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.

 

What Indian People Think

Sometimes, I read what other people write about being an Indian raised in another country. It’s scary to see what they think. I read a couple of articles written by these Indian people about how we are losing our culture if we are born and raised in America. We defy our parents, we ignore our traditions, we don’t want to participate in anything even remotely Indian.

I’ve written a few articles about this in various forms already. Just because I’m American does not mean I’m not Indian. Yes, there are things that have changed since the good old days where the daughter or daughter-in-law would just blindly do what her elders asked but that’s called progress. It’s called knowledge.

In exchange for me not being the world’s best cook or the Indian woman that cleans all day long, I am independent. I know how to financially support myself. I never needed to get married to someone in order to survive. Instead I chose to marry someone who supports my passions and interests and we have a relationship based on friendship and love. We are here because we want to be not because we have to be.

On that note, I chose my own life partner. I really got to know myself myself and having gone through previous relationships only helped me understand who the right person was for me to take this journey with. In exchange for that, I won’t resent having missed out any part of life. I won’t feel stuck in a relationship because it was my duty to be there. I will love myself and my partner because I have gotten the chance to chase my dreams.

Yes, I don’t agree with or listen to everything my elders say. In this day and age, with all of the information out there, the ideas that we had grown up with might not be the same or even accurate anymore. I also believe in making my own mistakes. But guess what? Neither of us, my elders or I, know everything. We all have to learn. It doesn’t matter if they had done something before us and we are in the process of doing it now. Times have changed! Things have changed!

It’s frustrating that those of us who were raised in a different country still get judged for it. The truth is that our parents left India to make a better life for us. Our parents wanted better opportunities for us. So then why do we get judged when we take advantage of these opportunities? You can’t expect us to move forward in one thing and still be behind in something else. I can’t be an educated woman and then be expected to sit at home, cooking and cleaning all day (unless it’s truly what I love to do). With knowledge comes change. With knowledge comes progress.

I think it’s time that the Indian people who keep thinking we are losing our culture and traditions realize that it’s not that we’re losing them. It’s that our culture and traditions are evolving. Things will change. They always have. Even if you believe that everything has been the same for thousands of years, I can promise you that it hasn’t. Even in India, things have changed over time.

So please stop judging us. Accept change. It’s the only way that you’ll really ensure that the things that are important to you stay around (unless you expect me to wait on you hand and foot because that’s not happening).