The Asian Indian Experience in The United States

Author:   Parmatma Saran
Publisher:   Schenkman Publishing
Reviewer:   Vinod Kumar
Designation:   Research Scholar, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

 

Parmatma Saran,  The Asian Indian Experience in The United States, Cambridge Mass, Schenkman Publishing, 1985, 131 p.,   ISBN 0706927508, `193.00.

An insider’s account, the book titled “The Asian Indian Experience in The United States” by Paramatma Saran documents the socio-psychological experiences of the Asian immigrants in an urban multicultural society of United States of America.  Based on both secondary as well as primary sources, the book touches upon variety of issues such as identity, culture, survival strategy, generational experiences of the immigrant Asians. The book contains six chapters. The first chapter talks about the history of ethnicity in America and also locates Indian Diaspora in United States. More specifically the chapter brings out variety of cultural and sociological issues and economic life, their activities, habits, preferences, family, religion, education, food and language etc. The chapter also brings out intergenerational continuity and change in a very interesting manner.

The experience of pluralism is not new to the people in some of the Asian countries, especially to Indians. However, the journey to USA is quite different. Since 1607, millions of people from every corner of the world have migrated to the United States which resulted in creating an incredible diversity of people (ethnicities), languages, cultures, and values. The post 1965 immigration legislation brought the new wave of immigration and changed the structure and composition of the population. The legislation provided scope for selective migration of only English speaking and highly qualified people. The underlying intention was to promote assimilation to the process of Americanization as well as economic growth without challenging the cultural fabric of  USA.

Against the backdrop of prevailing attitude of the intelligentsia in USA and the public policy response to it, this study by Paramatma Saran throws interesting light on the issue of immigrants’ settlement. The popular intelligentsia pronounced that the demographic composition of people from non-American culture may pose danger to the cultural, political and social fabric of the nation. This perception was largely supported by the policy makers resulting in the USA’s enactment of uniform education policy promoting Americanization and assimilation . This Americanization or acceptance of Anglo-Saxon values and way of life has been adopted across the country. What Horace M. Kallen calls “melting pot’ and ‘cultural pluralism’,  Ruby Jo Reeves Kennedy uses the term, “multiple melting pot’

 

Policy of assimilation often poses challenges to the identity of a community for the new settlers. The author critically examines the strategies followed by the Asian communities to cope with the challenges of cultural assimilation. In the context of Asian immigrants, the author observed that marriage out of the community were be very limited. The social pressure within the community and family operates strongly against marriage outside the community.  To maintain the strong bond with the community and maintain their identity, different practices were encouraged. Regular visits to India are prized by the community. However, there are generational gap in the way they maintain identity. Those who are permanent citizens, the intention to return back to the home land became less feasible with each passing year and for the second generation who were born and brought up there, return to the mother country become only a remote possibility.

The author argues that America is a nation of immigrants. Along with legal immigrants he also talkes about illegal immigrants, those came to the USA by various means as cheap labour. The main focus of Saran here is to study and examine the social and psychological behaviour of Asian Indians who immigrated to the USA post 1980s. Under the title “Asian Indians: Demographic, Behavioural and attitudinal Profile”, Saran brings out interesting data with regards to social status, family ties and other behavioural and attitudinal profile. He quotes Nathan Glazer- “Asian Indian is a new and rapidly growing ethnic group fed by immigration, with high levels of education, by concentration in the professions by a strong commitment to maintaining family connections, both here in the United States and in India”. This shows the strong sense of identity prevalent among Asians and how they build strategies to maintain the same.

To corroborate the arguments, the book also contains ten in-depth interviews. However, all interviewees are from high caste and from big towns of India. They came to America to study and eventually received permanent citizenship in that country. All are highly qualified (M.A or PhD), and married to Indians from the homeland or from the USA. The selection of people were made on the basis of duration of stay and earning capability i.e. who have spent at least 8-10 years maximum and are earning quite a good money. The time frame of his in-depth interviews are nearly a year. He has not talked much about immigrants family backgrounds in India.

Though the study identified several strategies by the Asian communities to maintain their strong identity at social level, there are new assimilative forces in certain areas. Hindus were quite adjustable with beef and American food, though they try to cook Indian dinner at home. Maximum families are nuclear and feel tense about perceived changes in their children‘s values while exposed to the American culture. Parents are always trying to continue their attachment with their homeland, by pujas, news from India, telephone, letters, visit to friends and hometown in India.

With both empirical and secondary data, the book provides very insightful ideas and throws light on the socio-psychological experiences of the settlement communities in the host land. Though the book is written in 1985, given its analytical and methodological rigour in explaining Diasporic experience. The book continues to be one of the key texts in the interdisciplinary studies.


 

Vinod Kumar, Research Scholar, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email: vinodchoudhary09@gmail.com

Publication Date:   Tuesday, Apr 10, 2012
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