I completed my dissertation on the Mers of Saurashtra where I studied the geographic advantages and disadvantages of Eastern and Western Mers through autoethnographic inquiry. My research included interviewing Mers from the United Kingdom, India, Canada, and the United States. We learned that many Mers in India had greater logistical barriers to obtaining higher education, while many Mers from the West had greater psychological barriers to obtaining higher education possibly due to the challenges of Western assimilation.
Mers are a powerful agricultural caste group with lineage structure, kinship organization, and an emphasis on maintaining proper lineage through a prominence of marrying within the Mer community. Mers are descendants of 14 exogamous lineages that are said to descend from the Rajput line in India.
The Saurashtran Mer population is estimated to be between 112,068 – 435,000 Mers worldwide. Many migrated out of Porbandar to the United States, Africa, Canada, and the United Kingdom (among other locations). Due to these migration patterns, many Mers were faced with the challenge of being born and raised in India, and living and assimilating to Western countries. For most immigrants, the concept of cultural identity becomes prevalent when interacting with members of different cultures. It is only when they experience the differences in Western culture, that they become cognizant of their own cultural distinctions (Hoshi, 2014). The central question many face is, “How does one retain and perpetuate Mer culture while living and raising children outside of Porbandar?”
The children of immigrant Mers play an important role in this dilemma. Many are educated and immersed in Western culture while being raised with Mer standards of etiquette. Martin (2007) asserts that education, culture, and identity are inextricably linked. Research also indicates that Indian parents often want their children to use education for mainstream economic success, but do not want them to assimilate to Western culture (Agarwal, 1991; Gibson, 1988; Helweg & Helweg, 1990). Said (1978) articulates that Eastern values are characterized by “religious sensibilities, familial social orders, and ageless traditions,” while Western values are associated with “rationality, material and technical dynamism, and individualism.”
This may result in potentially contradictory cultural models, leaving children experiencing the dichotomy of two cultures that are inextricably opposing, yet connected.
I work with fellow Mer historians to understand the distinct challenges that Mers face with regard to gender inequality, logistical and psychological educational challenges, and the experience of cultural assimilation. Our goal is to ensure that the Mer community thrives and that future generations are able to obtain higher education despite social, psychological, or economic challenges.