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Acculturation has been defined in many ways and various definitions are provided to give a better understanding of the concept. According to Suinn and Khoo, acculturation is a process that can occur when two or more cultures interact . Furthermore, Berry defined acculturation as a process concerning two or more cultural groups “with consequences for both; in effect however, the contact experiences have much greater impact on the non-dominant group and its members” .

This chapter explains briefly the theoretical concepts at the basis of this study and focuses on the acculturation process of Indian American immigrants with respect to their dress, food, marriage customs, religion and language. As Indians have a very diverse and rich culture going back to thousands of years, one can assume that it may be very difficult for them to change or adapt to a new culture and tradition when they immigrate to America. At the same time we have to assume that Indian culture has also undergone changes within the past 50 years. Some of these issues are discussed in this section with representative examples.

It is very important to understand the concepts of cultural change before discussing acculturation. A bilinear model regarding the adaption to a new culture is proposed by John Berry and his colleagues . These authors theorized the following four acculturation “attitudes”: integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization based on combining either high or low levels of acculturation and enculturation: (see Figure 3.1). The meaning of these four different attitudes is explained.

As John Berry claims, integration involves immigrants accepting the new culture, while maintaining close ties with their original culture. These immigrants learn and follow local customs without losing their bond with their customs from their homeland. They are both highly acculturated and enculturated as shown in the diagram below . Assimilation, on the other hand, involves immigrants who totally accept the new culture, and reject their original culture. These immigrants will learn the language and follow local customs so thoroughly that no trace of their original heritage remains. People become assimilated in American society when they erased their cultural identity, unlearned their ethnic cultural practices and beliefs, and accepted the core values of mainstream American culture .

Separation occurs when immigrants reject their new culture and live according to the customs of their original culture. These immigrants move to a new culture and find people from their homeland, and live as if they are still in their original culture, only in a different place . Marginalization represents immigrants who reject the new as well as their original culture. These immigrants no longer feel comfortable with their heritage, but the new culture does not appeal to them either .

According to Berry, the attitude affects the process of acculturation. For example, as immigrants prepare to go to the U.S., they may have decided to assimilate into the culture. However, upon arrival they discover that they reject some customs of their new country. As a result they change their attitude from assimilation to integration. Thus, the attitude changes according to the various traits of the immigrants. Portes and Rumbaut argue for three major factors that can impact and change the attitude of immigrants.

According to Portes and Rumbaut three factors are vital to understanding the acculturation trajectories of contemporary migrants. The first factor is their educational background, fluency in the English language, and economic and class status in their homeland. The second factor refers to the social policies of the host government and the historical and contemporary perceptions and attitudes of the mainstream society toward a particular immigrant group. The third factor is the immigrants’ social presence and networks and their family structure. The educational background of the immigrant groups and their social class back home are the “social” and “cultural” capital that they bring with them, which has an enormous impact on their economic assimilation. Although all three factors help determine how immigrants will acculturate into the larger mainstream American society, the second factor is the most relevant to shaping the acculturation outcomes of many nonwhite immigrants, especially of those immigrant groups who have little social and cultural capital and are not white. Even though the Indian Diaspora is racially distinct from the larger American mainstream, professional Indian Americans have an abundance of human-cultural capital acquired through their advanced education, knowledge of the English language, and social class in their home country. The low political profile of the Indian Diaspora also gives them a degree of invisibility that shields them from the scrutiny of the larger mainstream culture .

The three major factors of acculturation presented by Portes and Rumbaut naturally change the course of the process for many immigrants. For example, an immigrant with poor English skills, who is determined to assimilate, may find it impossible because of the language barrier and decide instead to integrate into or even separate from the host culture. Bhatia’s work illustrates the process of how these factors affect Indian immigrants as they adapt to their new culture.

Indians after immigrating to America, inevitably undergo some type of adjustment or acculturation process. Though inside the home Indian immigrants could maintain their culture, once outside the home, the system or society itself forced Indians into the acculturation process on all levels of culture. It is necessary to understand how immigrants acculturate in the U.S. As Waters and Bhatia suggest, unlike many Caribbean immigrants, most Indian professionals are middle class, live in suburban America, and are not subject to the structural inequalities of low wages, racism, and violent neighborhoods . However, there are some parallels in how both these groups of migrants come to terms with their racial and ethnic identity. On one hand, the Indian migrants are very proud of their Indian ethnicity and heritage. On the other hand, they invoke what Bhatia calls “the discourse of sameness […] and universal humanity” to distance themselves from their racial and ethnic identity . In other words, they realize that certain costs associated with being “Indian” are painful and hurtful and that invoking the discourse of sameness is meant to establish equivalence with the white majority. For example, Indian immigrants compare their experiences in the work place with those experiences of white Americans in an attempt to show equality with the majority. In one of Bhatia’s interviews an immigrant credits his own hard work and accomplishments for his position in the company, while: “If I was a white American male, you know, maybe there would be prejudice because I’m too short. […] So being an Indian, I don’t think it put me at a different spot. Or at least, that’s how I feel” .

Sunil Bhatia’s study demonstrates that the members of the transnational Indian Diaspora are more comfortable with a cultural identity than a racial identity because their insertion in the transnational Diaspora has transformed them from being Indian to being “people of color” .

The research illustrates the complicated nature of the acculturation of Indian immigrants. As demonstrated above, the attitude of the immigrants toward their new host country is only a starting point for the process. As these immigrants experience their new culture, their own personal background reshapes their attitude, and changes the way they interact with people, regardless of nationality. Clearly Indian immigrants move through a process as they acculturate to their new surroundings.

While Berry, Portes and Rumbaut and Bahtia all approach the subject from different directions and perspectives, and though they may not agree with one another, it is clear that each body of research illustrates a complicated process of acculturation. Taken individually the research results may appear to be contradictory, however, a closer analysis shows that their research actually supports one another. The attitude of the immigrants, studied by Berry, plays a major role in the process, but these attitudes may change in response to the three major factors affecting acculturation presented by Portes and Rumbaut. This ever changing process has been documented in Bhatia’s work, which demonstrates that immigrants adapt individually to their new culture, in this case the United States. That means there is no set formula for determining what will happen to an immigrant once he or she arrives. This process takes place within any immigrant to any country, therefore it will be beneficial to demonstrate specifically some of the elements unique to Indian immigrants, and how these elements influence the process.

3.2 Influencing Elements of Acculturation

3.2.1 Family

Perhaps the most important element to consider for Indian immigrants is family. As these Indian immigrants relocate to the U.S., start a family and begin the process of finding their place in society, it is important to understand the processes which influence the impact of acculturation on their families. To first-generation Indian immigrants and their children, family plays a vital role in their lives.

Hodge agrees with this assessment, and points out the stark difference between Indian culture and western culture. Western culture emphasizes the individual, material success and secularism. The Indian culture, by contrast, places much more value on community, especially the family, and on spiritual matters .

Acculturation plays an important role in understanding about the family structure, including family conflict as well as differences between first and second-generations. For example, the process and outcomes of acculturation determine which values are important to the first-generation and therefore retained and passed on to the succeeding generations. In addition, the process of acculturation might also determine expectations for subsequent generations. For example an assimilated individual would expect the same from his or her children.

Most of the work reviewed on acculturation includes some variables related to the family structure, including family conflict, specifically intergenerational family conflict.

Some scholars dedicated their studies to South Asian families. Among them, for example, Mathews provided a more general consideration of South Asian families to explain how they function. First, she explains the relationship of the family in a social order, where the father is usually considered the head of the family, which continues to be the traditional way of Indian families in America. Furthermore, she describes the role of both father and mother in the family, in which the mother usually takes care of the household and raises the children and the father usually serves as decision maker and provider .

Bringing up the children in a new and different culture, which often conflicts with their core ethnic values, creates problems for not only the parents but also for their children. As values may be extracted from both the native culture and host culture, it is inevitable that conflicts arise. Thus, in this case both parents and children struggle to balance family values of their own culture with the family values of the mainstream culture. In addition, according to the traditional Indian family, the eldest person is considered to be a decision maker such as career decisions for family members or approving marriages. This naturally means parents, especially in the first-generation, make the important decisions .

Clearly the attitude of immigrants from India to the U.S. will be greatly influenced by the strength of their bond to their traditional family values. This attitude will steer them through their acculturation process.