I moved to the United States from India when I was 5 years old. My parents were older and more set in their ways due to their Indian upbringing. On the other hand, my childhood, teenage years, and now adult years have been a constant balancing act between my Indian and American identities. This is not to say I do not know who I am, but rather I have struggled with generational gaps. At times, these generational gaps in thought and actions can lead to heated discussions and misunderstandings.
Generational gaps exist between immigrant parents and their children in many forms. This is a byproduct of external forces of assimilation and culture change on both sides. Immigrant parents have been brought up in the motherland and entrenched with their native morals and values, while their children have learned the same morals and values in addition to the ones within their own society. This causes gaps to form as immigrant children start to mature and take on their own identities. Though this is true for all, the identities of immigrant children are shaped more by the balancing of two distinct cultures surrounding them.
A prime example of these differing generational viewpoints is my religious upbringing. Before entering college, I did not put too much thought into my faith. I was brought up in a Hindu household, and that was the religion I practiced. As I went through college, however, my personal viewpoints changed regarding my faith. I still do not know if I follow the doctrine of Hinduism or if I simply do not believe in anything more than a higher power, but explaining this to my family is quite the obstacle. My parents’ faith in their religion has never wavered, however mine has as I have evolved and grown.
Unfortunately, my parents view this wavering and questioning as a personal attack. Their view is that their own son can no longer understand why people believe in religion. I think it’s okay for them to be angry, because their anger comes from a place of misunderstanding rather than malice. This anger and befuddlement is simply a lack of understanding of how religion is not always black and white, especially regarding simply buying into the idea of religion. By this, I mean, a slight wavering in your religion is seen as not believing in it at all, rather than simple exploration. This school of thought for immigrant parents comes from their upbringing in a culture where you either believed or did not believe in the religion with no space for exploration.
This type of generational discrepancy is difficult for my family to come to terms with. My parents cannot imagine not believing in Hinduism, as they’ve been entrenched in it since their birth since Hinduism was much more prominent throughout their daily lives in India than it is here in the United States. On the other hand, for me, religion is a conversation and exploration of my Indian identity, with some American crossover.
Religion does reveal a large generational gap for immigrant parents and their kids, however it is not the only generational gap. Another key example that has been present throughout my life is that immigrant parents tend to be harsh and judgmental when it comes to their children’s grades and success throughout their academic careers. Sometimes it is difficult to explain how grades tend to be skewed in college as professors often grade subjectively. Immigrant parents can have a tough time comprehending how a professor can subjectively score a paper, even if the paper is sound objectively. However, for me and many other students, this is commonplace. For example, I wrote a paper for one of my international political theory classes discussing the connection between India and the Cold War. My paper contained all the facts and figures necessary to support my argument, but the professor did not think so. I ended up getting a grade lower than I thought I should’ve. Explaining this to my parents, on the other hand, was much more difficult and painstaking as they did not see how a professor could give a lower grade when all the material was present. Thus, this generational gap, though a small one, causes misunderstandings to occur frequently between immigrant parents and their children as they navigate their way through school.
Though immigrant parents and their children may not see eye to eye on all things, these generational gaps can serve as a significant learning experience for both sides. Simply put, generational gaps between immigrant parents and their children help to foster a deeper cultural understanding. For me, the generational gaps between my parents and me have helped me to retain more knowledge and appreciate for my Indian heritage, as I’m not constantly surrounded by it in the States. I cannot say for sure, but I do think if I grew up in India, I would not be as curious about my heritage as I am right now.
I am a proud immigrant and child of immigrant parents, but with most of my life shaped by two distinct cultures, I am at a crossroads in my own life as I start to fully form my identity. These generational differences serve to remind me that an immigrant family carries various faces within their households and communities. Without the lessons from the intersecting cultures that I experience every day, I would not have the audacity to stand up for my beliefs in a community that is diverse in race, thought, income, age and much more.
Some generational gaps can be closed as newer generations enter this world. These newer generations will be able to utilize the experiences of older generations to better understand how to balance their identities. However, it is important to remember that there will always be generational gaps, because thought and philosophies change as time continues to move forward. Without these generational gaps, there would be no space for growth within immigrant societies.