Being a first-generation Indian- American comes with great responsibility, burden, and hope. The typical dream that almost every immigrant from India holds for their children is that they will become something great. It is, of course, the land of opportunity. That dream starts off as a ‘perhaps this will happen’ but then slowly starts to become the only one they see. They want their children to do something so magnificent that it puts all the other Indian American children to shame. They want children to do something that upholds the family name.
Something that allows them to go back to India and boast about the wonderful accomplishments their children have brought home. Something that is not unique, but definitive. Something that allows them to live through their children. I have seen this time and time again, where Indian American children go into their college years completely sheltered and unready for free will. They have only one goal in mind—becoming a physician, an engineer, a techy or something that guarantees a steady income.
I have thought through this. Tried to understand why the Indian mentality is overwhelmingly egotistical. There is no doubt that our parents want the absolute best for us and they do everything in their power to help us become successful—sending us to the best colleges, paying for extra classes, etc. At the same time, they want us to be stable and not rogue. However, that concern of becoming ‘wild’ is why we are not reaching our full potential. The problem is that they don’t let us fail.
Even the word ‘failure’ is frightening. The conversation topic at the dinner table is never about feel good things, it is always about the things we can improve. How did your test go? Do you have the highest GPA in class? Did you do more practice problems? Agreeably, this method is effective as Indian Americans are one of the richest minority groups in the country but increasingly this population is suffering from mental illness such as anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, stigma prevents many Asian Americans from seeking help and this is a huge problem as highlighted in research and blogs across the world. What is the point of being successful, if you can’t enjoy it? That question, my friends, is one that we need to start telling each other and our parents. The stress that some college students face because of the pressure from their parents is frankly ridiculous. I had friends who dropped things they loved so that they could focus on studying and getting into medical school because that is what their parents required. Friends who loved to draw and dance but could not pursue it because their parents threatened to bring them back home if they did not meet expectations.
This needs to change. We should give ourselves a chance to be creative and unique. Coming from a culture that is so accepting and artistic, it is embarrassing that we look down upon people who pursue the arts. Not surprisingly, it is now normal to become a doctor or engineer in our community. So, I ask you, how is that unique?
It is time to change the landscape and burst through the thick emotional barriers we surround ourselves with. I am not saying ‘Don’t be a doctor.’ I am just saying be a doctor if you truly want to be one. If there is something you love and you put your mind, heart, and soul towards it; the money will eventually come. We are succumbing to greed by believing the only worthy occupation is one that pays your bills. Challenge yourself to do what you love and support yourself.
As South Asian Americans, we must strike the delicate balance between traditional and modern, desire and obligation, and the generational differences that are pressuring us to stray away from what we really want. We should dream for great things, but not at the cost of our happiness. There are so many discussions we still need to have as a community, but I think this is one place we could start and slowly make a difference.
South Asian parents, we know that everything you push us towards is because it will safeguard our place in society but there are so many other things to care about in the world. In an era of thinking bigger and doing the most, we cannot just do what society expects from us. Nor could we ever be completely satisfied with being ‘ordinary.’ We must, as you did, find our own place in the world and that may be doing things that don’t make sense.
Instead of fostering competition between your children, encourage collaboration. Be supportive of others in your community instead of constantly comparing who has the most. In the big picture, it really doesn’t matter. People will commend you, not for what you have, but for who you are as a person. Be the example that places this generation above all others. Have faith and trust in us because we know what we are capable of and more importantly, believe that we will reach our full potential and surpass any of your expectations. Don’t stop dreaming; just envision one that is flexible and supportive.
Neerali Patel is currently pursuing her Masters of Science in Public Health with a concentration in health policy and management. Passionate about mental health awareness and cancer survivorship, the program was a natural fit. For her, writing has always been a therapeutic outlet along with spending time with her family and friends. Besides spending a majority of her evenings in fantasy novels, Neerali is an avid dancer, Netflix watcher, and organivore.