Language and Culture

Preferred Cultural Terms

The preferred term for Americans with roots in India is Asian Indian. Within the Asian Indians the Hindi term Desi (meaning “from our country”) is used to indicate persons of Asian Indian Origin.

Language and Literacy

While there are more than three hundred languages and dialects spoken in India, Hindi, the national language is spoken by over 40% of the population. Some of the other languages that are spoken are Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu, Marathi, Oriya, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. However, English is becoming a popular second language. Older Indian immigrants may not speak English and may need a translator for health care transactions.

Most Asian Indian immigrants are well-educated and many are well-qualified professionals:

  • 85% are high school graduates
  • More than 65% have college degrees
  • 43% have graduate or professional degrees

Degree of Acculturation

According to the most recent census, approximately 1.7 million Asian Indians live in the United States—80% being Hindus. An estimated 66,834 older Asian Indian adults live in the United States, most of whom are foreign born with an estimated 48,000 Hindu immigrant elders.

Two Groups of Older Hindu Immigrants

The older Hindu immigrant population can be categorized into two major groups:

  1. Those that immigrated around 1965 and have since settled in the United States
  2. Those who have come to live with their adult children who have immigrated to the
    United States.

Place in the Family

In traditional Indian society, extended family members usually live together as a single-family unit. Most elderly parents join their grownup children in the U.S. for providing antenatal, postnatal care, as well as childcare. Often, the husband’s parents will join the family after they have retired or when help is needed. The grandparents’ role in raising the children is highly respected, and they form the linkage to the Indian culture, religion, and heritage.

Dependence on Children

Older Asian Indian immigrants are often financially dependent on their children. They face the challenges of a culturally different society, such as:

  • a language barrier
  • culture mismatch
  • new lifestyle factors
  • role-reversal