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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 >>

Daughters of an immigrant build lives and careers as Americans

Mathew describes her daughters. Both are products of her and her husband's willingness to relax their cultural expectations, and both appear to have found rewarding life paths. One is married to an African American man, a relationship that initially caused Mathew some anxiety. The other is building a successful career and has cultivated an interest in her Indian heritage. This passage demonstrates the possibilities of assimilation, but also the way in which assimilation might not always preclude a sense of connection to one's cultural or national roots.

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

RASHMI VARMA:
What sorts of choices have they made? Can you talk a little bit, any of them married, who did they marry, what career choices they've made, and so on?
MARY T. MATHEW:
Our older daughter married an African American and he's a wonderful young man and, his character and his abilities and, above all, his care and concern for our daughter and the child—all of these have greatly endeared him to us. So, she has a very happy marriage, so we are very pleased that they're together—.
RASHMI VARMA:
Were you always [unclear] ?
MARY T. MATHEW:
No. In the beginning we were very anxious, because this would have been so against the social norms that we were trained in, which is, if we were like Kerala Christians, you only married from within the Kerala Christian community, and so, in her case, we're completely happy with the choice she has made. And we got acquainted with him and got to know a lot of things about him through the period of acquaintance, which made us feel about him the way we would about a son. Ahm. . . Our second daughter is very career-oriented and, to her marriage is not one of the top priorities unless she came across the right person and so it made sense career-wise. If not, she would study for the next few years and then marry, or not marry. She's not sure right now, but, and she too— she has many friends among young men and young women and she goes out with her friends and is perfectly responsible and leads a very clean moral life.
RASHMI VARMA:
She recently went to India. What drew her to India, considering she's born and brought up here?
MARY T. MATHEW:
Ahm. . . one of the reasons she wanted to go to India for a few months was that she has always been interested in the medical field. And also in maternal and child health. I would say, and also in under-privileged societies. So she wanted to go and volunteer in one of the mission hospitals where one of our cousins was the chief doctor, ahm. . . and she wanted to have a hands-on contact with medical life. A second reason was that when she was in Chapel Hill, she came across many young Indian girls in SANGAM, who were culturally much more advanced than she was, in the sense, they knew so much about India, they spoke some kind of Indian language fluently. So she felt that culturally she needed a little more information, or a little more, something, contact! And so she decided that this trip would help re-acquaint herself to her roots.
RASHMI VARMA:
So this ties in with what you were saying that as the girls, or at least as your younger daughter grew older, that there was a need to somehow get back in touch more with her Indian heritage? Even though she's grown up American?
MARY T. MATHEW:
It was also that among, in her work environment—her part-time work environment—there were people from other countries who felt passionately about their own countries, and so she would come home and say to me, ahm. . .. What is it that draws people to a certain country? How does that kind of attachment develop? And, so, she then, kind of figured that she could go back and learn about our society and our culture, and that would be something that would enrich her own heritage.
RASHMI VARMA:
With you older daughter marrying an African American, was race an issue? Would it have been different had she been marrying a white man? I'm just curious if that played a role in some of your anxieties.
MARY T. MATHEW:
Ahm. . . We would have, yes, it did play a role, even though I would say that anyone who was not a Kerala Christian would have created the same amount of anxiety. I guess if he were an Indian, the anxiety would not have been so, extreme, but now that these persons whom she considered attractive, were non-Indians, our anxiety knew no bounds at all. We thought it would end up in big catastrophe.