American Born Confused Desi

We often refer to Indian origin Children living in USA as 'ABCD' (American Born Confused Desi). I find that these children who are now in their early adulthood are not as confused as one would imagine.

Most of them form a very distinct dual cultural identity that is very hard for most Indians to understand. I find that Americans almost take it for granted as they do for Italian Americans, Hispanics and Jewish Americans. They expect that the children of Indian origin will indeed adopt both the cultures with a variable degree of affinity to one or other. Most young adults see themselves as 'distinctly Indian American'. They have very clear view of their own identity.

They are a diverse group with different set of value systems from each other. They do not all think alike although there are similarities. They have very close relationships with their friends of Indian origin and non Indians. They may decide to date persons of other origin, marry non Indian origin spouses or even convert to Christianity but to think for a moment that they have lost their Indian identity by the virtue of these acts is a judgment error often committed by uncles, aunties and FOBs (fresh off the boat) as they often refer to non ABCD's, often including their own parents.
Have you ever talked to youngsters performing professional Giddha or Bhangra in USA? They practice for 16 hours a week.

They are not just Indians, they are proud of their Punjabi origin even though the best teams will have an American, a Gujrati and a south Indian. They accept them even though they are not of Punjabi origin. Raas competitions are performed more intensely in USA than any part of India. 'American Raas' is a distinct form of Raas that is emerging. They like to use traditional and non traditional steps, combine different type of music and western as well as Indian themes. There are many Raas and Bhangra competitions (Dallas, San Francisco, Long Beach, Washington DC, Maryland, Miami, New York, Boston and even Idaho) every year. The 'nationals' under banner of 'Best of Best' have been performed for last four years. Bhangra competitions are even more prolific. Average ABCD takes just as much interest in Raas and Bhangra at wedding as any one in India.

Next is the issue of family values. I see more family commitment in ABCD to the traditional Indian value of helping parents in old age and being close to siblings and cousins than many families in India. There are differences. They do hold the American views of personal freedom and privacy. Often the problem is not the ABCD. It is the IBCP (Indian born confused parents) who are unable to clearly communicate their expectations and educate their children in formative year about religion and traditions because they are not sure what would work best or they are too busy with their own life.
Sexual behavior for ABCD is not all that different from the urbanized well heeled educated young Indian adults. 'Serial monogamy' is considered a virtue. There are exceptions but this appears to be the norm.

Teens do go through a more turbulent time but in most cases they settle down reasonably well. Incidence of alcohol abuse during teen and early adult years may be more common as it is freely available, but then again probably the rate of alcohol abuse amongst this population is rising in India.

One area where these children are more like their American counterpart is in spending money freely. One area in which they are similar to their parents and other Indians is that they do tend to be money minded more often.

I see regional languages disappearing very fast from the vocabulary of Indian youngsters who seem to be really confused. Their Indian English often leaves a lot to be desired. You should see the ABCD's make fun of Indian English. They are dead accurate in highlighting the unusual nature of their English. Most Indian children of higher middle class are losing touch with decent use of regional languages very quickly. What is left is a strange combination 'Hinglish', 'Guglish' or 'Punjablish'.

If you want to understand the psyche of ABCD children, watch American Indian made movies such as 'American Desi', 'Where is the party Yaar', 'Diwali' and 'Bollywood beats' (last two by Mehul Shah). These are early films made by Indians that deal with life in America. Also look at 'Raas' or 'Bhangara' competition videos on Youtube. Visit web site such as 'Netip' (net work of Indian professionals) or ' You will get the picture. Movies like 'Namesake' do not truly depict the normal psyche of ABCD. They are more a product of the warped mind of a writer who is stuck between two cultures and does not truly seem to understand either.

As Dr. Stephen Covey says in his famous book Seven Habits of highly effective peoplel people, 'Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood'.


More by :  Dr. Nishendu M. Vasavada

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