It is very challenging to raise bicultural children who are a part of two (or more) cultures. This notion of being between cultures is difficult to think, talk, or write about. However, the research shows that children who are able to identify with their bicultural identity—their culture (being Indian) and the culture of mainstream society (being American) experience less confusion, isolation, and alienation in school and in life. They are more self-confident and perform better in schools than children who reject one of their cultures. Children who can learn the American culture without losing their Indian heritage have a much better understanding of the world that they live in.
In many Asian families, parents tend to stick to preserving Eastern cultural values. With this in mind, many times, they fail to acknowledge the messages their children may be receiving about the Western culture from school. This often leads to a generational and cultural gap among Asian parents and their children. Many Asian American children feel that their parents expectations are outdated and/or unrealistic. When their children do not listen, Asian American parents feel as though they are too Westernized and that they do not know how to show respect to their elders. Often times, it is merely miscommunication on both ends. It is important to have conversations around what it means to be Eastern and/or Western. When these conversations do not occur in the house, children are often left to make up their own minds about what this means to them and their parents. Children need to have a space to talk about how they are making sense of their bicultural identity and the different messages they are receiving in their lives.
Asian parents tend to place an emphasis family, collectivity, and gender roles. Asian parents often emphasize making decisions for the larger good of the family. However, the Western culture places an emphasis on the individual and being independent. In this way, the values of collectivity vs. individuality are in direct contrast with one another. In schools, children are often told to make decisions based on self-interest. Many Asian American children discuss the intense pressure they feel to choose a career in the STEM Fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Math) or Business regardless of their self-interest or aptitude for that profession. Furthermore, Indian women are often closely monitored and receive less freedom than men because their roles are tied to the honor or izaat of the family. Women are viewed as central to preserving the cultural traditions of their family. Yet, in schools, they are told that they are equal to men and should not be treated differently.
Unfortunately, these cultural conflicts have led to higher rates of suicide for Asian Americans. Asian Americans are much more likely to commit suicide than the average American. In the end, because conversations about what it means to be Indian and to be American have not occurred in many households—many Indian American children feel like they cannot please their parents or themselves. As a result, they feel alienated and withdrawn from both their cultures, their families, and their peers.
It is important to acknowledge that many children don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be “Indian” and “American” because there is no fixed definition of this and each family will have their own views and/or thoughts about this. Through conversations, children can begin to understand how they can be part of both cultures. Some parts of their culture are observable, such as dress, language, food, fashion, and the media (e.g., hollywood/bollywood). However, other parts are more abstract, such as the values that stem from each culture.
There will be circumstances or situations in which they will place a value on the greater good of their family and other situations in which they may choose to do something because of their self-interest. It doesn’t mean they are less “Indian” or less “American” because of their choices. It only means that they have figured out what it means to be an Indian-American by negotiating between the hyphen and as a result, they are able to make more thoughtful decisions.
Helping our children develop an understanding of their bicultural identity will help them make better choices in their lives. By developing a bicultural identity, children are able to pick and choose from both cultures that are apart of their lives. They learn to negotiate values that significantly vary and contrast with one another. This provides them with a very unique vantage point. Children must constantly negotiate and re-negotiate what it means to live in-between two different worlds. Through this process, children will learn how to make decisions more confidently and with a better understanding of who they are and who they want to be.