Bicultural Identity and Self-Construal in-Family Among Indian American Emerging Adults: A Mixed-Methods Study

Abstract

Indian Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic minority groups in the USA, yet little is known about how their emerging adult population engage in identity exploration and define self in the context of dual influences from a strong familial orientation and a strongly individualistic American social environment. Using a mixed-methods approach, the present study investigated bicultural identity—Indian (ethnic) and American (national) identities, and self-construal in-family in a sample of 196 18–29-year-old Indian Americans. Quantitative findings indicated that participants comparably identified with their Indian and American selves, construed their sense of self as more related than independent from family, and described family closeness as characterizing Indian identity. Age differences were found for self-construal and bicultural identity, and gender differences were found for self-construal. Qualitative findings indicated that participants had different definitions for Indian and American identities, experienced different expectations and values for independence and interdependence based on context, and viewed themselves as largely familial despite endorsing an American identity. Participants shared common conflicts and challenges that occur when they navigate between Indian and American influences. Together, the findings highlight the salience of both Indian and American identities and the centrality of parents’ influence in the self-definitions of 18–29-year-old Indian Americans. Learning about the unique underlying dynamics and challenges faced by this ethnic minority group as they navigate their self-construal and bicultural identity development provides insights in how to assist Indian American emerging adults as they manage and move between different cultures, value systems, and expectations.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The first author has many contacts within the Christian Indian American community, which appears to have led to an over-representation of Christian Indian Americans in the sample.

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Acknowledgements

The first author conducted this study as a doctoral student at Clark University. We thank Hiatt School of Psychology, Clark University, for financially supporting this project.

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Correspondence to Achu Johnson Alexander.

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Appendix: Semi-structured Interview Protocol

Appendix: Semi-structured Interview Protocol

Thank you for taking the time to come and talk to me. Since my interest is in understanding the lives of young Indian Americans, I hope to learn a lot from your thoughts and experiences during this time in your life. You are free to refuse to answer any questions you may feel uncomfortable with or do not wish to answer. If you were to feel uncomfortable, you are also free to end the interview at anytime.

  1. 1.

    When you think about yourself, do you feel more like you’re Indian or more like you’re American, or both about the same?

           (a)  [Depending on your response] Can you give me some examples of when you feel ___________ or/and ____________?

  2. 2.

    Tell me about your decision-making process. When you have an important decision to make, do you usually try to make it yourself, or do you involve others?

           (a)  [If you depend on yourself] In what ways do you do things by yourself without depending on others? Can you give me an example of a time when you made an important decision by yourself?

           (b)  [If you depend on others] In what ways do others help you in making decisions? Can you give me an example of a time when you made a decision by involving __________ (whoever you mention as “others”)? How much do their advice/opinions (not) matter in such times?

  3. 3.

    Can you give me an example of such a situation in your life when you needed someone to help you through a crisis situation?

  4. 4.

    Tell me about the role of your family in your current life.

  5. 5.

    Growing up, did you feel any tensions between what your family taught you and what you were exposed to from other kids? If so, give me some examples.

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Alexander, A.J., Khera, G.S. & Bedi, R.P. Bicultural Identity and Self-Construal in-Family Among Indian American Emerging Adults: A Mixed-Methods Study. J Adult Dev 28, 1–14 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10804-020-09356-y

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Keywords

  • Indian Americans
  • Emerging adults
  • Bicultural identity
  • Self-construal in-family