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Friday, October 8, 2010

by Allen Ancheril, Program Assistant

Please note: The term “American Born Confused Desi” is a term label for 1st Generation Americans born from Indian descent.

I met my half Indian, half Caucasian cousin at a wedding for the first time, and the term "American Born Confused Desi" which is a term used by Indians, for “half breeds”, took on a whole new meaning. The wedding was Carol’s first visit to our Indian “community” where I grew up in Connecticut. Carol was watched and scrutinized, and her every move was evaluated. As the community observed Carol, it seemed like history was as fresh and new as the day the scandal happened, when Carol’s father married an American. The girl was put in the worst possible situation. If she spoke in English she was ‘showing off’, if she attempted to speak in our mother tongue she was being artificial. If she wore a western outfit she was accused of being brought up without any respect and love of the Indian culture, If she wore a sari or ghaghra like the rest of us it didn’t suit her indo-western looks.

From this first meeting of the “half breed” cousin, a host of questions plagued my mind. Aren’t the poor kids being judged for their parents [ill]actions? Instead of being the proud bearers of two different cultures aren’t they being forced to justify each and in a way belong to neither?

In my cousin’s case her father’s inherent "Indian-ness" didn’t let him bring her up as a complete American kid. She was brought up with lots of Indian culture, our relatives, and the same bedtime stories, yet she failed to be completely accepted by her Indian relatives. Though outwardly everything was peaceful, she seemed very affected by the lack of total acceptance.

The main reason behind this kind of behavior in the Indian society is the deep rooted narrow mindedness which is prevalent even today. The only difference today as compared to earlier is that while earlier the differences were out in the open, nowadays it is hidden behind a smoke screen of civility and tolerance. Though undeniably the acceptance level is increasing, it is never total acceptance. The ones on whom the axe falls is the second generation of people many of whom were born out of an inter-racial marriage.

Although the acronym ABCD used to describe second generation Indians is somewhat clever, but it fails to explain the difficulties of being raised with two distinct cultures. Believe it or not, our biggest problem isn't trying to figure out how to do a dance fusing Indian and Western moves to the re-mixed version of Slumdog millionare’s theme “Jai Ho”.

Unfortunately, though, people rarely address what makes my generation also "Confused."

Why does this occur? Is it out of the difficulty of balancing two different cultures or is the pain due to the inability to be accepted in either? I personally have been to India and went through a similar issue, part of the reason; being my fluent English, American apparel and somewhat disregard for certain unappetizing foods, and no comprehension of "Indian life”.

One problem is that we lack a dynamic and flexible definition of what it means to be Indian; instead, we are expected to fit into a narrow mold, and when you don't fit into that mold, problems arise. One characteristic that makes up this mold is religion. Most people of our parents generation, and even many who have recently immigrated, generally define Indians as Hindus. Non-Hindus, namely Muslims and Christians, are seen as people who aren't quite Indian enough even though Indians proudly boast about the religious and ethnic diversity quite visible on the sub-continent.

Not only do we learn a one-sided view of history and culture, but parents usually pass on a rigid version of Indian culture that often makes demanding expectations on the generation that receives the label of ABCD.

Being on the Dean's List, getting high SAT scores and excelling in math and science are seen as essential elements to an Indian's identity. Moreover, parents prohibit their children from heavily adopting American culture. Enjoying superficial things such as pizza, movies and music are ok, but when it comes to serious things such as dating and marriage, parents enforce strict Indian guidelines. Parents are shocked when / if they discover that their children are dating or that they've actually chosen to marry someone whose not only from a different state in India than where the family is from, doesn't speak the same language, “or worse”, isn't even Indian, despite the fact that Indian Americans  live out American culture day in and day out. The scenario is even worse for people born out of what is termed as a ‘mixed marriage’. They are often brought up to know and recognize both cultures. They are as familiar with the Bible as with the latest episode of LOST and Bollywood Movies. Yet many conventional Indian families still hesitate in accepting a child who arises out of such a marriage. They have an ingrained notion that they would be wayward, never mind that they might have been brought up more strictly than their peers back home.

Moreover, parents and the community pass on a sugar-coated version of Indian culture. American born Indians are encouraged to enjoy Hindi films, Bhangra dance parties, but discussing or even acknowledging that social ills such as domestic violence, rape, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and communal and racial tension exist in the Indian community is rare. By avoiding these issues, the community creates a false impression that such issues don't affect the community, and if someone of my generation (or any Indian) experiences one of these problems, they know they will be ostracized by the community if others find out.

American born Indians create dual identities to balance the rigid values sanctioned by the Indian community with aspects of American culture. Indian children often lead two separate lives. For parents and the community, They show the ideal Indian child persona who excels in school, does cultural activities and can only hang out with Indian friends. For friends (and sometimes siblings), American born Indians show their hidden persona who dates, goes to movies, sports events and concerts and is obsessed about whom to go to prom with. ABCDs must lead these double lives to avoid incurring the wrath of their parents and to avoid becoming the subject of a gossip sessions between family friends and their parents social circles.

Although the picture I'm painting for ABCDs might seem grim, there are a number of benefits in having your feet in two worlds, but for ABCDs to fully enjoy them, the Indian community must address the above issues, and parents need to LIGHTEN UP. I'm sure the entire family's honor or the wellbeing of the family's future generations won't be jeopardized if the children bring home a date, receive phone calls from the opposite sex or even choose a profession in the arts, (like I did).

I have to say I can classify myself as an ABD, notice I neglected the “confused” aspect. I was born in the U.S.A and yet I know the necessary aspects of my culture. Do I identify with them like others do? Not all the time. I am a graphic designer, I tried to become a doctor, but realized that was not what God wanted for my life. My parents realized that as well, which helped me develop as a person. Most people are surprised when I tell them I come from an Indian background. If you really get to know me, you will learn that I love Batman comics, volleyball, Italian and seafood. I practice martial arts, something most Indians are stereotyped as not doing.

I eat beef like a hungry lion, and there are Indian dishes I will devour. I speak my mother tongue fluently, yet I have no Indian accent. Are there aspects of who I am “supposed to be” that I do not match up to? doesn’t bother me though. 

Allen Ancheril is a 2010 graduate of Liberty with a degree in 
Graphic Design. He is currently pursuing his Master's in Global Apologetics.
He is a native of Connecticut and has recently moved to Forest, VA with his
family. He has been working for the Center4ME for over 3 years now.
Visit him on Facebook.


Posted at 4:34 PM | Comments (0)