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Confessions of a Grown-up ABCD (“American Born Confused Desi”)

January 2007
Confessions of a Grown-up ABCD (“American Born Confused Desi”)

Let me be honest: I don't like it when ABCD boys get their wives from India. I know this is an unpopular and provocative thing to say, but my irritation is sincere. As a thirty-year-old Indian woman born and raised in America, I feel I have a right to point to the ways in which this matrimonial pattern disrupts not only my own sense of self, but also my sense of community. It perplexes me that it seems easier to go through the Mother Country's marriage market than to forge relationships between those of our own kind.

So many of my peers are in their thirties, single, and genuinely interested in getting married to other Indians who have grown up here that I wonder why it doesn't seem to happen as often as it might. I've heard all the excuses, the most bewildering of which is the "brother and sister" excuse. This rationale seeks to explain why many ABCD boys and girls don't feel chemistry with each other (because they have grown up often like siblings together, going to the same parties and religious activities, etc.). I don't have a problem with people wanting chemistry in marriage. I have a problem with the fact that (and this may sound biased and steeped in stereotype) Indian American boys and girls do not seem to know how to talk to each other. Though I believed this was the boys' fault for years, my post-marital eyes have been opened to the cold-shouldered and icy-stare approach that Indian American girls adopt in mixed settings. I know too well about this problem, because of course I used to do the same thing.

We ABCD's were young together as sulking boys and awkward girls, and I always pictured that we'd all grow up and marry each other. And even if we didn't, I figured that we would all still know each other. I felt that I would fit in more as I grew up. Now I find that none of these is the case. I've married an Indian from here, but I feel no more confident about belonging to a group that truly represents me than I did when I was thirteen. Even after seven years of marriage, I still feel culturally powerless, even more so when I see that women like me are deemed unmarriageable by our communities of parents who wife-shop abroad. I can't compete with an Indian wife, and I don't feel that I should have to. Instead of continuing in the time-honored tradition of Indian pot-luck parties and Diwali functions I grew up with, I would like to cultivate new traditions that reflect my own understanding of who I am. Unless I am able to find more couples who are comprised of husbands and wives who grew up in the same way I did, I am doomed to pretend one of the following: a) I like pot-luck parties; b) I can speak Hindi and watch and enjoy the films; c) American culture is secondary.

The trend of importing Indian women to be Indian American wives speaks volumes about another more problematic pattern: Indian American culture's inability to foster and support productive co-ed youth relationships, which can provide training for adult romance and marriage. Immigrant parents neglect to see that young girls and boys intermingling together can lead to the community-building and collective cultural awareness that is important for fulfillment in adulthood. To raise one's child without this type of socialization and then to rely on India to provide a life partner for him presumes that this same child's formative years in his adopted homeland mean little, if not nothing. Every time an Indian American male takes a wife from India, it negates the deep and serious work Indian American girls are undertaking to become stalwart members of both their Indian and American communities. It's not as simple as saying Indian American girls and boys aren't interested in being together. It's rather that they have not been taught how to.

Intellectually, I know I'm being overdramatic and ignorant. I know that our willingness to continue to go back to India for marriage indicates our remarkable ability and need to maintain ties. But ABCD culture deserves to be respected and allowed to develop into the future instead of silenced by a marriage pattern that suggests that American qualities should be purified by Indian ones.


Reshmi Hebbar is a Marion L. Brittain Fellow at Georgia Tech in the School of Literature, Communication, & Culture, where she teaches and writes about multiculturalism in literature and media. She invites readers to comment and respond at

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