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Culture Diversity: Asian Indians in St. Louis, Missouri

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Culture Diversity: Asian Indians in St. Louis, Missouri

Maryville University

Namaste, the traditional and universal Indian greeting that means "the spirit in me respects the spirit in you" embodies the essence of India and its people and their cultural tradition. India has an ancient, rich and diverse history reaching back 8,000 years ("India,"). Like the United States, India is a Democratic nation made up of 28 states with a population of 1.17 billion ("India,"). Hindi is the national language but there are over 1,300 different languages and dialects and most citizens speak more than one language (Alagiakrishnan, M.D., & Chopra, M.D., FACP, 2000).

India is the birthplace of the Dharma religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Of its religions, 80% of India's population practice Hinduism, a philosophy and way of life that reveres deities such as Ganesh and Shiva, the belief in karma that behavior has consequences and illness is related to bad karma, and transmigration of the soul ("India,").

For Asian Indians, family life is significant and often extended families live and worship together (Alagiakrishnan, M.D., & Chopra, M.D., FACP, 2000). Religious holidays celebrated by Hindus are Holi, the festival of colors in spring; Diwali, a celebration of lights signifying the triumph of good over evil; and Ganesh Chaturthi, the birth of Ganesh, the god of wisdom, prosperity, and good fortune. Traditionally patriarchal, the woman may assume a more passive role in the family of caring for the children, home, and food preparation. The manner of dress discourages skin exposure and favors modestly draped fabrics of cotton or silk called a sari. The bindi is the decorative dot or jewel worn by women on the forehead as a blessed symbol of protection (Bhungalia, Kelly, Van De Keift, & Young).

Asian Indians came to the United States because it was known as the "Dream Country" (Scott, 2011). They immigrated here for the opportunities, democracy, lifestyle, and human rights. Many came to get away from the active caste system of India which made it hard for people of the lower socioeconomic status to improve their lives (Scott, 2011).

Asian Indians settled in the St. Louis area in the mid-19th century. In 1965, the Immigration Act granted visas to people in certain professions and those with higher education (Alagiakrishnan, M.D., & Chopra, M.D., FACP, 2000). The first generations came for education which they viewed as a very important key to success. Many of these adults earned their master's or doctorate degrees in the sciences, medical fields, or high technology. Those that could not master the English language or afford a college education were more apt to start their own businesses to prove that a lack of education doesn't mean Asian people won't succeed (Scott, 2011).

Between 1980 and 1990, the population of Asian Indians in the United States increased by 125% with many of them settling in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and St. Louis (Alagiakrishnan, M.D., & Chopra, M.D., FACP, 2000). The 2010 U.S. Census states that Maryland Heights and Creve Coeur areas have added numerous Asian residents since 2000 (Scott, 2011). Areas with known Asian Indian populations include St. Louis County, Clayton, Maryland Heights, Creve Coeur, Chesterfield, and Ballwin (Scott, 2011).

Many of these Asian Indian families in the St. Louis area are found to be raising their children in the Parkway and Rockwood school districts because they are considered to be some of the top school districts and the communities have low crime rates. Indian people look to see which school district is better and give preference to education (Scott, 2011). Common misperceptions about Asian Indians living in the St. Louis area and other cities in the United States are that they are all of the same culture, ethnicity, or religion. Ignorance of their difference can lead to stereotypical or insensitive comments (P.Bhatia, M.D., personal communication, June 8, 2011).

David Rambeau, president of the National Council of Urban Indian Health and Rachel A. Joseph, co-chair of National Steering committee are well known health care leaders in India. Rambeau and Joseph are both working to make improvements in the Indian culture's healthcare systems. They are standing up for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), trying to pass laws that promote improvement of their healthcare system. Their goal is to receive more funding for improvements such as hospice, assistant living facilities, and much more long-term care environments ("Leaders call for," 2009).

A few rules and taboos that are promoted in the Indian culture vary from the way that the American culture believes. In the Indian culture you are to never use your left hand to greet others. The left hand is used to clean up and use in the restroom and is considered offensive, and very disrespectful if it is used to say hello ("Cultural pointers,"). Staring in the Indian culture is acceptable. The American culture considers it rude, but as far as India perceives it, the act of staring how one is learning about the other. When you enter into an Indian's home you are to watch where you place your shoes. Shoes are considered dirty and never to be placed on the furniture. If one touches another with their feet, they are very quick to apologize ("Cultural pointers,").

Important rites of passages in this culture include marriage and the birth of a child. Marriage is considered very sacred and a man's biggest sacrifice to give his daughter away in marriage ("Vivaha,"). The birth of a child also has great significance. When a child is born Indians believe that the man does not need to be present. The woman is coached during the process from the healthcare providers and receives no pain medicine to avoid any complications during birth. After delivery the mother does not find out the sex of the child until the placenta has been delivered. In the Indian culture male babies are preferred, so the mother is not told the sex until then for this reason. It is believed that if she would know it would put her into more stress then she already is (Bhungalia, Kelly, Van De Keift, & Young).

Their diets are mainly vegetarian, prepared in the home without the use of canned foods. Food preparation is believed best to be cooked with aromatic spices. They base a lot of their food selections off of the Muslim and Hindu religions. Consumption of pork and beef are prohibited due to religious restrictions (P.Bhatia, M.D., personal communication, June 8, 2011). Rice is a standard



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