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Ethnic identity formation and ritual dynamics: An analysis of first-generation Asian Indian immigrants in the Southern Plains regions of the United States

Sen, Basudhara
This study focuses on issues dealing with ethnicity, community, and especially identity construction among first-generation Asian Indian immigrants who reside in the Southern Plains region of the United States. Identity not only refers to what we have, but what we do or practice in our everyday lives. Employing structural ritualization theory (Knottnerus 1997, 2011), this study explores how three dimensions of cultural practices or ritualized behaviors - regional-ethnic, pan-ethnic, and host - play a crucial role in constructing the "multi-ritual" ethnic identity of first-generation Asian Indian immigrants. The analysis of ritualized behaviors helps to determine the rank or overall importance of ritualized symbolic practices (RSPs). The higher rank of an RSP the greater the impact on the cognitions and behaviors of immigrants as they construct a multi-ritual ethnic identity. This social-psychological understanding of ethnic identity formation argues that immigrants interpret their behaviors, i.e., they continuously evaluate what the ritualized behaviors mean in their lives and make decisions to create one or more forms of ethnic identity.
This qualitative study used thirty-one in-depth semi-structured interviews with observation method. The results indicate that in the process of ethnic identity formation, first-generation Indian immigrants negotiate with their distinctive pan-Indian cultural practices that separate them from others, retain and alter their regional-Indian ritual practices to celebrate their internal cultural variations, and bring their ethnicity to the mainstream society through selective pan and/or regional-ethnic ritualized practices. This study adds to the social constructionist perspective of ethnicity emphasizing the situational dimension of ritual dynamics and contributes to the micro-sociological analysis of ethnic identity. It enhances our empirical knowledge of an under studied Asian Indian immigrant community and provides an extension to the analytic potential of structural ritualization theory. It also offers a theoretical framework to explore the complexity of race and ethnicity of other ethno-racial groups.