Identity is not a singular fixed structure. It is a constantly evolving paradigm, not just across immigrant generations, but also within generations. It’s a process of navigating multiplicity, and embodying different cultural values at different times. It is about steering through a maze of constantly shifting self-perceptions.
The self-concept of South Asians has certainly evolved over the years, just as their racial descriptions. From being ‘Hindu’ in the 1920s, the ‘other’ in the 1950-60s, ‘East Indians’ in the 1980s, and being merged in the Asian category in 2000. Being in the `Asian’ category is a fairly recent development. South Asians still clearly don’t relate to being Asian American. There is an ongoing conflict between `what they think they are’ versus ‘who we think they are.’
Predicting behavior within such a shifting dynamic of an ethnic community is challenging. We are dealing with not just generic irrational consumers, but entities (more than 6 million of them) at different stages of acculturation. We are asking fundamental questions as to who they are, what they can count on, hang onto or discard. The internal disruption of identity stirs external disruption in dialogue and behaviorism. This in turn impacts what they think, read, eat, wear, purchase and drive.
This is not merely thought provoking, but has serious brand repercussions. Corporate America has obviously begun to realize and address these with more of in-depth questioning and identity probes. Yet, most “multicultural solutions” leave much desired. What is needed is a serious anthropological investigation, to understand what’s truly going on, and to become part of the solution. In other words, become an ally of this transforming mutating community in this “restructuring high.” Explore, understand and befriend this brand loyal diaspora, with high disposable incomes and augmenting wealth.
Connect emotionally with this community. Know this for a fact, that the real dialogue begins over a cup of chai after the focus group is over. You receive powerful breakthroughs when you start talking in Hinglish. Their eyes exude the words ‘you understand me!’ and ‘you care’! It’s more than just a deep dive. It’s uncovering a sentiment within a sentiment, and grasping the Gestalt, where diametrically opposite opinions perfectly well together.