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Who Is The More Confused Desi
by Sudha Chandrasekaran
(Coimbatore, TN, India)

Who is the more confused Desi….ABCD or IBCP…Children or Parents?

Several are the delicate choices that the first-generation parents (IBCP-Indian Born Confused Parent) living in the US face in the growing up years of their second generation children (ABCD-American Born Confused Desi)? One of the most primary questions that the parents face is: Should we just let the children continue to eat the American burger or do we goad them to taste the Indian Halwa. This indeed is a very tough decision!!

What the kids need most is love and affection to a very great extent and it is the most essential ingredient for emotional, social and academic upbringing. But the fact remains that the second-generation kids do not experience the love and affection of family and friends as much as the children in India do. Some parents do feel that children living in India are also exposed to western influence and there is not much of a difference whether they grow up in India or abroad. It is true that India has  adopted certain parts of western culture, but still there remains a good amount of 'Desiness' with the western influence being less infectious than living in the western world. The huge dilemma that is being encountered by the first generation parents is how to amalgamate cultures of both the continents and inculcate it in their children. Parenting is definitely the most difficult job when compared to all other jobs.

All parents start with high hopes of raising a ‘perfect child’ but somewhere along the way they realize that the bar set by them is just next to impossible to meet. It becomes all the more difficult if the task of parenting is to be carried out in places far from your familiar space. Executing your duty in a totally new surrounding puts immense pressure on the parents. Let’s welcome you to the club of ‘IBCP’! However IBCP is not as well known as the ‘ABCD.. Confusion reigns, not in   children but in parents who had landed in the ‘land of milk and honey’ in search of greener pastures few decades ago, ...

These parents want their wards to soak deep into Desiness- whether it is with respect to food or festivals or forms of arts or Indian values or traditions followed in Indian homes... In short the parents spare no efforts to teach the children the “the Indian formula” whereas the children are conveniently immersed in “American concept.” However Indianized the parents are, it is only the rare trips to India which the ABCD makes; the social circle which consists of mainly Indians in which the ABCD moves; and the Indian events that they attend;, that the ABCD experiences some amount of Indianess and familiarity of Indian culture... What more can the parents do?  The moment the child leaves home, he traverses on the path of the local American. This is the point at which the clash of culture begins. American culture is not readily accepted by the Indian parents and their children find Indian culture that is thrust upon them to be alien. ABCD is able to lead a normal life, ignorant of the life of his or her parents and forefathers whereas the IBCP is sandwiched between Indian and American cultures, totally confused and belonging to neither of them.

Amalgamation of two entirely different cultures is not at all easy... It is rather tough to explain what “Indian culture “or “middle-class” values mean to the second generation kids. How can they be taught about tolerance, patience, value of money, respect for elders etc...? They hardly get to see any family elders, or spend their holidays with their cousins or see any financial hardship faced by their parents…. Well, this is the bottom line of the struggle of the parents of first generation – how to find the middle ground or make use of a neutral language that conveys their values and feelings to the children in a way that they understand...

The first generation parents, on arriving in the US decades ago, had carried with them the interdependent traditions, customs, and rituals that are of utmost importance to Indian culture. And that is what they want their children to follow and want them to maintain strong family ties with their folks in India… all this while acculturating into the new host society.  But at the same time, these parents are keen on their children acquiring American values, which include self-confidence, being ambitious and hard working and possessing the self-introspection attitude, which are highly essential in this brutally competitive world.

In addition to all this is yet another key challenge - the parent-child conflict, which happens when there is a discord between parental expectancy and children’s’ preparedness to meet those expectations especially during the adolescence years of children. When an Indian kid turns 13 in America, it is the parents and not the child who show more dramatic signs of change. All of a sudden all things Indian… be it cuisine, culture, relatives... all become glorified to a great extent in a futile attempt to shield the child from the American influence.

This happens more so in the US because adolescent children are very articulate, independent, have strong convictions and a mind of their own… This behavior of theirs proves to be challenge for the parents and is totally unacceptable to them as it is the core part of Indian culture. These adolescents seem to carry the additional burden of such expectations and practices from their parents. Indian Americans love the unbridled d freedom that America offers, but when their kids embrace it, they get panicky and totally disturbed. Hence there is this constant tug of war between Immigrant parents brought up on Dhal and cricket and the second generation children born unto chipotle and baseball. The result produced is one of generation gap and this rift that widens with the passage of time.

In spite of all the social and educational advantages, there this constant undercurrent of stress prevalent in the parents which is associated with acculturation. The second generation kids fail to understand and are totally unaware of the struggles of their parents in a foreign country with their hearts forever longing for their cultural roots. The goals emphasized by immigrant parents include ethical, moral, and religious-spiritual values in addition to their wanting their child to grow up to “be a good and “God-fearing” human being. The parents, being authentic Indians at heart, religiously go to temples, attend satsangs, do poojas and practice reciting of slokas at home. This is what they expect from their children, which many a time ends in disappointment. In addition to all this, Indian immigrant parents exhibit great emphasis on academic goals for children and those who do not match their expectation create a deep sense of disappointment in them...

Sometimes the parents feel totally let down by their children within their community because of their children’s behaviour which is not in sync with the Indian culture... During the school years, the children are found to be most gifted and talented and parents do believe that our Desi culture has a lot to do with their success. After graduating with high academic honors and many other accolades from high school, children are found to be not doing that well as expected in college, and some of them shocked their parents with a total loss of focus and disregard for all the cultural values they had worked so hard to preserve.

Parents fear whether their children would be dating like Americans? Is it possible that they might be able to become sexually active or alcohol or drug dependent? Will they continue to work hard towards achieving their goal or will they be distracted? Our Indian culture is supposed to be a panacea for all these Our Desi culture was supposed to be an antidote against all these distractions and digression. The parents wondered, yet were afraid to find out what was really going on. Nevertheless, the reason for the loss has less to do with Western values than with the way the immigrant parents are approaching this struggle. The children's love and dependence on their parents conflicts with the unrealistic expectations of the parents... Because of this, the second generation kids have no choice but to live a double life. They act as though they have strong belief in Indian culture and values, yet, at the same time, they follow the American concepts and live in a way that befits the American way of life. This double life lead by them makes them feel totally lonely and confused... They start despising the Indian culture which their parents are keen on imparting to them.  The school going kids in their teens complain about having no privacy, and feel that every action of theirs is controlled by their parents. This seems to be unacceptable to them when they look at their American counterparts... Parents, on the other hand, refuse to accept this. Then, when reality hits them hard, their reaction is very unreasonable and tempestuous and the parents are royally confused.

Second generation teen agers feel like prisoners in their own homes...They are literally dragged to  the Desi get-togethers where they do not readily mix with the other Indians present there.. Most of them would huddle together with their own small groups and are thoroughly relieved as soon as the ordeal is over. Yet another concern for the Immigrant parent is about their young daughters during the get-togethers.... The mothers are constantly on the lookout for their daughters, all the while pretending to be enjoying the party chit-chat… The moment she is found missing from the ‘radar screen’ the mothers go looking out for them to find out about their whereabouts… 2