I interviewed a group of first generation Indians in Northern California, three young boys and three teen girls, about traditions they wanted to keep and those that were changed by living in the US. I was surprised that there was nothing they wanted to change except dowry payments from the bride’s family and the showing off that occurs in India where people will rent expensive clothes and jewelry if they can’t afford to buy them, and borrow to put on lavish weddings. They value speaking multiple languages, including Hindi and their northern India regional language—Bengali or Gujarati. They value Hinduism, the fun festival celebration of deities like Durga, the morning and evening prayers in the shrine room in their homes where they light incense and an oil candle to pray. . They like the group sharing and concern, in contrast to US individualism and isolation. For example, Prince, 11, said if he were to get hurt here, his neighbor’s wouldn’t know or help. In India, he crashed a scooter and many people came to help him. People take more time with people rather than working all the time. This group cohesion also means everyone knows what’s going on and they don’t forget if someone messes up. Their parents frequently are on the phone with friends and even distant relatives, but the young people don’t do this as much.
The young people expect to have arranged marriages because they believe it’s more than a relationship between spouses, but almost like a business arrangement between families. Love marriages are based on lust and can be viewed as selfish. Parents are more supportive when they have a say in selecting a spouse. Having a degree is now the biggest draw for a prospective spouse. Families investigate prospects, including ones found online matrimonial sites. Caste is still a factor; one girl said she’ll marry only in a specific sub-caste. Lighter skin is still considered appealing, so mothers tell daughters to stay out of the sun and not get too tan playing sports. They also expect to have a big multi-day wedding because it’s the biggest day of your life. People talk about your wedding for generations–people still comment on a grandmother’s wedding.
I thought that they might want to date and go to school dances like proms, but they are not allowed to date until maybe their last two years in college in preparation for marriage in their early 20s. The deadline is age 25 for a girl, said Chanchal. Chandni, 17, does want to go to her senior prom with her sister and girlfriend and her parents agreed. She wouldn’t be surprised if her father came by to check on them.