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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary T. Mathew, April 25, 1999. Interview K-0815. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Immigrant parents do not force their culture on their American children

Though Mathew and her husband embraced their American lifestyle, as their daughters grew up, their desire to, for example, go on dates, made Mathew realize that her daughters were "Americans and we could not package them into a predetermined cultural identity."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary T. Mathew, April 25, 1999. Interview K-0815. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MARY T. MATHEW:
Ahm. . . both our children are, temperamentally, very sweet and easy to get along with. And, raising both of them in their childhood was delightful. And as they grow up, and during their early growing years, —ahm. . . mentally, both of us were still firmly rooted in the cultural expectations of typical Indian parents. Things, okay. Things such as, ahm. . .. We, it was unthinkable to us that girls would wear shorts. It was unthinkable to us that our children would think of dating, boys, and, er. . .. It was unthinkable to us that our children would want to, ahm. . . go out on dates and return, ahm. . . after nightfall. So, all of these are, ahm. . . expectations or, certain behavior—, well, expectations I should say, that we had so firmly implanted in us, that we could not get reconciled to how our girls were changing before our eyes. So, when our older daughter who was the guinea pig in our, child-rearing, went through these stages, she and us, and we, had encounters when we would try to explain our respective positions and so on. So, I would say that it took us time and a few years to realize that our children were not extensions of our personalities, even though they were Indian in terms of having Indian parents, they had grown up here and so these children who were, in the real sense of the term, Americans and we could not package them into a predetermined cultural entity.
RASHMI VARMA:
Did they have questions for you, as to what, you know, their identities were? Did you ever see any confusion in them? Or do you think that it was easy for them to just see themselves as Americans? Did they come ever with experiences from school, you know, where someone had asked them about their identity and that had led to some confusion? Umm. . .. Some of their experiences growing up?
MARY T. MATHEW:
I would say that, since at home we were not, like, into culture, in the sense that we were not socially active—.
RASHMI VARMA:
What about the language spoken at home?
MARY T. MATHEW:
We always spoke in English.
RASHMI VARMA:
Okay.
MARY T. MATHEW:
Yeah. Because I taught in their school, so they had seen me as a teacher—their teacher! So, speaking to them in English came naturally to, both of us.
RASHMI VARMA:
Do they know any [unclear] ?
MARY T. MATHEW:
They can understand it, and they can reply with an accent, even though they don't.
RASHMI VARMA:
In [unclear] .
MARY T. MATHEW:
Uh-huh. Right. They understand it. So, ahm. . .. it took us a few years for these issues to get resolved, and then, then we had a few tough years when the girls felt that we were unreasonably strict with them, and that we didn't understand what their, needs were, in these social areas, and so on.
RASHMI VARMA:
What about cultural areas? Do you think that they were ever confused about their identity? Did other kids perceive them as different? Did they ever have questions about that, as to why they were different?
MARY T. MATHEW:
Ahm. . ... They didn't. They didn't have problems in that area. One reason could be that their friends loved coming to our house and having dinner with us, so they found their cultural background to be a social advantage. [Laughter] Well, and all our spicy food and so on were popular among their friends. Neither of them would wear a sari or, things like that, at that time. Even though now they would.
RASHMI VARMA:
They would now?
MARY T. MATHEW:
Yes.
RASHMI VARMA:
What has made the difference that now they would?
MARY T. MATHEW:
Because when you're in your early and mid teens, you think to be different, is to be, socially inept, and now, now that they're more confident of their, themselves as persons, they see it as a way to look more attractive. [Laughter] They see it as exotic, what once they would have seen as different, you know, in a bad way. So, on the one hand as parents, we realized what our mistakes were, and we began to come out of pre-established cultural behavioral expectations. And, [unclear] we started allowing them to date young men, who of course, always, making sure when we could, that these were young men of good character and, you know, carefully counseling them about the dangers of, not sticking within one's moral boundaries and so on. So, I would say that both girls have benefitted from our relaxing that stern grip, on their social life and, they have both been very responsible and, we are proud of the choices they have made.