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  • Writer's pictureRaveena Kay

The First Generation Indian American Experience and Family Estrangement

This is for a very niche group of people, and for those who want to understand the First Generation Indian American experience. I cannot speak for everyone but as I observe, empathize and hear other people’s stories and comments on my browngirlhelp instagram page I can’t help but feel a sense of solidarity in some of our experiences.

What our parents don’t realize is that it was very tough growing up in white suburbia. Even though we couldn’t intellectualize it at the time, we felt different because of our race. People stereotyped us as nerds, told us our food smelled bad, didn’t want to understand our culture, and couldn’t say our names.

Our identity always needed to be explained and we never felt like we truly belonged anywhere.

It was quite lonesome at school. However, it was also lonesome at home. I had very strict parents who wouldn’t let me sleepover with my school friends, only my family friends. I wasn’t allowed to listen to Britney Spears or NYSNC, but I became very well versed in Madonna and 80s music. While other kids got to explore dance and other extracurriculars of their choosing for fun, I had to do more academics at you guessed it…KUMON (I then did the most stereotypical Indian-American thing and tutored there in high school).

I wasn’t allowed to show emotion, crying was a weakness, and my parents' unpredictability and my inability to feel safe led me to be complacent until I reached college and I finally found my voice.

We’ve had to navigate two worlds and a different style of parenting that I don’t agree with. Our Indian parents are stuck in their archaic parenting ways from the 60s/70s. The father provides for their children and can do whatever he pleases because no one will make him be held accountable. The mother takes care of the kids and plays the victim role about the way her life has turned out without actually doing anything about it. Their life is a broken record and they suck us in with their misery and lie to themselves and to everyone that they like how things are. They just want to show to their community that they “have it all together” when in reality no one does.

Indian people are the most scared about being vulnerable…it’s why I married out of the Indian culture, but that can be a different article hah.

Indian parents were trying to raise their kids to be the ideal “Indian” child without realizing that we saw how healthy some American families treated their children. I craved to be hugged and told that I was loved. I remember I went up to my mom when I was young and I said “The Jones say they love each other before they leave”. My mom’s cold response was “Good for them, we are not the Jones”. Indian children usually are only praised when they succeed in academics. In Indian households you will only get praised for “bringing honor to the family”. And parents will take all the credit for the honor that you have brought upon the family. *sigh*. However, when you bring “shame” to the family, it’s all your fault. This makes it feel like Indian parents are narcissistic and look at their children as an extension of themselves, not as individual humans.

Indian parents also don’t want to believe in mental illness, and even if they do, it becomes your problem and not theirs. They don’t see that their dysfunctional children are usually a DIRECT reflection of their parenting styles. Now it’s up to everyone to change and grow which usually the child does…because of American culture.

However, the parents don’t see how much trauma and hurt their parenting style inflicted on their children/continues to inflict into adulthood … because after all we turned out fine right?

We are all showing up with what Indian people deem success- a good job, a spouse, and children. Indian parents think that by providing financially for their child, that’s all they need to do (due to their parents also providing everything for them in India), but what Indian American children mostly crave is emotional support.

Many of us have been emotionally neglected and emotionally abused as children and as adults, and that is one of the most difficult realizations to come to when in therapy. Asian Americans have one of the highest rates of depression, and it continues to get worse.

In therapy, we are taught to empathize with the typical immigrant story of our parents struggles, but our parents will never be able to see and empathize with our struggles.

Our parents can’t understand that we were already intelligent little humans who weren’t told enough about our positive traits or that we are loved…it was only assumed. Indian parents have built a wall, and they had to build it for many reasons, however, that is why you see a lot of estranged relationships.

You see Indian American adults reach a breaking point of being unable to endure abuse without change, and blame without an apology. Indian parents would rather be right, protect themselves with their wall, and never give in, then be the bigger person and save the relationship. Parents end up being like children, and children end up being like parents, and then the parent keeps wondering….”Where did I go wrong” when it was right in front of their eyes the whole time.


Raveena Kay

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