Second-Generation South Asian Indian American Identity

Something I constantly think about is how to pass down our traditions and culture to our children. I want my kids to know who they are and where they come from but it’s an interesting dilemma considering that my generation was raised differently than past generations. We were some of the first Asian Indian Americans growing up in the United States.

Being in America changed the way we would have traditionally grown up. I know a lot of people who grew up as close to the Indian culture as possible but even then, there were plenty of other influences affecting their childhood.

For me, growing up as a first-generation Asian Indian American in the United States allowed me and my siblings to define our own path. We chose whether or not to follow Hinduism. We chose which aspects of it we liked and didn’t like. Maybe it would have been the same in India. My mother’s side is pretty much a straight line of atheists. My dad’s side is religious but my dad never pressed us into following anything. He left everything open for our interpretations and let us make our own decisions on what we wanted to do.

Religion aside, being here in this “melting pot” gave us exposure to so many other cultures and religions. My family celebrates Holi which is traditionally a Hindu festival, Navratri which is traditionally a Gujarati festival, and spend Diwali at the Gurudwara since half of my family is Sikh although Diwali is also celebrated by Hindus and Jains. I am pretty sure that none of these are exclusive to their religions of origin. I know that garba during Navratri is well attended by people of all nationalities and religions.

Where does religion end and culture start? We are lucky to be in this area where everything isn’t so heavily based on religion but on our culture. I’ve never been really religious and if all of my family’s traditions were based on religion, I don’t know if I would feel as comfortable passing it down to my children. But since they have become much more based on Indian culture, we introduce our children to everything we possibly can so they are aware of our Indian traditions.

I feel lucky that Indian culture and religion can be separated as easily as it has. If our entire culture was rooted in religion, it would have been that much harder for me to accept this new identity that I have formed. It’s different now for my kids because they are learning second hand about our traditions. Whatever we have cultivated is what is being handed down. I have to accept they might never know our languages as well or the cultural norms that we grew up with.

How much can we expect our children to absorb? Is it possible that they will be as involved in the Indian culture as much as we were growing up. It honestly didn’t occur to me until my 30s that what we were doing was unprecedented. That means what our children are doing is unprecedented as well. I would like my children to take pride in the cultural traditions that we are able to pass down.

It will be interesting to see what our kids accept as and what they separate out from their cultural identity.

 

Where Do I Belong?

My family and I just got back from a 2 week trip to India. As you can imagine, I noticed so many things that I do want to talk about. Let’s start with this.

I was born and raised in America. My parents moved here before I was born but have done a great job teaching my about my heritage. I have a strong sense of cultural identity and am trying my best to make sure my kid learns as much as she can about her heritage as well.

On my trip, I did notice something interesting. Interesting might be the wrong word but it’s what I will use at the moment. I noticed that I’m not Indian in India. I’m American. The Indian people in India don’t consider me as one of them. (This is clearly a generalization. I’m sure there are people that consider me Indian.)

I can’t tell you how many times I heard people telling someone else that I am from America and I don’t understand or speak anything but English. The funny part was that I perfectly understood what that person was saying in whichever Indian language (Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi) was being used. Yes, my spoken Indian language might not be perfect but I can understand most everything being said in whichever language you choose.

Why is that assumption being made? I feel as though some of the people who made these assumptions know that I can understand most of these languages so why do they need to feel like they have to mention that I’m from America? Is it an insecurity issue? Am I a worse person because my first language is English?

I met up with a friend who moved from California to Delhi. She was telling me that when she has something to say, no one really listens because she’s the American girl. How does where we are from even relate to the knowledge we have?

It’s also funny because growing up here as a first generation South Asian Indian American meant I stood out. I was Indian, not American. I didn’t assimilate into the typical American ideal at all. Luckily, I grew up in Southern California which meant I wasn’t alone and there were ways for me to fit in with others who were in the same boat I was.

So now, if I’m Indian in America and American in India, I’m not quite sure where that leaves me. The only place I really fit into is this westernized Indian culture that has been created here in America. I get to be as Indian as I want to be without having to be any less American than anyone else.

I hope one day that the people in India who think I’m too American realize that I can understand every word they are saying about me.