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 Will Our Traditions Go?

So here’s a question that has been on my mind for a while: who is going to perform the Hindu/Sikh/etc. weddings after all of the pandits (or corresponding religious leaders) in our area retire? The group I’ve grown up with has had this discussion before. Most of the people who perform weddings now have moved to America from India. And no one I know who is in my generation is practicing to become a pandit.

What happens to all of our cultural traditions in the future? Will there be someone who can help continue them?

I’ve been making sure that my parents and my husband’s parents talk to my kid in our respective languages so she learns that part of our culture. Unfortunately, it’s a second language for me as well and I tend to go to my first language when I speak to her. On occasion, when I do remember, I do speak to her in Gujarati. But it won’t be the way my parents spoke it to me. Language is still something easier to pass on than a few other aspects.

I grew up going to pujas, temples, parties that celebrated different festivals in India. When I got married, we had an event where our families and friends sang traditional songs in our respective languages. Will our generation be able to continue this? Who will be responsible so that our children learn all of this stuff? How do make sure that we don’t lose this part of us?

It’s a little bit scary. Is it okay that our traditions progress as the way we grow up changes? Did this happen to our parents or since they all were born in the same country, the traditions were able to be passed down much easier? I wonder if this really only affects us now because we are growing up here in America and raising our children here.

I want my child to know her cultures. I want her to be able to really understand where she comes from. I’m just not sure how I can make sure that happenĀ in the future.