Nineteenth-century Muslim peddlers arrived at Ellis Island, bags heavy with embroidered silks from their villages in Bengal. Demand for “Oriental goods” took these migrants on a curious path, from New Jersey’s boardwalks into the segregated South. Bald’s history reveals cross-racial affinities below the surface of early twentieth-century America.
This ground-breaking collection of new interviews, critical essays, and commentary explores South Asian identity and culture. Sensitive to the false homogeneity implied by "South Asian," "diaspora," "postcolonial," and "Asian American," the contributors attempt to unpack these terms. By examining the social, economic, and historical particularities of people who live "between the lines"—on and between borders—they reinstate questions of power and privilege, agency and resistance. As South Asians living in the United States and Canada, each to some degree must reflect on the interaction of the personal "I," the collective "we," and the world beyond.
The South Asian scholars gathered together in this volume speak from a variety of theoretical perspectives; in the essays and interviews that cross the boundaries of conventional academic disciplines, they engage in intense, sometimes contentious, debate.
Contributors: Meena Alexander, Gauri Viswanathan, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Amritjit Singh, M. G. Vassanji, Sohail Inayatullah, Ranita Chatterjee, Benita Mehta, Sanjoy Majumder, Mahasveta Barua, Sukeshi Kamra, Samir Dayal, Pushpa Naidu Parekh, Indrani Mitra, Huma Ibrahim, Amitava Kumar, Shantanu DuttaAhmed, Uma Parameswaran.
In the series Asian American History and Culture, edited by Sucheng Chan, David Palumbo-Liu, Michael Omi, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ.
When South Asians immigrated to the United States in great numbers in the 1970s, they were passionately driven to achieve economic stability and socialize the next generation to retain the traditions of their home culture. During these years, the immigrant community went to great lengths to project an impeccable public image by denying the existence of social problems such as domestic violence, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, mental illness, racism, and intergenerational conflict. It was not until recently that activist groups have worked to bring these issues out into the open.
In Body Evidence, more than twenty scholars and public health professionals uncover the unique challenges faced by victims of violence in intimate spaces . . . within families, communities and trusted relationships in South Asian American communities. Topics include cultural obsession with women's chastity and virginity; the continued silence surrounding intimate violence among women who identify themselves as lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; the consequences of refusing marriage proposals or failing to meet dowry demands; and, ultimately, the ways in which the United States courts often confuse and exacerbate the plights of these women.
Desi Land is Shalini Shankar’s lively ethnographic account of South Asian American teen culture during the Silicon Valley dot-com boom. Shankar focuses on how South Asian Americans, or “Desis,” define and manage what it means to be successful in a place brimming with the promise of technology. Between 1999 and 2001 Shankar spent many months “kickin’ it” with Desi teenagers at three Silicon Valley high schools, and she has since followed their lives and stories. The diverse high-school students who populate Desi Land are Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs, from South Asia and other locations; they include first- to fourth-generation immigrants whose parents’ careers vary from assembly-line workers to engineers and CEOs. By analyzing how Desi teens’ conceptions and realizations of success are influenced by community values, cultural practices, language use, and material culture, she offers a nuanced portrait of diasporic formations in a transforming urban region.
Whether discussing instant messaging or arranged marriages, Desi bling or the pressures of the model minority myth, Shankar foregrounds the teens’ voices, perspectives, and stories. She investigates how Desi teens interact with dialogue and songs from Bollywood films as well as how they use their heritage language in ways that inform local meanings of ethnicity while they also connect to a broader South Asian diasporic consciousness. She analyzes how teens negotiate rules about dating and reconcile them with their longer-term desire to become adult members of their communities. In Desi Land Shankar not only shows how Desi teens of different socioeconomic backgrounds are differently able to succeed in Silicon Valley schools and economies but also how such variance affects meanings of race, class, and community for South Asian Americans.
While a growing number of popular and scholarly works focus on Asian Americans, most are devoted to the experiences of larger groups such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Indian Americans. As the field grows, there is a pressing need to understand the smaller and more recent immigrant communities. Emerging Voices fills this gap with its unique and compelling discussion of underrepresented groups, including Burmese, Indonesian, Mong, Hmong, Nepalese, Romani, Tibetan, and Thai Americans.
Unlike the earlier and larger groups of Asian immigrants to America, many of whom made the choice to emigrate to seek better economic opportunities, many of the groups discussed in this volume fled war or political persecution in their homeland. Forced to make drastic transitions in America with little physical or psychological preparation, questions of “why am I here,” “who am I,” and “why am I discriminated against,” remain at the heart of their post-emigration experiences.
Bringing together eminent scholars from a variety of disciplines, this collection considers a wide range of themes, including assimilation and adaptation, immigration patterns, community, education, ethnicity, economics, family, gender, marriage, religion, sexuality, and work.
Hip Hop Desis explores the aesthetics and politics of South Asian American (desi) hip hop artists. Nitasha Tamar Sharma argues that through their lives and lyrics, young “hip hop desis” express a global race consciousness that reflects both their sense of connection with Blacks as racialized minorities in the United States and their diasporic sensibility as part of a global community of South Asians. She emphasizes the role of appropriation and sampling in the ways that hip hop desis craft their identities, create art, and pursue social activism. Some desi artists produce what she calls “ethnic hip hop,” incorporating South Asian languages, instruments, and immigrant themes. Through ethnic hip hop, artists, including KB, Sammy, and Deejay Bella, express “alternative desiness,” challenging assumptions about their identities as South Asians, children of immigrants, minorities, and Americans. Hip hop desis also contest and seek to bridge perceived divisions between Blacks and South Asian Americans. By taking up themes considered irrelevant to many Asian Americans, desi performers, such as D’Lo, Chee Malabar of Himalayan Project, and Rawj of Feenom Circle, create a multiracial form of Black popular culture to fight racism and enact social change.
Providing a useful analysis of and framework for understanding immigration and assimilation narratives, anupama jain's How to Be South Asian in America considers the myth of the American Dream in fiction (Meena Alexander's Manhattan Music), film (American Desi, American Chai), and personal testimonies. By interrogating familiar American stories in the context of more supposedly exotic narratives, jain illuminates complexities of belonging that also reveal South Asians' anxieties about belonging, (trans)nationalism, and processes of cultural interpenetration.
jain argues that these stories transform as well as reflect cultural processes, and she shows just how aspects of identity—gender, sexual, class, ethnic, national—are shaped by South Asians' accommodation of and resistance to mainstream American culture.
In Missing, Sunaina Marr Maira explores how young South Asian Muslim immigrants living in the United States experienced and understood national belonging (or exclusion) at a particular moment in the history of U.S. imperialism: in the years immediately following September 11, 2001. Drawing on ethnographic research in a New England high school, Maira investigates the cultural dimensions of citizenship for South Asian Muslim students and their relationship to the state in the everyday contexts of education, labor, leisure, dissent, betrayal, and loss. The narratives of the mostly working-class youth she focuses on demonstrate how cultural citizenship is produced in school, at home, at work, and in popular culture. Maira examines how young South Asian Muslims made sense of the political and historical forces shaping their lives and developed their own forms of political critique and modes of dissent, which she links both to their experiences following September 11, 2001, and to a longer history of regimes of surveillance and repression in the United States.
Bringing grounded ethnographic analysis to the critique of U.S. empire, Maira teases out the ways that imperial power affects the everyday lives of young immigrants in the United States. She illuminates the paradoxes of national belonging, exclusion, alienation, and political expression facing a generation of Muslim youth coming of age at this particular moment. She also sheds new light on larger questions about civil rights, globalization, and U.S. foreign policy. Maira demonstrates that a particular subjectivity, the “imperial feeling” of the present historical moment, is linked not just to issues of war and terrorism but also to migration and work, popular culture and global media, family and belonging.
Muncie, Indiana, remains the epitome of an American town. Yet scholars built the image of so-called typical communities across the United States on an illusion. Their decades of studies ignored the racial, ethnic, and religious diversity and tensions woven into the American communities that Muncie supposedly embodied. Himanee Gupta-Carlson puts forth an essential question: what do nonwhites, non-Christians, and/or non-natives mean when they call themselves American? A daughter in one of Muncie's first Indian American families, Gupta-Carlson merges personal experience, the life histories of others, and critical analysis to explore the answers. Her stories of members of Muncie's South Asian communities unearth the silences imposed by past studies while challenging the body of scholarship in fundamental ways. At the same time, Gupta-Carlson shares personal memories and experiences that illuminate her place within the historical, political, and socio-cultural currents she engages in her work. It also reveals how that work informs and transforms her as a scholar and a person. As meditative as it is insightful, Muncie, India(na) invites readers to feel the truth of the fascinating stories behind one woman's revised portrait of an American community.
In the continuing debates on the topic of racial and ethnic identity in the United States, there are some that argue that ethnicity is an ascribed reality. To the contrary, others claim that individuals are becoming increasingly active in choosing and constructing their ethnic identities.Focusing on second-generation South Asian Americans, Bandana Purkayastha offers fresh insights into the subjective experience of race, ethnicity, and social class in an increasingly diverse America. The young people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Nepalese origin that are the subjects of the study grew up in mostly white middle class suburbs, and their linguistic skills, education, and occupation profiles are indistinguishable from their white peers. By many standards, their lifestyles mark them as members of mainstream American culture. But, as Purkayastha shows, their ethnic experiences are shaped by their racial status as neither “white” nor “wholly Asian,” their continuing ties with family members across the world, and a global consumer industry, which targets them as ethnic consumers.”
Drawing on information gathered from forty-eight in-depth interviews and years of research, this book illustrates how ethnic identity is negotiated by this group through choice—the adoption of ethnic labels, the invention of “traditions,” the consumption of ethnic products, and participation in voluntary societies. The pan-ethnic identities that result demonstrate both a resilient attachment to heritage and a celebration of reinvention.
Lucidly written and enriched with vivid personal accounts, Negotiating Ethnicity is an important contribution to the literature on ethnicity and racialization in contemporary American culture.
As people from the cultures of the Indian sub-continent increasingly participate in the complex and often heated debates about race and ethnicity in the United States, they confront questions about naming and claiming an identity that designates their group in this country. To be sure, claiming any single identity omits, perhaps threatens to obliterate, the significant political, historical, economic, and religious differences between their countries of origin. However, the term "South Asian" is growing in acceptance among people in this country who trace their heritage to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Maldives because it acknowledges common interests while it allows for difference.
This construction process parallels the gradual acceptance of the term "Asian American" by peoples primarily of East and Southeast Asian ancestry who found abundant reason to claim a shared identity in dealing with officialdom and an apparently intractable racism in this country. In time, "Asian American" has become a designation of collective pride for a wide range of peoples. In academic institutions and society generally, there are vexed questions about the term's inclusiveness and the dominance of established groups over more recent ones.
A Part, Yet Apart: South Asians in Asian America concerns itself with the extent to which South Asian American are and ought to be included within Asian America -- as that term is applied to academic programs and admission policies; grassroots community organizing and politics more broadly; and critical analyses of cultural products. Taken together these essays form a spirited dialogue on the dilemmas of identity politics, coalition building, and diasporics.
Often thought of as a solitary activity, the practice of reading can in fact encode the complex politics of community formation. Engagement with literary culture represents a particularly integral facet of identity formation--and serves as an expression of a sense of belonging--within the South Asian diaspora in the United States. Tamara Bhalla blends a case study with literary and textual analysis to illuminate this phenomenon. Her fascinating investigation considers institutions from literary reviews to the marketplace and social media and other technologies, as well as traditional forms of literary discussion like book clubs and academic criticism. Throughout, Bhalla questions how her subjects' circumstances, shared race and class, and desires limit the values they ascribe to reading. She also examines how ideology circulating around a body of literature or a self-selected, imagined community of readers shapes reading itself and influences South Asians' powerful, if contradictory, relationship with ideals of cultural authenticity.
In Unruly Immigrants, Monisha Das Gupta explores the innovative strategies that South Asian feminist, queer, and labor organizations in the United States have developed to assert claims to rights for immigrants without the privileges or security of citizenship. Since the 1980s many South Asian immigrants have found the India-centered “model minority” politics of previous generations inadequate to the task of redressing problems such as violence against women, homophobia, racism, and poverty. Thus they have devised new models of immigrant advocacy, seeking rights that are mobile rather than rooted in national membership, and advancing their claims as migrants rather than as citizens-to-be. Creating social justice organizations, they have inventively constructed a transnational complex of rights by drawing on local, national, and international laws to seek entitlements for their constituencies.
Das Gupta offers an ethnography of seven South Asian organizations in the northeastern United States, looking at their development and politics as well as the conflicts that have emerged within the groups over questions of sexual, class, and political identities. She examines the ways that women’s organizations have defined and responded to questions of domestic violence as they relate to women’s immigration status; she describes the construction of a transnational South Asian queer identity and culture by people often marginalized by both mainstream South Asian and queer communities in the United States; and she draws attention to the efforts of labor groups who have sought economic justice for taxi drivers and domestic workers by confronting local policies that exploit cheap immigrant labor. Responding to the shortcomings of the state, their communities, and the larger social movements of which they are a part, these groups challenge the assumption that citizenship is the necessary basis of rights claims.
This book grows out of the question, "At this particular moment of tense geopolitics and inter-linked economies, what insights can South Asian American writing offer us about living in the world?"
South Asian American literature, with its focus on the multiple geographies and histories of the global dispersal of South Asians, pulls back from a close-up view of the United States to reveal a wider landscape of many nations and peoples.
South Asian American poets, novelists, and playwrights depict the nation as simultaneously discrete and entwined with the urgencies of places as diverse as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Pakistan, and Trinidad. Drawing on the cosmopolitan sensibility of scholars like Anthony Appiah, Vinay Dharwadker, Martha Nussbaum, Bruce Robbins, and Amartya Sen, this book exhorts North American residents to envision connectedness with inhabitants of other lands. The world out there arrives next door.