Fitting in as an immigrant

 Adaptation, Authenticity, Cultural integration  Comments Off on Fitting in as an immigrant
Apr 082010
 

I recently wrote an article for ABCDlady Magazine entitled “Fitting In.” It touches on an aspect of immigration that does not get much attention. I’m certain there are many people that upon moving to another country, particularly the US, have seen dynamics in their family change. Some children may have experienced their formative years in their originating country (India in my case), whereas the younger siblings experience their formative years in the new country. This can contribute to a divide between the siblings down the road, particularly if not managed well by the parents.

I was encouraged to speak English at home, rather than my native Rajasthani dialect. As would be expected, I was eventually not able to effectively speak the dialect, although I can still understand it. Eventually, that contributed in creating a divide as I was the only one speaking in English. I’ve learned about languages that not all words and concepts can be easily translated. There are emotionally-evocative Hindi songs that would lose much in an attempt to translate the words and meaning. From this perspective, I want my children to know Hindi at least. Expecting it of my white spouse is probably a tall order.

It can be alienating and isolating for second-generation South Asians who manage to find some integration in their new country, but are not able to connect with their family of origin anymore. Their family can feel like a club they are not welcome in. As we age and are not able to have the ideal family dynamics we imagined, all is not lost. Rather than focusing on what we have missed out on and do not have, we can create the relationships we seek with others. There are people in the world that want to be paternal or like siblings. We can create our own families biologically and through the formation of our own community.

I intend to be the mother I wanted to have. I’ve thought specifically of the maternal characteristics I would have wanted to see and experience in my life and plan to give that to my children. I can be someone who is engaged, present, nurturing, and involved. I can be the type of sibling I would have liked to have with friends: supportive, caring, interesting, and funny. We don’t control others and their choices; we can only try to control ourselves.

Pria and Maya

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A Bi-cultural Heritage

 Adaptation, Authenticity, Cultural integration  Comments Off on A Bi-cultural Heritage
Feb 112010
 

Since having moved to the US when I was seven, I’ve gone through various phases of adjusting and adapting to a new culture and figuring out what parts of two cultures I wanted to integrate. Some of this has been conscious, some not. There were swings of loyalty. On a study abroad trip to Rishikesh, India in 1990 when I was 22, students could visually see these swings in the attire I wore. One day I would wear a sari and the next jeans. I started the days at the ashram early with a candlelight, reading the Bhagavadgita, which we were studying, and listening to bhajans, with the sound of the Ganges nearby. I had never felt more at peace.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are many factors that play into how people respond to a different culture and to the extent that they adapt. South Asians from India have come to label people as “FOB” (fresh off the boat) or “ABCD” (American Born Confused Desi). I’m realizing that there are many grey areas between these labels where most people from India fit. There are people in India that could be labeled “ABCD,” even though they may never have lived or visited the US.

By the same token, I know Indians that were born in the US that could be labeled “FOB,” and may have just taken a few trips back to the “motherland.” This has much to do with the culture they find themselves in at the time and how this resonates for them at a personal, individual level. As the world becomes more global, there are increasing numbers of Indians in India that live in a very Western world within India, although it may be a stereotype of a Western world. Some of these changes can be seen in portrayals in Indian cinema, at least in terms of what appears to be “cool,” even if many may not live those lifestyles.

For instance, in “Pyaar Ke Side Effects,” dating appears to be common, along with premarital sex (being accepted) and women living on their own. The attire is almost entirely Western, and there is even open kissing! The theme is a typical Western theme, of a non-committal guy and a woman ready to get married after dating a long time, and who is also a “runaway bride.”

It seems counterproductive to try to label others or ourselves on some range of FOB to ABCD. With increasing globalization, it will become irrelevant. We are just people that resonate with different aspects of different cultures we are exposed to at different levels based on our different temperaments and personalities, some of which we are born with and some we develop from our experiences.

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