The ideological division between immigrants and their children

Values are something that are derived from both family and community influence. When these two fields of influence contradict, it can be difficult to figure out where you stand. My parents carry mainly traditional Indian beliefs due to their upbringings in small villages surrounded by like-minded people, but I grew up in the Bay Area surrounded by people upholding Western values. I adopted these values in a way my parents never managed to, despite decades in this country.  


Indian values tend to be more family-oriented and emphasize respect for elders. I disagree in the way this mindset is enforced. I don’t like the fact that I’m expected to go along with whatever my relatives say because they’re older than me. What stands out to me is when my uncle made rude comments towards me when I was 12 years old, and my mother didn’t say a word in my defense. Later, in private, she apologized to me and said that she had wanted to say anything, but it wasn’t right to argue with her older brother, even to defend me. It was an incredibly frustrating experience, one that made it clear to me how much my parents and I didn’t see eye to eye about our beliefs.


I don’t exactly align with all aspects of American ideals either. Where Indian values center around family and community, Americans are a lot more individualistic and about personal freedom. There is no better example of this than the response to COVID. It’s no wonder that our cases keep rising when Americans place so much value on personal freedom and will fight anything they believe even remotely challenges their rights. This inability to break out of the individualistic mindset is very uniquely American.


My own values fall somewhere in between Indian and American ones. Beyond just beliefs, my entire identity feels somewhere in between, a unique perspective only shared by other second generation immigrants. I’ve lived my whole life in the United States, but there’s always been that little part of me that felt slightly out of place. I travel to India a lot too, the home of my family and our history, but I can’t help but feel like a foreigner, an outside observer of people that I don’t belong to. 


Growing up, this feeling of not belonging anywhere had a huge effect on my self esteem. Like so many children of immigrants, I learned to be ashamed of who I was. Being Indian was the first thing I was ever insecure about. As much as I hate to admit it, I wanted to be white. That’s something that’s impossible to understand if you grew up like my parents did, in a country where you looked like everyone else instead of having to deal with racism when you were too young to even understand the concept. 


As I grew older, I learned how to use these struggles to grow more secure in my identity. I had to learn how to defend my identity in a way my parents never did from a young age. A few months ago, my siblings and I were talking about the ever-growing presence of racism towards South Asians on social media. Stereotypes made to ridicule us, people telling us to “go back to our country.” My parents’ reaction to the conversation both surprised and frustrated me. They thought we were making a big deal out of nothing. They said we should ignore it, not let it affect us. I was angry that they weren’t angry. This has become an increasingly clear pattern amongst immigrants: a tendency to be more tolerant of racism directed towards them, compared to their children.


This is a significant example of the difference in mindsets. Indian ideals produce more tolerant and rule-abiding people. In comparison, their children’s confrontation and a demand for change is a much more American response. This is also a result of the idea that we, the children of immigrants, feel like the United States owes us something. We are owed  fair chances and equal treatment. Our parents, however, would never think to demand all of that from this country. The immigrant mindset is one that tolerates racism because they believe it’s a fair price to pay in order for what they consider the privilege of being here. 


 Immigrants and their children both have very different experiences growing up. Neither group can ever truly understand the others’ perspective, creating a division in the way they develop their values.