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The rising demand for overseas television: America's United Nations of cable TV

Satellite TV lets immigrants cocoon in their own culture. Does it also alienate?

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"We've entered a time when it is plausible for large ethnic groups to migrate without leaving their homes. I think it's ultimately a bridge-builder. The process of assimilation is a lot slower," Mr. Turner says. "Integration will continue to occur generationally."

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Turner says ethnic TV is a positive force because it offers a variety of information to stimulate public debate. Ethnic news channels, for example, give an alternative perspective to CNN and the American news networks. He argues that American television has been influenced by international programs, especially those produced in Bollywood. Sitcoms like "Outsourced" and the inclusion of South Asian actors, such as Aziz Ansari on "Parks and Recreation," show the cultural exchange.

But the negative impact of ethnic TV programs is ethnic isolation. The hours in front of the TV turn ethnic communities so inward that a divide is created between generations. Some families may watch ethnic programming together, but the Majeed and Hernandez families do not. Immigrant adults and their children who are growing up in the US already face cultural challenges, but watching separate TV programs can create an even wider gap.

Majeed's son Mostafa, 15, sees his parents' preoccupation with Afghan TV as a good thing. He was getting too much attention from them before these programs. "They used to walk around, get bored, bother me, try to talk to me while I play games. Now they are entertained."

They are so entertained, in fact, that they didn't notice when he locked the bathroom door and pierced his ear with a needle. The Americanized teenager sports a pair of diamond studs. (He had a friend pierce the other ear outside the house.) His mom is not pleased. "I tell him to take those off and curse at him, but he doesn't understand what I'm saying in Farsi," Majeed says, gently scolding her son. (Mostafa's parents do not speak much English.)

Mostafa says he has no interest in the Afghan shows his parents watch. He uses the living room TV to play games once his parents are in bed.

Ethnic DVD market drying up

Several miles from Mostafa's home is Monument Plaza, a haven of ethnic shopping. The plaza has an Afghan supermarket, a Safeway-size Indian grocery store, Indian restaurants, Mexican and Vietnamese hair salons, and Music Hut, Ram Lal's fading business. Mr. Lal sells and rents Bollywood DVDs and CDs and his is the only store on the block that doesn't have a satellite dish propped up on its roof. Raunchy songs from Hindi films play on a flat-screen TV in his small shop, but it's a DVD. "I hate satellite," he says. "The dishes and Internet are killing my business."

Lal plans to close his three-year-old business in a month. Ironically, he can't avoid the dish at home. "I had to buy it for my wife. All the Indian ladies watch the soap operas, and they have stopped paying attention to their household duties," Lal says. "Now they don't care if their husbands come home hungry. They don't serve water and they cook less. The women are too busy watching these shows."

In Pictures: America's United Nations of cable TV


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