Not in the Model Minority


Q I am a low-income, working-class Indian now living in California. I do not fit the model-minority picture of the upwardly mobile, educated, or business-savvy South Asian immigrant. Unfortunately, I have discovered that Indians can be pretty class-oriented and quick to categorize and judge based on income and education. In fact, their lifestyle starts looking quite shallow and materialistic. I find it hard to be a part of the community with these attitudes and values.

A In the last few years I have received a few emails from the South Asian community sharing similar perceptions and viewpoints. It’s important for those who don’t fit the stereotype to speak up, although, when you are not part of the dominant group with some of the privileges of higher education and income, it is harder to voice your opinion. You simply don’t feel as entitled and can be more afraid of ridicule and being discounted. I am sure this makes you angry. Caste and class have been a part of most cultures for centuries and do not dissolve from our psyches and societies so quickly. They have only recently been challenged as we try to move into more egalitarian values and social structures.

I wonder if the immigrants who come to the United States to seek more opportunity have a particular drive for material success. Is this narrow group of Indian Americans defined by these values that keep them comparing and judging by the standards of outer success?

I find that those who have been materially successful are finding their lives devoid of deep meaning, and find little time to enjoy things. The shell of outer success doesn’t satisfy deeper needs and fulfillment. More families are recognizing this, often through painful ways. Some Indians who have lived in the States for many years are returning to India because they want to be close to family, their traditions, and have their children learn about their heritage by living in it more fully.

The good news is that the younger generation of Indian Americans, particularly if they have been here awhile, or were born in the States, are more oriented toward deeper values and interests. They are seeking a connection to their roots and are looking at what is it to be an Indian in the West. Obviously there is no one definition; however, the fact that this question is being consciously asked, in and of itself reveals an interest in claiming their Indian heritage while being American.

Look for that connection in Indian philosophy, arts, and music, that carry much richness. There are venues in the SF Bay Area that are often affordable and quite accessible. Americans are also sponsoring events and speakers who represent the more authentic and deeper aspects of the Indian culture and are speaking about the social challenges present. Seek out those who share your cultural leanings, regardless of where they are from.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit

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