WASHINGTON DIARY: Bridge-builders
by: Dr Manzur Ejaz, USA
Courtesy: Wichaar.com, July 28th, 2009
The South Asian youth can become a very strong bridge between North America and South Asia. But to achieve the status of honest arbitrators they need to stay away from diplomatic missions, religious outfits and professional groups who lobby for the governments in South Asia.
South Asian youth, or second and third generation immigrants from that region, are now well represented at educational and professional institutions in the United States. However, the South Asian youth is not a monolithic group; there is a marked difference between those born in North America, those who came at a very young age, and those who immigrated in their teens or are here for college and graduate studies.
Most of the time, communication between these three sets of youth is minimal, to say the least. Their development process is as uneven as the intelligentsias of their native countries: the Indian stock is more into diversified fields while the rest of the pack is still pursuing ‘secure’ careers in science-related fields. The question is: what should ideally be expected of South Asian youths?
Most parents of South Asian youths come from countries that are at loggerheads with each other. Diplomatic missions, religious/professional groups and the media in North America try their best to reincarnate this hatred. Sometimes, even liberal parents of South Asian origin refuse to look beyond the narrow nationalisms they picked up during their own youth. Therefore, it seems hard for the South Asian youth to resist such pressures.
To what extent is the youth influenced by this? Generally speaking, the North American born generation is more tied to countries of their birth, that is, the United States and Canada, while teenaged immigrants carry over the biases from their countries of origin. The students who come for university education are replicas of the elites back home. Bright in studies, this group exerts varying pressures on the indigenous South Asian youth.
The indigenous South Asian youth in North America is much more aware of local issues of racism and domestic policies that will affect their future lives. Teenaged immigrants waver between specific conflicts of their region of origin and specific problems of their new homelands. Students coming for higher studies are usually marginally interested in the domestic policies of North America, despite the fact that they may develop an extensive list of friends in their host countries.
Generally speaking, South Asian indigenous youths will mostly carry forward the harmless, basic traditions of their parents. In matters of food, weddings and other social interactions and rituals, they enjoy being part of Indian civilisation. Nonetheless, they follow diverse fields of studies very seriously. The disproportionate representation of students of South Asian origin at North America’s best universities is a good indicator of their progress. However, a section of this youth remains confused about its inheritance and identity.
The descendents of North Indian immigrants, specifically Punjabis from both India and Pakistan, are still wavering between their religious and cultural identities. Despite the fact that Sikh youths lead cultural activities in North America through Bhangra teams and other artistic performances, the Gurdwara has immense control over their upbringing. One reason for that may be that the Gurdwara accommodates and encourages cultural enhancement.
Pakistani Punjabis are at more of a disadvantage because their parents don’t pass on much by way of cultural traditions to them, except religious festivals like the Eids. Conversely, a significant section of the Pakistani-American-Canadian youth gets easily alienated from the mosque because it does not offer anything but faith-based rituals. These kids participate in American/Canadian cultural activities or join some North Indian groups, Bhangra bands being one such group.
South Asian youths can play a significant role in their home countries and ancestral homelands. They should follow the rationalistic western approach to analyse the problems their parents could not because of state-controlled teaching materials and nationalist media. They can come together and create unifying platforms of diverse communities to understand the weaknesses, inhibitions and inbred prejudices prevailing in South Asia.
By creating such common platforms, they can fight against the racism which affects them indiscriminately. They can become a very strong bridge between North America and South Asia. But to achieve the status of honest arbitrators they should stay away from diplomatic missions, religious outfits and professional groups who lobby for the governments in South Asia.
Pakistani-American-Canadian youths have to expand their horizon of studies beyond narrowly defined careers in science and engineering. They need to go into humanities, social sciences and media-related fields. They should follow the example of Indians who have a significant presence in business, academia and media organisations. Instead of resenting the advances Indian élites have made, they should learn a few lessons from them.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org