appre- having to do with chastity and preservation of Hindu values. If daughters date, parents are certain they are having sex. Therefore, they ‘orbid dating, often even prohibit attending parties where boys are present, and insist on arranged marriages for their children in the U.S., even though some of their own nieces and nephews back home are dating and having love marriages. Parents’ anxiety over parties or other social functions is heightened if non-Indians will be in attendance. Nothing will dissuade them from the conviction that all Westerners are morally loose and engage in sex at the drop of a hat. Students have told me of the fear written on their parents’ faces when they mentioned going out with American friends.
Leonard (1997) mentions the high value placed on virginity at marriage in South Asian culture, and how arranged marriage at an early age serves as a support mechanism for this. The preservation of the custom of arranged marriage in North America will be discussed near the end of this paper. An issue of wider compass is the polar opposites formed by the treatment of the subject of sex and sexuality in the two cultures. In South Asia, sex and sexuality are repressed to the point that they are never discussed in any open way. In North America, it seems that sex permeates every aspect of life. Given the degree of scantily clad bodies in the media and in many aspects of public life, it is little wonder that Indian parents see their families besieged by sex-laden images at every turn.
According to the Helwegs (1990) an additional fear, particularly of Hindu parents, is that their children will be influenced by, or worse yet, accept Christian doctrine. Changing religious orientation is probably the furthest thing from these young people’s minds; they simply want to do the same things that their North American peers are doing, and are frequently hard pressed to understand the cause of their parents’ oRen unbending resistance to most activities.
The clash between the generations is not only of two conflicting value systems, it is of reference groups, as well. For many South Asian parents, their primary reference group continues to be the family and friends back in India, with an often equally powerful reference group comprised of their social circle in North America. The Helwegs (ibid.) have documented the power of pressures toward conformity in the social circle of f’nt generation immigrants, a circle composed almost exclusively of Indian friends. In addition to reciprocity in lavish parties and in giving expensive gifts, an important area of conformity is the behavior and success of the children. I know of no empirical study of reference groups for second generation South Asians, but my informal observations seem to validate the assumption that they have two distinct reference groups, one consisting of South Asian relatives and friends in their age bracket with whom they interact as a sub-agenda of their parents’ social life, and a second comprised of mainstream peers with whom they interact primarily in school. They may or may not be marginalized by this latter group, depending on the racial make-up of the school, but they are certain to share the status of marginality with their South Asian peers.
The Conundrum of South Asian Parents
I find three principal factors accounting for the intense pressure which South Asian parents apply to their children to follow South Asian standards of dress and behavior so they will not become Americanized. I have already described the overly negative stereotype Indian parents have of Americans as loose and immoral. This is mentioned by most writers on South Asians in America (Leonard, 1997; Helweg and Helweg 1990; and others). An equally telling factor, less widely acknowledged in the is the sense of loneliness experienced by many immi-suggests that a major component of Iir unease is guilt for having left India and their own parents.
It is true as Helweg and Helweg report (1990) that many essful immigrants bring their parents over, either to visit or to with them. Even their enthusiastic account entitled An lratni-, acknowledged mixed results for this strategy. some cases worked out well, the majority of instances by the Helwegs (ibid.) culminated in failure. Elderly or, worse, spent a miserable existence – left alone all day in an empty house, while children worked grandchildren were in school. A critical factor not adequately by these writers is the age of the grandchildren. I have some elderly parents of first generation immigrants, both male and female, who find fulfillment in serving as aaya (nursemaid) for the young preschool grandchildren, thus continuing the Indian pattern of relying on family networks for services. This can be a real boon for the typical two-career Indian immigrant family. The Helwegs (ibid.) state that many parents arrange their visits during summer when grandchildren are out of school. Balgopal writes that South Asians depend heavily on kinship networks for their emotional, financial, and other support. Drawing on two separate studies (Desai and Coelho, 1980; Nandi, 1980) both of which noted that the most common complaint of Indian immigrants, even those who had spent many years in North America, was a gnawing loneliness, Balgopal suggests that this is due to the lack of the kinship networks they were accustomed to at home and the reluctance to rely on neighbors as substitutes for such support groups.
There is apparent disagreement among scholars as to the relationship of South Asian immigrants with neighbors. Helweg and Helweg state that Indians are respectful toward elderly neighbors and that this is implementing their Indian values. Leonard 0997) writes, “… South Asian immigrant families are not slow in turning to friends and neighbors if they find themselves far from relatives in the United States, and if there are no Hyderabadi Muslims nearby, Gujarati Hindus will do, or even EuroAmeriean Jews.” How do we square this with Balgopal’s statement about nonreliance on friends and neighbors? The seemingly contradictory statements must be understood in terms of the perspectives of the three writers. The Helwegs, focus on how first generation immigrants succeed in North America. Showing kindness to older neighbors would both support their self-image as living out Indian values and set a good, i.e. Indian, example for their children in the bargain. Balgopal’s perspective is that of a social worker examining whether South Asian immigrants deal with emotional disturbances differently than their counterparts back home. His point is that they follow the Indian pattern by relying on kinship networks for emotional and financial support rather than seeking help from neighbors and from social ag6neies as mainstream Americans do. Leonard is concerned with the adaptive strategies of immigrants to life in the U.S by creating networks for social interaction, rather than those for crisis management. None of the statements is globally valid, but each is true within the limited perspective within which it is made.
An additional factor in parents’ loneliness, I suspect, stems from an unresolved conflict between expectations and reality. Growing up in a comfortable upper middle-class environment at home, these migrants were led to expect a similarly comfortable life in adulthood with the support of not only a large family, but of many menials who would take care of most of their everyday needs. The Helwegs (1990) in particular have discussed the difficulties experienced by migrants who have to perform cooking, cleaning, and laundry for the first time. Though some find empewerment in this new independence and self-reliance, many look back fondly on the time when a word to a servant would bring a cup of tea, get a mess cleaned up, or have something brought from the store. Being raised in a highly paternalistic culture, South Asian immigrant men tend to place the burden of support services on their wives. This usually results in a protracted period of negotiation of the division of labor, something which was def’mitely not a part of the expectations conditioned by their upbringing in a culture where gender roles are clear-cut, unfluid, and need not be negotiated.
The third, and perhaps primary factor acounting for South keep their children from becoming “Amedtfized” is the parents’ view of themselves as sojourners rather than permanent settlers. Leonard (1997) writes that most South Asian immigrants viewed themselves as economic migrants who I ;would relam home once they had amassed sufficient wealth. I have identified threeseparate indices, from the work of three different which support this assertion. First, Helweg and Helweg t describe how many immigrants continued to rent, putting of buying a home, because they saw it as a symbol of permanent settlement .They go on to say that it is only after realizing that of a house can be an investment safeguarding their accu- that many immigrants overcome their reluctance to make this commitment. I suggest that a home in an uppers also a symbol of their affluence which plays into their need to appear prosperous to the other immigrant families in their social circle. Such a home is frequently also justified as providing a suitable environment for raising their children. Second, Rajagopal discusses the connections which many immigrants maintain with the homeland. He gives a good deal of space to the deposits made in the special foreign currency bank accounts which the Indian government has made available to NRIs (nonresident Indians). These have guaranteed m-free interest rates, aad are fully repatriable. He also mentions their support, f’maneial and otherwise, to political and religious causes in the homeland. Finally, Leonard (1997) points to the fact that most immigrants did not take U.S. citizenship for many years after coming.
This is the most uncertain of the three indices, as conflicting figures seem to support two disparate analyses. Daniels (1994) writes that South Asians have shown the greatest propensity toward naturalization of all immigrant groups. Using data from the 1980 U.S. Census, Daniels concludes that in the period 1969-78, 80% of Indians naturalized rapidly, nearly twice the rate for all other immigrants during this period. Asian immigrants as a whole naturalized at a rate of 65% (Barkan, 1983). “Rapid naturalization” is defined by Barkan (ibid.) as taking out citizenship five to eight years after establishing residency. Since an immigrant does not become eligible for naturalization until five years alterestablishing residency, a more accurate way to state Barkan’s definition would be “within three years after becoming eligible for citizenship.” Using different sources, Leonard (1997) gives rather different statistics for the same period. Citing India West, she gives the rale of naturalization among Indian immigrants for 1970-79 as 53.6 percent. She provides a very plausible description of how interest in claiming U.S. citizenship has gone from negative to positive over the past three decades under the influence of a variety of factors which, taken together, reflect the gradual shiR from home country orientation to North American focus. Leonard concludes her discussion by giving an 80 percent figure for naturalization in 1996. One factor which bridges the gap between home and new nation is the preference which citizens receive for bringing other family members in. This facilitates reunification of immediate family, as for naturalized citizens, spouses and minor children are not restricted in number. Bringing other family members, siblings, cousins, and so forth, is the well-known phenomenon of”chain migration” (Daniels, 1994).
Stages of the Settlement Process of First Generation Immigrants
In Chapter Ten of their book the Helwegs (1990) set forth a three-stage process of settlement. The “entry phase” is followed by the “holding phase” and then the “permanent phase.” They write, “in the holding phase they (the immigrants) maintain a life style that accommodates the belief that they will be returning to India within the near future. In the permanent phase they realize that they are going to remain in America, even though they may not admit it publicly.” Leonard (1997) credits the children as unwitting catalysts in the decision to stay, explaining that parents eventually come to the realization that it will not be easy to take the children back home to live.
It is easy to see how the combination of loneliness and guilt in the first generation, coupled with the sense of moral superiority which many Indians bring, could create the siege mentality mentionedabove. It follows, I suggest, that this emotional climate would make parents especially emotionally dependent on, and protective of their children. Rajagopal (1997) declares that the family bears the brunt of the pressure in the acculturation process. Not all families function within this context of pressure and fear, of course, but it is certain that children of families who do, will be affected by their parents’ mind set and the resultant tendency to shelter and protect their offspring. Children in such families are sure to sense the loneliness and apprehension in their parents, and this will affect familial relationships in the home. Couple this with the Indian value of avoiding confrontation (Balgopal, 1988; Agarwal 1991; and Leonard, 1997) and one can better understand the pains that some children take to compartmentalize their lives so as not to hurt their parents.
The conflict which is inherent in the pull of Indian versus American cultural values, plays out differently in different families. The Helwegs express it thus, “No matter how well parents and children relate to one another, the end result is that parents and children must compromise sufficiently if they are to maintain family unity” (1990, p. 183). In most cases parents gradually move toward accommodation with mainstream standards. This is reflected in the frequently heard refrain by older children that their younger brother (or sister) was allowed to do a lot more than they were. This universal tendency for parents to.become more permissive over time is exaggerated in South Asian immigrant families
due, as Leonard (1997) suggests, to the distance between the Indian and North American norms. South Asian parents are not only going through the extended process of adjusting to parenthood, but are, at the same time, undergoing the process of adjusting to life in a new environment, one which they eschew almost in toto at first, and accommodate to, both grudgingly and slowly.
Three Stages of Second Generation Identity Formation
The preceding discussion of some important aspects of the environment in which immigrants from South Asia function in North America is intended to provide a context for a closer look at the process of identity formation of the second generation. An examination of the conflict which rises and then wanes in the psyche of many immigrant children during their adolescent years will furnish a better understanding of the background which many South Asian second generation students bring with them to the college experience. Leonard (1997, p. 156) writes “Growing up has not been a uniform experience for youngsters of South Asian descent, but most seem to go through a cycle of early identification with American culture and then, later, identification with South Asian culture.” I have not found a more detailed statement than this of the developmental process of the second generation South Asian in North America. Based on my own observations, stemming from over 20 years of teaching second generation Indians at the tertiary level, and participating in functions sponsored by student and community cultural associations where I meet and talk with many young people and attend, and often address, the forums dedicated to their problems, I posit a three-stage process of identity formation. There is some interplay between the stages of the parents’ settlemem process outlined by the Helwegs (1990) and the stages that their children are undergoing. These will be pointed out where relevant.
Stage One, Totally Indian
Stage one of the identity formation process of second generation South Asian covers birth through school age. It is characterized by unquestioning acceptance of their status as Indians. This is, of course, keyed to their parents’ continuing view of themselves and their family as Indians in America rather than Indian Americans. At this early age, children are under near total control of their parents. The upbringing at this stage is, for the most part, traditionally South Asian, in nature. During this stage of the children’s development the parents are normally in either the first (entry) or second (holding) stage (Helweg and Helweg 1990) in their own process of settlement, still expecting to return to the home country with their wealth and family intact. As most parents do not see-themselves as having a hyphenated identity, they do not pass along the concept to their progeny.
A general exception to this rule exists in the so-called twice or multiple migrants who have come from East Africa, often via the U.K. Bhachu (1995) summarizes her previous work on the Sikhs who fled East Africa, explaining how this group differs from first-time migrants in several ways. They tend to see themselves as settlers rather than transients from the outset, hence lack the myth of return, so much a part of the direct immigrant mentality. Second, multiple migrants are much more adept at the process of settlement due to their proficiency in nglish and their familiarity with Western style bureaucracy. Whereas direct migrants tend to have staggered migration with the husband or single male coming fn then bringing a bride or a spouse and children later, second and third-time migrants often immigrate as families with up to three generations. Children of such families are, naturally, not subject to the conditions outlined for stage one for second generation South Asian immigrants in general.
Agarwal (1991) points to parents’ unfamiliarity with American ways as the prime reason for their children having a traditional Indian upbringing at home in their early years. She fails to acknowledge the parents’ view of themselves as sojourners and economic migrants. This is the reason why parents are not interested in learning or adjusting to American culture in general, but only to those aspects which are necessary to be professionally successful, i.e. to accumulate wealth. From this mind set, then, also flows the expectation and desire that their offspring will be Indian rather than American. An additional factor is the sense of moral superiority mentioned above, which South Asians bring with them and often maintain, even after reaching the realization that they will not be returning home. Most parents believe that they can maintain the integrity of their family only by inculcating and preserving Indian family values in their children to prevent their Americanization. All too few of these parents are themselves prepared to cope with the pressures of the mainstream value system, much less to guide their children through the endless set of accommodations involved in the lengthy and difficult process of identity formation, which extends throughout their teen years and beyond.
Stage Two, Conflict and Compartmentalization
In stage two most young Indian-Americans move toward a degree of denial of their South Asian identity and an identification with American values and life style. This is a gradual process, beginning during their early school years, and usually lasting through the teens. The boundary between stage one and two is fuzzy and varies greatly according to the individuals and their situation. The catalyst for this process is the peer pressure from schoolmates reported above, which South Asian children experience, including questions, and often ridicule, concerning their color and race, as well as the negative stereotypes held by teachers and classmates reported by Rosser in Part I of this paper. They often suffer embarrassment, too, on account of the strange sound of their name. One of my college students remembered hating the first week of each new school year because her classmates would laugh at the teacher’s lame attempts to pronounce her name. Another student recounted how she always came home crying from first grade because the children made fun of her name. Whether due to a teacher’s initiative or out of self-defense, many children adopt Anglicized forms of their names, during this stage, to make it easier for the Americans around them.
Enter the mixed message! Teachers and classmates are in effect saying, “don’t be so Indian, it makes you too different,” while at home their parents say “You’re Indian, you must keep on being different.” Thus is spawned the inner conflict which most second generation South Asian youth grapple with – conflict between the two very different worlds of school and home. Parents themselves provide models for some of the coping strategies their children adopt. Helweg and Helweg (1990) report that fathers and mothers otk’n anglicize their names for the sake of making it easier on American business clients and others.
During this second stage, progeny are still subject to a good deal of parental control and management, though they often chafe under it. Bhat (1992, p. 1-6) characterizes South Asian parents as “… over involved, over worried, over protective …. who make demands, impose guilt, withhold approval.” “The leading scholar of South Asian religions in the U.S., Raymond B. Williams writes that parents can “transmit whole cloth those things that establish family identity and loyalty up till the point when their children are socialized outside the home.” “Thereupon they seek the assistance of like-minded people in raising their children, often through the establishment of religious study groups and organizations. Sunday schools, summer camps, youth groups, and annual national conferences are adaptations to the American scene that help parents maintain some continuity of culture and religion with their children,” (Williams forthcoming). Helweg and Helweg (1990) write, “Asian Indians want to remain apart and maintain their distinctive culture…” As their children grow older and are more exposed to influences outside the home, many parents come to feel that they are locked in a life and death struggle to save their children from the all-pervasive immorality of American culture around them. Therefore, parents frequently seek out or organize classes in culture or language hoping to support their mission of preserving their children’s Indianness (Agarwal, 1991). In response to parental urging, many South Asian youths study and/or perform one style or another of Indian dance or music up to the age of puberty or even beyond (Leonard, 1997). It is during this period that these young people learn to compartmentalize their lives, following mainstream behavioral and other norms in school and in after-school activities, both with peers and authority figures (teachers, principals, coaches, etc.), and an Indian set of norms with parents, other relatives, and South Asian friends at home. One of my college students recalled, “school was an entirely different life than home. At home Gujarati was spoken, Indian food was eaten, and the Hindu religion was taught on the weekends.” This same student echoed the experiences recounted by many others of inner conflict alluded to earlier and the compartmentalized mode of living which it spawns; but she went a step further in pinpointing this conflict and coping strategy as the root cause of her lack of confidence up to a certain age.
One of the prime tenets of South Asian culture is the importance of the family. The individual must often sacrifice her or his wishes in order to advance the family welfare. Statistics indicate South Asian families in North America exhibit high stability, with very little divorce. Daniels (1994) reproduces figures showing that 92% of households contain both husband and wife, and that 92.7% of children under 18 were living in two-parent families. These percentages are not only above the mainstream average, they are higher than those of any other ethnic group in the U.S. (ibid.) and probably in Canada as well.
Stage Three, Reconciliation
Most second generation South Asian teenagers begin to take more pride and interest in their Indian-ness at a certain point, often late in their high school years, or beyond. Agarwal (ibid.) states that a major finding of her study was that, “this process of reconciling identity does not begin or end at a particular age. Individuals face this question in varying degrees and at different stages in their lives.” By the time they enter college most second generation South Asians are ready to explore the nature of their South Asian heritage and to try to integrate it into a new composite, or hyphenated, identity. A mark of the third stage, then, is the concomitant processes of exploring and integrating their new, and of intellectually validated, South Asianness into. their self.
My formulations concerning stage two and three are also supported by empirical data. In her report of a study of first and second generation Indian immigrants Agarwal (1991) states that, “The struggle to reconcile two cultures is indeed prevalent in the lives of second generation Indians, but it subsides considerably once they reach college age.” The Helwegs relegate this critical transition to a footnote, “However by the time they were in colo lege, some who in high school seemed to be very Westernized beln emphasizing their Indian heritage and desired to learn about it and take pride in it,” (1990, p. 116).
Several factors in the college environment can contribute lo this third stage in the process of identity construction. The first is the new demographics in the student body of the univer- i.e. a much higher proportion of other students who share their As one of my students wrote, “I was very excited to the number of Indian students on campus,” (Motwani unpub- . This encourages positive feelings toward their Indianness engenders a new level of confidence in their background be manifest in new or modified behaviors. Many give version of their name, returning to using their given names in college (Agarwal, 1991). The Internet has begun to in the lives of some of these students. There now many web sites as well as chatrooms devoted specifically interests of second generation South Asians, where they can and discuss issues of specific relevance to their well as keep in touch with friends and relatives they ‘ know. Three such web sites are listed in the References of Many South Asian families now are transnational with India, Canada, Australia, Britain, the U.S., and other “l’he Internet, together with the easy worldwide telephone bridges between far-flung family members. , in particular, is ideally suited for building friends with similar backgrounds. The recent phenomenon of having powerful computers in the possible for this activity to begin during stage two, but informal data from student contacts suggests that most do not develop the interest in exploring their South Asian identity through cyberspace until they fubt develop personal contacts on the college campus.
Whereas social and family life before entering college has consisted of associating with South Asian family and friends who share the same religion and regional background (Moag, 1996), once on campus second generation South Asians come in contact with fellow students of various religions and who represent other regions of India and Pakistan. Frequently there are those whose parents come from Sri Lanka, Nepal, or Bangladesh as well. Meeting others with similar backgrounds expands the group with which they can idenfify and, as a result, mitigates to some degree the sense of marginalization which developed during the earlier school years. As one of Agarwal’s second generation interviewees commented, “When you go to college, you find other Indian students whose parents are the same way that yours are. You don’t have to constantly explain things to them because they understand how you were brought up,” (1991, p. 38). Whereas their first generation parents tend to see themselves in terms of their regional origin – Gujarati, Panjabi, Malayali, etc. – the second generation are much more likely to switch to a pan-Indian self-image, and to expand their friendships. Though in my experience most have second generation Indian Americans for roommates, they report their circle of friends as quite international (ibid. 199 I).
What I report here about the effects of discovering that there are many other South Asian-Americans ¢ith similar backgrounds applies to the larger universities only. I have no comparable data on the numbers and diversity of South AsianAmerican students at smaller colleges. As Helweg and Helweg have recognized (1990) Indian culture values education and the parents’ self-esteem depends on their children doing well at it. Therefore Indian parents of all regional backgrounds send their children to the best colleges and universities they can afford. With the lower income level and socioeconomic status of many post-1985 immigrants, we can expect to see many more second generation South Asians in community colleges and smaller universities. It remains to be soon whether these children of lower middle-class homes have similar experiences and found similar organizations to those of their upper middle-class predecessors.
Student organizations on campus prove to be an important forum for many second generation South Asians. Many universities have had one or more longstanding organizations for students fom the Subcontinent. Second generation South Asian Americans, however, tend to fred little in common with these students from the land of their heritage, since their goals and interests are quite distinct. Wherever practicable the U.S.-raised Indians form separate organizations to meet their own needs. The Indian Cultural Association is the organization of students from India at the University of Texas at Austin. Their president verified that there was little interaction between them and the IndianAmerican-based Students Association (Pradeep pers. comm.). One second generation college attendee in California characterized the differences in terms of students from India wanting to discuss Indian o politics and affairs in the home country whereas IndianAmericans want to to know each other and to learn more about Indian 1991). Therefore, large university campuses now have one or more organizations of IndianAmerican At the University of Texas main campus in Austin, for there are at present six separate student organizations membership is principally composed of second generation Asians. The Indian Students Association (ISA) and the Association (PSA) are based on national origin, the Panjabi Cultural Council is based on regional cultural with a membership that is predominantly Sikh, though it is based.
Three additional student organizations are, however, based faith. The Hindu Students’ Council is a branch of the of America which is, in turn, affiliated with the India-based (Vishva Hindu Parishad, World Hindu Council). The VHP organizing in the U.S. in 1969, and by 1974 was registered states (Rajagopal, 1997). Though their official membership ‘ around two thousand, they claim connections with some ten and their influence far exceeds their relatively numbers. According to Rajagopal (ibid.) they present a form of Hinduism which invests idol worship and other rituals with symbolic meanings which brings Hinduism far more in line with mainstream North American Christian outlook. Raymond Williams (1988) has termed this modified brand of Hinduism “ecumenical Hinduism.” Hinduism’s assumption of new forms in overseas contexts is well documented. Frykenberg (1989) provides a well-rounded treatment of modern Hinduism in general. For a variety of sources on Hinduism in Great Britain see Burghart 1987. Vertovee (1995) gives an interesting, if somewhat jargon-laden, comparison of the histories of the modifications which Hinduism has undergone in Trinidad and Britain. A recent account of Hinduism in modern day Fiji, the only overseas community to have full retention of an Indian language (Moag, 1979), may be found in Kelly (1995). The VHP of America has been particularly active among the second generation, operating youth camps and Sunday schools to encourage young people to preserve Hindu values (Rajagopal, 1997).
The Hindu Students Council at the University of Texas is tied into a national network of HSC’s. The first Hindu Student Council was formed at Northeastern University in 1987, and by 1995 there were HSC’s on some 45 campuses throughout North America (Mathew and Prashad, 1997). These authors report a growing trend away from leadership by immigrant male graduate students, stating, “many new HSCs are now being organized and run by second generation Indian-Americans, either male or female, who have immediate family connections in VHPA.” They go on to describe the hierarchical leadership structure in the HSC’s with a local president reporting to a regional coordinator who, in turn, reports to National Council of Chapters at HSC headquarters in Needham, Massachusetts (ibid. 1997). Mahajan (1998) has pointed out the irony of policies of multiculturalism in the North American liberal university system allowing a group that is based on reli ious and political exclusion to win plaudits for being example of diversity, dispensing “what the liberals consider th¢ verities of a neglected civilization.” Mahajan is typical of a small, but highly vocal, grout whose views are radical in comparison with those of generation parents. He continues, “More disturbing than the fact that the forces of Hindutva in the United States are making use the liberal university to propagate their creed and to consolidate their activities is the fact that, such a physical locus necessarily means that it is only bourgeois elements that join their ranks,” (Mahajan unpublished). For a fuller description of VHP activities in the-U.S, with respect to both first and second generation Hindu immigrants see Rajaffopal (1997). For a detailed discussion of Indian-American organizations in the U.S. in general see Bacon (1996).
In stark contrast to the single organization for Hindus on the University of Texas main campus, five separate organizations are available to followers of Islam. The Muslim Students Association is the one whose membership is predominantly comprised of second generation Islamic immigrants, while the other four have more of a mixed membership with second generation Muslims from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh along with students from these and other Islamic countries. The University Jain Society on the University of Texas campus is also composed almost wholly of second generation practitioners. The descriptions of the organizations just described appearing under “student organizations” on the University of Texas web site, yield little information about their actual membership. The information on second generation participation in them was compiled through consultation with the From- the Ombudsman’s Office in the Dean of Students Office and with individual students who attend meetings. More significant than the existence of these various religious and culturally based organizations is the fact that university administrations accord them official status as student organizations. This acknowledgement of their South Asianness, and of other aspects of their identity, by the mainstream power structure gives a sense of legitimization which most of these students have not hitherto experienced. The importance of these organizations can be seen in the high proportion of Indian-American students who participate in them. Though no figures are available for the University of Texas, Agarwal’s 1991 survey of Indians in California found 95% of second generation college students taking part in such organizations.
Two concurrent trends reflect an awareness of the need to find stngth in numbers greater than those on the individual campus. Both signal increased political awareness and a growing quest for empowerment among South Asian American college students. The first is the tendency to organize South Asian networks on an areal or even national level. One such organization seems to have been the creation of the students themselves, i.e. the Coalition of Indo-American Students (CIAS) in the San Francisco Bay Area where South Asian-Americans from various campuses can interact and support issues of common interest (Agarwal 1991). Other second generation organizations are tied into larger entities founded by first generation immigrants such as the aforementioned HSC’s and the Kananaya Catholic Youth of North America (KCYNA). Most of the regionally based cultural organizations founded by first generation immigrants – Gujarati, Malayali, Panjabi, Tamil, etc. – have been apolitical in nature. These associations do hold youth forums as part of their national meetings where teens and college age members of the next generation can come together and discuss common concerns and interests, but these are geared more toward personal and family issues rather than political action.
A second, and more recent trend, is for students of South Asian parentage to associate themselves with larger minorities of color, most notably that of Asian American. This represents a paradigm shift for, as Leonard points out, “most South Asian immigrants and their children locate themselves as white in the social landscape of America,” (1997, p. 154). This racial realignment presents a problematic and as yet largely unresolved issue both for South Asians and for other Asian-Americans. Here the issue of physical appearance first encountered in primary or nursery school arises again as a ground for exclusion. AsianAmericans of East or Southeast Asian origin have been quick to point out that South Asians do not “look Asian,” (Kibria, 1996).
This is a phenomenon particular to North America. In Britain the term “Asian” refers explicitly and exclusively to South Asians, and is the term used by outsiders and community members alike. The BBC’s group of three stations inthe Midlands serving those of Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi origin is called “the Asian Network” (Moag field notes.) Communities of Chinese and Southeast Asians also exist in Britain, but their numbers are small (Brown and Foot, 1994). In North America, in contrast, the term “Asian” has been used to refer to groups from East and Southeast Asia – Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Philipinos, and more recently to those coming from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos but not to South Asians. Leonard states that the status of South Asians in Asian American university groups is “unclear, both to them, and to the East and Southeast Asians who constitute most of the members,” (1997, p. 155). Kibria (1996) theorizes that their ambiguity toward the categories of race gives South Asians a sense of marginality in certain social contexts, including that of the pan-Asian movement. This sense of marginality, along with the difference in appearance and their propensity to group themselves with whites has led South Asians themselves to eschew communality with other Asians. Agarwal (1991) reported that IndianAmerican college students in the Los Angeles area all said that their clubs had little to no interaction with other Asian clubs on campus. At the University of Texas in the late 1990’s, however, a number of second generation South Asian students have aggressively allied themselves with Asian-American clubs and other similar organizations in an effort to seek inclusion in the larger Asian American minority. The most influential of these has been the Asian Relations Committee, a group of students of East and South Asian origin, who lobbied the University administration successfully for the establishment of an Asian-American studies program (Daily Texan, June 4, 1998).
This student interest in seeking inclusion in Asian American groups, and thereby in the larger category of Asian American may derive in part from the somewhat earlier movement of academics who do research on South Asian Americans seeking a place in the broader field of Asian-American studies. As a field of inquiry Asian-American studies dates from the 1960s (Kim and Lowe, 1997), and some universities have had a commitment to the field for some time. The Asian/American Center at Queens College at the City University of New York, for example, founded in September 1987, is according to its web site (1998) “… dedicated to the development of community oriented research and to analyze the multicultural experience of Asians in the North, Central, and South America, and the Caribbean.” There is a professional organization, the American Association of Asian American Studies which holds annual meetings. Though the field initially focused on East Asian, and subsequently Southeast Asian ethnic groups, articles on South Asians have had a place in the literature for some years now (Mazumdar, 1989). The inclusion of South Asian authors in Kim and Lowe (1997) and in Hirabayashi (1998) – two volumes dealing with Asian American issues – are the latest examples of the growing acceptance of South Asian American topics and scholars as an integral part of this larger field of inquiry. A number of these scholars writing and teaching on these topics and/or in the related area of diaspora studies are, themselves, second generation South Asians. Notable among these are Advani (1997), Gopinath (1997), and Visweswaran (1997).
Not all of the second generation South Asians seeking their identity among non-whites look toward the larger AsianAmerican community. A small minority perceive themselves as having common cause with black Americans (Leonard, 1997). This is in contrast with Britain where Indian immigrants-have allied themselves more readily with black politics (Helweg and Helweg, 1990; Leonard, 1997). For a particularly interesting example of South Asian youth joining forces with blacks in Britain see Westwood (1995). At the University of Texas at Austin, a number of South Asian students have taken the course on “The African Diaspora” offered by the Anthropology Department. At least one second generation South Asian student is majoring in black studies. Her rationale for this is to better understand what it means to be a person of color in the U.S.
Education, Profession, and Marriage
One thing shared by virtually all second generation college students of South Asian origin is their parents’ assumption of responsibility for choosing their course of study, profession, and marriage partner. These are some of the most basic and traditional duties of parenthood in South Asian culture, and most parents believe that fulfilling these duties is the only way to preserve the Indianness and the sanctity of their family in the alien milieu of North American culture. Children’s responses run the gamut from acceptance to open rebellion, but a surprising number of girls and boys are comfortable in the knowledge that their parents will select a mate for them at the appropriate time. For most it is a foregone conclusion that the marriage partner will be drawn from a fairly narrow field. Daniels (1994, p. 97) states that marriages among South Asian immigrants “… are not only endogamous, but tend to be within ethnic subcultures.” Thus children expect from the outset that the partner their parents select will not only be South Asian, but will also be of the same regional origin, of the same subsect of their own religious faith, and, if Hindu, of the same subcaste. Leonard (1997) devotes several pages to marriage, including wedding arrangements. She also affirms that most of the second generation go along with arranged marriage “… despite complaints to each other and in conference settings,” (ibid. p. 164). She further states that caste, religion, sect, and regional origin are usually specified in the matrimonial ads in the ethnic newspapers. Profession of the advertised boy or girl and preferred profession for a mate, are often stated along with immigration status, i.e. green card holder or U.S. citizen. She does not state that one’s education degrees held – are also important qualifications, particularly for hides. I am unaware of any study done on the survival of arranged marriages in the Indo-American community, but given the high survival rate (92%) cited above for their parents’ marriages, and the high value placed on keeping the family together and the concomitant stigma against divorce, it may well be that these unions prove to be of greater longevity and lower divorce rate than the love marriages practiced universally by the mainstream community. At the same time, it must be noted that North America provides a context which permits, if not encourages, breaking with traditional values brought from elsewhere. This is indeed, part of 1he conflict that the second generation knows as a way of life. Matrimonial ads also appear in the ethnic press in behalf of both divorced and widowed persons (Leonard, 1997), but there is no data on what percentage of these is for the second generation and what percentage is for the first.
Second generation members expecting an arranged marriage have not only a clear sense of the pool their mate will be drawn from, but often a good idea of the nature of the ceremony as well, based on other weddings they have observed and on the religious orientation of their family. Conservative parents try to replicate a very traditional ceremony in North America, while more liberal ones now attempt to compromise with their Americanized children on arrangements. Depending on the particular family’s situation the wedding may be held either in North America or in India, according to where the greater number of relatives is living. Many children thus grow up in the U.S. or Canada knowing many years ahead that their wedding will be held in their parents’ homeland where costs are lower and many more relatives can attend, but where they may personally feel less comfortable. Educational path and resulting profession are all part of one’s preparation for marriage. It is widely recognized that the majority of second generation South Asian university students pursue professional training in medicine, engineering, or business.
Though these occupational preferences are recognized by several writers, none have mentioned that the specific occupations themselves reflect upper-middle-class values brought from India. The positions in the hierarchy of the two main professions are reversed, however. One of the Helwegs’ informants declared that he was shocked to find that his profession of engineer was ranked below that of doctor in the U.S., since engineers were above physicians in South Asia. The Indian hierarchy is reflected in the occupations of first generation immigrants trained in their home country. In 1980, 17% of Indian men in the U.S. were engineers, while 11% of men and 8% of women were physicians. Much higher percentages emerge when looking only at those in professional occupations, though the proportions are similar – 25% physicians versus 40% engineers among the first generation. South Asians are the second largest group of foreign-born engineers in the U.S., exceeded only by those of Chinese origin. An additional 7% of women were nurses (Leonard, 1997). Agarwal (1991) found that over 50% of first generation South Asians in her sample wanted their children to pursue a career in medicine, and that a similar percentage were following their parents’ wishes. Agarwal’s figures suggest that South Asian parents have adopted the American hierarchy in occupational choices for their children. Their choices also suggest aspirations of upward mobility, given the much lower percentage of parents who are themselves in the medical profession (see above). The percentage of doctors is higher in areas where the South Asian immigrant population is particularly dense. One out of every six physicians in Ohio is South Asian (Leonard, 1997). Among professional South Asian immigrant women, 60% were in health diagnosing occupations (Daniels, 1994).
Three facts deserve mention regarding first generation Indians in the medical profession. The first is the disproportionate number of doctors, both men and women, whose spouses are also doctors. One of Leonard’s (1997) informants reported 40 of 90 Indian physicians in Bakersfield, California in 1989, were married to each other. I have informal reports of a substantial number of two-physician couples in Detroit, Michigan as well. Helweg and Helweg (1990) provide figures on the numbers of South Asians working as doctors or anesthesiologists, but make no mention of how this effects the choice of profession for their children. :. The second fact is the strong regional and religious imbalance among South Asian nurses. A large number of Malayali Christian families are able to immigrate to North America due to the wife obtaining a position as nurse. Relatively few women from other parts of India take up .nursing. This profession tends to be dominated by Christians. This gives the profession a high regional bias, since Christians comprise nearly 25% of the population of India’s Kerala State compared with under 2% in the rest of India. nursing is a calling which is highly disfavored among partly due to the ritual pollution connected with it, and ‘ due to the low status of nurses vis-a-vis doctors in India. Third, South Asian doctors in North America are often fill the niches unwanted by North Americanvb physi- i.e. practice in inner city hospitals and in rural areas. According to the U.S. Consensus 1990, in the small hospital in a rural in New York State having a population of 42,507 (U.S. 1990), at least 11 of the 89 practicing physicians there are South Asians (Wyoming County, 1998), and several of these as specialists. Helweg and Helweg (1990) quote Indian as reporting that the option to practice within their is a powerful inducement to remain in the U.S. The also theorize that Indian doctors use these niche positions to build credentials for an eventual move into a more desirable practice, but present no data to validate this assertion. One might wonder how members of the mainstream white culture would respond to doctors from such a distant land and different culture. One Indian physician, Dr. Abraham Varghese, now a professor of medicine at Texas Tech University, wrote that he found patients in the small town where he practiced opening up easily and fully to him, a fact which he attributed to his Indianness. His popular book, My Own Country, (Verghese, 1994) was recently made into a movie for the Show Time Cable TV Channel.
Though concentrated in inner cities and rural areas, South Asian physicians are a powerful presence on the national scene in the U.S. and Canada. In 1980 an estimated 20 thousand Indian doctors made up 4% of the total of U.S. physicians (Leonard,1997) and .he percentage is surely higher today, swelled in part due to the number of second generation South Asians who have already completed medical school. The American Association of Physicians from India is the largest ethnically based organization
of doctors in the U.S. Numbers are even sufficient to support organizations of alumni from specific medical colleges. The American Kerala Medical Graduates (AKMG), for instance, hold an annual national meeting complete with banquet speaker and souvenir volume. The Islamic Physicians of Canada includes many members of South Asian origin. Indian parents, whether in the medical field themselves or not, often put a great deal of pressure on sons and daughters to study medicine. I write several recommendations to medical school ‘each year for Malayali undergraduates. Naturally not all of these are successful, but most try for two or three years before going to plan B. The second favorite choice is engineering. Thi,re are specific reasons for these career choices. As one of Agarwal’s (1991)interviewees said, “my parents forced me to be a computer scientist, and I couldn’t really say no. They pushed me into it for the security, the money, and so they could brag about me to their friends.” Another interviewee suggested that interest is not perceived as important in choosing a career in the Indian value systerm, but rather the income and status it affords. Parents feel that practical considerations take precedence over one’s interest.
Agarwal herself writes, “the occupational choice of AsianAmericans does not necessarily reflect aptitude, but rather an adaptive response to the world of reality as they have experienced it, i.e. a preoccupying concern for survival rather than consideration of aptitude, preference, and open choice,” (1991, p. 46). I-Ielweg and Helweg (1990) verify that money and status are the eeepted measures of success for first generation South Asian immigrants and that it is more important to make money than to get self-satisfaction. This same outlook motivates their choice of profession for their children, but this naturally leads to conflict with those who subscribe to the American ideal of pursuing a lrofessien because of the interest one has in it and the personal filfillment one expects to find in it. It is a curious irony that the Hindu ideal is to perform one’s duty without attachment to the fruits of that labor, it is precisely the fruits (money and status) which seem to motivate Hindu immigrants to the U.S. both in their aspirations for themselves and for their children.
In many cases the sons or daughters of these immigrant develop an interest in a subject other than medicine, or business, and thus become conflicted about what study. While some break free and pursue the discipline of their the majority resolve the dilemma by continuing their and fitting in what coursework they in their discipline of choice. Leonard (1997) discusses those step of declaring a double major, one for their parents Helweg and Helweg (1990) report that in South Asian parents defined a “good child,” as one speaks the heritage language and is respectful to elders. A ]o these things is considered Westernized, and , have lost Indian culture. Recent figures indicate that relatively meet the language criterion. According to the U.S. census 14.5 percent of Asian Indians reported speaking an language at home. By c3ntinuing the parentally prescribed college, these students can at least appear to meet the criterion. What was said earlier about the Indian of avoiding confrontation also plays a major role in children lengths to appear to follow parents’ recommended
Significant Gender Differences
There is a noteworthy gender difference in college courses taken. The figures in Agarwal (1991) demonstrate that 29% of second generation females were studying in fields other than the big three, as opposed to 5% of males. Certain areas of academic inquiry are particularly repugnant to parents, as they seem to fly directly in the face of their Indian values. Some daughters inevitably become sensitized to feminist issues and are attracted to courses, and in some cases programs, centered around women’s studies. Such studies often move these students further and further away from the culturally ordained conceptions of sex roles brought by their parents from India. For these students this engenders negative feelings, even aversion, to the values and role models which their parents hold up to them as both positive and Indian. One South Asian American graduate student remarked, as a woman, “I had an entire set of issues that kept me from feeling welcome with the Indian community,” (Motwani unpublished). Working out one’s hyphenated identity must be particularly difficult for such students. In-depth studies of this segment of the South Asian American college population should be undertaken. Gender differences go far beyond choice of college major. Advani (1997) points out that South Asian sons are under pressure to be high-salaried wage earners since they are responsible for supporting parents and perhaps other relatives, in addition to their own wives and children. She suggests that daughters, therefore, have more freedom in the choice of a vocation, and that this probably accounts for the fact that most of the labor organizers of the Lease Drivers Coalition of New York City were second generation females (1997, p. 592). The division runs far deeper even than this. Gopinath (1997) quotes Bannerji thus, “… in the United States immigrant women are positioned by an immigrant male bourgeoisie as repositories of an essential Indianness.” Gopinath goes on to say, “thus, any form of transgression on the part of women may result in their literal and symbolic exclusion from the multiple homes that they as immigrant women inhabit – the patriarchal heterosexual household, the extended family made up of an immigrant community, and the national spaces of both India and the United States.” This means, of course, that the South Asian woman is at once eXlcted to be subservient to the male authority figure in the home and to bear the heavy responsibility of cultural maintenance.
Gay/Lesbian South Asians.
Gopinath includes heterosexual in her description of the traditional South Asian home, because of her identity as a lesbian. More importantly, she goes on to assert that within the dominant patriarchal logic of the South Asian immigrant community, the non-heterosexual Indian woman is not only excluded from these spaces, she “quite simply cannot be imagined,” (ibid. p. 470). She eites as evidence the refusal to allow SALGA, the South Asian Losbian and Gay Alliance, to participate in the annual India Day parade in New York City in both 1995 and 1996. She declares that th¢ Indian lesbian is viewed as “… a product of being too long in the West, and she is, therefore, annexed to the host nation where she may be further elided…” (Ibid. p. 472).
South Asians following the gay-lesbian lifestyle can not necessarily count on acceptance by the mainstream gay-lesbian “however, despite the belief of their relatives in the community that their chosen life style results from Bannerji writes that the aspects of her Indian – which she preserves – fondness for bright colors, long hair, etc. – alienate her from the dominant aesthetic of androgr of the mainstream Canadian gay-lesbian community. In recent South Asian gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have, like other life styles, sought to find strength and validation in The oldest such organization is Trikone, founded in 1986 San Francisco area, which declares on their web site, “Tri- affirms both its South Asian identity as well as its Trikone opposes sexism and any other kind of discrimination (1997). For a large directory of web sites and organizations
with South Asian women’s issues as well as those specifically to gay, lesbian, and bisexual concerns in the Canada, and elsewhere, see SAWNET (the South Asian Network) on the Internet.
Adjusting to Cultural Differences
Indian parents must not be indicted en masse or in toto for being opposed to feminist causes, however, as 33% of parents in Agarwal’s survey indicated “attitudes toward women” as something they were least interested in retaining about Indian culture. Two things must be pointed out here. Of the four choices provided by Agarwal for her question on what respondents would least like to retain from Indian culture, the other three (caste system, rigid food habits, and regional divisions) all received higher numbers in favor of nonretention than did attitudes toward women. Second, their children showed higher percentages in favor of nonretention in all four categories than did the parents. There was no breakdown as to gender for this question, but one wonders how many females versus males in each generation wanted to get rid of Indian attitudes toward women. Agarwal (1991) also asked respondents to list the things that made them feel most Indian and those that made them feel most American. Ninety percent of second generation respondents listed education as the thing making them feel most American, while much of the first generation (83%) cited their profession in response to the same question. Agarwal’s analysis falls short here as she fails to acknowledge that the common thread in this data is that both generations find their primary area of activity (or as Helweg and Helweg would say, compartment) where they feel most American to be the area of activity outside the home. Since most of her second generation respondents were students, and her first generation respondents were employed professionals, it is not surprising that they cited the areas of education and profession/career respectively.
Hiding beliefs, and more significantly practices, which are at odds with their parents’ values, from members of the previgus generation is a strategy as old as human culture itself, and is not limited to any specific group. In the case of South Asian immigrant children, however, it often becomes a way of life, especially after entering college, one which Agarwal (1991) has characterized as “walking a tightrope.” Leonard (1997) recounts various examples of the lengths sons, and particularly daughters, go to in order to shield their parents from the details of the life they live outside the home, going so far as to keep a live-in relationship, even a marriage, secret. Both Agarwal (1991) and the Helwegs (1990) have invoked the concept of”compartmentalization” to describe the life styles and strategies of South Asian immigrants. Following Singer’s 1972 formulation of strict compartmentalization of the lives of Tamils in Madras, Helweg and Helweg have applied this concept to the behavior they observed in first generation Indian immigrants in North America. The home compartment is kept as a place of purely Indian values, safe from the encroachment of American influences, values, and morals (all of which they regard as decadent). The compartment of work is where they accede to American values and follow the American practices necessary to get ahead. This kind of compartmentalization is one aspect of the Indian immigrant lifestyle which is preserved by their children, whether in elementary grades, high school, or college. This means that second generation South Asians must live by two different sets of rules, one prescribed by their parents at home, another meeting the expectations of the mainstream culture. One, if not both, sets of values may be at variance with what they actually believe. Just as often the dual life may cause deep uncertainties about where one stands culturally. Whatever the results, the need to carefully compartmentalize one’s behavior can hardly have a positive influence on one’s self image, and ongoing identity formation. The Helwegs (1990) in Chapter Seven of their book recognize some seven different compartments in all. In the interest of brevity, I have given an overly simplified representation of their compartmentalization model, focusing on the basic dichotomy between the home and elsewhere.
The Role of College Courses in Identity Formation
In an effort to resolve some of the questions of how Indian they wish to be as adults, second generation South AsianAmericans often look for courses in college which will help them in their search. A common complaint of South Asian and East students alike in the 90’s was voiced by several students in held at the University of Texas during the 1997-98 academic year to promote the institutionalization of an AsianAmerican studies course there: “I couldn’t see me in any of the courses I was taking.” This is articulated by other minorities as well, and of course, heightens the students’ sense of marginalization and, as with some factors mentioned earlier, can have only a negative impact on identity formation. A number of North American universities have instituted courses on Asian-Americans in general, and at least three major universities have mounted courses specifically on issues relating to South Asian Americans. In some cases these courses have been developed in response to expressed student concerns, while in others they have resulted from the initiative of a faculty member. The pioneering scholar in this area has been Prof. Rosane Rocher at the University of Pennsylvania who not only instituted a course on the South Asian American experience, but has published articles about her course (Rocher, 1998) and about the field (Rocher 1994A). Her bibliography (Rocher 1994B) is a valuable resource for students. Recent Newsletters of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of California at Berkeley (1997; 1998) list a course titled “South Asian American Historical and Contemporary Issues.” The Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin added to its offerings a seminar in spring of 1997 ttled “The South Asian Diaspora: Issues and Directions” at the behest of, and taught by, this writer.
Heritage Language Study, Plus or Minus
Study of the heritage language has the potential to boost a student’s self image, but it more often ends up balancing out on the negative side. With the exception of Hindi classes at Bellaire High School in Houston Texas, the formal courses in the South Asian languages are limited to the tertiary level. Some temples and quite a few of the regionally-based cultural associations conduct informal language classes for youngsters, but these usually meet with limited success, sometimes due to lack of materials, but most notably due to lukewarm interest on the part of most young people, particularly teenagers. A typical situation is that reported for one of the families interviewed hy Helweg and Helweg (1990) wherein the youngsters in the family had so many other after-school and weekend activities that they simply could not find time for the language classes. I know of no data where this has been tested, but it seems certain that there is a correlation between a sheltered lifestyl and participation in such informal language classes. Parents who cling to the sojourner mentality will be more reluctant to permit their children to take part in extracurricular school activities such as sports, band, special interest clubs and plays. Naturally these children will have more free time for family and community-oriented activities.
By the time they reach university, however, many second gancration South Asians are ready to undertake language study. A surprising 70% of the second generation respondents in Agarwal’s (1991) survey indicated they were taking language or some other courses related to their South Asian heritage. A few of the largest universities have offered one or more South Asian languages for four decades or more. The earliest of these language offerings were sponsored under the National Defence Education Act with the intent of training both scholars and analysts for the defence establishment. Though these courses originally drew only North American students, for some years now the enrollments in all of the modem South Asian language classes have consisted mainly of and generation South Asians (Moag, 1996). No up-to-date list offering South Asian languages is available, but the Asian Language Teachers Association (SALTA) plans on compiling and maintaining one. The following summary is based personal knowledge as someone working in the field. Hindi is taught in the largest number of universities, per- l as many as 20, with Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, as an independent subject on only a few campuses, but as an adjunct to Hindi courses at quite a few uniSinhalese and Nepali, the two other national languages Asia, are offered only at Cornell and the University of The regional South Asian languages are also not widely taught. Tamil and Panjabi are available on several on only two or three. Other if offered at all, are typically found only on a campus. The University of Wisconsin is the place to go for Telugu, while Malayalam is offered regularly only at the University of Texas main campus in Austin. Regional languages with smaller representations in North America such as Assamese, Oriya, and Sindhi are not formally taught on any campus, though in some cases a faculty member may assist a student in an independent study class.
One reason there are not greater offerings of South Asian languages in colleges and universities is the limited demand. Enrolments in these courses are far less than the number of second generation South Asians on any given campus, The 70% figure reported by Agarwal above obviously includes a good number of students taking courses other than language. Whereas a one semester course on Hinduism, South Asian civilization, or what have you, may impart a good deal of organized knowledge about the homeland, language study moves more slowly and requires a much greater commitment of time. The typical beginning course in Hindi, Tamil, or the like, meets five days a week for a full year. Because of the different script and the major difference between spoken and written styles, a second year is required before one has any ability at all to read primary materials. Many students simply cannot fit a sequence of heritage language courses into their demanding business, science or medical programs. Others reject the study of the heritage language as being of no practical value for their career.
I have purposely used the term “heritage language” in preference to “mother tongue” in discussing the second generation. It is misleading to regard the language of their parents as their “mother tongue” for, though they may have spoken it exclusively as preschoolers, either in India or in North America, all of these young people become English-dominant under the aegis of the North American school system and the hegemonic role which English plays in the environment outside the home. Many parents address their children in the heritage language, especially at home, but the children almost invariably answer in English. As a result, most second generation South Asian-Americans achieve only a passive competence in the language at home. Even where parents make a determined effort to maintain the language within the sanctity of the home, the media,, particularly television and radio, cannot be wholly kept at bay. Parents have a real ambivalence about their children’s linguistic needs. A part of them wants desperately to pass on the heritage language to their offspring. For most, however, this desire collides headlong with the pragmatic knoff]lge that ability in English is all-important for success in the educational and career arenas. Hence in the reality of everyday life they do whatever they can to encourage their children to use the dominant tongue, frequently reverting to English themselves. The irony of the situation is that most parents provide far from an ideal model for the English their sons and daughters need in the wider society. Parents invariably speak South Asian or so-called Indian English while the children follow American usage and pronunciation. Most second generation children actually learn both styles of English, but normally stick to the American variety. Helweg and I-Ielweg write of an eleven-year-old girl who switched freely from American English to Indian English as she spoke with American friends or South Asian relatives. As one 0fmy students explained, “We all learned it (Indian English) so we could make fun of our parents”.
One can imagine this being an effective escape valve for o e frustrations of having to follow parental dictates with which one does not agree. It is due to the limited, often passive, competence in the language that I have dubbed such second generation South as “semi-native speakers.” For some their characteristics Table below. For a detailed description of the linguistic and characteristics of semi-native speakers see Moag (1996).
Language competence, or lack thereof, also plays an im- in the ongoing process of identity formation, of second South Asian-Americans. The school system which them to negative stereotypes of themselves and their of origin also has made them highly English dominant. all second generation students I have encountered have parents laughing when they try to talk the heritage They also report a similar reaction from relatives when visit India. This is also a factor in second generation South forming separate organizations on college campuses. (1991) respondents indicated that the students from fun of our American accents (in the heritage language).
Even when semi-native second generation speakers take university courses in the heritage language, few achieve a level of competence to permit them to function at more than a rudimentary level, or to get past the stage of being ridiculed by native speaking relatives. I must stress that this is due to their taking only two years of coursework in the language. The few who find time to continue with a third and fourth year of language study do achieve useful levels of competence and impress not only themselves, but their parents and other family elders both in the U.S. and India. Thus for the vast majority of second generation South Asians most of their culture maintenance must be in English. In recognition of this many Hindu temples in North America now conduct some of their proceedings in English. A large part of the proceedings of the cultural organizations founded and promoted by their parents take place in English in an attempt to keep the young people involved. Bacon (1996) observed that organizations, whether run by first or second generation immigrants, engage in a common discourse, one which presents stereotypes of both American and Indian culture which emphasize the differences between them and valorize the Indian.
The language barrier, or English competence differential, can effect family relations in other ways, too. One student reported her mother saying, “you’re trying to use English to defeat me.” This communication barrier can only exacerbate the sense of precariousness which many first generation immigrants feel about control over their children in this strange environment which is usually perceived as hostile and threatening to the values they hold most dear. It also directly effects the prospects for meeting their goal of imparting their culture to the next generation. Parents are frequently unable to express the precepts and principles of their culture adequately in English, and their children are seldom able to comprehend the religious and cultural concepts when expres.sed in the heritage language. This contributes significantly to the dilution of the culture transmitted to their children. This is a major contributing factor to the modification of aspects of South Asian culture as practiced by young people. The influence of mainstream North American culture can also be seen in modifications such as performing traditional dances in a more provocative way (Leonard, 1997). In more extreme cases they appropriate elements which are parents’ heritage, but which for them represent Indian-hess. Bacon (1996) found inter-generational differ- in the symbolic meaning of Asian Indian identity. Thus in programs presented on campus or in community-based organizations one can see second generation women :the bhangra, a Panjabi dance originally for men. In a in July 1997 1 observed Malayali Christians per- this same dance – one traditionally performed only in the a state more than a thousand miles from their parents’ homeland. Leonard misses the mark when she explains “… these young people do not necessarily as part of a larger community of South Asian and they may identify with a different segment than parents,” (ibid. p. 156). She cites as example young Muslim girls studying Bharatanatyam, the classical dance form. What is really happening here is le are identifying with a generalized South Asian one often devoid of region-specific, in some cases religio- symbols. In fact their South Asian-hess itself becomes in nature just as it has for earlier immigrants from Euro- (Waters, 1990).
The process of identity formation for second generation in the diaspora is an ongoing and dynamic one. The re- available for identity construction include the Indian values taught at home, the mainstream values of their the educational institutions in which they enroll, and the Asia presented by the society at large. The survey by Rosser in Texas, reported in Part I of this paper, in the public school classroom is fraught images of their country of origin and its culture, and invariably has a negative effect on their identity formation. At the university level, several factors, including their own growing sense of being Indian, have a potentially counteracting positive influence on their image. There are still, however, negative influences at this level such as resistance to being included in Asian-American groups finding no courses in whose content they can see themselves and having to sacrifice study of the heritage language on the altar of pragmatics, etc. Finally investing up to two years in studying the heritage language, only to realize that it is still not possible to function at the literary level, or even at a level which brings acceptance rather than ridicule from relatives, can lead one to question her/his ability to make language a part of one’s South Asian-ness. Thus we.see clearly the dilemma of the second generation South Asian emerging from the U.S. education system, i.e. they feel themselves to be Indian (Agarwal, 1991) but the limited ways of representing it can make their In-dian-ness symbolic. After completing their formal education, second generation South Asian Americans are subject throughout the rest of their lives to the images of their country of origin portrayed in the North American media – images which, again, are largely negative. The result of these multiple influences for many is an inability to feel truly at home in either culture. Rajagopal (1997, p. 45) suggests that the second generation seeks “… a culturally congenial way of asserting their identity without reference to race.” The mainstream society is also willing to accommodate the South Asian Americans (Helweg and Helweg, 1990). Daniels (1994) states that the South Asian community has achieved a large enough population base to ensure its survival and expansion for the foreseeable future. Therefore the South Asian community is now a permanent part of the North American demographic and cultural landscape. The information and images portrayed in the mainstream North American media of the countries of origin of this community have to date been largely negative. With India and Pakistan now openly assuming the role of nuclear powers, it is to be hoped that South Asia will receive more and better press in the West. An even more critical need is an expanded and improved training for present and future primary and secondary level teachers so that the experiences in the educational system will begin to have a positive impact on the identity formation of future South Asian Americans.
Characteristics of the Semi-native Speaker:
- Someone of South Asian ancestry who has limited com- in the heritage language. If not born in North America, have immigrated at an early age with their parents from India or from another part of the world where South Asians.
- A few come as international students, without their directly from Singapore, Trinidad, or other post-indenture
- Socioeconomic: Generally upper-middle class
- Normally illiterate skewed bilingual whose L-1 learning during pre-school years
Limited Aural-oral skills
A. Fair, if fuzzy, comprehension of everyday speech
B. Derives meaning from roots rather than from endings
C. Heavy dependence on body language and cues
D. Incomplete phonology, syntax, and lexicon
E. Very little comprehension of formal style
F. Lack of confidence and inclination to speak
G. Unable to repeat sentences verbatim
Literate skills in classroom
A. Employs guessing strategy in reading from the outset
B. Pays little heed to endings
C. Spelling mistakes persist throughout two-year course sequence
D, Resistance to learning anything beyond existing knowledge
A. Uses English with all peers, in school, at home, and outside
B. Non-reciprocal language use with elders within family and within family’s social and cultural networks
C. Ethnic language in domain of entertainment, but heavy dependence on action and body language for meaning
A. Not attain confidence to see self as competent L-1 speaker
B. Fail to fulfill parents’ desire for them to know high culture
C. Not see themselves as competent transmitter of culture
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A question on Second Generation American