Global identity: The recursive loop

Dr. Rajeswari Natrajan-Tyagi, my mentor-esteemed colleague and friend, and I recently gave a one hour presentation on the topic of parenting in immigrant families to a parent teacher student association (PTSA) in a Southern Californian community. These are parents with middle school aged children. We shared our experiences being immigrants; she, as a recent immigrant and a mother of two US-born children; me, as a 1.5 generation immigrant raised by a non-English speaking single parent in the South Bay area of LA. We discussed acculturative stress, identity confusion, identity/contextual negotiation, cross cultural differences between our culture and that of the US, the impact of acculturation on the parent-child and marriage dyad, and more. Our approach was to share our narratives and use them to illustrate what has been stated in research about immigrant families in the US. Our hope was to provide a more intimate presentation so that our audience could gain a sense of who we are professionally and personally. In essence, the goal was to make a connection.

After our talk, we were approached by several parents – and what I learned from these parents blew me away.

Given my personal and professional interests in global culture and identity, I have written and read about the intersection of cultures in global nomads. Global identity has enriched individuals’ sense of themselves by adding and/or editing their experience of Self given unique encounters with diverse cultures. However, the parents who approached us after our talk at the PTSA meeting enlightened me on a completely different dynamic to which I will refer as the recursive loop of global identity.

I am using pseudonyms and altering identifying information to protect the anonymity of those who approached us.

A woman of color, who I will call Kim, shared her frustration and resentment that her daughter was being ostracized at school because she did not speak the native language of their ethnic background. Kim shared that when her family immigrated to the US over a century ago, they encouraged each other to learn English and leave their native language behind. Now, because of the increasing number of recent immigrants/expatriates entering her neighborhood, her daughter is being teased for not knowing languages other than English. It is fascinating that due to globalization, immigrants in the 20th century, (i.e. my family) faced discrimination in the U.S. because for not being a part of the dominating majority who spoke English and were of European descent. It appears that globalization in the 21st century finds children of these same immigrants facing discrimination for successfully acculturating or assimilating to American culture. As Kim stated to me “we did what we were supposed to do.”

In our global village it appears that no one is safe from discrimination. No one is safe from feeling that they are part of the out-group.

Another parent commented that her son was the only son with Euro-American features on his sports team; the majority of the team is composed of children from Asia who speak 2+ languages. This phenomena can be quite alarming for Euro-Americans who are unaccustomed to being a minority in the U.S . I did some light internet research and found that the US Census predicts a decline in the “White child population.” Scholars have discussed challenges adjusting to the dominant culture in the school aged ethnic minority children population (Yeh & Drost, 2002) but there is less research available about this new phenomena taking place. What are the challenges facing White children who are quickly becoming the minority in many elementary schools across the U.S.? How will parents and these communities address these challenges?

Drs. Raji Natrajan-Tyagi and Jennifer Young


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