Plenty of Patriotism and Education, But Little Knowledge of U.S. History

Photo via News India Times

Though many Indian immigrants pride themselves on their American patriotism — as well as some of the highest incomes and education levels of any ethnic group in America, according to a recent report — some have limited knowledge of American history, News India Times reported after quizzing several first generation Indian-Americans.

Conducted with this year’s July 4th celebrations as a backdrop, the article revealed some interesting aspects of the first generation Indian-Americans’ struggle with their adopted country’s history and political process.

On Srinivas Surapaneni’s desk is a picture of his family at their annual July 4th barbecue gathering. Wearing a T-shirt with a “Proud to be an American” sign displayed under the Star Spangled Banner, Surapaneni is manning the grill, while his wife and two daughters stand next to him, all dressed in colors of the American flag.

All across the U.S., first-generation immigrants like Surapaneni celebrate the Independence Day of their adopted land with traditional festivities ­ barbecues, parades and fireworks. But ask them about American history, and most of them will draw a blank.

While some, like Suranapaneni, are aware of the year America got independence, many are stumped by the year the U.S. Constitution was enacted. Similarly, a vast number of people could guess America’s first president ­ George Washington ­ but some skipped a lot of history to name Abraham Lincoln instead of Washington.

Almost no one could name the first three presidents ­ Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. While a majority of those interviewed did not know the words to the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” an alarming number did not even know the Pledge of Allegiance.

The U.S. citizenship test requires some basic knowledge of U.S. history, but some said that was the only time they studied up on the country.

“I remember cramming for these questions for the citizen- ship test,” Shailu Desai, an advertising executive from Williston Park, N.Y., told News India Times, adding that she is bad with dates. But Desai isn’t alone. Her colleague, Darshana Gandhi of Queens, N.Y., was also unable to remember the answers.

Suhag Shukla, executive director and legal counsel of the Hindu American Foundation, equated a lack of knowledge about U.S. history with a failure to assimilate among today’s immigrants and their children.

Although she grew up in the United States, Shukla said she remembers her parents who were “forced” to learn things the American way when they immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s.

She recalled her mother’s efforts to learn to make apple pie or socialize with American neighbors in the Minneapolis suburb where they lived.

Shukla’s observations highlight the fact that communities these days are so self-sufficient, to the extent of being ghettoized, that they do not feel the need to get involved with the mainstream.

But she is quick to point out that compared to Americans, immigrants show a higher awareness about the history and other government and civic functioning of the country.

“An average American would fail the citizenship test,” she added.

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