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"The most interesting work in immigration studies is being carried out on Asian American topics, and this exceptional book is an outstanding example. Theoretically sophisticated and yet nicely grounded in the materiality of migrant experience, it illuminates the tension between transnational identities and localized realities. I enjoyed reading it, learned a lot from it, and heartily recommend it."--Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University
"Sandhya Shukla . . . cannot but impress with the scope of the book. . . . India Abroad . . . is a delightful and informative read, of cross-disciplinary interest, and a major contribution to the rethinking of nationalism."--Manu Bhagavan, Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism
IN A "MILLENNIUM SUPPLEMENT," the August 1999 issue of National Geographic featured a set of articles on globalization. On the cover was a photograph of two Indian women: one dressed in a traditional sari, gold jewelry, and flowers and the other, her daughter, clad in a vinyl bodysuit (see fig. 1), with the title "Global Culture." The same photograph also appeared inside the magazine, with a caption that read, in part, "SOPHISTICATED LADIES. They're well-off, well educated, widely traveled, fluent in several languages ... The global marketplace for goods, information, and style is their corner store." Though the women were apparently "Indian," the picture's significance was described by the magazine's editors in more global terms: "Goods move. People move. Ideas move. And cultures change." We are in a new moment, suggests a magazine that has served as a prime vehicle for middlebrow cultural representation, and that moment can be read through a chaotic Indianness.
Lest difference get out of control, readers in the United States have National Geographic to help order their perceptions. Remarking on the millennium theme, the editor confessed some anxietyabout the growing association between globalization and cultural homogenization, while adding: "But for the moment, at least, it is still arresting to see the juxtaposition of different societies, as men in Shanghai carry around a life-size Michael Jordan cutout or a Los Angeles artisan applies Old World henna designs to a woman's hand." And indeed, a kind of ironic, tongue-in-cheek detachment is the mood of the images in National Geographic that suggest difference. Hong Kong action star Michelle Yeoh is suspended from a rope in front of the famous Hollywood sign in southern California in an image appearing aside the title "A World Together." In another photograph, with a caption noting the significant population of Thai peoples in Los Angeles, a large group of fully robed Buddhist monks eats breakfast at a Denny's restaurant amid seeming nonchalance from other diners.
About a third of the photographs accompanying the National Geographic series feature some kind of Indianness. This fact, along with the decision to frame the issue with the image of the Indian mother and daughter, certainly prompts us to consider the central role of Indianness in the broader production of interpenetrating globalism, where nationalities come into direct contact and yet remain highly discrete. An overly polarized sense of the traditional and the modern, unsurprisingly, is signaled by the cover, in images-familiar and shocking-of exotic femininity. Heightened ironies are signaled by the appearance of Coca-Cola signs, tubes of Colgate brand toothpaste, and an inflatable American astronaut amid Mumbai's shack houses, small villages, and a Bangalore shopping mall. Juxtaposition here is a visual strategy that gives America the mark of commercial modernity, and India and other non-European nations cultural (and economic) difference; the penetrations of east by west, as well as of west by east, retain some measure of contrast. Still, the photos hint at the possibility of a national Indianness being reinvented through commodity capitalism that can illuminate the governing theme of goods and people moving, cultures changing. Dislocations and reconstructions of India in a global context begin to expand the field of representational possibilities, even beyond the categories of "here" and "there" in which the magazine traffics.
India on the move and Indianness remade are central concerns of this book. While National Geographic cannot help but exhibit residual interest in the project of identifying where the nation and its cultures are, India Abroad seeks to thoroughly disturb that sensibility by explaining how migrant cultures express global belonging in multiple national spheres. Echoing a major Indian immigrant newspaper in New York, I use the title "India Abroad" to evoke a mobile and dynamic nation that takes shape in spaces far removed from a territorial state. India, this book's "national geographic" is thus not a precise location of homeland, nor a singular motivating impulse, but instead a heterogeneous imaginary that draws energy from historical formations of colonialism and postcolonialism, discourses of diversity, and exercises of bureaucratic power.
Like all nations, India is freighted as much with metaphorical possibility as with geopolitical presence. Secure, now, in the insight that the nation has always been under production, scholars in South Asian studies have been able to develop sophisticated analyses of complex social formations and cultures of resistance. Since work on immigrants has needed to overcome the fixation on lands of settlement as defining its object, and studies of diaspora have taken nation to mean homeland, there has been a great deal of emphasis on how Indian migrants develop relationships with the Indian nation-state. But some of the constructedness, the fictiveness, of nation in cultures of migration can be lost when Indians are too thoroughly linked with their country of origin. Certainly associations between Indians and the Indian state abound, in transnational capital flows, in political movements, and in social relations, but the argument I make here is that the excesses of "India" in the space of Indian diaspora suggest more than long-distance nationalism. I suggest that it is through a broadly symbolic India that Indians can see themselves not only as national subjects of a modern world, but also as citizens of postwar United States and England-nations that themselves are undergoing processes of reconstruction. As India is built abroad in what we might see as the "contact zones" of migrant cultures in unstable first-world spaces, a new set of discourses for citizenship and subjectivity are created. Ultimately a different sensibility of how one can live in a multicultural space is performed not only for Indians, but also for other American and British peoples.
There are 1.7 million people in the United States today who claim Indian descent. While the number itself is significant, even more striking is how recently the migrations that created this heterogeneous population took place: largely after 1965, when the Immigration and Naturalization Act was passed to create less racially discriminatory standards for entry. England's Indian population is close to 1 million, a huge portion of which is attributable to migrations after the mid-1950s; at 1.9 percent of the population, it represents the largest ethnic minority. The Indian immigrant, in both the United States and England, is a presence in daily life, in urban and suburban residential communities, in business and education, and even in politics. The postwar period, of roughly fifty years, in which Indianness has become locally visible and recognized, has been one of quite dramatic transformations in the world: massive movements of peoples, the unfolding consequences of colonialism and postcolonialism, new forms of diversity in all nation-states, and transitions from largely industrial to largely service-based global economies. In and through each shift, a specific form of Indianness comes into focus, and it is this book's task to explore the variety of possibilities therein.
The "Indian diaspora" discussed here is simultaneously a concept and a set of social formations. In allowing us to consider how migrant peoples negotiate life amid tremendous social, cultural, and political change, by building the "imagined communities" of nations, by creating identities, and by expressing themselves as multiply constituted, diaspora invokes, always with qualification, ways of life-community, culture, and society. The term diaspora also conveys an affective experience in a world of nations, through its proposition of global belonging as a means of self- and group representation. Yet neither globality nor diaspora should be interpreted to mean the absence of location. The Indian diaspora of this book is read very much through its locatedness, in space and time, however shifting the coordinates provided by the many movements of Indians across Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Europe. To narrow the inquiry of this book, I identify the United States and England as primary foci of the Indian diaspora. Importantly, however, other formations of Indianness-say, in the Caribbean or East Africa-do not fall out of sight, but instead become incorporated as secondary and related possibilities. As a conceptual space of negotiation, the Indian diaspora allows us to challenge the dichotomization of the global and the local, to address, in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's words, "the social machines that create and recreate the identities and differences that are understood as the local." So while the United States and England may be sites for expressions of locality, they are cross-cut, always, by forces from other worlds, only one of which is an imagining of India.
We turn, then, to the Indian diaspora to interpret what is simultaneously global and local. In that move, there is no compulsion to make specific claims to the territory of the Indian nation-state, nor remain exclusively within the social fields of the United States or England. Instead, this book develops a sphere of representation that traverses other boundaries, too, of east and west, and of first and third worlds. Diaspora then provides a different kind of "field" site from those of past anthropological preoccupations. Situated within and across a range of nations, Indian diasporic lives come to embody a set of disconnections between place, culture, and identity. Necessarily, then, in both subject matter and methodology, this book reworks and revises a classic premise of ethnography: that visiting and observing a place yields primary meanings about people, their experiences, and their cultures. While the material in this book suggests that some insights do emerge from traditional understandings of place and community, it also proposes that a whole range of life experiences, imaginative inclinations, and psychic investments lie outside observed geographical boundaries. Indianness, here, emerges in forms much grander and more dispersed than the neighborhood or workplace, such that there can be no necessary correspondence between its expressions and its locales. The shape of "community" itself, in the architecture of consumption of an entrepreneurial space like Jackson Heights in New York, or the international political interests of peoples in Southall, London, grants those places rather diverse meanings.
When place is recast as the global arena, cultural practices of migration assume interesting new shapes. The news of India and the diaspora found in the U.S.-based India Abroad or the British Asian Times is a collection of stories that address publics with material interests in the subcontinent, needs for group identity in urban and suburban areas of settlement, and longings for a homeland. An entrepreneurial community's production of itself as a "Little India" and a British Indian reggae star's naming of himself as "Apache Indian" suggest that the very language of a national imaginary diversely negotiates spaces of social invention. How, in such thick occasions, can we confidently distinguish the material from the symbolic or, for that matter, experience from fiction? As Indian migrants abundantly produce readings of the condition of their shifting locality, processing their physical and imaginative movement, they develop a set of discourses that can reveal something special about diaspora. The textual materials create the rather unbounded "field" or "archive" of representation. Reading across modes of expression, as well as through physical sites, I suggest, is to get closer to diasporic life.
Analyzing the Indian diaspora formed by migrations enables us to discuss territorial fantasy in new ways. The fact that this study focuses on Indianness outside of India may yield findings different even from those of subcontinental critics of nationalism, who have been keen to demonstrate the historicity of nation-building in terms of British colonial and postcolonial histories and literatures but have for obvious reasons been less interested in countries outside the colonial circuitry, like the United States. Yet the participation of other national-cultural ideologies, such as those of "America," as well as "England," in the lives of migrants may shift our understandings of what constitutes India. Within many national identities, the stable meanings of "America" and "England" remain uninterrogated. But by looking at how migrant discourses have created India abroad, we can challenge the assumed centrality of "America" and "England" in the lives of peoples who inhabit the spaces of the United States and Britain. Negotiating the divides between nations and national affiliations, Indian diaspora can illuminate the instability of the places where we all stand.
Indian Diasporas and Multicultural Identities of Race, Nation, and Ethnicity
Handmaiden to the processes of globalization, through time, are discourses of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism has also been a necessary ideology for playing out the logic of capitalism. While many debates on the topic emphasize the highly contemporary nature of incorporating a concept of diversity into North American and European national imaginaries, the Indian diaspora encourages us to rethink that conventional wisdom. It may not have been before the 1960s and 1970s that policymakers in England and the United States began to engage in public soul-searching to conceive of their nations and cultures as constituted by difference, but recent Indian arrivals were coolly (or perhaps hotly) familiar with heterogeneity. India was always and already a fragile whole of many cultures, religions, languages, and regional groups, well before Jawaharlal Nehru's popularization of the motto "unity in diversity." And the British empire, one prominent example of globalism, employed ideologies of unhomogenized multiplicity to establish sovereignty over its totality. This colonial discourse constructed "India" as a land of many peoples, with racial typologies to match.
In discussions of confronting difference in the United States and England, particularly through formations of Indian diaspora, it is essential to see the field in which identities are being articulated as one of comparative multiculturalisms, rather than simply national(ist) frameworks for diversity. Though certainly not all models for diverse societies, past or present, are the same, there are important influences that help to shape all frameworks for multiplicity. And the Indian diaspora is a space where possibilities of a heterogeneous Britain, United States, and India meet. Any singular sense of identification will always be undermined by the plural forms that build Indianness, though its appearance as Indian may suggest otherwise.
Central to all those frameworks for pluralistic societies is what Immanuel Wallerstein has called the construction of peoplehood. This process of construction, from the structural-ideological forces with which Wallerstein is preoccupied, as well as from movements that emerge from below, results in fluid and entangled discourses of "race," "nation," and "ethnicity." The tremendously powerful lived and particularized experience of any one of these categories as a form of identity or community can often obscure the integrated nature of the development of all three. Etienne Balibar has approached this difficult problematic with a special clarity, asking: "How are individuals nationalized or, in other words, socialized in the dominant form of national belonging?" In dissolving the distinctions between "real" and "imaginary" communities, and "individual" and "collective" identities, Balibar is able to capture how all sorts of identifications are historically produced and felt. His notion of "fictive ethnicity," for populations "represented in the past or in the future as if they formed a natural community ... an identity of origins, culture and interests which transcends individuals and social conditions," is particularly evocative as a way to think about the Indianness explored in this book. The fictional nature of that formation lies not so much in its falsity as in its constructedness, what Balibar calls "fabrication." In the chapters to follow, I closely consider the contours of constructed Indianness in a variety of diasporic modes.
Excerpted from India Abroad by Sandhya Shukla Copyright © 2003 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
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