MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ANTHONY BROOKS, host:
And I'm Anthony Brooks.
Second-generation Indians grow up watching Bollywood films, eating Indian food and attending religious festivals. But many never learn to speak an Indian language. But now some American-born Indians are going home, back to their parents' home, that is. They're snatching up professional opportunities in South Asia, and while they're there they're experiencing a sort of cultural odyssey.
Scott Carney has the story from Chennai, India.
SCOTT CARNEY: Second-generation Indians thrust into local schools with few Indian classmates, they don't have a choice except to adopt American culture. For them, India offers a chance for anonymity.
Ms. NINA MCCONIGLEY (Author): I grew up in a place where I never saw a reflection of myself. I grew up in Wyoming and I was the only non-white kid besides my sister in all my schooling. So I wanted to live somewhere where I wasn't in the minority. I mean, this is the first time in my life and I'm 32 years old.
CARNEY: That's author Nina McConigley. The Indian government has been trying to attract people like Nina to return to their parents' homeland. In 2006, they created a new immigration card for what they call Overseas Citizens of India, better known here as the OCI card. With it, second-generation Indians can have visa-free entry for life. Since 2006, they've issued more than 200,000 OCI cards.
Ms. S. MITRA KALITA (Author): India is experiencing an acute labor crunch.
CARNEY: That's S. Mitra Kalita, who has authored a book about Indian immigration. She was born in Brooklyn but now works in New Delhi as the national editor for a financial newspaper. She says that the Indian government isn't trying to lure back the second generation for just sentimental reasons. It needs their skills.
Ms. KALITA: And the irony of India, of course, is that it's a country of a billion people, but any manager will tell you that the labor pool that they're faced with is just not as educated, as experienced as they need it to be. These second-generation migrants do a great job of straddling both worlds.
CARNEY: Fulbright scholar Preetha Narayanan agrees.
Ms. PREETHA NARAYANAN: There will be opportunities for us that may not exist for the just person who's coming straight from a foreign culture who may still have to work on the superficial barriers.
(Soundbite of music)
CARNEY: Though she began her violin career learning Bach and Beethoven, Narayanan now studies classical Indian music under a guru. Her lessons have an air of formality. Today she's wearing a light blue silk sari. Under her chin is a small bruise. It's a mark left over from near constant practicing.
Ms. NARAYANAN: In this country, when you take on an art, you're taking on not only the art, but the whole background behind the art. So I feel like I'll go back and I'll just have so much more of an understanding of what music can be and what I can be.
CARNEY: Being raised in America can be an advantage in the workplace. But some second-generation Indians find that it can get them in trouble too.
On stage, Mythili Prakash, a classical Indian dancer, wears heavy makeup, ankle bells, and a theatrical bridal costume. Over the last few years, she has gained a reputation for grace and technical skill, but even after being accepted by the dance world the audience is sometimes put of by her California accent.
Ms. MYTHILI PRAKASH (Dancer): Like when I introduce my items with an American accent or if I'm speaking things and I might say something a little bit more American than Indian, people immediately pick on it. In a lot of articles that have been written about me, or even reviews, my American accent has been mentioned. Which I just think is funny.
CARNEY: And the mark of being foreign can make it difficult to connect with people socially. Author Nina McConigley recalls one moment when all of her efforts to break into the culture came crashing down around her.
Ms. MCCONIGLEY: I became friends with someone through work who was Indian and around my age, and I was kind of excited. And we were friends for a few months. And then I found out that she had a blog that I didn't know about. And on the blog she basically made fun of me a lot.
CARNEY: A few days after Nina invited her friend to Thanksgiving dinner, her friend published a blog post mocking the get-together and calling her prayers trite.
Ms. MCCONIGLEY: It was strange to see me be mocked for being American on the blog when I really felt like I was - I was, I guess, Indian.
CARNEY: Like many in the second generation, she came to India to find her roots, but what she got was a job. As S. Mitra Kalita, the newspaper correspondent in Delhi, says...
Ms. KALITA: We saw our parents migrated to the U.S. essentially to follow opportunity. You know, in the new world order, if you will, it's really hard to dispute that there's plenty of opportunity in India.
CARNEY: For NPR News, I'm Scott Carney in Chennai, India.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.