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The South Asian Diaspora And Retention Of Culture In The New York Metro

May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons: Exploring the South Asian Diaspora of the Greater Metro - Two Indian quotes have always attracted my attention. A common blessing at Hindu weddings states "May you be the Mother of a hundred sons". During the intense cricket rivalries one may often hear an Indian fan state "If all of India were to urinate at once, we could flood Pakistan". Although, the conditions of women in India are disheartening and the jingoistic nationalism displayed by both Pakistan and India are somewhat extreme, they are not the focus of this project. Instead, this project focuses on the South Asian Diaspora living within the greater metro area. I wanted to find how culture and nationalism changed or stayed the same after one immigrated to the United States and how it relates to their American born children. A particular phenomenon occurring is the reproduction of national identity at the local level.

Over a period of two months I observed, participated in, and interviewed the South Asian community in Jackson Heights, New York and Southern Connecticut. I found three particular cases that reinforce these identities: the nationalism displayed by both Pakistani and Indian nationals through cricket games, the use of electronic mediums to reproduce the heritage politics of household/power, and finally the relation to the imagined community by retaining and imposing culture on self and children.

Cricket Nationalism

Cricket to South Asians can easily be likened to obsession. Originally a game introduced by the British in India, the sport long outlasted the colonialists. In diaspora communities in the US, cricket seems to have transcended borders of simply a game. It is now a form of national consciousness, community, animosity and friendship.

Since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, relations between Pakistan and India have not been ideal. Three wars have been fought over the disputed region of Kashmir and intelligence agencies of both countries repeatedly place blame on one another for internal and external difficulties such as terrorism and development. Because of the continuality of the 'blame game' for over half a century, increased nationalism and disdain for the rival neighbor have not been left within South Asia. These sentiments transcend borders and immigrate with immigrants, they are part of this unique ethnoscape.

From Nov 30-Dec 4, 2007 Pakistan and India played a 'test match' in Calcutta. A test match is a game that lasts for five days and often results in no clear winner. I had read that the Eagle Theater in Jackson Heights often hosts live coverage of the big games (literally India vs. Pakistan). I could not imagine how anyone could be so devoted to a game that they would follow it for five days. However, what was more surprising was the realization that to watch this game in the United States, you must sacrifice all of your sleep. The games last between six and eight hours (including tea breaks) and begin at 12:00 am on average. One would think that the amount of individuals that would be able to attend such a showing would be minimal (or at least limited to students and retirees). This was clearly a wrong assumption.

I realized the best way to experience the cricket phenomenon was to become part of it. I traveled to the Eagle Theater and arrived at 11:00 p.m. (with my devout cricket fan husband). I was astonished at the amount of people that filled the 450 seats of the theater. Men (2 women, including myself) of all ages, religion and backgrounds eagerly awaited the rivalry game. The men sported flags and shirts that asserted their support for their team. The majority of the men were Indians and about a quarter were Pakistani's. I was interested to find out the fan's thoughts about the opposing country's people and country. The responses were wholly mixed.

In Modernity at Large Appadurai coined the term "cricket diplomacy" to describe the games between the two nations.

India and Pakistan are thinly disguised national wars. Cricket is not so much a release valve for popular hostility between the two populations as it is a complex arena for reenacting the curious mixture of animosity and fraternity that characterizes the relations between these two previously united nation-states.[1]

Was Appadurai correct? Did the competition on the outside only bring the two peoples closer as they sat beside one another in a crowded theater at 2 a.m hoping for domination? Did all tensions between the two erase as both sides realized the common fraternity they once had pre-1947? According to Mohammed Sharif a 25 year old Pakistani-American student

"We like to come together under one building and watch something we love. Don't get me wrong I don't hate Indians or anything, but as the game gets intense we get really pissed as they cheer and taunt us as their team is succeeding, at the end of the day, It's worth more to see India lose than it is to see Pakistan win".

Indian fan Jignesh Pratisk a 45 year old restaurant owner from Brooklyn living here for 20 years stated that:

"It's like a war, but after the game is over there is no animosity. This isn't back home, we get along and live beside each other here, we're all just trying to make the American dream come true for ourselves".

I was curious to know the feelings of the younger generation (who should have been in bed since there was school the next day but cricket seems to have taken precedence). When I asked Fourteen year old Amit Singh about his feelings regarding the game and India/Pakistan rivalry he said "we are rivals in sports, but not in real life, at least in New York". Was this true, had all the raw tensions been left back home? Maybe through cricket the new generation could bring peace and understanding.

Within minutes of Amit's response, a shouting match had broken out between two opposing fans (with the aid of alcohol). Although I could not understand it, it sounded intense. My husband (fluent in Hindi) told me they were calling each other derogatory names and in the meantime supporting their team and asserting its superiority. These men were evicted from the theater as the theater manager asserted that he would not tolerate this sort of behavior in his institution.

I had no plans to stay the entire night, and unlike these fans, I needed rest, but before leaving I asked Khalid Hussein a 22 year old CUNY student born in the US what he thought about the India/Pakistan tensions/camaraderie demonstrated through cricket games. Somewhat angrily he responded "we aren't friends, we're enemies. India treats Muslims like dirt and they kill and rape innocent people every day in Kashmir, the greatest gift we get out of these games is seeing the unhappiness [of Indians] when they lose".

The responses I received were surprising. Both foreign and national born persons had feelings of amity and detestation for their rivals. Nonetheless, it seemed like American born nationals had stronger feelings than those who immigrated. Although, based upon the cheering during the game, everyone from every background supported their team vehemently. Nonetheless, there are literally no reports of hate crimes between Pakistani and Indians in this very "mixed" community.

As I could not attend all five game showings at the theater I had an interest in further studying what Appadurai called "the erotic pleasure of watching cricket for Indian male subjects."

In Southern Connecticut there are cricket leagues that play these 6 hour games every Sunday for approximately six months. Although these leagues are determined by geographic location (i.e. those from Stamford play with Stamford, those from Cheshire play with Cheshire etc) the teams are roughly divided by nationality and religion. The Stamford team includes fifteen players, all of whom are Indian and non-Muslim. The Fairfield team is largely Pakistani but has five Indian Muslims. I discovered that many of the Indians on the Stamford team actually lived within Fairfield jurisdiction but refused to play with Pakistani's and Muslims. I asked Satish Bhagat, (an Indian who had grown up in the Caribbean but has been living in the US for five years) why that matters since this is Southern Connecticut community against community. He laughed at me and said "I know you aren't that nave, we don't care about Stamford or Fairfield, or Connecticut or New York, this is about us and them. Why do you think we have Pakistan vs. India tournaments in the SCTCA" (Southern Connecticut Cricket Association)?

I asked another Stamford player Jagdish Mirchandani if such animosity was just on the field. He replied that "when we go on the field all of our tensions over these expletives goes into full rage. Those five Indian Muslims on the Fairfield/Pakistani team are traitors. How could they forget their own homeland, and all of the bullshit that Pakistan has put us through?"

I realized that most of the Stamford team felt the same way about the Indian Muslims on the so-called "Pakistan" Fairfield team, so I figured the best thing to do would be to talk to them. In the break of an intense elimination round game, I went to the Indian Muslim players and asked them if they knew how much resentment many of the Indians had for them because they were playing with a "Pakistani" team. Alil Khalifa responded that

They (Stamford) take cricket way too serious, this isn't India, this is the US. We play with Fairfield because we live in Fairfield, why would we travel an additional thirty minutes each week for practice when there is a cricket team right here. This isn't about patriotism, they need to get over it, this is about love for the sport. We all love the sport so why can't we just play the game for what it is?"

One player on the Stamford team overheard his comment and said, "Why did you just lie to her? What you all do here is the same thing Muslims do in India, you support Pakistan. You don't care about India you care about Muslims, you should remember Pakistani's don't care about Indians, so why should you care about them?"

In all of the overwhelming display of masculinity that Southern Connecticut cricket is, a few of the player got into a yelling match using their favorite expletive "benchod" (a term that relates to one's sister). It was at this point I realized that nationalism and rivalry between these two countries runs very deep. As I watched the shouting match (brought on by my inquiries) I despised the British for introducing this "gentleman's game" into India.

These cricketers see much more than a cricket game. Within a game they see the past, present and future of their country. They are no longer in a northeastern city; instead they are part of their international community throughout the world linked together by a sport. It is a powerful sentiment of the imaginary. Diaspora support of their country in a game equates to supporting everything their homeland represents. Losing to India is losing a war of ideas, it is losing Kashmir and accepting defeat. An Indian loss to Pakistan is giving an upper hand to those who chose to secede from Mother India, it is a failure to overcome these separatists.

Shaadi.Com and Heritage Politics of the Household

Shaadi.com advertises itself as "The World's Largest Matrimonial Site". Perhaps you have heard of E-harmony or Match.com, but Shaadi.com takes the Dating services to another level. The Hindi word for wedding is Shaadi, hence Shaadi.com's sole purpose is for marriage, it is not a Dating service. Although the marriage seeker has the option of creating their own profile, it is often done by the parents. Originally an Indian site, today tens of thousands of South Asians living in America have profiles.

In India, the trend remains that the majority of marriages are arranged. This has always been the case since the belief is that the parents know their child's personality best. In a "love marriage" parents believe their child's mind is not clear and they will marry someone out of love, not rationale. After all, the most important fact is that "love will come after marriage". The role of marriage and status in the South Asian community cannot be understated. To have a thirty year old daughter unmarried is borderline failure.

The electronic world is playing a newly significant role. In Modernity At Large Appadurai wrote that it [the electronic world] has broken out of the special expressive space of art, myth and ritual.[2] Shaadi.com is reflective of ancient ritual intersected with modern technology in order to preserve tradition. It is an attempt to salvage all that has been lost with modernity.

Some common complaints I hear from Indians living in America is: Indians today have lost all values, culture, religion; they have no respect for elders, parents, country. Yet it seems they have nostalgia for the present. Was the tradition ever really lost? According to the number of matrimonial ad's on Shaadi.com it seems arranged marriages are still going strong (ten million profiles). After all, nearly one million marriages have come from this site alone (50 each day).

One would think that the American born children of South Asian immigrants would automatically disconnect with parts of Indian culture that seem foreign or bizarre (arranged marriage being a key example). Nonetheless, in a random survey of 200 U.S profiles on Shaadi.com of Indian females, 40% were American born and raised whose parents were putting their profile online. Of the remaining 60% who had put up their personal profile, nearly 70% wrote a line that their parents had pressured them to get married and the profile was the result of that.

Family to a South Asian is important. Therefore, pleasing them is sometimes conceived as more important than pleasing oneself. Oftentimes those children who choose to go against family/cultural values face harsh consequences. Choosing a spouse that is not deemed appropriate by the family can result not only in ostracizing and disapproval, but can result in familial banishment. Family honor is one of the most important values in Indian and Pakistani families. Going against a family's wishes is to disgrace everything that represents their deemed cultural identity. While some children will in essence 'do anything for love' most are not willing to 'lose everything for love'.

Cultural reproduction at the individual family unit seems to victimize women the most. They are the 'pawns in the heritage politics of the household'.[3] These potential brides put online by their parents are the sacrificial lambs of a family. Their profile is proof that shows 'our family still follows South Asian tradition". Even the most successful modernized women (by westernized standards) will have her profile put online by her parents. She is no longer the PhD student, Doctor or lawyer, she is a traditional homely girl with a fair complexion.

Shaadi.com reinforces the forms of traditional marriage commodities. Below are some highlighted examples of women's classifications on Shaadi.com (all profiles are posted by parents and live in New York City and have not been edited in any way)

Age: 23

Education: M.A electrical engineering

Personal description: She is slim, fair, smart and elegant looking Her hobbies are to listen to music, watch movies (both Hindi and English), traveling, shopping, going out with friends and simply spending time with family at home.

Age: 26

Occupation: Medical Doctor

Personal Description: Fair Bengali Brahmin, Enjoys movies, Shopping, dancing, lately she has taken up cooking and she is really good at it! She really values spending time with her family and friends. Our daughter Salma is homely caring and soft spoken girl. she is educated, caring person. believe in god. Down to earth likes to watch movies n loves cooking. After marriage her in laws would b her parents

Age 25

Occupation: Lawyer

Personal Description: Attractive and homely brought up with good family values Modern yet religious. Well versed with home as well outside chores, respect family values.

Age: 22

Education: Pursuing M.S in Biotechnology

Personal Description: I'm looking for a suitable match for my youngest daughter. We are a well established, reputable family, living in the US for over 30 years. My older two daughters are married to well known Nair and Menon families and are also settled in the US. The boy should be tall, smart and of a good family

Age: 28

Occupation: US Department of Health and Human Services

Personal Description: My daughter has learned classical music and dance, enjoys Indian movies, music and culture. She is religious and grew up going to the local temple on a regular basis. She has a passion for art and likes to spend her free time with her family and friends. She is currently working at the US Department of Health and Human Services in Washington DC while also completing her Master's degree. She places a high value on family.

Age: 26

Occupation: Doctor

Personal Description: Her preference is to meet individuals who are religious, tall, fair laid back, have traditional values, cultured, family-oriented, funny, patient, enjoy travel, well educated and down to earth. We are looking for someone who lives in USA only, as my husband and I would move to California after our daughters wedding.

Age: 25

Education: She has her Bachelor's in Biology and her Master's in Biomedical Sciences. Currently, she is working full time at a biotech company. Personal Description: We hail from a strong family background. Reena is a simple family oriented girl. Brought up in a traditional environment. She is a God fearing and friendly girl. He must be a non-smoker and non-drinker. And horoscopes must match.

Age: 22

Education: Pursuing Masters

Personal Description: Swati is very Smart in housework and her office work too She has hobbies of Singing, Hearing songs, Doing all creative work.

Age: 27

Occupation: Doctor

Personal Description: she is fair, tall, intelligent with special talent in dance and literature. she is a good looking girl, very sweet and homely and religious too.

Despite all of the success these women may have achieved in career and education, they are diminished to menial qualities that make them presentable to what is considered 'traditional Indian woman'. The family wants to prove, despite all the westernization that 'others' diasporic people face, they have been able to overcome all the difficulties and maintain 'culture', 'values' and 'traditions'. They are striving to reproduce the family as microcosm of culture.[4]

Commodification of marriage is nothing new and Shaadi.com is reflective of that. Women realize that their prospect of marriage decreases with the darkening of their skin.

"Particular physical qualities are always fetishized in constructions of beauty. However, in these communities, the stigma attached to dark color intersects with broader racial discourses in the U.S."[5]

Hence the presence in all South Asian grocery stores of the ever-popular fair and lovely cream. A product that promises fairer skin in days, "a perfect life: a sure-shot at a husband, a super job and instant acceptance."[6] One researcher studying skin color, self-esteem and marriage prospects of the Indian diaspora in the United States found that

"British colonialism in India served to fuel the preexisting light-over-dark ideal by placing the white British woman as the standard of pristine beauty and the non-white, colonized Indian woman as conversely inferior."

Rahman found that the lighter the skin tone or perceived skin tone of an individual, the higher the individual's self-esteem and perception of his/her marriage marketability.[7]

The October 2005 Economist article Made for Each Other stated that "the forces of globalization, which many Indians fear might be the ruin of tradition, can also bolster it." [8]Shaadi.com has played into this perceived aspect of beauty and bolstered a negative aspect of narrow-mindedness in South Asian society. For example, after the essential categories of gender, age and marital status, skin color is the next classification. In fact those searching for a potential bride (or husband for that matter) can narrow down the search solely based on skin color. The complexion color ranges from: very fair to dark. Even those whose skin color in the pictures appeared somewhat dark, not one single profile skin listed his/her skin as dark. Classification past "wheatish" declines the possibilities of potential suitors.

A magazine created especially for the Indian diaspora community Little India did a study on what they called "The White Complex".

"Indian immigrants, living far from home, seem to export their white fixation, along with their achaars, papads and Alphonso mangoes, when they migrate to the New World."[9]

Indian American beautician, Laila Samtani, said she has seen hundreds of Indian women clients of all hues over the years at her salon. She says the fairness fad persists only among the older generation.

"You will never see any youngsters or college graduates using any of that kind of stuff on their face. Nowadays the younger girls are into tanning and don't ask about whitening creams.I think the color bias persists among overseas Indians, especially those who have not integrated into the local culture or society, "

The Bollywood film industry does not help to diminish this melanin prejudice. Appadurai has noted that "Many people throughout the world see their lives through the prisms of the possible lives offered by mass media in all their forms". Therefore any unreal expectations offered by mass media and film helps to reinforce negative social norms. This multi-billion dollar industry (and multi-million dollar industry within the U.S) lacks any stars that could be classified as anything other than fair skinned (with perhaps two exceptions). In one Bollywood film with Rishi Kapoor, he had a very dark wife who actually encouraged and understood his affair with a very fair girlfriend, because she felt she was too ugly to merit his love."[10]Although this is not likely, and an over the top situation, the movie industry does not diminish the prejudice. Within Bollywood the most popular beautiful actresses often have skin color comparable to Caucasians

These actresses personify all that is the perfect Indian: cultured. submissive, beautiful, soft-spoken and religious. On the popular social network facebook, thirty-four groups alone have the title "Bollywood gave me unrealistic expectations of men/women". Within these groups, American raised Indians share their frustrations of the opposite sex's inability to meet the potential created in their mind by Bollywood.

I was interested by the lives of the diaspora through this electronic medium. Nonetheless, I still had a feeling that what I saw online were families who were more 'traditional'. I assumed the way 'liberal' South Asian families assimilated to American culture would be different. Therefore, I decided to visit a family that had been living here for over thirty years and whose children had been born and raised in the United States.

On October 1st, 2007 I was invited along with two other couples to visit a middle class Indian Jain family living in Jackson Heights. Although I would not consider my investigation clandestine I did not explicitly state that I was observing and studying their way of life.

Bhanu and Gita lived in a modest two bedroom apartment with their daughter a student at NYU. She and her husband had moved to New York nearly thirty years ago and their children were raised in the U.S. Despite living in the US for longer than India, the traditions and accent remained.

Once in the home I noticed pictures of Jain Tirtankhers (enlightened beings) and personal gurus on the walls. There were Indian relics displayed throughout the house and Gita was dressed in the traditional salwar kameez. The daughter however, had highlighted hair, colored contacts and wore western clothing. Once we arrived and all sat down, within one minute the women stood up and left the room. Curious to see the reason for the sudden exile, I followed the women into the kitchen. As I assumed, the reason for the exit was to finalize the food that was to be served. I had often read that in India the reason for women's malnutrition is because they eat last and subsequently eat less. The reason of eating last is due to their deemed obligation to serve the family first. However, the situation was opposite this night. The food was prepared and looked delicious and to my surprise, Gita said "okay, let's eat" I assumed she meant all of us would eat together. Instead, all of the women sat down and ate. For a moment I began to bask in some sort of feminist glory, until I realized the ulterior motive. All of the women hurriedly ate and with noticeably small portions. The more I ate the more they looked at me condescendingly, as if I was stealing food from a hungry person. In fact, I guess that's what I was doing. After we finished eating, the women then moved all of the food into the dining room and served the men, and then went to sit down in the adjoining room. Although I was somewhat irritated by this separation I didn't necessarily see a problem with it. Afterwards I asked Gita "why didn't we all eat together". She answered that

"when men are around each other they enjoy each others company and want to talk about cricket and work, and not bother with women interrupting". "Women on the other hand want to talk about cooking and fashion and men don't want to listen to that".

Although bothered by this gender classification I wasn't completely troubled. Then I noticed something disturbing, although the food was sitting on the table in front of the men, and the women were in the next room, the men called for their wives whenever they wanted additional food on their plate. The reason we ate first was so we could be available to serve our husbands.

Next, some of the men then complained that there wasn't enough poori (fried bread) and they wanted more. Consequently, the women returned to the kitchen made the dough, then fried the bread. At this time the language changed from English to Hindi. I later found out that they were complaining I ate too much and didn't save enough for the men.

After the men finished eating, the women promptly took the dishes to the kitchen and cleaned up. Next door, the men reveled in their gaseous aftermath while the women remained in the kitchen and discussed the best way to prepare aloo tikki. Changing topics from regional dishes to Indian traditions, I asked the women if they felt that Indian culture was able to be maintained outside of India. I received mixed answers, but the overwhelming majority stated that it is possible to maintain cultural norms away from the 'motherland' but near impossible to raise children here with the same respect and practice of the culture.

I had a keen interest in knowing the life of these American born Indians. I spoke to Gita's daughter Rani a self described liberal who was pursuing her Phd in Health sciences. I asked her if she considered herself more American or Indian and she said 'American, but with Indian highlights'. She said that she loves Indian food, and music and gives respect to her parents 'unlike American's do'. Nonetheless, she said most of her friends are non-Indian and she prefers the American way on life, but can't escape from 'Indian ways'. I asked her to elaborate on what she meant by escaping Indian ways. She said as a 24 year old female in an Indian family the pressure to marry is immense. Although, she prefers to finish her studies (another 3 years) she knows that if she does not satisfy her parents, they will become very stressed. Unwilling to look for a partner with her busy schedule she agreed to have an arranged marriage. I was surprised that a liberal American born Indian would agree to this. She said that she trusts her parent's judgment since they know her. She said she had ultimate control over who she marries, that nothing would be forced, although her parents did have preferences. I asked how they went about arranging a marriage and she said through two methods: through local community contacts and shaadi.com.

Gita and Bhanu seemed as Indian as Indians in India, but their daughter was not really comparable by most standards to the Indian mentality. Nonetheless, one key component that separated Pratishka from most Americans is the parental attachment and importance placed on their happiness. How many Americans would go so far as marrying someone of their parents choice, just to make them happy? This family is an example of the homogenization that does not occur as a result of globalization. In fact such a threat has reinforced their values, and perhaps made them stronger. Maybe this is part of a "national fantasy" the

"seductiveness of a plural belonging, of becoming American while staying somehow diasporic, of an expansive attachment to an unbounded fantasy space"[11]

Their daughter had only been to India once, but within the next year she will likely be part of an Indian tradition as old as time.

Despite Rani's willingness to let her parents search for a potential life partner I knew that not all children were so obedient. From personal experience I have found that most of my Indian and Pakistani friends often had a significant other unbeknownst to their parents.

Marriage conventions are quite popular with South Asians. At these 'conventions' parents pay large amounts of money for their children to go and meet potential brides and grooms. Accepting some modernization, the parents do not attend. These conventions though, are not so innocent. A recent article discussed how these conventions within the 'youngster community' are actually called 'American Desi Underground'. At these parties "The atmosphere is a cross between a colorful Indian wedding and that of a corner bar selling cheap drinks to locals on a Friday night who are simply searching for one night of "no strings attached" Sex." [12] Not only would such a description be disturbing to Indian/Pakistani parents, but the likelihood of shock would occur after they realized they are paying around $500-$1500 for their child to be promiscuous.

Only single 'desi's' living in America are allowed to attend, and if anyone is found to be suspicious they will not be allowed. Showing the modernization and relative unimportance of caste/religion and background the following credentials are required to enter: Age: who cares Status: unmarried, single, divorced, or widowed Caste: doesn't matter Income: yeah that doesn't matter either FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) - YES American Desi - YES ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) - YES[13]

These gatherings are entitled desi marriage conventions and while some do meet potential spouses there, most return and tell their parents they did not find any good boys or girls there. The disappointed parents will then encourage them to go to another convention. Without much protest the children will agree, in short, both parties are pleased. In the end the American Desi cardinal rule remains: "what they don't know won't hurt them."[14] Such conventions display the intersection of tradition with rebellion. Nonetheless, although the children are rebelling, they do not openly disappoint their parents and will likely ultimately fulfill their marriage wishes.

I opened with a somewhat disturbing quote about a common wedding blessing wishing for the birth of 100 sons. I spoke to Sejal Vyas who is a thirty-five year old U.S citizen of Indian background.[15] She has been living in the United States for nearly fifteen years. She came as a student, married a U.S citizen (Indian) and has been working as a chef ever since. Her Indian accent was barely noticeable and she carried a Marc Jacobs bag and dressed in designer clothing. She said her marriage was a 'love marriage' and both families were happy with the decision that was made. She said the only part of India that still plays a part in her life is her love of Indian food and Bollywood. She described her ways of thinking as liberal and western. She said that for every Indian who attempts to maintain all aspects of tradition while living in the US, there is one who attempts to lose everything and become the 'quintessential' American. Raised as a strict vegetarian in India she said one of the first things that she gave in to was the smell of New York street vendors selling meat. However, this is one thing she never let her parents know, as it would completely devastate them. She says her life here is no different than any American. When I asked her if she was American or Indian-American she said American, with Indian background....she had lost her hyphen, but did she lose the identity as well? I knew there were exceptions to every case, but before I finished talking to her I wanted to know some more about her children.

Sejal had two children a four year old daughter and two year old son. She said she was teaching them Hindi so they could still have a connection to their ancestral roots. She also said their favorite food is chole bhatura (an Indian chickpea dish). I asked her about her children's births and the reaction of the families back home in India. She said both sides were getting worried once she was thirty years old and did not have a child. She had been married for five years and hadn't produced a child, to family back home this is a very rare choice. When she was pregnant with her first child and told her husbands family about it, she said their first question was "will it be a boy"? She had no plans of knowing the Sex of the child until its birth. She says when her first child (a daughter) was born it was the happiest day of her life. She said her husband's family's reaction was not as positive. Although they said their congratulations (and chose the name of the child according to the horoscope) they expressed their desire for a grandson. Two years later their desires were fulfilled and they received a grandson. Sejal also received a gift of $1000 dollars from the family and lots of gifts, something which was absent when her daughter was born.

I had studied gender in India and knew how much a son was desired in Indian society. Not only does it mean the family does not have to pay a dowry but it also means they will have a new asset come live in their joint family with them after the marriage of their son (an extra helping hand who can do the cooking and care of family). While I did not find any specific scholarly research on the topic, I talked to five personal friends who are U.S female citizens of Indian descent and had married other Indians.[16] All five said that her family had given many gifts to the groom's family while they received nothing. One family had to give $3, 000 and a new car[17]. The women said the families do not classify it as dowry, even though it blatantly is, instead it is labeled a "gift". Three of the women also said that after marriage their husband's parents moved into the house, and they were expected to care for them. This shows that even practices banned in India (dowry) still occur in the U.S.

A common saying in India is: to have a daughter is to plant a seed in someone else's garden. This unfortunate classification and system is likely responsible for the ongoing female infanticide in India. Although I could not find any information on the US, I found that the infanticide trend is something not limited by boundaries. The unwanted girl child has transcended borders in the UK. Thousands of British-Indians have had sex-selective abortions, [18] perhaps an unwelcome microcosm of South Asian culture. One can only assume that if the situation is occurring in Britain, there is also a likelihood that it is occurring in the U.S. South Asian Diasporic communities in Britain are similar to those in the US.

Sejal said this kind of behavior is ridiculous. She admitted it wasn't their [Indians] fault. "Culture that has been around for centuries cannot change overnight". She said it is something she just has to deal with. She said she is glad her relatives all live in India so such a type of influence is not put upon her children. Nonetheless, she cannot escape the six month visits of her in-laws every two years (who admittedly give more presents and attention to her son).

Sejal is a shining example of being caught between two cultures. She enjoys and lives the American way of life, but with every phone call and visit from and to India she feels all the progress and work she has done in her time here, is "instantly dismissed". Her validity as a wife is related to her "ability to provide a grandson and feed her husband".

These cases are not all encompassing. Each individual within the Diaspora is unique. The original immigrant at times sees themselves as part of the imagined community and views it essential to maintain cultural identity through means such as language, religion, and tradition. Their abundant fear of losing cultural identity often results in overexertion of cultural norms. Electronic mediums and globalization have actually helped reinforce these identities instead of destroy them.

At times these immigrants feel it is their responsibility to transcribe identity to their American born generation. Nonetheless, from the most Americanized Indian to the recently arrived Immigrant, in some shape or form their heritage identity remains whether through choice or force. The hyphen can be lost, but identity fades slowly.


[1]Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large. Minneapolis: The Public Works. 1996. Page 109

[2] Ibid. Page 5

[3] Ibid Page 44

[4] Ibid. Page 45.

[5] Assisi, Francis. "Color Complex in the South Asian Diaspora."Model Minority.July 2004.

[6] Melwani, Lavini. "The White Complex: What's behind the Indian Prejudice For Fair Skin?" August 18, 2007

[7] Saifee, Maryum. "From "Wheatish to Dark": Globalization, Marriage & Skin Color Commodification". < http://www.jademagazine.com/59iss_saifeer.html>.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Melwani, Lavini. "The White Complex: What's behind the Indian Prejudice For Fair Skin?" August 18, 2007

[10] ibid

[11] Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large. Minneapolis: The Public Works. 1996. Page. 170

[12] Synard, Sejal. "American Desi Underground Sex Parties". Associated Content. March 28, 2006.

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Vyas, Sejal. Personal Interview. November 2, 2007.

[16] The women requested their names to not appear. However, all women are residents of Fairfield County Connecticut and responded to my questions over e-mail intermittently from the period of November-December 1st 2007.

[17] Yadav, Preity. Personal Interview. November 29, 2007.

[18] BBC. "UK Indian Women 'aborting girls'". December 3, 2007.

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