How do we create confused desis?

For many young immigrants, it is an overwhelming experience of living simultaneously in two opposite cultures; therefore, it affects them particularly when they are on the crossroads of choosing life style between their heritage and American culture. In many cases, it leads them to a conflicting situation while making future decisions for their lives. Finding a balance between both may lead many young immigrants to a state of confusion forever.

It is an ongoing dilemma for many who immigrated in their early age, or were born in the states.

As an interpreter, I have witnessed many South Asian teens trying to find a balance between both. While at school, they spend half their day in the American culture, but the moment they step in to their homes, they find themselves in a predominantly desi culture. At home meeting parents’ expectations and at school fulfilling what the environment demands, is an everyday challenge for them.

A few months ago, I interpreted for a parent teacher conference. The music teacher needed to know why one of her brilliant students had stopped taking interest in music. She told me before the conference started that she was sad and concerned that her best student had lost interest in music for some reason which was incomprehensible to her. The teacher wanted to discuss it with her parents. Meanwhile the student’s Dad, a middle aged man, wearing Pakistani traditional outfit, arrived for the meeting. Having listened to the teacher, he plainly refused to give permission to his daughter to pursue the dream of becoming a violinist, in spite of her repeated convincing.

One of my clients, a counselor in the middle school, once shared with me her observations saying that south Asians, particularly Indian and Pakistani students were generally hardworking and good at social skills, but it seemed to her that they didn’t get enough support from their parents. I was not sure what kind of support she referred to. In my opinion, South Asian parents give special attention to their kid’s education. Later I learned in a parent teacher conference the specific kind of support teens wanted from their parents.

In the meeting, a senior high school student burst out at her parents saying she never got enough support from them. The parents were surprised and replied politely that they worked hard to provide her education and a life style, and that was support. The student (Desi American) explained her view of support and said “I want you to support me in what I want to achieve. You never asked what my dreams are, all you care about are my grades!”

I was once invited by a Pakistani family for dinner. I met with my host’s daughters. Both were in high school. I found them very enthusiastic, and full of life. Our discussion point was success stories of Desi American girls in America. I mentioned Super Woman, a comedian who frames in her skits a life with desi parents. One of my host’s daughter eyes sparked and said she had never missed watching Super Woman’s uploads.

“I want to be a comedian like her but it’s not on my Dad’s wish list for me”, She said. What? I exclaimed. “My father has a list of don’ts and do’s for us. We are Pakistanis in our home and half Americans in our schools because we can’t go beyond the limits set by our parents.” When she said that I saw the spark in her eyes fading.

“Coming to the states was not our decision, nevertheless we are bound to align our dreams with parent’s expectations!” said a student of middle school explaining that it is a combination of what we want and what our parents need from us.

It’s not that every story of immigrants’ depicts cultural conflict. There are parents who have changed themselves and handled the issue with better understanding.  A Bengali lady once summarized for me how we adults can erase the conflict in the minds of these young kids, by saying that we have to trust them and their choices by listening to them. “It is us who need to grow up with our children,” she emphasized and I couldn’t agree more!

Tarik Zia is a former Pakistani journalist who worked in national newspapers, television and magazines. He now lives in the USA.