The essay talks about the two lives of Lahiri as an immigrant of Indian-American descent. The United States has had immigrant citizens from different countries who have faced various challenges in being accepted in the society. According to the author, she was torn in between being loyal to the old world and being fluent in the new world. However, she found it even more challenging between the two worlds. The author and her family came to the United States when she was still very young. Her parents were from Calcutta and they mostly adopted the Bengali culture. But for the author, her childhood was characterised with confusion as she attended American schools and had American friends but her parents lived according to their Indian culture. This is the first life that the author is talking about (Lahiri, para 2).
The second life that the author is talking about is when she grows up and she learns to accept and define her two cultures. When she got older, the author started understanding herself as she understood where she came from and why her parents were different. She also learnt to accept the new American culture and that this was where she grew up and does not need to change this. With this new life, the author is able to appreciate both cultures more than before (Lahiri, para 6).
Lahiri talks about her Indian-American experience and how different it was from the experiences of her friends who were Irish American or Italian American. According to the author, her experiences were different from other immigrant friends who were Irish American or Italian American mainly because these groups of American immigrants had been in the country for many years and so the American society had already accepted them (Lahiri, para 3). They also could adjust and related better with the new culture than Lahiri could. Being a first generation immigrant in the America, the experience is harder as one tries to blend in two distinct cultures. However for second generation or third generation immigrant, things are easier as people are able to understand themselves better and recognize their social positions. Things would have definitely been easier for Lahiri if she was not a first generation immigrant (George, p. 56).
When she started writing, the author was able to express her thoughts and understanding about the Indian-American experience and this enabled her understand herself more. She was more able to talk about her background and she is now able to describe herself. She does not feel confused anymore and she has learnt to accept and live both cultures and traditions. She is now able to practice her Indian culture with ease and she even got married in Calcutta. Writing definitely enabled the author to express herself more and in so doing, was able to understand and accept her two cultures (Lhiri, para 4).
The story of Lahiri has been replicated many times among immigrant families and her experiences are common in America. Most immigrant children and families have double identities but their culture and identity are always shaped by the social relationships around them. According to (Bhabha, p. 203), the expectation of others on who a person is might collide or conflict with how a person might want to identify themselves. This happens among immigrants as they want to identify themselves with a particular culture, but their social relationships interfere with their identity. This is also what happened for Lahiri as she tried to identify herself with other immigrant friends who were Irish American or Italian American.
Immigrant children also face other challenges as they try to identify themselves in their new cultures. While immigrant children in America tend to identify themselves with the American culture, their parents want them to recognize their own older culture instead (Rieti, para 2). When Lahiri talks about her childhood, she says that her parents told her that she was not American and that she would never be American. This has been experienced among numerous other immigrant families in America. For instance, immigrant parents have been found to resists assimilation of their children into the American culture and want their children to follow their lead (Zehr, para 6). While it might seem easy for the parents, children find it hard to have a different identity from those of their peers. Since immigrant children are living, studying, and growing up in America, it is only normal that they try to identify themselves with the American culture. However as they grow older, they accept both cultures (Ngo, p. 8).
The cultural identity of immigrant families and children has been related to the nature of parent-child conflict and bonding. Strong and positive bonds has been found to prevent child and adolescent problems while parent-child conflict can have detrimental impacts on the social and psychological adjustments of children (Choi, He, and Harachi, p. 86). In Lahiri’s story, she was not able to adjust to and accept her social identity and she cites that she felt like her parents were very different from her. However in adulthood, her relationship with her parents seems to have gotten better and this might have contributed to her better adjustment to the two cultures.