Desi women on the forty acres : exploring intergenerational issues and identity development of South Asian American college students



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South Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing sub-groups within the Asian American population in the United States today. Between 1960 and 1990, the South Asian American population witnessed an increase of approximately 900% (Leonard, 1997). This increase in population also corresponds with the increase in South Asian American students enrolling in institutions of higher education. However, despite their physical visibility on college and university campuses across the nation, South Asian American students remain invisible in higher education research. Student affairs practitioners have a limited understanding of the unique needs and issues confronted by South Asian American college students. This qualitative study addressed the paucity of research on South Asian American college students by specifically exploring the college experiences of South Asian American women. In particular, the study examined the central intergenerational issues between first-generation South Asian mothers who immigrated to the United States as adults and second-generation South Asian American daughters who are currently enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. Secondly, it investigated the impact of these intergenerational issues on the identity development and overall college experiences of second-generation South Asian American female college students. Using a postcolonial, critical feminist framework, this study attempted to dismantle the one-dimensional, dominant narrative of South Asian Americans as the successful, high-achieving, model minority and present instead the multi-layered and complex narratives of these participants. Key findings indicated that the intergenerational issues between mothers and daughters were complex with both negative and positive impacts on the mother-daughter relationships, identity development, and the overall college experiences of the daughters. The transmission of culture and cultural values were primary ways in which mothers affected the identity development of their daughters. South Asian American peers and social networks were another significant source of identity development for the students. Additionally, narratives of both mothers and daughters revealed that the impact of the model minority image on women was qualitatively different than men where women had to often strive to fulfill simultaneous expectations of being a successful student and professional as well as conforming to the standards of being the model traditional South Asian wife and mother.