Date of Award

Fall 11-19-2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Wendy Simonds

Second Advisor

Ralph LaRossa

Third Advisor

Jung Ha Kim


This study explores Indian culture in second-generation Indian American families. For the most part, this generation was not socialized to Indian culture in India, which raises the question, how do parents maintain and teach culture to their third-generation children? To answer this question, I interviewed 18 second-generation Indian American couples who had at least one child. Rather than focus on how assimilated or Americanized the families were, I examine the maintenance of Indian culture. Instead of envisioning culture as a binary between “Indian” and “American,” second-generation parents often experience “Indianness” and “Americanness” as interwoven in ways that were not always easily articulated. I also explore the co-ethnic matrimonial process of my participants to reveal the salience of Indian-American identity in their lives. A common experience among my participants was the tendency of mainstream American non- Indians to question Indian-Americans about India and Indian culture. My participants frequently were called upon to be “cultural ambassadors” to curious non-Indians. Religion served as a primary conduit for teaching Indian culture to third-generation children. Moreover, religion and ethnic identity were often conflated. Mothers and fathers share the responsibility of teaching religion to third-generation children. However, mothers tend to be the cultural keepers of the more visible cultural objects and experiences, such as, food, clothing, and language. Fathers were more likely to contribute to childcare than housework. The fathers in my study believe they father in a different social context than their fathers did. By negotiating Indian and American culture, fathers parent in a way that capitalizes on what they perceive as the “best of both worlds.” Links to the local and transnational community were critical to maintaining ties to other co-ethnics and raising children within the culture. Furthermore, most of the parents in my study said they would prefer that their children eventually marry co-ethnics in order to maintain the link to the Indian-American community. Ultimately, I found that Indian culture endures across first- and second-generation Indian Americans. However, “culture” is not a fixed or monolithic object; families continue to modify traditions to meet their emotional and cultural needs.