Why many second-gen immigrants distance themselves from their heritage

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Pradip Rodrigues

A while ago I was watching a television program where an elderly Mexican-American woman, a life-long Democrat who didn’t approve of President Trump’s actions wholeheartedly supported the aggressive action against asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border. She had little sympathy for these border crossers she believed were not genuine and weren’t fleeing persecution, hence were mostly economic migrants. The program anchor then spoke about a statistic that showed that upto 11 per cent of Americans with Hispanic ancestry don’t consider themselves Hispanic or Latino, according to Pew Research Center estimates. A surprising number of Mexican-Americans seem to have little sympathy for their fellow Mexicans, this was contrary to popular perception that Mexicans were worried about their adopted country (USA) being flooded and turning like the one they or their parents fled.

I have heard a similar sentiment among some South Asians in Brampton when discussing the recent violence between international students from Punjab. They were worried about the negative light being cast on the community and fretted about how this sort of violence could harm their own Canadian-born and raised kids.

With each passing generation immigrant groups tend to distance themselves from their culture or atleast downplay it. The pride in culture and heritage tends to be strongest among first-generation Canadian and American immigrants and I’ve often found that the excessive pride in one’s heritage and culture shown by immigrant parents puts off their children who are more concerned with trying to fit into the mainstream and in order to do so seamlessly have to downplay their immigrant side.

I was reading a piece on the issue written by a Malayali-American who found to her dismay that a great number of American teenagers of Malayali descent do not share the importance of culture. When she approached young second-generation Malayalees and greeted them with warm words in Malayalam, they were distinctly uncomfortable and soon requested her to stop speaking the language. Their culture seems to be a “burden” on their popularity, their ability to make friends, and an overall embarrassment. They want nothing to do with their rich culture, and instead looked for ways to avoid it instead of incorporating it into their lives. The second-generation immigrant often views their culture and ancient heritage as an obstacle to their social integration. They tend to blame their traditions and culture for lagging behind socially. One second-gen South Asian in Toronto explained why he has distanced himself from his culture after he moved out of his parents’ home. He carefully pointed out that he has not abandoned his religion and doesn’t flaunt his Indian culture like the more enthusiastic new immigrants who flock to cultural festivals and other social gatherings organized by the same ethnic group. These are the immigrants who move in circles made up exclusively from ‘back home’. In his childhood and teenage years he was forced to attend mind-numbing galas where he’d have to suffer bad cultural dances, loud music and other Bollywood elements that passed for Indian culture. After he moved off to university and got independent, he rarely talks about his background and finds it very irritating when new immigrants he meets socially or in the workplace ask him if he’s Indian and then proceed to launch off in Hindi. For this reason he tends to avoid typical Indian immigrants and finds it annoying when they assume he wants to talk Hindi in public. They often want to know the name of the village, city or state in India his family originated.

Lighter skinned South Asians tend to avoid these sort of problems by dressing and hoping to pass off for another race altogether. Many lighter-skinned South Asians I know are deeply flattered when people mistake them for Spanish. One twenty-something girl I know never tries to correct people who mistake her for anything but Indian.

The reason many second and in some instances first generation Canadian immigrant put distance between themselves and their cultural and religious background has to do with how their cultural group or former countrymen are perceived in the world.

For instance Japanese-Americans prior to the Pearl Harbour bombing in 1941 were seen to be deeply insular and tended to avoid unnecessary interaction or integration with ‘Americans’. All that changed following their internment and perception and young Japanese then rejected their background and became one of the most culturally integrated immigrant groups in America. Because of their insularity, few Americans knew much about them and that marked a turning point for the next generation of Japanese-Americans who embraced an American way of life and either rejected or ignored their Japanese ancestry, language and traditions.

I am told that many young Middle-Eastern men in Canada, especially those easy on the eyes try to pass off for Italians and even try sounding like them.

The problem with many new immigrant parents is that they make the mistake of inflicting all things Indian upon their hapless children and inadvertently make their lives more difficult.

It is also a reason why so many young second-generation men and women end up having an aversion to all things Indian or atleast first-generation Indians whom they associate with all the negative things they saw and heard in their own family and friend circle. Do you blame them for rejecting or distancing themselves from Indian culture?

It is time South Asian immigrant parents encourage their children to be proud of their own achievements rather than feel pride for being born into that ethnic background. -CINEWS

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