Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Aranda, Ph.D.
Donileen Loseke, Ph.D.
Gurleen Grewal, Ph.D.
Indian immigrants, South Asians, racism, socialization, racialization, assimilation
This qualitative dissertation uses an Indian dance studio based in the suburbs of a mid-sized Florida city as an entry point to examine how racism impacts the local upwardly mobile Asian Indian community. Utilizing two and a half years of ethnographic data collected at the studio as a Bollywood instructor, 24 in-depth interviews with Indian immigrant parents and their children, 12 self-portraits drawn by children during their interviews, and home visits with 13 families, this project examines the strategies of accommodation and resistance that Indian families use to construct a sense of home and belonging. Applying socialization, visual research methods, critical race, and feminist scholarship to the exploration of how the local Indian immigrant community builds a sense of home and belonging within a nation whose success is a product of racial domination, this project makes four innovative and distinctive contributions to sociological research on socialization, U.S. immigration, and contemporary race relations.
In the first data chapter, I coin and develop the term cultural cultivation to describe strategic ethno-cultural socialization efforts immigrant parents use to preserve a culture ‘left behind’ (Ram 2005). Cultural cultivation adds a nuanced dimension to ethno-cultural socialization studies by demonstrating that these efforts are laborious, often regarded as women’s work, and effectively operate as an ‘added step’ to Hochschild and Machung’s (2003) work on the “second shift.” The second data chapter utilizes an innovative research technique of having children draw self-portraits. While cultural cultivation helps children develop a meaningful attachment to Indian culture, self-portraits and interview data uncovered experiences of being teased and feeling ‘left out.’ As a result, many children forged what Portes and Rumbaut (2001) call a “reactive ethnicity” as a way to cope with prejudice and discrimination and construct a sense of identity and belonging. The third data chapter examines the ways families minimized and internalized experiences of prejudice and discrimination. Rather than recognizing them as a part of structural racism, many immigrant parents regarded racial offenses as a deserved response to individual misbehaviors or inadequacies that were to be pointed out and corrected. This internalization prompted several of the interviewees to police their and their children’s actions when in the presence of non-Indians in an attempt to preemptively minimize prejudicial statements and discrimination. For the last data chapter, by revealing the enduring hardships related to socialization and assimilation, I argue that high levels of assimilation and acculturation were also commonly accompanied by what I call immigrant outsiderness, or the subjective dimensions of the migration experience which are marked by 1. Lack of cultural inclusion, 2. Lack of social inclusion, and 3. Feelings of emotional disconnect. Data demonstrate that in spite of meeting the objective benchmarks typically associated with successful structural integration, acculturation, and assimilation, the immigrant experiences of this “model minority” are bounded and characterized by cultural and social exclusion as well as an emotional disconnect. This dissertation concludes by urging both a critical exploration and integration of how Asian Indians and South Asians fit into the contemporary racial landscape beyond terms like “model minority” and “honorary white” so that we can have a more honest and complex understanding of the role racial domination plays in our everyday lives.
Scholar Commons Citation
Mehta, Pangri G., "Behind the Curtain: Cultural Cultivation, Immigrant Outsiderness, and Normalized Racism against Indian Families" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.