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For immigrants, raising kids is a special challenge

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Posted: Friday, November 1, 2002 10:00 pm

A frequent question asked of me by many of my friends is, "How do immigrant communities raise their children in the U.S.?"

I always fumble for an answer.

I do not know how to compare ourselves with the rest of America. Are the soap operas and Maury Povich shows a depiction of the real American culture and values?Taj Khan

Or are my children's friends an example of real America?

Are we significantly different in culture, beliefs, traditions and values than the real America and are we an anomaly? What is the real American culture and where does one find it? All these questions are issues of debate for sociologists, scientific scholars and statisticians. From the narrow window that I peep through in life as a first generation immigrant, here is the vista that I see:

The new immigrants bring with them the experience of their old lives, upbringing, traditions, culture, religious beliefs and political outlook. As such, most are conservative Republicans in their family values, but Democrats in their care for the needy. The basic values that the new immigrants share, are universal in nature. The ills of the society such as murder, robbery, theft, adultery, rape, incest, abortion and drugs are forbidden or looked down upon in any society. The immigrants are delighted to see the protection of individual rights by law and also the availability of social services. Thus, at first, it is very comfortable raising children in the new country.

Cultural issues do differ from place to place and people to people. Asian men or women are generally more modest in music, dancing or clothing. Soft music and more precise dancing moves from the old societies are quite different from the hard rock, heavy metal, break dancing and MTV. There is quite a difference in the baggy jeans visibly displaying under-wear or a tight fitting top with an exposed midriff, from the Amish like dress code of the old countries. The soap operas on TV provide an image of glamour and sexual promiscuity. Experimentation with alcohol or taking a puff on a "joint", are part of the peer pressures that the children face in school. The new immigrant parents are faced with hard choices: How to teach their children the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy and how much of their original culture they need to retain in this new, more permissive environment?

Religion in the East has dominated the everyday lives of the people for centuries, and it is very deeply entrenched in the psyche. Whether it is Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism the children are required to learn the tenets and practices of their faiths at a very early age. The grandmas spend most of their time with their grandchildren teaching them the basics. The extended family and institutions add the rest of the religious education. "It takes a village to raise a child" is not a new concept that Hillary Clinton contrived. The extended family also provided role models. In the new society, the support structure disappears and the parents are left to provide the religious training and role modeling for their children for which they are not fully equipped. It adds to the conflict in the mind of the child.

The centuries-old societies in the old country also taught everyone to be considerate, supportive and to give freely to each other at the time of need. In the new "dog eat dog" world, the immigrants must fend for themselves. The man of the house works hard to establish financial stability for the family; as such, he lacks time to devote to the family affairs. The importance of the male figure in the family is reduced. The mother takes care of the home. The children are influenced more by their peers in school and TV, than by own their parents. The children see a major disconnect between their peers and their own parents and the conflicting worlds cause some children to rebel.

From the perspective of child rearing, the new immigrant life is difficult. The INS does not hand out instruction manuals to the new immigrants as they first land at the airport, but the parents learn to play by ear and adapt to their circumstances. How one adapts to these circumstances determines how well children will turn out. It is the supportive and understanding friends and neighbors who make the job of raising children in the new country easier. And we are blessed with the support of many marvelous human beings.

Taj Khan of Lodi is a consultant and retired engineering manager for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

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