Almost every time I meet another Indian American of my age, I see a story that we have both shared since birth.
Trying to retain the traditions that my parents have continuously instilled into my brain ever since our rupees became dollars has created a confusing existence. Besides attempting to adequately juggle the social pressures, traditions, and stereotypes of two different cultural entities, I have tried to make the effort to be a model child in my parents’ eyes. The internal see-saw of adapting to the successes and struggles of my bicultural identity has illuminated corners of my life to which I would have been blind to otherwise. Mainly, I have developed confidence in my views because of my increased understanding of commonalities and distinctions in Indian American culture.
Living in the Modern World
My sentiments match those shown in “Master of None,” a Netflix series by Aziz Ansari. The main character exposes his audience to the subtle and overt racist idiosyncrasies that modern society places on an Indian American thirty-something year old. Aziz admits that he, along with immigrant children who have developed their own American identities, do not truly deserve all the luxuries for which their parents toiled heavily. For this reason, he and his friends work hard to feel less guilty. Dr. Min Zhou, a sociology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, states this notion well. “With so many educated, skilled, and ambitious members, the [Asian immigrant] group provides role models and creates ethnic capital…With all this commitment behind them, the children of Asian immigrants are expected to perform exceptionally and to work twice as hard as other Americans.” This disconnect between millennia and their immigrant parents seems psychological. Our lifestyle is inevitably pushing us out of our roots, one fiber at a time, because we are allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by materialism of the ever-changing modern era. In many ways, the world has noticed the difficulty in children living up to a generational expectation to perform well.
As a student, I have always thought that my efforts and values in gaining wisdom from my educational experiences would demonstrate the largest “thank you” to my parents. After all, any parent who sees the success of their children must be proud of not only their child’s tenacity, but also their own. Therefore, I feel an implicit need to restore family honor, despite my parents never truly expressing any grief about the difficulties of pursuing higher education in America, working in a different country, and adapting to a new lifestyle in Pennsylvania. For this reason, I need to justify any sacrifices by making the most of my education. To show them that I care. To show them that what they endured is worth my endurance. To show an entire generation of adults that graduating from the best college with the best grades to get the best job with the best salary with the best spouse is a shared ideal between children and their parents.
Ignitable phrases of success have been ingrained into me before I was even born. This mindset seems to add fuel to the driving force of Asian Americans excelling in education today, predominantly in grade school.
When I was in high school, many students were heavily involved in school to the point of mental stress and anxiety over “major failures,” or menial losses like getting the A but not the A+. Playing on the team, but not being the captain. Advancing to the next round in an academic competition, but not winning first place. Although I was guilty of this mindset, it seemed justifiable. Colleges measured success by more than just a transcript; students were evaluated by their ability to explore different perspectives and worlds of thought. Being “well-rounded” was usually the buzzword.
In order to cater to colleges, my friends transformed into individuals who absorbed every opportunity for service, leadership, and uniqueness. Fortunately, I realized early that I would have to play the college game well in order to reach a final state of self-satisfaction. Come senior year, I unexpectedly changed. Even though I joined these activities for my leisure and resume, I ended up gaining self-confidence and wisdom as byproducts.
Defining Success in College
What does that say about the college admissions process transforming students into powerhouses of the stereotypical idea of success? Are Indian Americans taking baby steps to reach the minimal standard that society deems adequate, or are they willingly struggling to take large strides and reach goals larger than they can imagine? Such a nebulous definition of success has a special place in my conscience. If I had narrow goals as a student heavily involved in STEM, I would have only focused on getting a 4.0 GPA in chemical engineering. Furthermore, my contributions as a writer for India Currents would not help me reach the grand, conventional view of success. However, exploring this passion will teach me how to balance personal and professional growth, which will always be more important to me.
These ideas can be reflected onto anyone, as the generational gap in culture automatically makes the topic of academic success ubiquitous. Is our lifelong dedication to achieve partially derived from a need to support our hard-working parents? I believe so. If we view our duties and responsibilities as motivators rather than requirements, we can achieve our goals. We can seize every opportunity. We can challenge the world.
Marianne Williamson once said, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Sumit Pareek is a sophomore studying chemical engineering at Penn State University.