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|August 1, 2000|
It's not all about paradise
Yes, Indians have made it in the US. There are amazing statistics to back this assertion: 30 per cent of all hotels and motels in the US are Indian-owned, 45 per cent of women in the Asian Indian community are employed, 50 per cent of Asian Indians own their own homes, 80 per cent of the men in the Asian Indian community have college degrees, and 90 per cent of Asian Indians live in urban areas. And, yes, we all know that young Indian moguls are either ruling over Silicon Valley or at least running its machinery.
But it is time to stop gloating over this excessively pleasant picture. For the theory that Asian Indians make up a model minority could just be a myth.
Daya Sandhu, chair and associate professor in the department of educational and counseling psychology at the University of Louisville, makes his point by tracing the history of the Indian immigration pattern into the US: "The Immigration Act of 1965 allowed Asian Indians into the US. But there were three major waves of immigration. The first wave consisted of elite professionals like doctors, engineers, scientists, and educators, who came to the US under the Third Preference Category.
'The second wave consisted of relatives of individuals belonging to the first wave. These people were not necessarily as highly educated as the first group. The third wave comprises people with business visas, refugees and people entering the US illegally.
"As immigrants belonging to the first wave made up an extraordinarily qualified group, their successes have led to the creation of the model minority myth. Since a few people are doing well, the needs of many of the poor are neglected. The second and the third wave immigrants are suffering as there are no affirmative action benefits available to them," says Sandhu, adding that the model minority myth has been perpetrated by the media, writers and by some social service agencies.
Even among the highly qualified group of Indians, not everything is right. Karen Kurasaki, Associate Director of the National Research Center on Asian American Mental Health, and visiting professor at DePaul University, stated, "Among the highly qualified Indian professionals, some haven't done quite as well as the rest. These are the people who have to deal with the idea of loss of position and change in status."
Even successful Indians are no longer considered psychologically untroubled. Tripti Bose, a mental health therapist based in Washington DC, says success for Indians often arrives at what is considered a very high price. The two very important things that Asian Indians feel they lose out on are their children and their values.
"Socially speaking, Indians feel they have to give up the dreams they had for their children," Bose said. "They also miss the bonding that they shared with their relations back at home, and lament the fact that their children can never benefit from such bonding."
Prabha Patil (name changed) came to the US three decades ago.
"My mother and I shared a very special relationship. But unfortunately, that's not the case between my daughter and me. She is always in her own shell. I wish I knew what was going on in her mind. Sometimes I feel that I don't know her at all," she says.
A new problem the Indian American community faces is the rising level of juvenile violence and crime.
"Children of first generation Asian Americans often have to act as interpreters and cultural-brokers for their parents," Kurasaki says. "This may lead to an inflated sense of power among some of them, which can then developed into delinquency."
Second and later generation Indian Americans also have to deal with issues of cultural identity and conflict with parents. Ruth Chung, assistant professor of psychology at University of Southern California, says, " My research on inter-generational conflict revealed that most conflicts are over dating, marriage, career, and parental expectations regarding the children's relationship to the family."
Dipti Shah (name changed), a school-going teenager, cannot conceal her frustration:
"Sometimes my parents can be so overprotective. They are wary of any relationship I may have with boys from other communities. I just want a normal life... like everybody else around me. I am not doing anything wrong. I wish they'd trust me more."
The factors that lead to domestic violence constitute yet another set of psychological problems. For Indian men from patriarchal backgrounds, violence at home is often a last recourse at restoring authority, or a result of frustration. Indians are not only burdened by psychological problems, but are also not getting the help they need.
"Asian Americans are underrepresented in mental health facilities such as university counseling centers, community mental health centers and in-patient psychiatric facilities, because of the stigma associated to the fact that one has a problem," said Chung. She points out that other factors such as language and cultural barriers often hold Asian Americans back. There is also the question of the relevance and effectiveness of psychology, which is based on European American values.
"When Asian Americans do seek help, they tend to have a more severe diagnosis than European Americans. This is because they exhaust all possible resources within the family and community before going 'outside' and using the mental health system," Chung said.
If all that is indeed true, it is probably time to look beyond statistics, into the reality of Asian Indian life in the US.
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