By Sahil Saboo
Growing up as a first-generation* Indian in America, my parents’ favorite threat when I was being bad was to say that “one of these days we’ll send you to India to live with your grandparents, then you’ll learn values,” and I would immediately fall into line – because who wants to leave their friends in America? I mean, they made it sound like a punishment so we all just assumed it was something we didn’t want.
Our parents’ generation was raised in an era where unquestioning compliance was instilled in kids. You “respected” your family and elders by doing exactly what they wanted even if it was wrong or made no sense. You “respected” their values by not drinking, not eating meat, not having sex until marriage, etc. They were raised to comply without question, and they did. Fast forward to the 80s and 90s, our parents came to America for college and to pursue more fulfilling jobs, oftentimes leaving their country with nothing more than a few bags, a bit of money, and the ideals that had been forced upon them.
They brought that perspective with them to America; when they looked around however, Americans had no such considerations. They saw children disobeying their parents, talking back, using obscenities, caring only about their individual values – all without recourse. The shock and awe of this dichotomous experience forced them to cling even harder to the values brought with them – they had entered a society without values.
Some years later, they had kids – mostly millennials and gen z’s – our generation, the American Born Confused Desis, or as they jokingly like to call us – ‘ABCDs’.
While raising their kids, they swore to uphold the values they were raised with, denouncing the individualism they saw in their new country and attempting to perpetuate the cycle of shoving the unquestioning compliance onto their children, who largely refused to accept it since they were taught in school and society that they were their own person.
What these immigrants didn’t realize was that while they were adjusting to life in the US (holding true to the standards with which they were raised), the paradigm in India had shifted. As India’s fondness for the western world turned into an obsession, the culture evolved. Multigenerational family homes became less ubiquitous. Openly drinking, eating whatever one wanted, and openly dating (a previously taboo concept) became commonplace, especially in larger cities. These changes happened gradually, and individualism began taking over India.
The generation of parents who stayed in India instead of coming to America adjusted to these changes, since they happened gradually and were in accordance with what they believed the modern world was like. The generation that emigrated, however, became lost. They never fully assimilated with the American culture, trying to stay true to their Indian roots and values, but now as they looked at their motherland, people were trying as hard as they could to act like Americans.
Tell me now, who’s more confused – the ABCDs, or their parents?
The Desi Born Confused Americans (DBCA doesn’t have the same ring to it sadly) have spent their lives stuck in a state of limbo. This limbo, however, affected their children even more, because as the world progressed towards embracing Western individualism, these parents doubled down on their traditional values, attempting to force their first-generation children to adhere to a set of beliefs that the rest of the world has deemed antiquated.
Obviously, this isn’t a universal experience, and many immigrants acclimated and assimilated with the western world, but for those who didn’t – or rather, couldn’t, this was an all too real experience.
This intergenerational disconnect is the culprit for many of the sour relationships between immigrants and their first-generation children. Even if it isn’t the primary source of the problems, it will always exacerbate them – since we will never be able to understand the plight of the immigrant, and they will never understand how the world moved on and left them behind.
So next time – when you’re annoyed that your immigrant parents don’t understand American norms – give them the benefit of the doubt. They’ve been through more than we could ever imagine.
*First-generation here refers to the first generation of immigrants born in the US
Sahil is a 22 year old software engineer who enjoys finding the beauty in the nuances of everyday phenomena.