PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, credited with much of the rebuilding of America during and after the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s, when asked about his view of the next generation of young people, remarked, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” Decades later, his statement still holds true. Many young people are disillusioned with the future, and rightly so. They face more uncertainty than anyone else about the challenges they will face in the 2000 era. This is especially hard for Indian youth, which are in the midst of a generational transition of culture, values, faith and lifestyle.
The Second Generation
There are many distinguishing characteristics between ages, cultures, backgrounds, and preferences of the previous and current generation and those of the next generation. Some have called this group of young people “Generation X” to reflect the identity crisis they face among themselves and with society. Elissa Moses, of the New York-based ad agency Benton & Bowles has coined the term “New World Teens” to describe a group of 13 to 19 year old young people. She states that they are “34-year-olds in 16-year-old bodies.” They are connected globally, and are growing up under intense media and marketing scrutiny because of their technical and social sophistication. In this chapter, this vast group has been narrowed even further between American-born Indian Youth as compared to Indian-born Naturalized American Youth.
Since the challenges facing all youth in America are somewhat similar, this chapter will stay within the broader scope of American-born Indian Youth, and not just those with Christian upbringings.
Drawing Similarities between the Generations
The first generation can be called the pioneers or early strugglers. They immigrated to the US and Canada, some in the sixties, most in the seventies and the rest in the eighties. This chapter deals with the children of these immigrants who now have an identity of their own, but are fast being swept up into the North American culture. Those who immigrated in the nineties are different altogether. Young people usually refer to them as FOBs (Fresh off the Boat) or these days FOPs (Fresh off the plane). This group still has to carve out their identity, but will share in similar struggles at an accelerated pace in the next 10-20 years.
How They View Themselves
Today’s young person of Indian Christian descent considers himself/herself as an American. They may be willing to adopt the label Indian-American or Asian American, just as the blacks are referred to more and more as African-American. They have grown up with all the influences of the culture of the US/Canada, and feel comfortable in it. They usually dread the thought of going to India. They may attend an Indian church and hang around mostly Indian kids their age, but if you were to probe their feelings about what they consider themselves to be, it would be overwhelmingly in favor of American first and whatever nationality second. This is to be expected, as every immigrant group in America has melded with and find their identity within the predominant culture within three generations.
A case in point is the Indians of the islands of Jamaica and Trinidad, whose fathers and grandfathers settled there three or four generations ago. They inter-married with the local peoples and adopted their lifestyles. The Jamaican-Indian or Trinidadian-Indian young person of today has barely any vestiges of the true Indian culture left in him. And he doesn’t care either. Mostly for economic reasons, he has chosen to fit his lifestyle into that of the predominant culture of the West. This same trend is evident among Indian youth born in America. As each year passes, they identify more strongly with an American lifestyle and shed most of the cultural moorings of their parents.
Why is There a Reason for Concern Regarding This Generation?
Identifying and melding with another culture is not necessarily to be viewed negatively. Yet there are many factors that should cause concern to those living in this transition period. Looking at societal indicators such as crime, urban life, dating, and campus life provide cause for concern. Dr. James Dobson in his book, Children at Risk, outlines many of the above factors that have put young people today in greater jeopardy than ever before. Government policies, lack of teaching values at home, media influence, and a “don’t care” mentality all contribute to instability in the future. While there may be occasions when the Indian community in a region can have an influence over youth activities, for the most part young people today are free to do what they desire, and most of them want to be free of the societal obligations of the Indian community.
Cultural groups and associations are to be commended in trying to keep alive some of the rich tradition and heritage of India. Many organizations realize the trend, and have many youth-oriented programs. There are also many religious conferences every year that help to provide a sense of community among those of a particular faith. These have limited success among youth and much greater involvement of the parents. Given the opportunity, most of the youth at these events would rather be somewhere else. They are there mostly to see their friends and to meet and mingle with the one who may end up being their life partner. The local church can and should be more of an influence to these young people than large conferences. Most surveys, however, show a low level of effectiveness in reaching the youth through the local church.
Unique Challenges and Opportunities - Technology
The challenge in writing this chapter is that technology is changing so fast that most of the advances that are written about will probably have been surpassed to some degree by the time this is published. If you are reading this beyond the 1990s, it is very likely that we have underestimated or minimized the impact of current technological trends into the next millennium.
What is cyberspace? It is the vast collection of enterprises that involve humans interacting with computers, comprising of an ocean of information, networking, marketing, etc. This involves virtual reality projects, the Internet, local and wide area networks, intranets and other subsets that are formed periodically. What began as a way for scientists to exchange information between national labs and universities has blossomed into a global network of computers, linking a mountain of information.
The future of the World Wide Web ranges from full-scale publishing, voting on-line, live interactive entertainment, news, distance education and distance presentations, just to name a few. “The Web is a growing, dynamic, virtual world, and just like in the real world . . . the points of view represented are myriad to the extreme.” While the Internet holds many promises, it has fallen prey to the effects of human depravity. If anyone doubted the doctrine of human depravity, the Web is an indisputable testament of how men can use technology to promote sinful desires. A person can get an education on-line or communicate with a missionary in Africa, as well as delve into pedophilia, all in the privacy of the home. What a study in extremes!
The Internet is the preliminary step in linking all the peoples of the world electronically. It is part of a collection of systems that are global in scope. At the time of this writing, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates had signed agreements with the Boeing Corporation and other companies to provide a framework capable of linking the globe through a series of satellites that would expand the capability and speed of the Internet. This project is expected to cost billions, but is an indication of what the future holds. The coming ten to twenty years will see revolutionary changes in information access. Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was correct in his assessment of the revolution that is taking place now. Having missed the Industrial revolution, he wanted India to be part of the Information revolution. His remarks were directed toward the coming generation. This next generation requires the wisdom, discernment and maturity to be able to use the new technology and information for good and avoid the “lusts that war against the soul.”
A Post-Modern Morality (Relativism, Tolerance, Secularism)
It is time that the first and second generations woke up to the reality of the times. They need to be like the men of Issachar in the Old Testament, who had an “understanding of the times.” They need to come to grips with some of the following regarding the next generation:
- Religion and religious practices are not as relevant as in previous decades.
- Values are being modified and replaced with those of post-modernism (post-Christian).
- Respect for one’s heritage is not an overriding or underlying notion in the minds of youth.
- Open-mindedness, while serving to nullify stereotypes and overt racism, is allowing for tolerance of almost any aberrant viewpoint and/or lifestyle.
- Moral absolutes are being replaced with situational ethics.
- The superior claims of Christ are watered down in the name of plurality and political correctness.
The front line of this paradigm shift is on university campuses across America and elsewhere. Parents have started to discover that their son or daughter, raised with traditional, conservative values and strict discipline, is now questioning those standards and challenging core beliefs. This is not by accident but rather by design. Liberal viewpoints regarding almost any topic are encouraged by professors, and Christian values are undermined. John better have a strong set of core convictions before he arrives at PCU (Politically Correct University). Nancy better know what she believes and why before she enrolls in Biology 101. They both need assistance and accountability regarding moral choices that have to be made daily.
The convictions needed for university should be developed during the high school years, where peer pressure is enormous. Public high schools have seen standards and test scores dropping lower and lower. The system pushes teens out into the world without the proper skills. Indian youth, however, are not faced with the problem of a decline in academic skills, but rather with the issue of living a double life. Most first generation immigrants are not willing to accept that their teen acts a totally different way when they leave home for school everyday. The contrasts are stark:
At home At school or with friends
Listen to Christian music Listen to current music (hip-hop, rock)
Talk without profanity Talk using profanity
Act very pious or religious Act the opposite
Personality changes are common. Most parents of Indian youth (ABKs) are living in denial. Saying, “my son or daughter would never do that,” is a statement of pride. The reaction of parents when they finally discover the truth is either of anger or sorrow, but also of cover-up within the Indian community. The key is to keep lines of communication open so this will not occur. Whether or not the parents and teens can agree about anything, just the fact that there is conversation regarding the disagreement is a step in the right direction. Today’s New World Teens are sophisticated, and thus require a level of understanding from the first generation that is willing to:
- Acknowledge them for whom they are and the kind of world they live in.
- Actively listen to and engage with them.
- Apportion quality and quantity time with them.
In Society (Boards, Politics, etc.)
Indians are having growing influence in the business and professional world. Indian youth in politics is already a reality, and in certain areas like New Jersey, there have been small gains into local and federal levels by Indians of the second generation. No longer should the first generation expect or demand their children only become engineers, doctors or pharmacists (an economic anomaly in itself). The second generation will see the range of career paths from fine arts to professional sports to media personalities to politics. The likelihood of second generation Indians achieving congressional levels are very high. New World Teens have the tools to make significant changes for themselves and for their mother country of India.
Hope for the Future Lies in:
a. Foundational Biblical values. Cultural and societal aspects will change, but a core set of convictions should not. While most young people are able to separate cultural values from Biblical values, most in the second generation have not arrived at this place. Biblical values have stood the test of time, while cultural mores change with the times. Many ethnic groups have undergone vast changes in their language, dress, customs, mannerisms and lifestyles, while others have changed very little. Many Indian young people find themselves, through no fault of their own, living in a legalistic and ritualistic lifestyle and they rebel when they break free, usually after high school. Jesus Christ came to give life and that more abundantly, giving freedom from legalistic religion and a performance-centered lifestyle to those who believe.
b. Facing the truth about issues of importance (racism, marriage, etc.). In one way or another, the youth of tomorrow will form their convictions about hot-button issues such as race and mixed marriages. What is needed is open communication from the household at the appropriate age. Better it come from mom or dad than from so-called friends at school, or from the media in all its forms. While it is true that the second generation has a tough time relating to all the changes around them, effective communication can be achieved. Be willing to talk, even if there are disagreements. Just as the father didn’t shut out the wayward youth in the familiar story of the Prodigal Son, so too do generational changes demand that we keep open the lines of honest, two-way interaction.
c. Fellowship groups (community, church, job-related). The great evangelist of our time, Billy Graham, when asked what the biggest problem was facing young people said that it was loneliness. It is ironic that in a time when there is grater population on this planet than ever before, the biggest problem seems to be loneliness. Young people of the next generation will face this even more as technology and societal degradation forces us to retreat into our own cocoons. We hardly know who lives next door now. This is why fellowship groups are vital. They fill a need for like-minded friends who will be there and hold young people accountable. Accountability is vital to a balanced life. When youth need it most is when they get it least. Mentors are desperately needed today. Effective youth leaders, whether from church or community, will be those who know the pressures and challenges that face youth, either by having lived through similar experiences themselves or by willing to learn and identify with today’s youth, and then by showing they care. This will provide the resources necessary for young people to come through the years ahead with flying colors.
1. John R. Cobb, Jr., Doubting Thomas (New York: Crossroad, 1992).
2. James R. Dobson, Children at Risk (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996).
3. S. D. Gaede, When Tolerance is no Virtue (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993).
4. Michael Lemonick, “Future tech is now" TIME International. July 95.
5. Marlene C Piturro, “Beyond Generation X" Profiles, July 95.
6. James W. Sire, Why should anyone believe anything at all (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1994).
7. Charles R. Swindoll, Building Blocks of Biblical Character (Dallas: Word, 1993).
8. U.S. Robotics, Discover the World Wide Web (McMillan Publishing, 1996).
9. David F. Wells, No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Berdmans, 1994).