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M. Gail Hickey

Richard Doty
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2003

IU oral history project studies Asian Indian culture in United States

Asian Indian children enrolled in U.S. schools are confronted daily by the duality between their parents' birth culture and the host culture. How they cope with this duality is one of the questions explored in an Indiana University research project involving oral history interviews with approximately 80 Asian Indians in Indianapolis, Bloomington and Fort Wayne.

M. Gail Hickey, professor of education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, and John Bodnar, Chancellor's Professor of History and chair of the IU Bloomington History Department, coordinated the recent study for the IU Center for the Study of History and Memory. IUB graduate student Amy Margolin was the principal investigator.

"We were interested in the ethnic background and expectations of Indian American parents and how these shape the parents' interactions with their children enrolled in U.S. schools," Hickey explained. "We believe this documentation of life experiences for first- and second-generation Indian Americans can help teachers and others who work with these students and their families."

She said education in the United States, compared to India, was viewed as offering more opportunities and incentives for females, a wider range of academic and career choices, and a greater emphasis on individual freedom. Differences between first-generation Indian American parents and their adult children reflected differences in family roles and expectations, child rearing, parental authority, religious training, extended childhood, dating customs and arranged marriages.

"Gender relations within U.S. school and social contexts were viewed by both Asian Indian males and females as detrimental to their daughters' opportunities for finding a suitable husband, especially in families where arranged marriages are the norm," Hickey said. "Many interviewees believed marriage and/or employment for both genders should be postponed until all formal schooling is completed," she added.

Hickey's interest in how differing world views affect the way individuals experience schooling resulted in her using the Asian Indian findings for a presentation titled "Exploring Cultural Models of Schooling: Oral History Interviews with Asian Indian Immigrants" at an American Educational Research Association conference.

"Immigration is changing the composition of U.S. schools, and Asian and Hispanic students represent the fastest-growing ethnic groups in our classrooms. The U.S. Asian Indian population is more than 1.6 million. The Asian Indian population for Indiana more than doubled from 1990 to 2000 and now totals almost 15, 000," Hickey said.

She said the oral history format was well suited for this project "because it offers insight into people's interpretation of their personal and historical experiences." The IU Center for the Study of History and Memory, formerly the Oral History Research Center, has been collecting oral histories since 1968 from Hoosiers and other Midwest residents.

The Asian Indian project was supported by an Indiana University Intercampus Research Grant, two grants from the Indiana Humanities Council and a Clio Grant from the Indiana Historical Society.

For more information on this project, contact Hickey at 260-481-6458, or the IU Center for the Study of History and Memory at 812-855-2856, The center's Web site is