Why second-generation immigrants struggle even more

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Photo Credit: Sonia Saund

An editor at Huffington Post whose articles in the ‘Born and Raised’ series provided a candid account of her struggles, Arti Patel shares her thoughts on how to maintain the balance of cultures. Here are excerpts of the interview.

What is your advice to second generation South Asians facing cultural challenges?
You must have an open conversation with your family. Absence of dialogue is the biggest barrier here. For example, there so many cultural differences for body image. South Asians may use words that are negative like ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ when in Canadian society we are taught not to do that. If parents and family members aren’t told what such references are doing to someone’s body image and self-esteem, then it will just continue. Many people, myself included, don’t say anything out of respect.

Is there a right way to do this?
One should be patient and not do it out of anger, like I did it with my mom this summer. It worked but it wasn’t the best way to do it. You must understand that they are not trying to insult you or make you feel bad. It is just how they were raised.

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Does this affect the way you related to people in school or at work?
Yes, when I was younger it affected my self-esteem and confidence. I was seeing images of what I thought was beautiful and attractive on TV and in movies and then I would go home and hear it again from family members. My relatives told me to stop growing as I would not find a husband. You are already struggling with the fact you don’t look like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, and with this backlash from family you realize that you are not like a typical Indian girl either. I didn’t get out of it till I was in university and adulthood.

Are preferences for dating ‘Whites’ also because of culture?
Our ideals of who we want to date comes back to our understanding of beauty. For young women in North America it is fair skin, slim and nice hair and you aspire to be that. In South Asian culture, there is a race hierarchy and colourism where you value people that are lighter skin more. Girls are told not to get too tanned because they won’t be attractive. This influences who you are attracted to.

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Is it possible to find a balance when growing up?
Growing up was hard. I was made fun of for wearing certain Indian clothes so I hated it. My mom wanted me to wear a saree to prom. I wanted to wear a dress to be like everybody else. I didn’t need anyone to know that I was Indian. That changed as I grew older. People are more accepting of different cultures now. As Indian culture is part of mainstream fashion today, I’m a lot more confident and love wearing Indian clothes when I go out. Balance is about choice. Most Indian kids don’t get much of a choice. You are forced to do all these things. Second generation Canadians only have that choice when we’re older.

Is it a generational or purely cultural difference?
While thinking that your parents ‘don’t get you’ might be common, the reason here is largely cultural. You realize this when you are older— that your parents are raising you in a specific way because that’s how they were raised. When you want to lead a different life because you are not that Indian or South Asian, that’s when the rebellion becomes more.

How would you do it differently?
There are things that I love about being Indian like the food, culture, holidays, sense of family and community. But there are specific things I don’t as well. Like how women are treated sometimes and that body shaming is so common. If I have kids, I would still like to raise them in an Indian cultural environment but without some of the things that I heard growing up. I don’t want my nieces to hear these things either.

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Are South Asian comedians contributing to the stereotype?
It’s okay to have the outlet and space where any culture can poke fun at it. Not talking about it at all would be missing out. Most of their content works because people can relate. Sometimes the issue with the pop culture and mainstream media is that as a person of colour you don’t see yourself reflected. So, it is better than never seeing or hearing a South Asian on TV.

Arti Patel believes that it is important to understand that the experience of second-generation immigrants is different. As a child of an immigrant you are choosing if you want to let go of tradition or keep it. Many readers of the Born and Raised series acknowledged that. – CINEWS

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