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Indian Americans & Assimilation Into American Culture

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This paper will focus on Indian Americans and their assimilation in to the United States and its culture. Being a second-generation Indian American, I believe that I can relate to this subject well. I and other second-generation Indians Americans face a unique set of entirely different social issues. I will focus on the main social institutions of family, education, religion, politics, and compare and contrast the experiences of first generation Indian Americans and second generation Indian Americans.

It is a generally known and proven fact that first generation Indians who immigrate to the United States, come in at a higher level of education than other immigrant groups. They already are working professionals or seeking post-baccalaureate degrees. The image of Indians in the United States is generally that they are highly educated, respectable professionals with generally smart children. Indian Americans as a community have the lowest crime rate and the highest earnings, causing them to be dubbed the country's "model minority" in a national survey (Portes, 1996).

Allow me to provide some background information on my family and their immigration history, to give the reader a better understanding of my perspective. My maternal grandfather came to this country in 1965, seeking to earn is Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. This opened the door for my parents to come to the United States in 1983. Being born in India, I was at the age of 1 when my parents immigrated, so I was pretty much raised here in the United States. Presently, a large portion of my family has immigrated to the United States.

As a result of the 1965 Emigration Act, which abolished national origin quotas, large numbers of immigrants from Asia entered America. It was then that Indian Americans became a rapidly expanding ethnic group in the US. This new population of immigrants which had high levels of education, were fluent in English, and educated in distinctly European, particularly British, educational systems. The number of Indian American immigrants grew from 15,000 in 1965 to 500,000 in 1986. Although rapidly growing in numbers, it was not until the 1980 census that Asian Indians were listed as a separate ethnic group (Gibson, 1988).

Characteristics of the Asian Indian immigrants include: development of a network of community ties focused around religion and voluntary associations; participation in a complex social life founded on home, work, and community ties; and strong identification with religion and observance of rituals (Saran, 1985). Saran's research suggests that the Asian Indian immigrants express a bicultural behavioral pattern. They possess resources for assimilation and also for maintaining their cultural identity.

The Indian American community has been growing rapidly during the last 30 years. The US Census of 2000 counted 1.679 million people in the category "Asian Indian," accounting for 0.60% of the total population of the United States, up sharply from 0.33% as per the 1990 Census. As of the year 2000, Indian Americans were the third largest subgroup of Asian Americans, after Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans (Barnes, 2002).

Indian Americans often keep hold of their native Indian tongues, whether it be Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Sindhi, Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Rajasthani, Kashmiri, or any of the other plethora of Indian languages. This is one of their defining traits, unlike many other Eastern minorities that immigrate to the US who attempt to completely merge with the American people, taking on Western names and often abandoning their native tongue. English is usually natural to Indians as it is fluently spoken in India itself.

The family unit and its hierarchy are very important in Indian culture. Respecting your elders and heeding their advice is considered to be paramount. Your elders not only include your parents, but your grandparents, uncles, aunts or pretty much anyone older than you. Showing all of these folks the proper respect (Indian custom) will go a long way in any Indian family. According to Portes in his book Immigrant America, "Generally the authority of the parents remained preserved. The Asian Indian youths have a very respectful relationship to their parents, and acknowledge their life experiences and more mature levels of judgment. The high level of education of parents and ethnic bonds, which create incentives for youths to comply with community norms, preserve the authority of the parents and create sufficient resources to guide the second generations' acculturation."

The first generation Asian Indians immigrated to the United States by choice. It is important to keep in mind that they left India voluntarily for better economic opportunities and not out of cultural frustration. That being said, they brought with them a willingness to adapt into the professional world and also a great sense of cultural preservation. Maintaining the culture of your family and the old country is also very crucial for the first generation Indian immigrants (Argawal, 1991).

The second generation was born into this country; they did not choose it. As they grew up they daily had to cope with different cultures, which confronted them often with opposing messages. They often relate better to their Indian peers because of the shared circumstances in which they grew up. Many classify their closest friends as Indians because of a better and deeper level of communication. They can relate and share their experiences as second generation Indian Americans (Argawal, 1991).

Indian Americans have an active family and religious social life. Most importantly, they always socialize with each other as families. The children are present in social as well as in religious functions. During the first 20 years after immigration all the religious functions were performed in the families' homes. During the last 10 years, these functions have been transferred into religious centers that developed in various places in their respective communities. These children, therefore, were exposed to a large Indian peer group who they met on a regular basis. So it was natural for the new generation to develop a sense of community within their own ethnic group (Fenton, 1998).

Cultural conflict occurred when the second generation Indian Americans entered the public school-system, especially during their teenage years as they often wanted to free themselves from the strictness of their parents' control and assimilate more with their peers at school. They wanted to be accepted by their peers as one of them (Fenton, 1998). I would also like to point out here that cultural conflict can also occur in private schools also. I went to a private school all of my life and faced these very same issues as those faced

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