Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

"Sshh.!! Don't Tell My Parents": Dating among Second-Generation Patels in Florida*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

"Sshh.!! Don't Tell My Parents": Dating among Second-Generation Patels in Florida*

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Scholarship on intimate relationships among Indians in the United States has a tradition of examining dating from an intergenerational lens that often privileges the first-generation (Helweg and Helweg, 1990; Leonard, 1997; Sheth, 2001 ; Srinivasan, 2001; Wakil, Siddique and Wakil, 1981). For first-generation Indians, dating is "nontraditional" (DasGupta and Dasgupta, 1998, p. 123), behavior and is often perceived as symbolizing a betrayal of the ethnic culture and identity in favor of an American one. This belief motivates attempts to restrict and limit the performance of dating by second-generation Indians. It is these stories that are privileged in the existing research. Less emphasized in the scholarship are the experiences of the second-generation with dating which involves their responses to the resistance they encounter within the Indian community. Additionally, the small but growing body of work documenting the lives of the second-generation often fails to examine their identities as Indian- Americans in the arena of dating, and merely explores their resistance to the restrictions of the first-generation (Dasgupta, 1998; Kallivayalil, 2004; Rangaswamy, 2000). In this paper, I postulate that dating as performed by second-generation Patels is a reflection of their bicultural identities as Indian/Patel-Americans. I thus seek to explore the interplay of bicultural identity and gender with dating among second-generation Patels in Florida.

Indian/Patel- American bicultural identity as constructed and embraced by second-generation Patels is a fusion of Indian and American traits that they perform in all contexts. This paper finds that second-generation Patel-Americans have reconceptualized dating in the context of their bicultural identities. Accordingly, dating for Patel women and men involves not merely exploring their preferences in intimate partnering, but necessarily having a culminating end goal-namely marriage-binding it. Additionally, the interaction of bicultural identity with the gender structures of the Patel community contributes to the differential dating experiences of Patel women and men. This is predicated on the greater resistance Patel women encounter in their dating. Needless to say, Patel women and men are actively dating, and have devised myriad strategies to circumvent intergenerational conflict over their dating behavior. These are evinced in their partner selections, age of the onset of dating, secrecy in dating, utilization of particular semantics of dating and the creation of psychological boundaries between their dating and that of their American counterparts which will be elaborated upon in later sections of this paper.

It is noteworthy to mention here that the existing scholarship on Indians in the United States uses as its main unit of analysis a homogenous category called "Indians." In so doing, the existing scholarship fails to sufficiently account for the heterogeneity and variety among Indians. Indians hail from diverse regional, linguistic and cultural backgrounds in India. The history and experiences of these different Indian ethnic groups in the United States also vary. This homogenizing of "Indians" has created a dearth in existing scholarship on specific Indian ethnic groups such as the Patels. By focusing on second-generation Patels in Florida, this paper addresses this gap in the research and contributes to a fuller conceptualization of Indians in the United States. The limited existing scholarship on the different ethnic Indian groups, has however required that this paper use extrapolations from research on Indians as a composite whole and apply them to the Patel experience in the United States.

BACKGROUND

Bicultural Identity and Gender

Bicultural identity as constructed and performed by second-generation Patels is a product of their adaptation to American society. As an immigrant group, Indians as a composite whole adapt to American society along the path of segmented assimilation wherein they achieve "rapid economic advancement with the deliberate preservation" (Portes and Zhou, 1993, p. …

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