Negotiating Tradition, Becoming American: Family, Gender, and Autonomy for Second Generation South Asians

Negotiating Tradition, Becoming American: Family, Gender, and Autonomy for Second Generation South Asians

Negotiating Tradition, Becoming American: Family, Gender, and Autonomy for Second Generation South Asians

Negotiating Tradition, Becoming American: Family, Gender, and Autonomy for Second Generation South Asians

Synopsis

Salam examines how second generation South Asian Americans assimilate by analyzing their family experiences, their structural circumstances and their adult life choice through the lens of arranged marriage. Arranged marriage, as an analytical frame, uncovers the ways in which gender, autonomy and intergenerational dilemmas shape individual lives. Contrary to popular assumptions about South Asians, the subjects of this study are not bound by the traditions of arranged marriage, but rather their experiences reflect a great deal of variation, negotiation, compromise and a nuanced understanding of 'tradition.' The findings support similar current research which recognizes how individuals navigate and negotiate family, gender conflicts, and individualism in American society.

Excerpt

The more tradition loses its hold, and the more daily life is
reconstituted in terms of the dialectical interplay of the local
and the global, the more individuals are forced to negotiate
lifestyle choices among a diversity of options.
(Giddens 1991:5)

In the thirty years since the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the United States has experienced a dramatic shift in its demographic landscape. Scholarship on this wave of immigration initially examined the experiences of the immigrants but then turned its attention to the experiences of the second generation, whose life experiences offer a window into the intersection of immigrant cultures and mainstream expectations. Unlike second generations of the past, the experiences of the post-1965 second generation have been shaped by a mainstream culture changed by the Civil Rights movement, multiculturalism, and transnational movements of people and cultural products. The nature of assimilation has changed, and the second generation experience reflects changing assumptions about what it means to be American. This study examines the ways in which one second generation group “becomes American” by analyzing their family experiences, dating and marriage choices, and the ways in which they negotiate between the culture of their immigrant parents and mainstream expectations around individualism, autonomy and the negotiation of mainstream gender norms.

In much of the history of the United States, the second generation experience has been typically characterized by a push towards assimilation to the dominant Anglo-American mainstream. A number of factors, including the receptivity of the mainstream to the immigrant group, the group’s socioeconomic profile, and their allegiance to their ethnic group, influence the experiences of second generation individuals. Classic theories of assimilation focused on the struggle and . . .

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