Exploring Meanings of Identity, Selfhood, and Migration in the Lives of First- Generation Gujarati Asian Indian Americans: A Narrative Study

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Sheth, Reena
First generation; Gujarati Asian Indians; Home; Identity; Migration; Narrative Research
article description
Asian Indians today are the fastest growing Asian group in the United States. This increase is especially evident post 1965, when changes in immigration policy allowed for greater numbers of immigrants from India. This group of immigrants is poorly represented in the literature, and the present study is an attempt to address this paucity in research within cultural psychology. Central to the present research are questions of migration, self, and identity, specifically, identity of `second wave' Gujarati Asian Indian immigrants in the United States living in the larger Pittsburgh area. Methodologically, this study is qualitative in nature, utilizing in-depth interview data from four first generation Gujarati Asian Indians. In addition to the description and interpretation of the four participants' narratives, each account was analyzed using the holistic-content and the holistic-form analysis approach proposed by Lieblich, Mashiach, and Zilber (1998).One of the significant findings of the study was the emergence of a complex and dialectical notion of `home' in and through all four participants' stories. Migration was the background against which each participant attempted to construct and understand meanings of `home.' All participants privileged their meaningful and emotionally based everyday interactions and relationships with others, and thus emphasized a relational, interpersonal meaning of home. In the context of the dialectic of home and migration, participants constructed complex yet ambivalent, multiple yet liminal notions of home.The sense of being at home, for all four participants, was intertwined with their sense of identity. Each participant's migration inaugurated multiple moments that called upon them to wrestle with questions of selfhood. Ultimately, Indian immigrants of this study both displayed and resisted certain forms of identity to define their sense of "who they are" in the United States. The theme of `otherness' illuminated how assignation of generic and marked otherness, race, and ethnicity mediated participants' sense of self, at times restricting while at other times, empowering them to inhabit multiple, polyphonous identities.Finally, the findings of the study are examined with and against the main discourses of migrant experiences that dominate the existing literature--models of acculturation, acculturative stress and its impact on mental health, and notions of identity and culture. In so doing, the present study further contributes to the field of cultural psychology.