Using icebreaker games and speed dates, many Indian-Americans are putting a modern spin on a the traditional practice of arranged marriages, Brandeis professor Shilpa Davé said at a Berkeley College Master’s Tea Tuesday.
At a talk entitled “No Life Without Wife,” Davé spoke about gender roles and modern arranged marriages in the Indian-American community. She framed her discussion in terms of the American media, a venue she said she feels acts as a barometer for social and cultural change.
Studying American media is the best way to understand how Indian-Americans fit into the politics of race dialogue and assimilation, Davé argued.
“The media is a place where change can be effected, as it is always in flux,” Davé said.
The concepts of arranged marriages and love marriages dominate discussions of long-term relationships among first- and second-generation Indian immigrants, Davé said. In her experience, she said, many of those people are searching for a happy medium.
Davé defined the arranged marriage as a union between two members of the same ethnic or racial group, oftentimes set up or influenced heavily by the families of the bride and groom.
Many Americans, said Davé, perceive the arranged marriage as contrary to American values, such as liberty. By contrast, she said, Americans see love marriages as affirmations of personal choice and romantic idealism.
“Media perceptions really cement this idea of foreignness,” Davé said. “I often ask, is there a way in which we can think of Indian-Americans as part of American identity?”
Using two clips from Gurinder Chadha’s 2004 film “Bride and Prejudice,” Davé also explored the changing expectations and behaviors of Non-Resident Indians. She said Indian men living abroad often return to India in search of an arranged marriage to a traditional Indian wife. But Indian women, she said, have become increasingly independent and Westernized, and have begun to desire love marriages.
Still, Davé argued that there has been a shift in perception: Indians are reconceptualizing arranged marriages instead as arranged meetings. She spoke at length about her experience attending one such meeting — the 2005 Gujarati Youth Matrimonial Convention in New Jersey.
The two-day Matri Convention, as it is known, aims to foster relationships between eligible Indian-American men and women through icebreaker games, formal introductions and speed-dating. Though the meetings between each man and woman have the eventual goal of marriage, Davé said, they are non-binding.
“It’s like the freshman screw,” Berkeley College Master Marvin Chun quipped.
Joanne Anthonypillai ’13 said the details Davé provided on the Matri convention changed her perspective on gender relations in the Indian-American community.
“I was surprised to hear that in their introduction statements, women were talking about career goals and men were talking about their romantic interests – I always thought it was the other way around,” she said.
Kavita Mistry ’11, who helped organize the tea, said she found Davé’s talk effective in spreading awareness and combating stereotypes about arranged marriages, especially to those outside the Indian community.
Dave is the co-editor of “East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture.” Her next book is slated to cover political and cultural citizenship in South Asian-American literature and pop culture.