The American Dream: An Indian Version

By Sudata DebChaudhury.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences: Annual Review

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This paper is an integral part of a longitudinal study of one group of Asian Americans, Indians, who initially arrived in the United States in pursuit of a dream for the specific purpose of fulfilling academic and/or professional goals, and who eventually elasticized their stay as they became permanent residents or naturalized citizens. The paper notes that while there are numerous poignant literary portrayals of the Indian immigrant’s trauma of adjustment, his/her relatively smooth transition into the middle-class mosaic, or their fierce retention of ethnic distinctiveness, there are limited historical and sociological analyses of the Indian immigrant experience (particularly taking into account issues of sub-ethnicity), fewer still of the professional Indian women’s immigrant experience, and none about the structural-cultural dichotomy of the potential immigrant who has not quite burnt his (or her) bridges. The paper first provides a historical overview of both the historical and demographic changes in the pattern, nature, type, and extent of Indian immigration between WWI and the present; it then concentrates on multiple case studies of the post-1965 generation of Indian immigrants, particularly those who came here from Bengal (Northeastern India) for the next four decades, until the end of the 1990’s, who had no definitive plan of adopting the United States as their country of residence, but who eventually did. The paper concludes that during the transition from the pre-immigrant to the immigrant stage, in each of the five decades, the long-term resident’s/ naturalized citizen’s “American Dream” has undergone a re-definition that is distinctly reflective of and parallel to the political and economic changes in the host society. However, while there is an overarching trend towards structural assimilation, there is an equally pronounced and consistent cultural alienation from the host society in the post-1965 group. What is also consistent is the continuing triple marginalization of the single, professional, Indian (in this case, Bengali) woman. The paper then raises the question whether the term Bengali/Indian/Asian American is a reactive/strategic response to battle homogenization, or does one know in some abstract, ontological, trans-historical fashion what being Bengali/Indian/Asian American is all about? The paper poses a further question: in an age of eroding borders and distances, in an era when the return of the prodigal to India is increasing at an exponential rate, when the American Dream is concretized (literally, and figuratively, for instance, in the gadget-abounding multi-storied American-like apartment complexes) in a new milieu (an economically vibrant urban India), has the Dream turned full circle? An attempt to answer that question is the sequel to this study, where, in a separate paper, the structural assimilation and cultural distinctiveness of the post-1965 group is contrasted with the departure from such traditional collectivist behavior witnessed in the post-millennium generation of diasporic Indians—itself a product of globalization.

Keywords: Immigration, Diasporic Indian Voices, Ethnogenesis, Race, Gender, and Age and Patterns of Socialization, Marginalization of Indian Women Academics and Professionals, Ethnicity, Sub-ethnicity, National Culture and Globalization.

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences: Annual Review, Volume 7, pp.47-61. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 694.525KB).

Dr. Sudata DebChaudhury

Professor of History, Department of Social Sciences, San Diego Mesa College, San Diego, California, USA

Sudata DebChaudhury is a Professor of History in the Department of Social Sciences at San Diego Mesa College. She has done extensive research on the political and psychological impact of Japanese Imperialism on nationalist movements in South and Southeast Asia, on Asian women in politics and the media, and on Indian immigrant experience in the United States. She is on the Advisory Committee on Women's Studies, and is Chair of the Human Rights Awareness Committee in her campus. She is currently working on completing a manuscript on the impact of war on women and children. Beyond the classroom, she is actively involved in human rights issues such as the trafficking of women and children, and children in armed conflict. She has published poems and short stories in English and Bengali, and her plays, in Bengali, have been staged in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.