Ethnic rebels in South Asian-American community

Rifat Salam, Negotiating Tradition, Becoming American: Family, Gender, and Autonomy for Second Generation South Asians, 209-11

What sets the ethnic rebels apart from the neo-traditionals is not a difference in their childhood experiences but rather the events and choices of their early adult years which forced a shift away from ethnic tradition.  What sets them apart from their independence-oriented counterparts is that they have developed a distinctly opposition orientation to their ethnic community and what they view to be the darker side of ethnic tradition.  While the rebels have embraced the American values of egalitarianism and individual freedom, they do not reject their ethnicity in an attempt to become “white” or more “authentically” American.  Rather, they fully understand their minority status and feel a sense of ethnic solidarity.  The ethnic rebels have assimilated, not by wanting to blend into the mainstream, but through their desire to fully participate in American political and social institutions.  Their personal life choices, including their dating and marriage choices, reflect their larger beliefs about equality and individualism.

The strategies employed by individuals who have chosen the ethnic rebellion pathway represent a resolution of second generation dilemmas which requires a complete rethinking and rejection of the expectations of their families and ethnic communities.  They resolve the dating dilemma by rejecting arranged marriage entirely and often chose to geographically distance themselves from their families in order to date and choose partners on their own terms.  Their resolution of the identity dilemma is through a strategy where they assert their ethnic identity combined with an oppositional stance against the aspects of the immigrant community which they find objectionable–an ethnically-based yet oppositional identity, often opposed to problems they find in both mainstream and immigrant communities.  Their strategies for dealing with the gender dilemma involve openly identifying bias and inequality in the immigrant community and making decisions which defy parental and community expectations…These strategies represent an individuals’ assertion of autonomy in defiance of tradition and the rejection of compromise.  Their strategies and choices do not fit either mainstream or first generation expectations of second generation South Asians.

The ethnic rebels represent another, if rarer, style of assimilation among second generation South Asians.  Their choice to reject arranged marriage in any form and to reject any sort of boundary criteria around ethnicity is part of a self-conscious personal choice to resist ethnic expectations that they feel either do not reflect their politics or do not lead to their best relationship options.  This resistance and rebellion does not make them more assimilated than their neo-traditional and independence-oriented peers.  On the contrary, their life orientation is one that does not reflect the path we generally expect of model minority ethnics who assimilate in an “ideal” way.  Their contrarian stance distances them from their childhood ethnic communities and also makes them stand out in mainstream society.  However, the ethnic rebels still benefit from the educational opportunities and from social class privilege and the model minority treatment of well-educated South Asians.  Interestingly, in the changing context of the post-September 11th world, the ethnic rebels and their political activism may have a greater role to play.

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