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Identity negotiation


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Identity negotiation the perspective of Asian Indian women
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Mehta, Pangri
University of South Florida
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Tampa, Fla
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Gender expectations
Immigrant identity
Dissertations, Academic -- Sociology -- Masters -- USF   ( lcsh )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


ABSTRACT: Traditional Indian cultural narratives are pervasive and serve to typify personal identity and experience. These cultural narratives portray Indian women as a wife and mother, nurturing, obedient, forbearing, soft-spoken, and the primary transmitters of the ethnic culture. American culture, on the other hand, encourages independence, individualism and a more elastic view towards gender. As assimilation theory suggests, Asian Indians in the United States are likely to assimilate at least some degree into American society. Accordingly, these narratives make up the cultural identity of Indian women in the United States. The contrasting cultural narratives shape the identities of Indian women residing in the United States and have the capacity to influence Asian Indian women's attitudes toward traditional Indian views about marriage, culture and gender expectations. Using data from interviews with eleven college-aged Indian women, I examine how college-aged Asian Indian women in a large southern university negotiate their Indian identity in American society. The personal identities they construct are much more diverse and complex than the typifications in the cultural narrative of 'Indian women.' Specifically, I explore how these women understand expectations of dating and marriage, education and independence, and clothing and demeanor, as well as how each of these are negotiated and shaped to fit the personal identities these women are constructing for themselves.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Pangri Mehta.
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Document formatted into pages; contains 68 pages.

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Identity negotiation :
b the perspective of Asian Indian women
h [electronic resource] /
by Pangri Mehta.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 68 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
3 520
ABSTRACT: Traditional Indian cultural narratives are pervasive and serve to typify personal identity and experience. These cultural narratives portray Indian women as a wife and mother, nurturing, obedient, forbearing, soft-spoken, and the primary transmitters of the ethnic culture. American culture, on the other hand, encourages independence, individualism and a more elastic view towards gender. As assimilation theory suggests, Asian Indians in the United States are likely to assimilate at least some degree into American society. Accordingly, these narratives make up the cultural identity of Indian women in the United States. The contrasting cultural narratives shape the identities of Indian women residing in the United States and have the capacity to influence Asian Indian women's attitudes toward traditional Indian views about marriage, culture and gender expectations. Using data from interviews with eleven college-aged Indian women, I examine how college-aged Asian Indian women in a large southern university negotiate their Indian identity in American society. The personal identities they construct are much more diverse and complex than the typifications in the cultural narrative of 'Indian women.' Specifically, I explore how these women understand expectations of dating and marriage, education and independence, and clothing and demeanor, as well as how each of these are negotiated and shaped to fit the personal identities these women are constructing for themselves.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Donileen Loseke, Ph.D.
Gender expectations
Immigrant identity
Dissertations, Academic
x Sociology
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856


Identity Negotiation: The Perspective of Asian Indi an Women by Pangri Mehta A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Sociology College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Donileen Loseke, Ph.D. Elizabeth Vaquera, Ph.D. Elizabeth Aranda, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 3, 2009 Keywords: narrative, assimilation, authenticity, ge nder expectations, immigrant identity Copyright 2009, Pangri Mehta


Dedication I would like to dedicate this manuscript to my gran dmother, the late Madhuben Babubhai Patel, my mother, Dr. Pankaj Mehta, my father, Mr. Girish Mehta, my sister, Bansri Mehta, and all of the beautiful women in my family. I would also like to dedicate this to each of the incredible women who allowed me to shar e their story.


Acknowledgments I would first like to thank the chair of my thesis committee, Dr. Donileen Loseke. Your research insight has truly been an inspiration to m e throughout this journey. This manuscript would not have been possible without you r advice, guidance and support. I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Elizabeth Vaquer a and Dr. Elizabeth Aranda for their thoughtful advice. I am sincerely grateful to each of you. I would like to thank each of my friends throughout my college and graduate school career. Through our shared experience, you have bee n incredible motivators and the most entertaining distractions. Thank you for all of the laughter and good memories. To my mother, father and sister, you have supported me in taking the road less traveled, cheering me along every step of the way. Thank you for being my role models and my cornerstones. You each mean the world to me. And finally, I would like to acknowledge my best fr iend, Paul. With your companionship, encouragement, humor, wisdom and spirit you have be en an incredible presence in my life. Thank you.


i Table of Contents Abstract. iii Chapter 1: Literature Review 1 Identity, Gender and Marriage: The Traditional Pers pective 1 Personal and Cultural Narrative Identity 2 Traditional Femininity in India 2 Cultural Pressures 5 Assimilation 5 Issues of Assimilation for Asian Indians and Amer ican Culture 9 Authenticity 16 Chapter 2: Methods 19 Sample 19 Research Technique 20 Data Analysis 22 Chapter 3: Relationships and Marriage 24 Dating 24 Interethnic Relationships 27 Arranged and ‘Love’ Marriages 34 Gender Expectations Within Marriage 40 Chapter 4: Education and Independence 43


ii Chapter 5: Clothing and Demeanor .48 Chapter 6: Conclusion. 54 Appendices 61 Appendix A: Interview Questions 63 References 67


iii Identity Negotiation: The Perspective of Asian Indi an Women Pangri Mehta ABSTRACT Traditional Indian cultural narratives are pervasi ve and serve to typify personal identity and experience. These cultural narratives portray Indian women as a wife and mother, nurturing, obedient, forbearing, soft-spoke n, and the primary transmitters of the ethnic culture. American culture, on the other hand encourages independence, individualism and a more elastic view towards gende r. As assimilation theory suggests, Asian Indians in the United States are likely to as similate at least some degree into American society. Accordingly, these narratives mak e up the cultural identity of Indian women in the United States. The contrasting cultura l narratives shape the identities of Indian women residing in the United States and have the capacity to influence Asian Indian women’s attitudes toward traditional Indian views about marriage, culture and gender expectations. Using data from interviews wit h eleven college-aged Indian women, I examine how college-aged Asian Indian women in a large southern university negotiate their Indian identity in American society. The pers onal identities they construct are much more diverse and complex than the typifications in the cultural narrative of ‘Indian women.’ Specifically, I explore how these women und erstand expectations of dating and marriage, education and independence, and clothing and demeanor, as well as how each of these are negotiated and shaped to fit the perso nal identities these women are constructing for themselves.


1 Chapter 1: Literature Review Identity, Gender and Marriage: The Traditional Per spective Shakti, a Hindu concept that represents divine femi nine power, is a widespread and commonly accepted image in Indian society. More prevalent, however, is the cultural identity of Indian women as being a wife and mother subordinate to her husband and his family, forbearing to her family, moral, obedient, chaste, and one who upholds cultural traditions and family unity (Abraham 1999, Goel 200 5, Dasgupta 1998, Dasgupta & Warrier 1996, Bhanot & Senn 2007). On the other han d, American culture encourages independence, individualism and has a more elastic view towards gender. Asian Indians in the U.S. are likely to assimilate at least some degree into American society (Inman 2006, Bacon 1996). Multiple narratives make up the cultural identity of a group. These contrasting cultural narratives are resources that can be used to shape identities (Loseke 2007). For Indian women in the U.S. this has the ca pacity to influence Asian Indian women’s attitudes toward traditional Indian views a bout marriage, culture and gender expectations. In the following pages, I examine how Asian Indian women negotiate their Indian identity in American society and their under standing of what parts of Indian culture and traditional Indian female identity thei r parents and surrounding Indian communities believe are important for them to follo w and preserve. I also look into what


2 aspects of traditional Indian femininity these wome n are choosing to retain and follow for themselves. In order to explore which aspects of th e traditional Indian cultural identity women identify with and incorporate into their live s, I conducted eleven qualitative interviews with college-aged Indian women at a larg e Southern university. Personal and Cultural Narrative Identity Loseke (2007) argues that multiple narratives make up the cultural identity of a group. Cultural narratives serve as a collective re presentation for categorical identities with ‘dis-embodied’ social actors. The categorical identities generally associated with family, gender, religion, nationality and ethnicity are constantly being re-created, challenged and negotiated. Loseke (2007) calls thes e cultural identities ‘formula stories.’ Such stories pertaining to ethnic identities serve to re-enforce cultural expectations and perceptions of morality, as well as simplify comple xity. She states, however, that the way individuals make sense of their lives (personal nar ratives) are varied and complex. Accordingly, they do not always fit into a neat and compact formula story. While new stories are being constructed, those already create d become modified or even discarded according to individual and broader experiences (Lo seke 2007). For Indian women in America, understandings of contrasting cultural nar ratives of identities play a major role in creating and re-shaping their personal identity narratives, as they each influence one another. Traditional Femininity in India Abraham (1998) asserts that while the Asian Indian concept of ‘woman’ varies according to region, religion, class and ethnic gro up, the foremost identity of woman as wife and mother is fairly unified. It is one in whi ch woman is defined in relation to man


3 and her capacity to reproduce. Religions and cultur al practices within India have condoned patriarchy and the belief that men are dom inant/superior to women (Abraham 1998). According to the traditional Indian cultural narrative, women are expected to maintain the home and family, and exercise uncondit ional self-sacrifice and nurturance. One line of research suggests that cultural pressur es to maintain these aspects of the traditional Indian female identity continue to exis t. Not adhering to these expectations often translates into perceived failure and dishono r of the Indian community and/or family (Rastogi & Therly 2006, Abraham 1998). The traditional Indian female identity places women in a very restrictive role. Education, for example, is seen as a means to incre ase the social status of women for the purpose of finding a more desirable husband (Bacon 1996, Abraham 1998, Dasgupta & Warrier 1996, Goel 2005). As illustrated by Dasgupt a and Warrier (1996), the immigrant women interviewed reported they were taught to view education not as a tool to increase their independence or move forward in their careers but rather as a means to increase their chances of finding a husband with a higher so cial status. Immigrant women in Dasgupta and Warrier’s (1996) st udy also stated that at a young age they were taught to associate femininity with subordination. Experiencing gendered restrictions and expectations were not onl y accepted, but also expected parts of being a woman. Their families had placed a great de al of importance on marriage, motherhood and religion. This led many of the women to believe that acceptable female roles included only those centered on being a “devo ted daughter, nurturing wife, and sacrificing mother” (Dasgupta & Warrier 1996: 246). Families placed much emphasis on what the wife was expected to do in order to satisf y her husband and family. If the wife


4 adhered to the traditional female gender expectatio ns, then the husband would be happy and the marriage would be a ‘romantic fantasy.’ No such behavior was expected of men. Emphasis was placed on what ‘she’ should be, not on what ‘he’ should be. All of the participants strongly believed that it was the wife ’s duty to sacrifice unquestioningly and yield to all of the husband’s wants and wishes (Das gupta and Warrier 1996). Goel (2005) states that Indian cultural stereotypes of femininity are expressed and reinforced through religion, and particularly throu gh the historical Hindu epic, Ramayana The main characters, Ram and Sita, represent the ideal man and the perfect woman/wife. The story illustrates what is considere d to be the ideal marital relationship: Sita is portrayed as completely devoted to her husb and, irrespective of ensuing danger or personal safety. Through Sita’s role in this story, women are taught not only what it means to be an ideal wife, but also how they must s ilently tolerate adversity. It is interesting to note that while a number of other In dian mythical heroines embody strength and power, Sita, remains the preferred role model f or girls and women who are socialized to become wives and mothers. Sita’s role exemplifie s forbearance, tolerance, and preservation of family hierarchy. According to Goel (2005), these same values are seen as ideals in Indian women today. Indian wives are e xpected to abide by the traditions and expectations of the marital house and avoid any beh avior that might bring shame to the natal and marital houses. In addition to this, prom ises made by the woman and man to each other during the wedding ceremony are vastly d ifferent. Goel (2005) states, “these words illustrate the traditional view of the Hindu marriage: the wife is expected to be the embodiment of dharma and virtue, the husband is exp ected to try” (650). According to Indian feminism, a women’s strength lies in her abi lity and readiness to sacrifice for her


5 family. Cast in a negative light, self assertion an d individualism are seen as reflective of western imperialist influence. In correspondence to Goel’s (2005) analysis, it often means asking them to reject what they traditionally know about being a good wife and participating in/accepting what they were taught wa s shameful. Another example of differences between Indian femin ine and masculine gender expectations can be seen through annual tradition. As previously mentioned, the ideal Asian Indian wife shows extreme devotion to her hus band. Kaurva Chauth, a devotional ritual is a fast kept by women for their husbands’ longevity. During this fast, no food or water is consumed from sunrise to moonrise. Studies show that this is the most commonly adhered to fast practiced by Indian born w omen both in India and abroad. No such fast is done by men for women. Once again, tra ditions reinforce the importance of a devout wife. It also emphasizes the notion that sup port and security can only be provided by the husband, and that motherhood and providing a home life is a necessary mark of a good wife (Goel 2005). Much of the literature exami ning the understandings and attitudes toward adhering to traditional Indian gender expect ations focuses on married first generation women. Exploring how these attitudes may differ among unmarried collegeaged women in the U.S. would be beneficial in under standing how the contrasting, yet prevalent cultural narratives influence beliefs abo ut traditional Indian femininity. Cultural Pressures Assimilation As discussed above, expectations of Indian ideals a re gendered. These gendered expectations are influenced by traditional Indian c ulture, as well as by the lifestyle and expectations of the host country for those residing outside of India. Studies suggest that


6 traditionally Indian cultural expectations have les s of a following among those living in the U.S., and especially for children of Indian imm igrants (Bacon 1996). Thus, adhering to traditional Indian gender expectations indicate to what extent a woman maintains her ethnic culture in the U.S. While South Asian women are culturally expected to be obedient, forbearing, and work for the collective, Western culture promotes independence and individualism (Inman 2006). In addition, gender ed expectations and outcomes are often negotiated between sending and host cultures and communities. While generation is commonly used as a barometer measuring how much one is likely to adhere to expectations of the host or sending country, Portes and Rumbaut (Portes & Rumbaut 2001; Rumbaut & Portes 2001; Portes & Rumbaut 1996) assert that the actual level of assimilation is an important factor to consider. According to Portes and Rumbaut (1996), learning th e language and culture of the host society is the beginning of the adaptation pro cess, known as acculturation. Assimilation is the final stage in the process of i ntegrating a foreign-born resident into “mainstream” society. This transition is measured o ver time and by occupation, residential neighborhood, language proficiency, cul tural adaptation (Inman 2006), interracial marriage and education (Rumbaut & Porte s 2001; Portes & Rumbaut 1996). Assimilation is important to study because it tells us about the individual’s negotiation of identity between traditional ethnic values and trad itional American values. This is important for this present research specifically be cause it allows us to examine to what extent Indian women in the U.S. are retaining their ethnic culture and adhering to traditional Indian views about identity, as well as if and how much they are taking on the belief and values system of the dominant American c ulture. South Asian women in the


7 United States find themselves “negotiating a bicult ural socialization” in two very different social systems. In order to adapt to Amer ican society, ethnic minorities often have different modes of utilizing the two cultures to construct an identity that may accept, fuse or reject cultural and traditional aspects of the ethnic and dominant societies (Manohar 2008, Inman 2006, Inman, Howard, Beaumont & Walker 2007). In doing this, they are exposed to cultural conflicts influencing how they negotiate their identities. This may result in “cultural value conflict” in which be liefs and values from an ethnic origin are internalized along with those held and/or enfor ced by the dominant culture (Inman 2006). Previous literature has identified assimilation as a “straight-line movement” into the economic and social mainstream of the host soci ety, while at the same time losing the ethnic culture and language (Gordon 1964). Many sch olars today, however, do not agree this paradigm. Rumbaut and Portes (2001) conceptual ize assimilation as a varied and ununiform adaptation process. Here, assimilation is t he product of the social context of ethnic family and community expectation, as well as outside influences from the host society. They assert an assimilation model which ta kes into account the multiple ways immigrants integrate into mainstream society to fur ther explain this: segmented assimilation. They explain that assimilation has be come more of a segmented process in which immigrant experiences of integration and acce ptance into mainstream society vary. Experiences of first generation immigrants, languag e skills and acculturation of the parents and children, cultural and economic capital as well as availability of family and community resources to assist with social and finan cial challenges largely affect a minority’s experience of segmented assimilation. Us ing segmented assimilation as an


8 umbrella term, Portes and Rumbaut (1996) explain fo ur ways in which ethnics assimilate: consonant acculturation, dissonant acculturation, s elective acculturation and consonant resistance to acculturation. Consonant acculturation refers to when children and parents learn the host language and culture at a similar rate, and modify their behavior to fit the norms of the dominant society. Parents with higher levels of edu cation and a more firm grasp of the English language are more likely to experience cons onant acculturation as they can better understand and relate to how their children adjust to living in a different country (Rumbaut & Portes 2001). However, the clashing of e xpectations among the host and ethnic cultures can lead to a rise in the awareness of racial discrimination from the mainstream and an increase of ethnic solidarity and defensive identities in order to counter it (Portes & Rumbaut 2001). Rumbaut and Portes (2001) assert that dissonant ac culturation is far more problematic. This occurs when the children learn th e host language at a faster rate than their parents do. This often leads to increased fam ily conflict and decreased parental authority because of differing expectations, and a greater disregard for their ethnic culture. Rumbaut and Portes (2001) argue that worki ng-class immigrants with lower levels of co-ethnic community solidarity are likely to experience dissonant acculturation because of increased economic tension and decreased community validation. Rumbaut and Portes (2001) suggest that “selective acculturation,” a process in which immigrants learn and combine parts of the Ame rican and ethnic culture while maintaining strong bonds with the ethnic culture ma y have more positive results. They believe selective acculturation is specifically ben eficial to non-white immigrants who are


9 more likely to experience higher levels of prejudic e and discrimination. Fundamental to selective acculturation is the absorption and respe ct for key values of the ethnic culture. Conventional assimilationists may view this as havi ng an adverse affect on the successful adaptation to the host culture. However, Portes and Rumbaut (Portes & Rumbaut 1996; Rumbaut & Portes 2001) assert that selective accult uration can lead to more positive psychosocial and achievement outcomes because it be tter preserves immigrant and cultural bonds across generations which give childr en a clear point of reference for their future lives. Consonant resistance to acculturation is the final type of assimilation that Rumbaut and Portes (2001) explain. This occurs amon g immigrants who intend to return back to their sending country, regarding the host c ountry as a temporary residence. In summary, each type of assimilation contributes to a varied and diverse immigrant and minority experience. It is important to consider th e different forms of assimilation, and the role they each play in the negotiation of the f emale identity between Indian and American cultures. Issues of Assimilation for Asian Indians and Ameri can Culture There are contrasting views among children of immig rants regarding the establishment of an Indian American identity. The p rocesses, experiences, and views of assimilation vary according to the individual. Baco n (1996) states that sometimes children of immigrants feel confused and experience difficulties when trying to negotiate between American and Indian cultural identities. An other position held by second generation Indians does not view establishing an In dian-American identity as problematic, but instead sees sharing cultural trad itions and artifacts as a positive,


10 interesting experience. Yet another distinct positi on sees assimilation as unattainable. According to this perspective, despite citizenship, skin color keeps non-white immigrants from being ‘true’ Americans (Bacon 1996). Bacon (1996) and Abraham (2005) assert that among A sian Indians the most visible and dominant adjustment issues include educ ation, dating, communication and marriage. Much of the literature regarding educatio n and Asian Indians pertains to pressure by parents for their children to achieve g ood grades. For some, getting an A+ seems like the only acceptable option. A good study ethic appears to be heavily embedded within the Indian culture in America. Baco n (1996) also states that many second generation Indians feel that their parents h ave a narrow view of what a ‘good education’ means. Medicine, engineering, and law ar e considered by many of the people Bacon interviewed to be the only respectable and su ccessful occupations. Children’s educational attainment and occupations are often se en as a reflection of the family. Education, however, is not considered a significant predictor of cultural retention (Inman 2006, Kurien 2005). Kurien (2005) states that in ge neral, Asian Indian immigrant parents tend to view education as a means to reduce racial and ethnic barriers in the U.S. Within traditional Indian culture, however, educational at tainment holds different meanings for men and women. For men, it is a means to succeed an d find a well-paying job. For women, education is considered a way to increase st atus and chances of finding a suitable husband (Dasgupta & Warrier 1996). Since an increas ing number of women are joining the workforce, and higher education generally leads to better-paying jobs, what deserves further attention is how educational attainment aff ects attitudes about having financial independence and self-sufficiency. In addition, the question remains about the extent to


11 which these ideas are found in the Indian culture i n the U.S. This may help understand a change in the women’s attitudes toward higher educa tion, and if this influences how they feel about traditional Indian gender expectations a nd independence within a marriage. A second common issue in the adjustment to American culture is dating. Between Indian and American culture, dating can encompass a n array of different meanings. According to Bacon’s (1996) research, Many Indian i mmigrants reject dating because it is viewed in a negative light. Indian parents belie ve that it goes against traditional Indian culture, negatively influences their children’s wel l-being, gets in the way of the ideal study ethic, and leads to a degeneration of family values (Dasgupta 1998, Bacon 1996). Bacon (1996) found that the Indian participants she interviewed often equated dating with pre-marital sex. Along the same lines, Dasgupta’s ( 1998) research indicated that the general consensus according to Indian parents was t hat boys only wanted girls for sex. Problems of teen rape and pregnancy were considered enough of a concern to prevent their children, especially their daughters, from da ting (Dasgupta 1998, Inman, Howard, Beaumont & Walker 2007). Although this is a commonl y stated viewpoint, Bacon (1996) asserts that it is not the only one. Many parents a cknowledge that their children are missing an important part of American adolescence w hen they are not allowed to date, but feel unsure about how to respond to this. For p arents who share this concern, group dating appears to be a viable compromise between Am erican culture which accepts and encourages dating, and Indian culture which views i t as a distraction to academics and a precursor to premarital sex (Bacon 1996). Second generation Indians also have varying stances on dating. Bacon (1996) reports some participants as viewing dating as a me ans to get to know another individual,


12 and not necessarily leading to a relationship. Othe rs make a distinct connection between dating and marriage, meaning that dating is done wi th the intent to marry. Still others believe dating to be a positive and useful experien ce as they would not want to marry someone they did not know. On the other hand, some second generation Indians share the same views as many of the traditional Indian immigr ants. Some assert that they do not need to date in order to make friends and that wait ing until an ‘appropriate age’ to date decreases the likelihood of divorce (Bacon 1996). In addition, there are diverse attitudes about inte rracial dating. While interracial dating is on the rise, literature suggests that it is still largely unaccepted within the Asian community (Bacon 1996, Fujino 1997, Manohar 2008, M ok 1999). Mok (1999) states that Asians in interracial relationships with white Americans are not uncommonly accused of having little pride in their ethnic cult ure, and in some cases disowned for dating a non-Asian (Fujino 1997, Manohar 2008, Mok 1999). One line of research suggests that minorities with decreased bonds and a ttachment to the ethnic community and identity are more likely to date interracially. However, Mok (1999) found that among Asians, levels of attachment to the ethnic identity did not prove to be a significant variable determining the likelihood of interracial dating. As illustrated, there are multiple views toward dat ing. The more traditional Asian Indians tend to reject dating as it goes against tr aditional Indian culture and values. Others, however, view dating as a good way to get t o know potential partners. Because traditional Indian culture opposes dating, it can b e assumed that Asian Indians who do date are taking on this aspect of American culture. This is likely to lead to higher rates of assimilation, as well as more Americanized views ab out gender expectations and possibly


13 less traditionally Indian views toward marital pres ervation. Exploring college-aged women’s views on dating would provide insight into the extent that these women experience assimilation, what aspects of the cultur e they are encouraged to retain, and how they negotiate traditional Indian expectations about dating in American society. The third common issue experienced by Indian immigr ants and their children is a disconnect in communication. According to Bacon’s ( 2006) research, there appears to be a general consensus among those interviewed that th ere is a “lack of openness” which prevents both the parent and child from listening a nd understanding each others’ points of view. With a significant gap in communication, perh aps children of immigrants will be less likely to follow cultural norms, including tra ditional gendered expectations (Rumbaut & Portes 2001). Looking into whether there is a communication disconnect among Indian parents and children may also provide insight into transmission of culture and traditional gender expectations and thoughts on marriage preservation, and how they are negotiated between traditional Indian and Ameri can cultures. Asian Indian groups and cultural organizations have been formed in the U.S. based on language, caste and religion in order to t ransfer Indian culture and values from one generation to the next. Indian festivals and ce lebrations have been performed in order to maintain nostalgic cultural traditions for immig rants, as well as familiarize subsequent generations with the ethnic heritage (Dasgupta 1998 ). Kurien (2005) asserts that religious institutions also play an important role in cultura l transmission, ethnic cultural retention and assimilation for Indian Americans. Additionally Inman (2006) argues that speaking the ethnic language and participating in public act ivities specific to the Indian ethnicity also serves to retain the culture.


14 Although multiple cultural centers and community an d religious organizations have been formed specifically with the intent to up hold Indian culture in American society and transmit Indian culture to subsequent g enerations, family still serves as one of the primary socializing agents. Inman (2006) states that many South Asian families pressure women to assume gender expectations that c losely adhere to the traditional Indian family structure. This identity asserts trad itional female gender expectations, placing family as the foremost responsibility and v alues associated with conservative intimate partner relations. At the same time, domin ant American culture imposes a different set of values. As a result, Asian Indian women in the United States might find themselves trying to balance conflicting cultural e xpectations. Finally, in order to understand the cultural and so cietal factors which influence Indian women’s experiences with marriage, independe nce and identity, it is also important to look at the common forms of marriage i n the ethnic culture. Bacon (1996) states that many Asian Indians face pressure from f amily and the Indian community to marry within their own caste, religion, status, eth nicity, and so on. Some parents place a great amount of emphasis on required characteristic s of the potential spouse and have much influence over whom their child will marry. Ot hers however, leave this responsibility up to their children (Abraham 2005; Bacon 1996). Among Asian Indian immigrants, the most frequent ty pes of marriages include arranged and ‘love’ marriages. For arranged marriag es, there has traditionally been the expectation to adhere to customary gender relations As a result, there is a widely held sentiment that these women should and will promote a strong sense of stability and unity in the family (Abraham 2005).


15 However, Bacon (1996) notes a common response to ar ranged marriages from second generation Indians: Many of them feel that t hey should not be pressured into a marriage. Instead they should be free to make their own choices. In advocating against arranged marriages, Bacon states that some second g eneration Indians believe that their parents seek potential spouses that look good on a resume rather than for personality compatibility. In other words, parents value occupa tion, status, and caste more in potential marriage partners than the compatibility of personalities (Bacon 1996). This method of match-making is very traditional among As ian Indians. Although it is becoming a less common in the U.S. and India, this practice still persists. ‘Love’ marriages refer to those in which a man and woman decide to get married on their own accord with little influence from fami ly members. Arranged marriages are still prevalent. However, Abraham (2005) asserts th at ‘love’ marriages are on the increase among second generation Indians in the U.S., though she provides no statistical proportions for this. Also, there has been a small increase in the number of interethnic marriages among Asian Indians, though these are lar gely unaccepted by the Indian community (Abraham 2005). Bacon (1996) states that in general, Indian immigra nt parents desire to “preserve the Indian” and “guard against the mainstream” (25) When talking about hardships faced by living within both Indian and American culture, Bacon states that a common piece of advice given by elders includes retaining one’s her itage, while choosing only the positive from American society. Bacon (1996) also notes that “choosing the positive” refers to educational attainment. Negatives, she states, incl ude, but are not limited to, wearing ripped clothing, using profane language, drugs, dat ing, sex, and drinking alcohol (Bacon


16 1996). According to Mehta and Belk (1991) and the e leven immigrant families they interviewed in an urban area in the Western part of the U.S., immigrant parents feared that each of these could potentially contribute to their children losing their Indian identity. They worried that their children would no t retain their ethnic culture, including language and tradition, and would marry outside of their ethnic group. Critical concerns of assimilation among the Asian I ndian community in the U.S. include those regarding cultural value conflict bet ween Indian and American culture. Some of the major issues include gendered expectati ons, familial obedience and obligation, individualism vs. collectivism, marriag e and dating. Contrasting views, beliefs and morals of Indian and American culture add an el ement contributing to the complexity of negotiating the Indian American identity (Dasgup ta 1998). Therefore, I intend to examine the bicultural negotiation of gender expect ations through educational attainment and independence, views on dating and marriage, and clothing and demeanor to gain a better understanding of how these women are shaping their identities as Indian women. Authenticity Adhering to ethnic cultural expectations versus tho se of the host society has a hand in determining whether one truly retains his o r her ethnic identity (Inman 2006) and thus remains authentically Indian. Attitudes and be haviors regarding dating and marriage, education and independence, and dress and demeanor are all important aspects contributing to the authenticity of the identity of the Indian woman. Grazian (2003) further expands on this notion of authenticity. He explains it as the ability to “conform to an idealized representation of reality” (Grazian 20 03: 10), and in the case of the eleven interviewed Indian women, expectations regarding th eir appearance and behavior.


17 Authenticity refers to upholding appearances and be haviors that represent idealized expectations. It includes conforming to a particula r set of expectations based on how one should dress, behave and believe. In addition, it r efers to how genuine and natural the performance of expectations is, as well as the abil ity to be seen not as the imitation, but rather as the original or traditional. It is measur ed by how well the idealized vision of the cultural identity is represented (Grazian 2003). Am ong Indian women, it refers to beliefs, behaviors and dress. As one assimilates into the do minant society, there is less of a chance of maintaining ethnic culture, including tra ditional Indian gendered expectations (Dasgupta 1998, Portes & Rumbaut 1996). Dasgupta st ates that second generation children tend to hold more liberal attitudes about women’s roles in society (1998), which could perhaps lead to alternate, and potentially le ss authentic views and behaviors concerning dress, independence, relationships and g endered expectations. As a result, I intend to examine what the “authentic Indian identi ty” is to these college women, and to what extent they experience pressures to adhere to authentic Indian gendered expectations and the degree to which they take on a more Americanized expectation of female gender. Exploring this will provide insight into attitudes and the possible cultural pressures they face from the Indian community conce rning dating and relationships, independence, gender and marital preservation. Rese arching the gender expectations and understandings of Indian women in the U.S. will all ow me to explore authenticity and the prevalence of traditional Indian feminine ideals of being a wife and mother, obedience to the husband and nurturance, as well as examine the extent to which these women believe that Indian wives should assume the responsibility of preserving family unity. In summary, predominant cultural narratives of Indi an women construct them as


18 wives, mothers and homemakers. However, because of assimilation and changing images, categorical identities are constantly being challenged and re-shaped. According to Loseke (2007), widespread circulating narratives reveal the real experiences of a very few people while ignoring the complexity of social life. Prevailing cultural narratives also tend to be extremely narrow and unidimensional and so, again, are not adequate to describe the characteristics or experiences of real people. General cultural images are not sensitive to the diversity among women. Typificatio ns serve to collapse the women’s diverse attitudes and experiences (Loseke 2007). As such, I explore how cultural and personal narratives are being re-created among elev en college-aged Indian women. I examine the perceived expectations placed on them b y their families and surrounding Indian communities, as well as those they have of t hemselves. Because prior literature has indicated gendered restrictions and expectation s, I will examine how their experience and attitudes regarding relationships and marriage, education and independence, and clothing and demeanor contribute to authenticity an d their identities as Indian women.


19 Chapter 2: Methods Individuals often draw on their understandings of c ultural narratives to create and re-shape their understandings of their selvesthei r personal identities (Loseke 2007). Within Indian and American culture, gender expectat ions differ and at times conflict with one another. Both cultures have very different view s on dating and marriage, reasons for obtaining higher education and maintaining an authe ntic Indian identity through dress and demeanor. Examining assimilation and ethnic cul tural retention versus how influential the dominant society is on women of Ind ian descent will provide us with valuable information about attitude trends among As ian Indians in America. Sample Because education is highly valued in the Indian co mmunity, Asian Indians are encouraged to attend college. College is a place wh ere students may experience a form of culture shock as they are exposed to many people wi th diverse attitudes and experiences. This could play a major role in the understanding o f American culture, and the re-shaping of a personal identity. Additionally, dating at thi s time is considered to be more acceptable for Indian women. Because many women on a college campus are not under the close watch of their parents, they have more in dependence in making their own choices regarding if and whom they date. Also, this is the age when women typically start being asked by others in the Indian community if th ey are seeing anybody “special,” or “marriage-worthy.” Indian community members are als o more likely to either arrange or


20 ask to arrange a meeting between a woman of this ag e and a potential suitor. Because of this, I conducted interviews with eleven self-selec ted female college students at a large University in a mid-sized city in the southeastern part of the United States. I obtained the sample over the course of three months by asking wo men whose physical appearance suggested that they had Indian ancestry in and arou nd the library their ethnicity, and if they would be interested in participating in a stud y about gendered expectations and identity. Only two women declined being part of thi s study. This is a small self-selected sample that includes only those obtaining higher ed ucation. I in no way claim generalizability, however, I do feel that interview ing college women will provide me with a glimpse of the attitudes toward cultural and pers onal identity narratives and gendered expectations of single young Indian women above the age of 18. The participants range in age from 18 to 24, and ra nge from women in their first year of college up to women pursuing a PhD or a sec ond Master’s degree. At the time of the interviews, six of the women were pursuing unde rgraduate degrees; four were in Master’s programs, including one obtaining a second Master’s degree; and one who was in a PhD program. This sample includes five first g eneration, one one and a half generation, four second generation and woman who be lieved herself to be seventh generation Indian. These women range from those wh o seem deeply embedded in the ethnic culture to those who identify more with Amer ican society. Research Technique My interest was in the attitudes and experiences of identity including gendered expectations regarding education and independence, relationships and marriage, and clothing and demeanor. The most appropriate researc h method for such questions is in-


21 depth interviews. Although a rubric of open-ended q uestions was constructed, interviews took a conversational approach (Kvale 1996). Accord ingly, themes emerged based on what each of the women felt was important to her id entity as Indian woman (Interview topics and questions are listed in Appendix A). Int erviews took place in either private study rooms in the school library or their homes, a nd ranged from forty minutes to two hours long. Through interviews, participants had th e opportunity to talk about various complexities within Indian-American culture and the ir personal understanding of what is expected from them as Indian women. I examined part icipants’ attitudes toward traditional Indian gender expectations and the exte nt to which they feel pressure to adhere to them, as well as the pressures they perceive fro m the Indian community regarding maintaining specific aspects of traditional Indian culture. Being a female of Indian descent and aware of the d ominant cultural narrative as well as the gendered expectations of behavior, my p ositionality as an Indian woman placed me as an “insider” with these women who appe ared to feel comfortable talking about their experiences (Kvale 1996) without having to give in-depth definitions of Hindi terms (such as common forms of clothing and other m aterial markers of identity). While I am proficient in Gujarati and know a bit of Hindi, many of the first generation women also seemed to feel comfortable speaking in Hindi t o convey their attitudes or the commonly held expectations of them. Because languag e reflects cultural values, at times conveying a message in the mother-tongue held more meaning than the English translation. Being an “insider” allowed me to ask q uestions about dominant cultural and personal expectations that may have been overlooked or perhaps not recognized by an “outsider.” Gender, ethnicity, proficiency in Gujar ati and awareness of cultural practices


22 and behavior all served to facilitate a comfortable atmosphere and communication with these women. Data Analysis A majority of the eleven interviews were conducted in English. At times, four of the first generation women spoke in either Hindi or Gujarati, and usually to emphasize a particular expectation or emotion. Each interview w as transcribed verbatim. Data were then categorized according to the interpreted expec tations of the women’s parents and surrounding Indian communities for what it meant to maintain the cultural identity of an Indian woman. These surrounded: marriage and relat ionships, education and independence, and clothing and demeanor. For these women, however, the perception of who an Indian woman is and how she should act does not necessarily coincide with what they are deciding to take on as part of their own i dentities. Instead, the women believe they are more or less choosing for themselves what aspects of the traditional Indian female identity they are holding on to, discarding, and shaping and molding according to their individual experiences and changing times. Wh ile religion and religiosity were mentioned in the interviews, it did not appear to b e a central part of the identity of “Indian woman,” so therefore I will not examine wom en’s understandings of religion. Not surprisingly, gender was the major theme that r eoccurred throughout each of the interviews, including the expectations regarding re lationships and marriage, education and independence, and clothing and demeanor. While each of the women stated experiencing differe nt types of cultural pressures from themselves and their surrounding Indian commun ities to adhere to varying aspects of the traditional Indian female identity, they all appeared to be interrelated. The main


23 theme tying each of them together was attitudes tow ard dating and ultimately marriage. Regardless of their personal beliefs toward marriag e, a majority of the women based expectations of themselves on their feelings about marriage. Though attitudes varied greatly, marriage remains a prevalent expectation f or these women. Accordingly, I will begin with the expectations and attitudes toward re lationships and marriage, and elaborate on how this relates to education and inde pendence, and clothing and demeanor in the subsequent chapters.


24 Chapter 3: Relationships and Marriage Dating Nine of the eleven women stated having a less than open system of communication with their parents regarding dating a nd relationships to some extent because dating is not considered to be part of trad itional Indian culture. This remained consistent, despite immigration generation. The wom en were very hesitant about telling their parents about current and/or previous relatio nships. For the Indian communities surrounding these women, dating is considered to be culturally Western. Others believed that being of an “appropriate age” to date remained an important issue for their parents. According to their families, they are still conside red to be too young to be in a relationship. In addition, dating is something that ‘good’ Indian girls do not participate in. Avani (all names are pseudonyms), a first generatio n Information and Technology student, concisely states a commonly held attitude toward dating: If I want to date with a guy today, [my parents] wo n’t allow me. They’ll say, “What is this?”…That is not Indian culture…I g o out with a guy friend, that’s not a problem. But dating is differe nt. While this was a commonly experienced attitude amon g these women, others had different opinions. For them, dating was acceptable to their parents because they were considered to be old enough to make responsible dec isions about being in a relationship. Similar to a majority of the interviewed women, Lee who introduced herself with a shortened, Americanized and androgynous version of her real name, answered my


25 question about relationships: P: How do your parents feel about you being in a re lationship? Lee: Absolutely no issues with it. (Laughs) I haven ’t had any so far…But yeah, totally fine with it because I’m 24 years old right now, so they know if I am in a relationship, it’s totally called for. It should be. Two of the participants had a slightly different e xperience. Dating was allowed by the parents of Amy and Reena, both of whom were rai sed in the United States. For Amy, a fourth year International Business major, dating was never prohibited and she claimed to have had relationships that her parents knew abo ut as early as grade school. Reena, a psychology student getting ready to apply to gradua te programs, believed her parents had no problem with her having a relationship, but she only started dating when she was in college. Both women had an open system of communica tion with their parents in terms of dating and relationships. In a statement that ex presses the similar attitudes held by their parents, Reena explains: They’re very open-minded with some things. We have a very open relationship in the sense that communication is the re on all four sides with the four of us…so we don’t feel like we have to sne ak around or anything. I know that not many people have that, especially w ith traditional parents. I don’t feel they stifle us in any way. While there was obvious variation in terms of what these women felt was accepted in the Indian community, the majority of t he women felt that dating was inappropriate unless it was done with the intent to marry. This sentiment was expressed most vocally by four of the first generation women. Avani conveys the attitude held by the parents and Indian community: If I say I want to date with a guy…[my parents] won ’t allow me…If you are going to date a person, you have to marry him…y ou can date if you are going to get married for sure…In that case, the y will allow a date.


26 Consistent with Rumbaut and Portes’ theories of ass imilation (Rumbaut & Portes 2001; Portes & Rumbaut 1996), the women in general tended to take a more liberal stance toward dating than their parents, although a t times their attitudes did overlap. Among the women born in the United States, Dhara, R eena and Amy participated in casual dating. While Mya sees nothing wrong with it however, she does not date because she believes her parents would object. However she believes nothing is wrong with casual dating. Attitudes toward casual dating were mixed between the first generation women as well. In general, however, dating was take n much more seriously among first generation women. Five of them stated that they wou ld only date a person if they felt there was a strong possibility of marriage in the f uture. Their responses indicate a modification of casual dating and the traditional a rranged marriage. Avani expresses this sentiment: So, I won’t be like my parents say. I won’t say, “N o, ok. I won’t date anyone. I won’t go out at all.” I won’t do that at all… And in this case I won’t date 10 or 15 people before I get married and uhh be like totally an American, I won’t be like that also…. What I would do is, if I find someone whom I like, probably I will go out… and if things move well for a period of time, well and good, I will probably te ll about that person to my parents. And my parents, obviously they love me, they will maybe admit me to get married. If they don’t like, I will just move on. I don’t want. This is better than getting married to an unk nown person. The known is definitely better than an unknown stranger (laughs). Avani, along with a few other first generation wome n, believes dating is an American concept although it is becoming more accepted withi n the community. Drawing on theories of assimilation, and specifically selectiv e acculturation, dating with the intent to marry combines the traditional Indian values of mai ntaining purity and innocence with American values of freedom of choice.


27 There was variation in terms of what each of the w omen perceived as being acceptable to their parents. Some believed their pa rents were open to them dating, while others felt being in a relationship would not be pe rmitted by their parents. Age did appear to be one of the primary determining factors for wh ether dating was acceptable for these women. Women in their last year of undergraduate wo rk, and those pursuing their graduate degrees were more likely to believe their parents thought dating was an acceptable practice. In addition, there was variati on in terms of how each of the women felt about dating and relationships. While attitude s varied, the women tended to be more open to the idea of dating than their parents. Interethnic Relationships While the women generally referred to relationships between Indians and nonIndians as ‘interracial,’ I will use the terms ‘int erethnic’ and ‘ethnicity’ to discuss the women’s attitudes toward cross-cultural relationshi ps. The women’s interpretations of their parents’ and t he Indian communities’ attitudes toward interethnic relationships were ext remely important to them. While the women told of having different expectations, the ma jority felt that interethnic relationships were generally not accepted among the ir parents or the Indian community. Six of the women felt interethnic relationships wer e something that their parents would simply not prefer. P: What [ethnicity is your] boyfriend? Nina: He’s Filipino….I haven’t told my parents yet… .I’m not scared they’ll say no or anything. I know they won’t say, “No.” It’s just that they’ll prefer me to like, get an Indian boyfriend, or like Indian relationship.


28 But for others, having an interethnic relationship was interpreted as having much more serious consequences. According to Mya, it was a matter of ‘disgracing’ her family. Dhara stated that if her parents found out about he r Filipino boyfriend, she might be made to transfer to a different school. Interestingly, t he women who were born and raised in the United States felt their parents would object most strongly. Mya elaborates her understanding of this general sentiment: Parents are afraid for their children because this is such a foreign culture that they don’t want for children. Because when you you’re in another culture, your background is another thing. What are you? Are you Indian because you’re born that way, or are you American b ecause you are born here and you have to get along with them, you know. So that confusion kind of messes up a lot of people. And you know tha t when some kids do really stupid things and the parents are automatica lly, you know, they grow up, like they raise their kids with certain ru les and say “You gotta do this, you gotta do this, you gotta do this in a cer tain way” so. It just seems like it’s a lot more structured here, like it’s alm ost expected. Not all of the women experienced these restrictions Interestingly, the two women who had families who were more open to interethnic relationships were also born and brought up in India. Not only was this type of rela tionship accepted in their families, but for Mina who is first generation born and brought u p in Calcutta, it was even encouraged by her father. P: How do your parents feel about [you having a non -Indian boyfriend]? Mina: Uh, my dad’s really happy about that. Because he’s like, “I don’t want you to stick just with Indians because you’re an Indian. You go ahead and look.” My mother is still not that comfor table, but maybe because she’s never lived for very long outside of India. In contrast to what was expressed by a majority of the interviewees, Mina’s parents, specifically her father, hold a very different pers pective toward interethnic dating. In this case, Mina’s father did not feel that having an int erethnic relationship took away from his


29 daughter’s identity as an Indian woman. Perhaps her e, it was not a matter of ‘losing her identity,’ but rather developing more of a bi-cultu ral identity. The interviewees generally were more accepting of i nterethnic relationships than their parents. Many of them stated that in the end, it was ‘about the person.’ However, interethnic relationships were not wholly accepted by all of the women. Three women, all of whom were first generation, felt particularly st rong about it. For Sveta, it was a matter of adhering to ‘traditional Indian values.’ For all three of them, marrying within is considered important in maintaining their identitie s as Indian women. Similar to the sentiment expressed by Kaya and Seema, Avani states : P: What about if the person is not Indian? Avani: (laughs) I won’t fall in love with an Americ an (still laughing)….I just don’t think I will fall in love with an Americ an…I won’t date an American…my friend who wants to get married to an A merican…I don’t know why. She says she’ll come to the U.S. next yea r. She’s planning to for her studies. And what I used to say is, “With a n American…no, no way. The culture is different.”…I prefer someone wh o knows my language. (laughs) When you, when you converse with a person who knows the language, my language is Tamil, the bond is more than conversing in English. The first generation women had different levels of acceptance towards interethnic relationships in the U.S. and India. As illustrated by Avani’s comments, the women generally felt that being in an interethnic relatio nship meant either stepping out of the societal norm, or not adhering to cultural values. Four women were more accepting of interethnic relationships in the U.S. because they feel Indians in America are significantly more Americanized, and in a sense less Indian or not authentic. In not adhering to the expectation that Indian women should participate in only intraethnic marriages, authenticity and the closeness of ties to the India n culture were challenged. According to


30 Grazian (2003) it did not conform to the idealized representation of reality. Along the same lines, these same women tend to view Indians i n India who are involved in interethnic relationships as stepping out of the no rms of society. Kaya explains this sentiment: P: Um, if let’s say an Indian girl was walking down the street holding hands with a non-Indian boy, what would you and you r friends think? Kaya: (laughs) What is she doing? Yeah (laughs). De finitely, that’s what I said. They’ll pass comments. That’s what I said to you just now (laughs). If you do something wrong, something weird, somethi ng noticeable, that’s what I want to say. They’ll pass comments. The first generation women who were uncomfortable w ith interethnic relationships believed this is because of perceived cultural diff erences and language barriers. Similar to their interpretation of their parents’ attitudes, t here was also the notion that a non-Indian partner could not be interested in having a long-te rm relationship with an Indian woman. These women assumed relationships with non-Indians were temporary. However, not all first generation women had reserva tions about interethnic relationships. Aligning themselves closer with how they interpreted their parents’ perceptions, Lee and Mina had no problem with inter ethnic relationships. Both did not see ethnicity as a significant factor affecting the ir decision to date or marry a person. For these two women, marrying within is not considered an important component in maintaining their identity as Indian women. Accordi ng to Mina: P: …How do you feel about interethnic relationships ? Mina: I think it’s a good thing. I don’t think race or ethnicity should come into play when you are having a relationship with s omebody. Just, you like the person for whatever his or her qualities are, y ou like that person as an individual. So I think if it happens, well and good


31 For Reena, who was born in Orlando, and Avani, who was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, having a relationship with an Indian pa rtner was a means to maintain Indian culture and uphold their traditions. Avani, who fel t extremely rooted to Indian culture, plans to uphold the tradition of moving to her husb and’s house once married. For her, marrying someone from her hometown and who speaks t he same mother-tongue ensures that she will be able to maintain her identity as a n Indian woman, and uphold the Indian culture and values she grew up with in India. In Re ena’s case, as with a few others who have a strong bond with the Indian community in the U.S., marrying within is more a way to maintain the ethnic culture and identity. Re ena states: I personally prefer Indian guys…it would be a lot m ore cohesive, your relationship, because of living and blah blah blah. Because the cultures, they’re pretty much a given. You don’t have to like figure it out, like how to compromise and how to blend the two with religio n or culture or whatever. In addition to the attitudes held by the Indian co mmunity about interethnic relationships, women also perceived an apparent dou ble standard. They believed it was much more acceptable for men to be in an interethni c relationship than women. For some it was more acceptable because men’s relationships were seen as more of a “fling,” whereas women’s relationships were assumed to be mo re permanent. For others, it was a matter of retaining Indian culture. In traditional Indian marriages, wives generally move in with or at least closely to the husband’s family and begin to follow the customs and traditions of his side. In order to uphold the trad itions of the culture, some of the women stated that it was important to marry within. Avani explains: People in India, I mean, my parents, if a guy’s get ting married to a nonIndian girl, they would say okay. But a girl gettin g married to a non-Indian guy, they won’t accept it…Girls get adapted to what ever the uhh,


32 husband’s whatever. In India, it’s like that…If you are North Indian and there’s a South Indian girl getting married to a No rth Indian guy, it’s like she goes to his culture. This tradition was more commonly encouraged and lik ely to be upheld by the first generation women who appeared to have a stronger at tachment to following certain aspects of Indian culture. None of the second gener ation women talked about this expectation of them. Assimilation literature explai ns that interethnic marriage is rare, especially among non-white first generation immigra nts (Rumbaut & Portes 2001; Portes & Rumbaut 1996).For ethnic immigrants, marriage wit hin the ethnic group is considered important in maintaining their own ethnic culture a nd tradition (Portes & Rumbaut 2001, Rumbaut & Portes 2001). Perhaps marrying intraethni cally is highly encouraged among some of the first generation interviewees because o f the strong traditional expectation of Indian women in India to move closer to the husband s’ families and become acculturated to their traditions. It may be important that women marry within the Indian culture, and specifically their ethnic group, so as to maintain their own ethnic cultural traditions. Most women did experience parental and cultural pre ssures to remain in a relationship with another Indian. Regardless of whe ther the women were born in the U.S. or in India, the majority of them believed that in their surrounding Indian communities being in an interethnic relationship called women’s morals into question, as well as whether she respected herself, Indian culture and h er family. This was not necessarily the case for Indian men in interethnic relationships. A ccording to the women’s experience of the surrounding Indian community, there was the com mon perception that if the woman respected her culture, she would not have started a relationship or married outside of the Indian community. Eight of the eleven women shared this interpretation regarding


33 interethnic relationships and the Indian community. Mina expresses the common interpretation: P: What about if an Indian girl were [in a relation ship] with a non-Indian boyfriend, what do you think other Indian parents w ould say? Mina: Uh, if it’s a girl with another non-Indian gu y, the relationship is such as, I mean the individuals in the relationship it doesn’t matter as much as the girl’s upbringing orit sounds really cornybut her morals, see. How does she think, and all of that. And how i s the family thing really, how does the family react to it. But if it’ s a boy, the focus is more on the fact of the relationship, “Ok, so how, why does he like ”—it’s not like an Indian cannot like a non-Indian, but more l ike “why does he like her ? What’s there in her ?” So. P: So do you feel any pressure from the Indian comm unity to stay with another Indian? Mina: I think so. I think there is. Whenever there is a scene over here, the match-makings that go on is still very restricted t o the Indian community. The strong theme here is that an Indian woman shoul d be with an Indian man otherwise she is criticized for not following traditional fam ily values and morals. The moral values of her family are also called into question. Accord ing to the interviewees, women in interethnic relationships are viewed differently th an their male counterparts. Along the same lines, Mya also states: Mya:…like, it’s okay for an Indian guy to run aroun d with a non-Indian girl, but if an Indian girl is with a non-Indian gu y, it’s like ‘Oh my God, she’s mmm’ (shakes her head disapprovingly). P: What do you think they are thinking at that poin t about the Indian girl? Mya: That she’s uhh, inappropriate…Like, “Oh, she’s a bad girl because she doesn’t respect herself and blah blah blah and she doesn’t want to be Indian” which is not necessarily true…Yeah, definit ely, because yeah, I see it a lot. They expect you to act [differently]… there’s a big difference I think. As Mya expresses, the Indian community surrounding five of the interviewees disapprove


34 of women in interethnic relationships because the w oman is seen as stepping away from her culture in favor of another. There are diverse attitudes regarding the practice of dating, as well as interethnic dating. A few of the women believed there was nothi ng wrong with dating and have interethnic relationships. Others, however, believe d that practicing either one or both significantly challenged their authenticity as Indi an women. Dating and interethnic relationships were for some not only considered to be Americanized behavior, but also un-Indian behavior. In this regard, that which was considered to be part American culture, was also seen as not adhering to, and at t imes disrespecting Indian culture. Arranged and ‘Love’ Marriages The women had very different attitudes toward arran ged marriage. Among the second generation women, arranged marriage was seen as either being too far removed from their lives, or did not appear to have strong feelings about it one way or another. None of them stated holding particularly strong att itudes about arranged marriage. They did not believe having an arranged marriage was a c ultural expectation of them. Dhara, for example, who did not see arranged marriage as a common practice anymore, stated that she knew very little about it and accordingly did not believe that she would have one. And Mya stated that her feelings about arranged mar riage were not coercive, but rather depended on her personal situation at the time. P: How do you feel about getting an arranged marria ge? Mya: Umm, ok. I think that changes on the point, or the moment. Um, because right now, I don’t really care. I don’t lik e anyone anyways...So arranged marriage, umm, ok. If I don’t have anyone in mind and if I don’t care… --obviously it’s not going to be some random [perso n] out of like a catalog or something. It’s going to be someone clos er. So therefore I think


35 I’m luckier than a lot of Indian girls that way bec ause in India you don’t even know who you are marrying half the time…So, as of right now I don’t care because I know my parents aren’t going t o force me to get married or do this or that…But, say in a couple yea rs or something and if I met somebody and I really, really like him, but I d on’t have the guts to tell my mom or dad, then I’m pretty sure my point of vie w would be, “Oh, I don’t like arranged marriages!” So I’m pretty sure it changes on the situation. According to Reena, also second generation, the con cept of arranged marriage has been transformed from the traditional sense of the paren ts finding a suitable partner to parents introducing prospective partners to each other. For her, arranged marriage no longer meant being introduced to someone through family or close friends, and then being expected to marry within a short period of time. In stead the concept has changed to include simply being introduced to a potentially co mpatible individual, with no expectation of marriage. Reena explains: I don’t think, because like I told you, my parents aren’t like ultraconservative, I don’t think it would be like i n the ‘shock’ sense that everybody thinks that “Arranged marriage! You won’t see him until your wedding day!” You know, it’s not something that wou ld be remotely possible in my family. Um, I think that for my fami ly, ‘arranged’ would more mean them being introduced to a guy, somebody who maybe had been brought to their attention. And if like they’r e interested, they might pass on information to me or whatever, and then it would be up to me and the guy to, you know, get to know each other throug h the phone, whatever, like meeting and stuff like that. So I do n’t think—my outlook on that, I’m not too worried. I don’t have a fear t hat will wake up one day and my parents will be like, “Surprise! You’re gett ing engaged today! Figure out something to wear!” So that’s not someth ing I have to think about. But that’s why I’m not too worried about arr anged marriages. Reena does not feel that having a traditional arran ged marriage is likely. The altered definition sees it more as a way of introducing pot ential romantic interests to one another. Using this conceptualization of an arranged marriage not only does she believe that it is more acceptable to her, but also that it is more li kely to happen. For her, the traditional


36 idea of an arranged marriage has been modified acco rding to more contemporary and Westernized views of marriage where she would be in troduced to someone, but it would be her decision to take the next step and establish a relationship. The first generation interviewees had more concret e and extreme attitudes toward arranged marriage as it was more closely linked to their experiences and cultural expectations. Similar to Mya, Avani had contrasting opinions about the practice. In accordance to Reena’s statement, however, Avani’s a ttitude also illustrates a changing sentiment toward arranged marriage. According to as similation theory and specifically selective acculturation, Avani appears to be combin ing the dominant attitudes of Indian and American culture, taking an approach that incor porates the cultural expectations and practices of both. She explains her opinion of arra nged marriage: Uhh, I have two views in this. Number 1, I like the concept of it, it’s good to be like how my parents say. I won’t say that it is bad because that is how the culture is, how the culture is in India, in the place I was brought up. Maybe if I was born and brought up here, it’s a different case. I would say, “Oh my God! They are so primitive! And they’re like being like this!” I would have told like that. But, since I was broug ht up in India, I prefer— ok, being like that is good because when you date, you expose so many things, you tell so many things which is supposed t o be with one person to whom you’re going to get married with. That’s one t hing I like with, I like about my parents views. I’d like to stick onto it. O.K., there’s another thing here, which I don’t like. I don’t want to get married to a person who is, um, who I don’t know. Like in arranged marriage They find someone through someone, through so many relations we find some person, and you don’t even know if he is up to your wave length and if he is a right match for you, they allow up to talk and to date wi th him, what if you get married to that person and in a year I find that he is totally not for me. Then that’s like a whole life is like, “Ugh, I can just divorce him for that.” O.K. So in this particular, your point, I prefer yo u should know a person. And you should go and know well of the person befor e marrying him. The other first generation women, however, take one of two sides: they either view arranged marriage positively or negatively. Nina, w ho was born in India, but moved here


37 when she was thirteen, had a more positive percepti on of arranged marriage; however she states that she would only consider having one in w hat she sees to be an extreme circumstance. Also similar to traditional attitudes about arranged marriage, as well as previous statements, Nina believes that when it com es to arranged marriage, parents have their children’s best interest in mind. As she expl ains: Nina: Hmmm, I don’t think it’s bad at all. Because what if there’s a girl, she’s like 27 and she can’t—not like find a guy, bu t she lives with a guy for five years and he left her. And if her parents can find a better guy for her, then go for it, you know. I don’t think it’s b ad at all. And if her parents like know what kind of person she would lik e, then they would only pick the best for her. So I don’t think it’s b ad at all. P: Yeah. Would you ever get one? N: Ehh, it depends on the situation, like if I am 2 6 or 27 and I’m like, you know. At that age, you can’t really go out to the c lub and say, “I’m ready, I’m single,” you know. You can’t be like that, you know (giggles). So at that point, yeah, I’d consider it, I think. Some of the first generation women also had more ro manticized feelings toward arranged marriage. Seema, for example, sees arranged marriag e as a fantasy in which two people gradually get to know each other. Despite being in college and living in the United States for two years, she still holds very traditional att itudes toward arranged marriage. P: How do you feel about arranged marriage? Seema: Personal level, I find it very exciting. I w ish I would be doing an arranged marriage. I find it very, I don’t know whe ther this is some fantasy about it, but I feel very excited. Parents finding, searching. You have a few options. You, for whatever reason choose somebody. You enter a new life. You start exploring that person, you know. It’s knowing somebody new--their life, their friends. However, Lee and Mina, both of whom have parents op posed to arranged marriage, stand on the other side of the spectrum. Both are first g eneration and prefer ‘love’ marriages.


38 While Lee, for example, does not believe arranged m arriages are necessarily negative, they are not appropriate for her. She and her famil y believe that she can and should choose her own partner without too much help or inf luence from her parents. She will take her parents’ opinions into consideration, but she does not expect to rely on them to find a partner for her. For Lee, ‘love’ marriages a re not only preferable, but also more realistic. Mina too prefers ‘love’ marriages and ho lds a stronger attitude toward arranged marriage. She sees this tradition in a very negativ e light. As she argues: Mina: It sucks. It really does. I mean, how can som ebody else pick someone out for you and tell you, “Ok, this is who you are going to spend the rest of your life with.” And I have seen so man y of them fail, fail so badly. P: What do you mean “fail”? Mina: In the sense that they can’t get along. And i nitially it is supposed to be a good match because the guy does something good The girl is good. It’s all set up. But, and especially I have seen th em fail after they have kids and they can’t reconcile either even for the s ake of the kids. So there is something…I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel qui te right. P: So what happens to these marriages? Mina: Some break up. I mean, they take legal action to divorce. But I think the saddest ones are those where they don’t t ake action. They sort of just live out…I wouldn’t call them marriages. I mea n, they can’t communicate, they can’t talk to each other about an ything without fighting. And I think that that is really, really s ad. The women have varied and complex attitudes toward relationships and marital practices. In accordance to selective acculturation each of them has made a conscious decision about which aspects of American and tradit ional Indian culture they are choosing to follow and incorporate into their lives as well as which parts they have chosen to alter or discard. Modes of incorporation include attitudes and practices


39 regarding dating and relationships, and often play a role in characterizing authenticity. These hold different meanings for each of the women thus resulting in a diverse negotiation of authenticity and the Indian female i dentity. Five of the Indian women believed that among people in their surrounding community, there was a perceived preference between arranged and ‘love’ marriages. Arranged marriages were viewed more positively, as they were seen as a responsible decision made by both the husband’s and the wife’s family. It was also considered to hold more prestige because each of the families was able to discuss with one another what they wanted in a spouse for their son or daughter, and thus had their requirements and expectations generally met. According to Chetana: Chetana: I mean there’s still like “Oh a guy has a love marriage, fine. A girl, Oh my God!” and I don’t have a reason behind it. Yes there is. Like what I was saying is if you are a guy whose son is having a love marriage, it’s okay. But when you talk about a daughter or sh e’s doing a love marriage, it’s like “Oh my God.” You still have, no t everyone does it, but you still have people saying that you know, “That’s …different.” P: Tell me more about that sentiment. Chetana: See, in a way girls are still allowed to d o everything. But it’s still in a way still expected to hold on to you know, um, what the family wants. To marry a guy that the parents think is right for her, I guess. According to Chetana, the woman is still expected t o follow what her family wants. Other women expressed placing varied amounts of importanc e on making decisions with their parents’ wishes in mind. This suggests the presence of segmented assimilation. Although for some this serves as another indication of a gen dered expectation of obedience to their families and upholding cultural tradition, it also illustrates that women are incorporating American cultural norms and expectations into their personal identities.


40 Gender Expectations Within Marriage While there are gendered expectations throughout th e Indian community, the interviewed college women are re-defining gender wi thin marriage. Keeping in mind that this is a self-selected sample of college and gradu ate school students, not all women believed that becoming a wife and mother are integr al components of who the modern day Indian woman is and should be. Instead, some wo men believe that in addition to having a family, a career is vital. Indeed, for thr ee of the first and second generation women, marriage did not appear to be an integral as pect of their identities as Indian women. To them, having a satisfying career is much more fulfilling. They believe that being a wife and mother is not essential to womanho od and that in fact it sometimes serves to restrict goals. According to Mina: You should concentrate on your work and career or w hatever. And if you find someone along the way, and you are willing to take that responsibility, then definitely settle down. But no it’s not that somebody should get married and somebody should focus on the ir career. In the same vein, an exchange with Lee illustrates a similar sentiment: P: So when you get married, what are you going to d o? Lee: If I get married— Different from traditional expectations, Mina and L ee convey a very different message about what it means to be an Indian woman. For them being a wife and mother is not vital to their identities as Indian women. Instead, having an established career and independence carries much more importance for them. On the other hand, Avani asserts that women should not live alone. In response to a question about unmarried women, she stresses how important it is for women to have


41 families of their own: You can’t survive alone in this world. [A woman] ne eds protection…There are cases where there are girls wh o are not married. They live as spinsters, but they are professionally attached. They are professionally attached to their jobs. They will be very much keying in on their job. They prefer to be alone and without a fa mily. And they are actually good….So you know, spinsters…there is a po int with them that they will feel, “I should have got married. I shoul d have had a family of my own.” According to Avani, a woman should not live on her own, a sentiment reminiscent of traditional Indian views that women need to be taken care of. In addition, she strongly feels that being a wife and mother is integral to w omanhood. For her, unmarried women are seen as being lonely and regretting their choic e to be single. Along the same lines, for most of the other women, getting married, having children and being the primary provider of home lif e are extremely important. They undoubtedly plan to work and do not intend on givin g up their careers in order to raise a family. In accordance with their understandings of the expectations of their surrounding Indian communities, many still consider being a hom emaker a primary responsibility of theirs and women in general. Chetana asserts that t his role is innate to women— it is “in their genes.” She feels that women are naturally more inclined to take care of children and as a result are the primary child care-givers. She does not consider this as an issue of gender inequality, but rather a responsibility for women because of their “natural ability.” Reena also states: I still feel like the women should provide some sor t of basic home life in the family in the sense that there should be cleanl iness in the house, organization in the house, whatever, and if you hav e kids, you know, general upbringing of the kids. But I think you can do that, um, while having a career. Like, I don’t think I will ever gi ve up my career just to raise my family. Like, I’d like for me to be financ ially secure so I can take


42 maybe a year or two off to raise a baby, but if I h ad to stay at home and be a housewife, I would not have that at all. While the women have different attitudes toward re lationships, marriage and family, it is clear that the traditional Indian fem ale gender expectation is slowly transforming. Regardless of generation, patterns of acculturation suggest that women taking on the culture and belief system of the Unit ed States are more likely to be accepting of dating, ‘love’ marriages, interethnic relationships and non-traditional roles of gender and marriage. Instead of accepting and fo llowing the traditional customs and expectations of Indian culture, the women are moldi ng aspects of the traditional gender expectations according to assimilation into America n society, resulting in the molding of their own identities.


43 Chapter 4: Education and Independence Undoubtedly, education is a very important aspect t hese women’s identities as they are all in either undergraduate or graduate sc hool. Each of these women has high career aspirations, including pursuing post-graduat e degrees and education for some has a tremendous influence in how they view themselves. L ee, who is pursuing her second Master’s degree in Communications, makes this point most explicitly: (regarding a few of her friends from India who “we nt completely wild” after coming to the U.S.) … it’s just this whole th ing of creating an impression that we fit in. It’s pretty shocking to me. I didn’t understand at first because they were all graduate students. Most of them were PhD students. There is no necessity to create an impres sion anymore, your degree says it all, you know what I mean? Attitudes about education held different meanings f or men and women. For many first generation women, access to education was con sidered an important step toward gender equality. For some of them, access to educat ion signified gender equality. Historically, the right to an education has not bee n equally afforded to both men and women. Chetana states that if men and women were no t treated equally today, they would not be granted the same education opportunities. Ac cordingly, she believes that malefemale gender expectations are different, but still egalitarian. In addition to education and holding a career, she has accepted the expectation that women should be wives and mothers. As expressed by Chetana:


44 P: In terms of Indian men and Indian women, do you feel they are treated equally? Chetana: Yeah. I mean you have an equal number of b oys and an equal number of girls coming to the U.S. for studies. If they weren’t treated equally, they wouldn’t send the girls or they would n’t send the boys. They are. Everyone is given equal opportunity to develop themselves…Um, today there is like no field where the Indian woman is not there, and um, I guess it’s more like being an Indian woman or being an Indian man is more or less the same thing. The only thing is that being a woman, you kind of have more responsibilities being toward the family and toward the house compared to the man. Other first generation women conversely believe tha t restrictions are placed on the value of a woman’s education. Because these wom en perceived expectations of a housewife and mother once married, little value is placed on their degree. Lee states: Lee: I know people who got a bachelor’s…then got a PhD, taught for a couple of years, then got married. And their husban d’s only have a bachelor’s degree. P: How do you feel about that? Lee: I don’t feel good about it at all. It absolute ly sucks. Because my professors are all brilliant. They’ve done their Ph D not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Not to make any mon ey off of it. They wanted to because they are such academically, highl y intellectual people. And um, I think it really sucks that in a place whe re education is given such importance, educational qualifications, it’s t he first thing you put on your resume, this is the kind of thing that happens With the man and his Bachelor’s degree, that’s enough. But she has her PhD. You know what I mean? Because Lee views education as being integral to th e identity of an individual, she equates marrying someone with a lower level of educ ation to “marrying down.” In her experience, women all too often have had to accept who their families expected them to marry, even though educational attainment was consi dered a status mobilizer and a means to increase the validity of self-decision-mak ing. In addition, even though all


45 women interviewed were in undergraduate or post-gra duate programs, many of them acknowledge feeling pressures to continue with the traditional male-female gender expectations. This was especially apparent among th e first generation women who came to the United States specifically for college. Whil e three of the women mentioned that despite their schooling, they were ultimately expec ted to be housewives, Mina was particularly vocal about this: They (referring to the surrounding Indian community from her hometown in India ) are like, (imitating a more complacent a nd docile tone) “Yeah ok, so you do a Master’s, maybe you get into a PhD. Chances are you are going to be teaching, or maybe you’ll get into a pu blishing house.” (back to normal tone) That’s as much as they think of wom en in India. But you’ll get married, you’ll have kids and you’ll set tle down with a husband like that. But as far as men go, they think they ar e more ambitious, and that it’s okay for them to be more ambitious. So, I think, I, I personally felt that…It’s a little offensive when you are told that way. For women having arranged marriages, Lee states tha t there is an expectation for women to become housewives. This is a strong theme regard less of generation and education and is a sentiment acknowledged by most of the women in terviewed. As Lee puts it: Lee: If you have a Master’s from America and you ar e having an arranged marriage, right, probably the girl will say, “I hav e to work because I have spent so much time studying in the U.S. I need to w ork and pay off those dues or at least get some experience; otherwise my education will go to waste.” It’s understandable, but work for “some tim e.” That’s the clause. Um, eventually she is expected to end up as a house wife. She is expected to take care of the house. P: Is there that same expectation if the woman gets a PhD in India? Lee: Yeah. Yeah, pretty much. Kaya feels similarly, and sees this as a common exp ectation of women, despite the marriage type and the level of education for either spouse. All three women are born and raised in India, yet have very different a percepti on of what they believe is expected of


46 them. Their individual experiences and understandin gs of what it means to ‘follow Indian culture’ differ, indicating that their identities a re much more diverse and complex than the cultural images of “Indian women.” Education could be linked to how women viewed relat ionships and marriage, and was specifically seen as a means to increase their status for the purpose of finding a husband. Consistent with literature on Asian Indian s, education and marriage, attaining higher education was valued for increasing their ma rketability, and ultimately award them more power to have greater input in finding a partner (Abraham 2005, Bacon 1996). Although not addressed explicitly, women believed t hat because of their education level, they ‘did not deserve’ certain types of behavior. A ccording to Avani: Physical abuse…you know, I have studied so much. Wh y should I be under him and why should I suffer under him like th at. The excerpt above illustrates that having a high ed ucation level gives women more credibility in making choices, such as divorce they believe would otherwise be criticized by the Indian community. The individual is seen as being capable of making the right decisions pertaining to personal relationships as their education level increases. Several women talked of having a tremendous amount of encouragement from their parents to maintain financial independence be fore and after a marriage for similar reasons. While divorce is not as accepted within In dian culture as it is in American culture, being financially self-sufficient is consi dered by the Indian community to be the most important form of independence for women and m en. Both first and second generation women stated that financial independence was encouraged so that relying on a spouse for financial reasons did not become a prima ry factor in staying in a troubled


47 marriage. Similar to the attitude that was conveyed to four of the women by their parents, Dhara said: My mom really wants me to be independent and have m y own finances and stuff, just so if he happens to be a d--che, I can just leave him and it won’t be a matter of money. Education was also linked to attitudes about indepe ndence. In contrast to their parents, the women viewed independence as being mor e than just financial selfsufficiency. For most of the first and second gener ation women, independence included being educated, having a career and knowing how to take care of themselves. In addition, when asked about their plans for the future, plans for higher education or their careers often preceded talk of marriage and family. This ma y indicate that for these women, perhaps educational attainment, having a steady car eer and establishing independence is gaining importance to their identities as Indian wo men, in addition to having a family. This perspective stands in opposition to the more t raditional role in which the Indian woman is viewed as being forbearing, subservient an d obedient to her husband. It also opposes the widely held notion that women are expec ted to remain in a marriage regardless of marital troubles. It gives the Indian woman more self-autonomy and freedom to make life choices that would have tradit ionally been made for her.


48 Chapter 5: Clothing and Demeanor Clothing and demeanor were also mentioned as contri buting to the identity of Indian women. When interviewed, each of the women w ore Western clothing: jeans, sweatpants, button downs and/or t-shirts, sneakers or sandals. The only material marker of Indian identity worn was traditional Indian brig ht gold jewelry including earrings, necklaces, bangles, anklets and nose rings. The mos t commonly worn pieces of jewelry that appeared to be authentically Indian were earri ngs and necklaces. None of these women wore the traditional kumkum (red powder used as a marking for religious ceremonies) or bindi (marked decoration between the eyes symbolizing a religious or social ceremony) on their foreheads, as some of the first generation women’s parents and other family members had asked them to do. These sa me expectations did not exist for second generation women. Among second generation wo men, however, expectations revolving around dress and demeanor did vary accord ing to feelings of attachment to Indian and Western culture. Five of the women stated feeling as if they were ‘n ot like other Indian women,’ namely because they felt their actions and dress di d not align with what they knew to be ‘traditionally Indian.’ For Dhara and Mya, both of whom were born in the States, dress was an important component of the Indian female ide ntity. According to them, Indian women not only dressed more conservatively, but als o always were well-put-together. Mya: I see girls like with shiny shiny clothes and the best jewelry and eye


49 make-up and oh my gosh, they look so beautiful, and I’m too lazy to do all of that. For Avani and Chetana, both first generation women, there is a big difference between dressing like an American and simply wearin g Western clothing. They consider certain types of clothing to be more American, and as a result tend to shy away from it. Avani most explicitly expressed this sentiment when she said: I don’t wear dresses like spaghetti and I don’t wea r shorts, even here I don’t wear because I prefer to bind to my culture. I don’t want to be away from my culture or tradition because I am brought u p like that. Short and revealing clothing is seen as being very American, and especially among the first generation women, un-Indian Clothing had the capacity to challenge authentici ty. For many of the first and second generation women, clothing was an important measure determining to what extent the women maintained the ir ethnic identity. While none of the women wore traditionally Indian clothing on campus, they clearly explained the expectations regarding Western and American clothin g and its influence on authenticity. Avani and Chetana make a clear distinction between wearing Western clothing and still maintaining Indian culture, and wearing Western clo thing and following a more American tradition. The women also stated that expectations regarding clothing and demeanor were extremely gendered, especially when it came to dres sing up for and attending celebrations and religious functions. Kaya, who is originally from Mumbai and came to the States to study biomedical engineering, elabora tes: Kaya: In traditional values, you have to wear [Indi an] clothes and all those things, you have to follow traditions, do poojas (H indu religious ritual honoring deities), all those things and if you don’ t follow, they will say, “What is this girl, Yaar? She is not following her culture, she is not


50 following her traditions, she is too liberal! (In H indi) What is this, her parents gave her too much freedom.” P: What if the boy acted the same way? Kaya: They will say, (singing) “Oh, he is very naug hty.” If they don’t like it they will say, “Oh, it’s fine. If you want to go out, go out. That’s fine.” They will take it very lightly. But for a girl, she has to do it. Along the same lines, the respondents stated that t hey also were expected to wear traditional Indian clothing during Indian celebrati ons and religious events. The women mostly mentioned being expected to wear saris or sa lwars (both traditional Indian clothing) and jewelry. For example Mya, who is a se cond year classics major on the premed track, mentioned the importance of physical bea uty and wearing Indian clothing throughout her interview. For her, this was integra l to her understanding of what was expected of her from the Indian community. P: Do you feel like the Indian community— Mya: --has expectations for me because I am a girl? Yeah, I think they do….I think they expect me to act more feminine and lady-like…Like talk properly, wear jewelry, wear pretty clothes…but def initely they (referring to the Indian community at her Temple) expect India n girls to behave a certain way. P: Ok. Tell me more about what they expect. Mya: Ummm, they want you to look really pretty all the time…I feel like my dad always says, ‘You look like a boy all the ti me! Just act like a girl every now and then!’ I’m like whatever. They just w ant you to be more feminine…you know. For Avani, one of the first generation Indian women born and brought up in Chennai, a metropolitan city in the state of Tamil Nadu, this aspect of material markers signifying the Indian female identity included wearing a bindi and jewelry, as well as the more


51 traditional kumkum. Avani explains her understandin g of this expectation: I think my parents are fine, but my grandparents, i f I go over to their place and I don’t have bindi, first thing they’ll ask me to wear is kumkum… they’ll ask me to take it and I’ll have to wear it. They’ll put it for me and say, ‘You should be with kumkum’ (laughs). And my g randma, even now she’s asking, ‘Why not bangles in your hand?’ (laug hs)… I said, ‘How can I wear jeans and tops and wear bangle here?!’ Maybe a bracelet is fine. I am really uncomfortable with bangle. I can’t wear i t. I used to fight with her and she would say, ‘Come on, you should wear ba ngle!’ Again, this expectation was distinctly gendered bec ause the women believed men were given more leeway and were often allowed to wear We stern clothing to the same events. Avani: But when it comes to…mmm, dressing. See he ( referring to her brother) can wear whatever. There is no dress code. But when he comes to Temple, there’s one Temple where the girls have to wear sari or half-sari, and the guys have to wear dhoti (formal and traditi onal men’s garment)…My brother, he will say, ‘No way, I’m not going to wear it!’ They, they’ll ask him to wear some, maybe two times If he’s not yielding to it, they’ll say, ‘Fine, okay.’ …he has to come w ith dhoti, but some days he’ll wear shorts and he’ll come. Umm, if I, I won’ t, I won’t say no at all. I like wearing saris and all, so I wear. But a cous in of mine, a younger cousin of mine, girl cousin, she doesn’t like weari ng half-sari, but uncle used to say, ‘You have to wear, you have to wear.’ They force her to wear (laughs), they tie it up and she’ll be, ‘Uuuggghhh’ during the time she is going to the Temple. (Laughing)The whole point is, you know, Temple is a place of wisdom and when you are upset, it’s too bad. And she’ll be irritated while she’s wearing half-sari…That’s the difference. They don’t for my brother, but they force her. The excerpt above illustrates what the women believ ed to be a commonly experienced expectation from their parents and Indian community Regardless of whether they were first or second generation, most of the women felt some sort of pressure to wear traditional dress for religious and cultural events in order to uphold ethnic tradition. Critically, most of the women believed that the sam e expectation does not hold for men. Half of the women mentioned that this was one of th e more apparent double standards that they still experience today.


52 For Lee, gendered expectations of clothing and dre ss also translated into demeanor. She interprets Indian women as generally being shy, soft-spoken and less likely to go out to parties or dance at clubs. She does not follow or fit in with this idea of who she believes the typical Indian woman is and ho w she acts. She states: I am not [a typical] Indian [girl] as you probably noticed…I mean, I used to club a lot, and I used to hang out at all the, w ell, supposedly hip places back home, and it was this very similar dressing se nse, similar behavior. (speaks very directly and matter of factly, not shy answering questions, masculine dress with a red plaid button down, baggy blue jeans, tevas and very short hairboy cut.)…I am very, very differen t from other girls. I am very, very…not normal… I have a very masculine side to myself, right? And I am very straight up and very outright. I’m no t like other girls. I’m not, I don’t have long hair. I don’t look like a gi rl. I certainly don’t act like a girl, I don’t talk like one. And I don’t have thi s whole shy, sweet thing about myself at all. Lee not only explicitly states what traits she beli eves the traditional Indian woman today embodies, but also what aspects she is rejecting an d molding to forge her own individual identity. In light of assimilation theory, it appea rs as though Lee began acculturating to American society before immigrating to the U.S. In this case, assimilation, not generation, is a more appropriate barometer measuri ng adaptation to American society. According to mainstream Western and Indian culture, she has chosen to reject traditionally feminine clothing and hair styles in favor of a more androgynous and somewhat masculine look. In terms of gender, she s peaks in an assertive tone, one that she believes is not generally considered acceptable for a traditional young Indian woman to use. Although she states that she has molded her personal identity to resemble what she regards as more Western and masculine, she still cl aims to strongly identify with the Indian community.


53 Each of the women mentioned clothing and demeanor as contributing to the identity of an Indian woman. Their understandings o f expectations regarding clothing and demeanor, however, were not all uniform. Among firs t generation women, distinctions were made between Western and American clothing. Be tween first and second generation women, there were perceived expectations for how to dress and act based on gender. For second generation women, it was also a matter of dr essing more conservatively and looking “well-put-together.” Each of these women, h owever, implemented these expectations in very different ways. Dress ranged f rom wearing more revealing clothing, to dressing professionally to wearing androgynous c lothing. Demeanor was also diverse, not quite adhering to the pervasive cultural narrat ives of either Indian or American society. The varied experiences, perceived expectat ions and implementation of these expectations illustrate that these Indian women are negotiating gender in different ways in American society, while still maintaining ties t o the Indian culture.


54 Chapter 6: Conclusion Literature suggests that dominant cultural narrativ es construct Indian women as wives and mothers, obedient, subservient chaste, an d so on (Rastogi & Therly 2006; Abraham 1998; DasGupta & Warrier 1996; Goel 2005). These narratives, however, are unidimensional and do not reveal the experiences of people. They often ignore personal narrative identities, as well as diverse perspectiv es and experiences. Nevertheless, narrative identities are constantly being re-shaped and re-created (Loseke 2007). Assimilation plays an important role in negotiating the complex expectations of the ethnic and dominant cultures (Portes & Rumbaut 1996 Rumbuat & Portes 2001), contributing to a diverse construction of personal identities. Throughout this research, I have explored how college-aged Indian women have fo rged new identities fusing the expectations of traditional Indian and American cul ture. I examined which aspects of traditional Indian and American culture they chose to incorporate into their lives, along with which aspects they chose to modify or discard. The women stated having expectations regarding relationships and marriage, education and independence, and clothing and demeanor. Each of these contributed to their perception of authenticity, what it meant to maintain the cultural identity of an In dian woman. This research explores the narrative identities of a small sample of women. It examines their understandings of cultural narrative s, and is limited to only those in college and graduate school. The understandings of gendered expectations for women


55 who have not attended college may differ in terms o f dating, marriage and independence, as these appear to be closely linked according to t hose in undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, women from only one large so uthern University in a mid-sized city were interviewed. Their understanding of expec tations based on traditional Indian and American culture may also potentially vary base d on city-size, region and the population and sense of group identity and influenc e of the surrounding Indian community. Due to these limitations, I do not in an y way claim generalizability. This research simply provides a glimpse into the diverse understandings of authenticity, and cultural and personal narrative identities. The cultural expectations regarding relationships a nd marriage, and how their attitudes contributed to an authentic Indian identi ty differed among the women. Similar to Abraham’s (1998) research, attitudes about marriage and family were integral aspects of the women’s narrative identity. Correspondingly, in terview conversation topics invariably included talk of marriage, despite appar ent differences in opinions. The women’s perspectives were often reflective of their parents’, though they believed they were generally more accepting of beliefs and behavi ors that did not correspond with expectations of traditional Indian culture. Attitud es ranged from seeing dating as very American and rejecting the traditional Americanized concept, to accepting it and openly dating. Along the same lines as Manohar’s (2008) fi ndings, some of the women were more likely to view dating more seriously, and in e ffect date with the intent to marry. The women’s attitudes toward interethnic dating wer e also mixed and not wholly categorical by generation or acculturation. Similar to Mok’s (1999) findings, some of the women were open to interethnic relationships, and d id not see it as challenging their


56 authenticity as Indian women. Others, however, took a completely different stance and saw interethnic dating as something they would neve r consider because they perceived the different culture and traditions to take away f rom their ethnic identity Aligning with the findings of Manohar (2008), however, each of them agreed that having a relation ship with another Indian would be “easier” as their pare nts would be more readily accepting of it. In addition, their attitudes toward interethnic dating corresponded less with those of their parents. As alluded to by Manohar’s (2008) research, many of the women also expressed having a modified definition of what it meant to ha ve an arranged marriage. For a few, the concept of arranged marriage remained similar t o the traditional meaning, and attitudes ranged from having romanticized feelings toward the practice to seeing it in an extremely negative light where the likelihood of ma rital unhappiness would significantly increase. Others, however, expressed an alternate c onceptualization of arranged marriage in which parents would introduce potential partners to one another, without the added pressure of having to pursue the relationship or ge t married. Finally, in sharp contrast to previous literature o n gender expectations among first generation Indian women, (Dasgupta & Warrier 1996; Goel 2005; Dasgupta 1998; Inman 2006) attitudes toward gender and being a wife and mother also varied among these women. While a few of the first and second generati on women do not see these as being integral to womanhood, a majority see these as expe ctations that they believe will unquestioningly be fulfilled. Many of the women ass ert that being a wife and mother is essential to their identities as women, while other s believed the opposite. In addition, attitudes about gender within the marriage are dive rse, meaning that they do not see


57 women as solely the wife and mother, and men as the only breadwinners. Instead, they assert the importance of continuing their careers. The women’s attitudes and experiences are diverse and are not able to be categorized by g eneration. However, segmented assimilation, and specifically selective acculturat ion allows these women to create an identity by selecting which aspects of traditional Indian and American culture to incorporate into their personal identities (Rumbaut & Portes 2001; Portes & Rumbaust 2001). It is important to note, however, that there is extreme variation among these women which broad generalizations would likely over look. Educational attainment and establishing independenc e is an important aspect of the women’s personal identities. As illustrated by Bacon’s (1996) research, access to education is seen as significant to achieving gende r equality. Using the framework of segmented assimilation, higher levels of education facilitate assimilation into the dominant host society. The interviewed women percei ve increased education to allot them more power. Accordingly, it gives them the abi lity to choose for themselves what aspects of Indian culture to incorporate, re-shape, and leave behind. This was specifically linked to the women’s talk about marriage and suita bility, as well as making choices such as marrying interethnically and getting a divorce. Interestingly, while education is integral to the women’s personal identities, findin gs align with those of Dasgupta and Warrier (1996) in that some feel that they are ulti mately expected to become housewives, regardless of their educational achievement. Despit e this, many of the women feel it is important to their identity to become a primary fin ancial provider as well as child care giver.


58 Lastly, gendered clothing and demeanor contributed significantly to feelings of authenticity and the participants’ identities as In dian women, mirroring findings similar to Bacon (1996). Interestingly, although most of th e women believed they maintained close bonds with the Indian community, almost half of them felt that their dress did not align with what they perceived to be ‘traditionally Indian,’ either because they consider their dress to be too revealing according to the In dian tradition, or they felt as if they did not dress feminine enough. In addition, a majority of the women state d that a conservative, soft-spoken and obedient demeanor was an extremely important expectation. Despite this prevalent expectation, a number of the women made a conscious decision to not incorporate this into their persona l identities as Indian women. Instead, through modes of acculturation, they actively creat ed an identity incorporating the cultural norms and expectations of American society The experiences of these college women suggest that their personal narrative identities do not neatly fit into the prevailing cultural narrati ves. Instead, cultural and community expectations, expectations of themselves and implem entation of these expectations result in a complex negotiation of the Indian woman identi ty. With dating and marriage, each have made deliberate choices regarding which specif ic aspects of American and traditional Indian culture they are selecting to fo llow and incorporate into their lives, as well as which parts they have chosen to modify or r eject. Beliefs and behaviors concerning relationships and marriage hold differen t meanings for each of these women, regardless of generation and ties to the ethnic com munity. In terms of attaining higher education and establishing independence, the steps that each of these women are taking stand in opposition to cultural expectations of the traditional Indian woman. Their


59 attitudes also go against the widely held notion of subservience and obedience, regardless of marital troubles. Incorporating education and in dependence into their personal identities serves to give these women more freedom to make life decisions that would have traditionally been made for them. It provides them with greater power to choose which parts of Indian and American culture to take on as part of their personal identities. This research contributes to the existing assimila tion literature through illustrating that the assimilation process can begin before movi ng to the host society. Through attitudes about dating and marriage, education and independence, and dress and demeanor first generation women began taking on the dominant beliefs and practicing behaviors that aligned themselves with more with Am erican society before actually moving to the U.S. This facilitated a smoother tran sition from Indian to American culture. In addition, these women are actively crea ting identity and culture. They are each negotiating their identities in everyday culture th rough various modes of incorporation regarding dating and marriage, education and indepe ndence, and dress and demeanor. This is not categorizable by generation. Instead, i t can be better understood using the theoretical framework of assimilation, and specific ally selective acculturation. These negotiations are understood, practiced and implemen ted differently as adhering to certain expectations in order to maintain and authentic Ind ian identity vary among the women. This suggests that identity negotiation and authent icity for Indian women in the U.S. are heavily influenced by segmented assimilation. As previously mentioned, there are limitations rega rding the size, educational and regional diversity of this sample. In addition, thi s study only explored women’s understandings of their parents’ and surrounding co mmunities’ expectations. It would be


60 beneficial to explore the emerging bicultural narra tive identity through personal narratives of Indian women from small and large com munities across the country. In addition, this sample only consisted of heterosexua l women. Because heterosexual gendered expectations are so pervasive throughout I ndian and American culture, exploring the experiences of women with diverse sex ual preferences will provide insight into varied understandings of expectations revolvin g around dating and marriage, as well as how this affects education, independence, dress and demeanor. Through further research on identity, we will be able to better und erstand a greater degree of complexity regarding the negotiation of identity and authentic ity, as well as acknowledge diverse experiences which stereotypes and cultural narrativ es often collapse.


61 Appendices


62 Appendix A: Interview Questions In order to examine how Asian Indian women in Ameri can society negotiated their personal identities around the perceived expe ctations of two different cultures, I used open-ended questions to explore their attitude s toward gendered expectations, relationships and marriage, education and independe nce, and clothing and demeanor. I asked questions regarding their demographics, conne ctions to Indian culture, beliefs about Indian culture and attitudes toward marriage and problems. Demographics were important as they indicated the age, generation, an d place of birth, as well as provided a foundation for subsequent questions. Questions rega rding connections to Indian culture were asked as they allowed the women to openly spea k of how imbedded they are within the ethnic culture. Beliefs about Indian cul ture explored to what extent these women retained traditional cultural beliefs toward authenticity, gender expectations and marriage preservation, as well as to what extent th ey had assimilated into American culture. Finally, the last set of questions were us ed to examine how these women felt about marital problems and cultural pressures to ei ther stay in or leave the marriage. List of Questions Demographics 1. Where are you from? 2. What are you going to school for? 3. Are you in a relationship?


63 Appendix A (Continued) 4. Where were your parents born? How long have they be en in the country? Connections to Indian Culture 5. Do you feel that you are connected to the Indian co mmunity? How so? 6. Do you speak any language other than English? 7. What language do you generally speak at home? 8. With whom do you currently live? With whom did you grow up? 9. Does any family other than your parents and sibling s live at your house/your parents’ house? 10. Tell me about your family. What do your parents do? (cultural retention: traditional female/mother, male/father gender expectation?) 11. Do you have siblings? Tell me about them. (do sibli ngs participate in ethnic activities/traditions) 12. Do you feel that Indian parents tend to be more tra ditional in their values, or do you feel that they are becoming more Americanized? 13. Do you feel that you and your parents have an open system of communication? Do you feel that this is the case with most Indian kid s and their parents? 14. What are your plans for the future? 15. How do your parents feel about that? 16. How do your parents feel about what you are studyin g? 17. Do you ever feel pressured into choosing a particul ar career path? Do any of your friends?


64 Appendix A (Continued) 18. Do you celebrate Indian holidays? 19. Tell me about the last Indian holiday you celebrate d with either family or friends. 20. Are you religious? If so, what religion do you prac tice? 21. Have you ever been to an Indian wedding? Tell me ab out the last Indian wedding that you went to. 22. What do you think the Indian community would say ab out relationship in which the girl is Indian and the boy isn’t? What about if the boy is Indian, but the girl isn’t? 23. At what age is it appropriate for you/your friends to start dating? What about getting married? 24. Have you or your friends been asked when you will b e getting married? If so, by who? 25. Have any of your family or Indian community members ever tried to set you up? If so, why did they believe this person would be a goo d match for you? If not, have any of your other family members or friends ever be en set up? 26. Do you feel your parents will have any say in who y ou marry? To what extent? How do you feel about this? Beliefs about Indian Culture 27. Tell me about a typical Indian family. What do mom, dad, brother and sister do? What are their activities? What do they spend most of their time doing? 28. In an Indian family with a mother, a father, a brot her and a sister, who does which chores? 29. Do you feel that Indian boys and girls are treated equally?


65 Appendix A (Continued) 30. Tell me a story about some Indian boys that are you r age. Indian girls your age? 31. Among the other Indian families you know, do you fe el that there is a difference between how boys and girls are raised? 32. Do you ever feel that there is a double-standard in what Indian boys can do and what Indian girls can do? a. What about staying out late? b. Are boys and girls directed towards different caree r paths? 33. What if an Indian girl your age were walking in the mall holding hands with her boyfriend. What would other Indian adults say? What about Indians your age? 34. Do you know of any interethnic couples? 35. Are any of your Indian friends in a relationship? I f so, are they with other Indians or with people of other ethnicities? 36. What do you think about interracial dating? 37. Would you ever consider being in an interracial rel ationship? Why or why not? 38. How do your parents feel about interracial dating? 39. How do you feel most Indian parents feel about inte rracial dating? 40. Who is the ideal mate for you? 41. According to your parents, who is the ideal mate fo r you? Attitudes toward Marriage and Marital Problem s 42. What do you think are some common marital problems? 43. Tell me a story about a couple with marital problem s. What type of problems do they have? Would they work it out, or get a divorce ?


66 Appendix A (Continued) 44. What about preserving the marriage and divorce? Do you feel that it is more acceptable among your generation? Is it less stigma tized than it was for the older generation? 45. Have you ever heard of Indian couples getting a div orce? 46. In which possible scenarios would a divorce happen? 47. How do you feel about divorce? How do you think you r friends feel about divorce? 48. How do you think the rest of the Indian community f eels about divorce? 49. Tell me a story about a couple that got divorced. ( At least one of the people must be Indian.) 50. What are “acceptable” reasons for getting a divorce ? What about marital problems? What marital problems would warrant getting a divor ce? 51. What about marital abuse? What do you consider wife abuse to be? 52. Do you know anyone who has ever been in this situat ion? Did she experience any from the husband’s side of the family? 53. Did she feel any pressure to stay in the marriage? From who? 54. What didn’t I ask you that I probably should have?


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