Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

“Steps to Our Culture" Cultural Cultivation and Teaching Children about a Culture “Left Behind”

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

“Steps to Our Culture" Cultural Cultivation and Teaching Children about a Culture “Left Behind”

Article excerpt

October 2014:

It was a little after 12pm and Naach Indian dance studio had been bustling with students and families since 9am. India Fest practices were in session and Sheila, the studio owner, and I had been spending our Saturday mornings and afternoons training elementary, middle, and high school age teams for the upcoming Indian dance competition in November. I had just sat down to rest for a moment before starting the next class when 14-year-old Riya crouched down next to me to give me an update about an exam. It was in our interview two weeks ago that she confessed to being stressed out about a test on Hindu mythology and symbolism she had to take the following weekend in order to pass on to the next level at her Hindu Sunday School. A high achiever and beaming with pride while speaking with me at the studio, Riya said that she studied hard for the test and was proud for having done so well. As I gave her a congratulatory hug, I thought about the work that went into holding on to the culture ‘left behind’ through cultivating Indian cultural knowledge among Indian diaspora. The families involved at Riya’s Sunday School and her success on the exam were examples of this, as were Naach and all of the India Fest practices at the studio. Like Riya indicated, this was labor for children, but working at Naach, I knew that this was also a product of both her parents’ and the local Indian community’s concerted efforts. As I made a mental note of the conversation with Riya, Sheila called to the next group, Junior Bhangra, to get in formation; she wanted the students to perfect Bhangra-style technique before moving on to new choreography.


As scholarship on immigration, culture, and ethnic identity demonstrates, connecting with the culture “left behind” (Ram 2005) through activities like the classes offered at Naach Indian dance studio and Riya’s Sunday School as well as consuming ethnic foods and media are important to feeling a sense of home and belonging among immigrant families and their children (Chacko & Menon 2013; Ram 2005; Wilcox 2011). While ethnic and cultural socialization literature argues that second generation children learn about their parents’ immigrant cultures through daily practices and routinized behaviors (Hughes et al. 2006; Quintana et al. 2006), the excerpt above demonstrates that teaching about a culture “left behind” can also be much more deliberate. Part of a larger study on Asian Indian families and immigration, this paper utilizes ethnographic data, home visits, and interviews with parents to nuance childhood socialization research by highlighting immigrant parents’ efforts of ethnic and cultural socialization as strategic. Using ethnic and cultural socialization research and Annette Lareau’s (2003) work on concerted cultivation to inform one another, I coin the term cultural cultivation and define it as the strategic efforts immigrant parents make through structured activities inside and outside of the home to cultivate cultural knowledge in their children. Cultural cultivation is introduced in this paper as an ethno-cultural socialization process that is deliberate, regarded and taken on principally as women’s work, and perceived as beneficial to parents. Though considered laborious, cultural cultivation as a socialization strategy is invaluable to the families portrayed in this study as it enriches cultural competence, helps build social networks, and encourages a sense of community and belonging among both Indian immigrant parents and their children.

Literature Review

Ethnic and Cultural Socialization

The childhood socialization literature is vast and broadly examines the values and behaviors children learn that facilitate adaptation to their surrounding social environments. A portion of this research focuses on ethnic and cultural socialization among immigrants and minorities. Collectively ethnic and cultural socialization is conceptualized as children’s acquisition of values, behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes associated with an ethnic or cultural group and how they view themselves as part of that group. …

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