Parenting and the Process of Migration: Possibilities within South Asian Families

Article excerpt

The migration experience creates a unique set of challenges for families, which can result in intergenerational conflict and create the conditions for abuse or neglect. Alternatively, families can cope with these challenges in creative and seemingly contradictory ways, thus strengthening family relationships. This article introduces the process of migration as a theoretical framework to use in understanding the complexity of the migration experience as well as the wide range of coping responses within families. The process was developed as a theoretical tool in an ethnographic study of first- and second-generation South Asian women in the United States; the study's findings are used to illustrate the application of the process to South Asian parenting experiences and show how the process of migration-where families adjust to a different set of structural conditions, ideologies, cultural norms, and social systems-shapes parenting and family life.

Understanding the specific stresses and possibilities inherent in the migration experience and the ways in which families cope is essential to culturally competent practice with immigrant and refugee families (Coalition for Asian American Children and Families [CACF], 2001). This article presents a framework called the process of migration to examine the experience and its effect on parenting and family life, specifically by South Asian families in the United States. The process was developed as a theoretical tool for an ethnography that examined how South Asian women in the United States creatively attempt to achieve their will given the constraints and possibilities of their social environment. Life-story interviews were conducted with 16 first- and second-generation South Asian women living in New York and New Jersey. Six of the participants were mothers, five of whom had raised or were raising their children. Twelve of the participants had been raised all or a significant part of their lives in the United States.

In applying the process of migration to these women's experiences, the study revealed that parenting in the United States becomes organized around identity, a theme echoed in the literature (Leonard, 1997; Pettys & Balgopal, 1998; Srinivasan, 2001). How parents interpret what it means to be South Asian in the United States affects the choices they make about living their lives, from child care to expectations of their children around career choice, sexuality, dating, and marriage.

Narrow parental interpretations (Das Gupta, 1997) can result in intergenerational conflict, a dominant theme in the literature on South Asians in the United States. This conflict has been attributed to a lack of communication (Segal, 1991) and to parental control around issues of dating, marriage, and sexuality (Dasgupta & Das Dasgupta, 1998; Leonard, 1997; Roy, 1998; Srinivasan, 2001). Another but a very different pattern emerged in the study, however: families developed new interpretations. Rather than intergenerational conflict, mothers and daughters described dynamic, supportive relationships with their families in which communication was strong, although not always open.

This article presents an overview of South Asian families in the United States; the components of the process of migration; the methodology used in the previous study; and limitations, reliability, and validity issues, then applies the process specifically to the two different ways that South Asian immigrant families cope: one in which there is an increased risk for abuse and neglect, and one in which families are strengthened through their creative responses.

South Asians in the United States

South Asia includes the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Tibet. Each of these countries includes great diversity; more than 50 official languages are spoken and a variety of religions are practiced, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. …