American Born Confident Desi: An Analysis of the Differences in Communication Among the South Asian American Community
A discourse community refers to a group of people who share a set of basic values and assumptions and ways of communicating (through writing or speech) about these goals. There is an infinite amount of discourse communities in the world. They can be related to a variety of subjects, including a certain location, a sport, an event, or even a culture. One such discourse community is the South Asian American community. Although it may appear that all South Asian Americans communicate to one another in the same aspect, it is commonly seen that the way South Asian American millennials communicate with one another is quite different from the way they communicate with the older generations such as parents and grandparents.
South Asian American millennials tend to relate to one another more than they relate to the older generations within their community; thus, their method of communication is quite different. Many South Asian American millennials have either been called or identify as an “American Born Confused Desi” or ABCD. This term was first coined as a derogatory term for first-generation South Asian youth as it was believed that they were more susceptible to alienate their roots in favor of the American way of life. However, despite their “confusion” or their struggle to stay true to two cultures and themselves, they have become proud of this identity. They have grown into “a community whose members have embraced the label and relate to each other through time of dissonance between Indian and American culture” (Ghosh, 2015). For those who identify as ABCD, their Desi (or South Asian) background has integrated itself into their otherwise American lifestyle. Therefore, they share more modern beliefs in comparison to the older generations’ more traditional or old school point of view. They tend to speak to one another in mainly English, primarily as they would with any other millennial. However, since most ABCD do speak Hindi or another South Asian language at home, they tend to integrate common foreign colloquials- and other terms that often become lost in translation- into their speech. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, 57.6 percent of Asian Indians in the U.S. spoke non-English at home and still spoke English “very well” (Reeves, 2004). Studies also show that, although they know how to speak a foreign language, most first-generation South Asians do not know to read or write it. Although this communication within only the ABCD community can be described as “whitewashed”, both American and Desi cultures have integrated themselves into the exchange.
As is common with any other race, South Asian American millennials tend to share many differences from the older generations in the South Asian American community. Although the youth are struggling to straddle two countries and still remain true to themselves, they are often seen as rebels or bad eggs by older generations, generally parents. According to New York-based psychiatrist Nikhil Palekar, parents see their child’s performance as a reflection of themselves, and “the Indian parent takes it 10 notches further” (Rao, 2009). They constantly fear that their child will fall into the norm of being a “crazy American teenager”, thus, they attempt to forcibly push their seemingly old school beliefs onto their youth (Rao, 2009). However, this results in a clash between modern and traditional ways. Although most ABCD can understand and speak a foreign language and therefore communicate with their parents in this way, there are some cases in which the millennial does not feel comfortable enough to speak it, thus they continue to talk in English. It can also be seen that as millennials are alienated from their roots, they start to distance themselves from their parents as well. As a result, the parents try to keep up with the latest modern trends in an attempt to relate to their children. Thus, there are many South Asian American parents who speak to their children in English, because it is believed to be “cool” or “hip” or even “trendy”. However, with an even older generation, such as the grandparents, it becomes even more difficult to fuse the two cultures. Most South Asian grandparents in America either do not speak or understand English or do not speak it although they understand a little. Thus, their method of communication with the millennials is confined to the foreign language. They also tend to be more traditional than their children (the parents), thus, seeing no reason to adapt to the modern American culture.
Despite the arguable difference between the two generations, there are still many similarities between the way South Asian American millennials communicate with one another and how they communicate with older generations. All South Asian Americans can identify as that despite their age. They have all adapted to living among two very different cultures. Although they are living in America, they have not forgotten their South Asian traditions. This is quite evident in the way the unique foreign culture has spread throughout the country. South Asian characters have become an important part of many Hollywood movies and television shows, such as Big Bang Theory, The Mindy Project, or even Aladdin. South Asian influence is also present in the fashion industry. The currently popular trend of two-piece dresses actually derived from the South Asian traditional clothing called lehengas. There is also a fast growing henna trend. It is very popular at Coachella, an annual music and arts festival, where many of those who attend show off a henna design. Henna is also very popular among celebrities, such as the ex-High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens and reality star and model Kylie Jenner. Singer and model Rihanna even has a henna design tattooed on her hand. South Asian influence is also evident in the food industry with the booming number of Indian restaurants. The earliest known Indian restaurant in America appeared in 1920 in the heart of New York (Mannur, 2011), and the industry has continued to grow since then. The everyday presence of South Asian culture in the American lifestyle goes to show how South Asians have adapted themselves into a new country. This shared connection to their culture creates a special relationship between all South Asian Americans, despite their age or moral principles.
Although it can be argued that the South Asian community in America is a speech community on its own, it can be seen that there is a significant difference between the way the millennials communicate with one another and the way they communicate with older generations. By evaluating this difference, one can see how the Desi culture has integrated itself into the American lifestyle of many South Asians. They listen to Bollywood music along with their American pop or rap music. They watch long Bollywood movies along with their Hollywood movies. They enjoy eating curry and rice; yet, they wouldn’t mind having some pizza and fries. For them, the two cultures have fused into one, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Instead of being “American Born Confused Desi”, they have become “American Born Confident Desi”.
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