Downwardly Global: Women, Work, and Citizenship in the Pakistani Diaspora

Downwardly Global: Women, Work, and Citizenship in the Pakistani Diaspora

by Lalaie Ameeriar

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Downwardly Global: Women, Work, and Citizenship in the Pakistani Diaspora by Lalaie Ameeriar

In Downwardly Global Lalaie Ameeriar examines the transnational labor migration of Pakistani women to Toronto. Despite being trained professionals in fields including engineering, law, medicine, and education, they experience high levels of unemployment and poverty. Rather than addressing this downward mobility as the result of bureaucratic failures, in practice their unemployment is treated as a problem of culture and racialized bodily difference. In Toronto, a city that prides itself on multicultural inclusion, women are subjected to two distinct cultural contexts revealing that integration in Canada represents not the erasure of all differences, but the celebration of some differences and the eradication of others. Downwardly Global juxtaposes the experiences of these women in state-funded unemployment workshops, where they are instructed not to smell like Indian food or wear ethnic clothing, with their experiences at cultural festivals in which they are encouraged to promote these same differences. This form of multiculturalism, Ameeriar reveals, privileges whiteness while using race, gender, and cultural difference as a scapegoat for the failures of Canadian neoliberal policies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822373407
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 02/10/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 590 KB

About the Author

Lalaie Ameeriar is Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Read an Excerpt

Downwardly Global

Women, Work, and Citizenship in the Pakistani Diaspora

By Lalaie Ameeriar

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7340-7



Moving to Ontario is one of the most important choices you will ever make. Ontario is a land of opportunity. It is a prosperous, democratic society built by the hard work of generations of immigrants. We hope that you will decide to make Ontario your new home. Our people are our greatest asset, and we welcome the talent and energy that newcomers bring to our province. In return, we offer opportunities and a quality of life that are second to none. — GLOBAL EXPERIENCE ONTARIO

Canada has the highest educated taxi drivers in the world. — INTERVIEW WITH FAISAL, president of a Pakistani-Canadian organization for businessmen

Khudija had been called to the front of the class by June, the instructor, and was told to sit as if she were at a job interview. June looked at her and said, "Always dress in plain clothes and in plain colors," which Khudija was wearing. An audience member called out that she needed to be more relaxed. Khudija shifted in her seat. June began calling out various instructions in the style of a drill sergeant: "Never put your bag on the table because it's not your table — put it on the floor, it's a sign of respect." Khudija fidgeted with her bag before putting it at her feet. June continued focusing on what Khudija was doing wrong. "It's alright to put your arm on the table, but don't lean on it; there is no right or wrong, but just don't be too forward; women can cross their legs, but don't switch crossing them too often, and don't tap your feet; be on time, get there early, take off your jacket because your appearance is very important; prepare your language, do not translate in your head; use simple sentences; have a firm handshake; change yourname if it's hard to pronounce; be aware of nonverbal behavior; don't wear bright colors, and keep your traditional dress at home." Another member of the class called out, "It's like being a robot."

When class was dismissed, the participants shuffled out for lunch, but Khudija stayed and began eating her sandwich at the table. I didn't want to intrude, so I gathered my belongings and started to leave. "You know what they need to do?" she said suddenly. I turned around and asked, "No, what?" "The government needs to tell us we need to go through cycles [meaning that assimilation or integration takes time], and embassies back home should guide us better. I came to Canada because Canada said they wanted engineers. Here I am without a job." Despite the workshop's advertised focus of helping foreign-trained engineers find jobs, none of the instruction had considered the role of professional regulating bodies, how to get one's foreign credentials recognized, or even how to retrain for a different job in engineering. As Khudija and I learned that day, finding work meant learning what to wear and how to move one's body. These seminar instructors seem to imply that bodies can be rehabilitated — albeit piecemeal — by removing the shalwar cameeze, taking a shower, rehearsing an effective seven-second first impression, and making eye contact.

Khudija seemed small in that big room. The classroom had all the referents of institutional architecture and style — a brownish façade, polyester and metal chairs, large functional tables, and a blackboard. Khudija was in her thirties and had migrated alone from Karachi under the skilled-worker class. She had been living with her parents in Pakistan and was unsure if she wanted to get married; instead, she chose a life abroad as a potential escape from their expectations. But life in Toronto was not what she had expected. Despite being a professional engineer, she was working full-time at a large theme park on the border of the Greater Toronto area selling fast food. Further demoralizing to her was that the government had required her to prove she had $10,000 before she could enter the country, which left her feeling exploited. She explained, "To get a license [as an engineer] you need one year [of] experience in Canada; to get experience you need a license. The PEO [Professional Engineers of Ontario] requires engineers to apply for a license, and if you don't have experience you take four courses at $800 each plus $200 for the exam. I was invited to come here. Australia, New Zealand, Canada all have half-page ads in papers." Khudija's entry into the Canadian workforce had been tumultuous. Two different times she accepted work for which she was paid under the table, meaning it was undocumented; the first time was for a public transportation company conducting research and the second time it was teaching computer programs to engineers. In both cases they accepted her work but ultimately did not pay her, and she found herself with no recourse because all payment arrangements were to be under the table. Khudija was a victim of precarious employment and increasing "flexibility" in global labor regimes (Harvey 1990). While she may have qualified for welfare, she told me, "I don't want government funds. I want to work." Later she admitted, "It's hard for me to think of myself as unemployed. Every day I get up and I have nothing to do."

In numerous conversations with Torontonians approaching this issue from different angles — government agents, nonprofit workers, activists, journalists, and everyday citizens — the foreign-trained-professionals problem is universally understood as a problem of bureaucracy. For instance, one afternoon in August I was invited to the home of Kate, a local nonprofit worker and activist who had collaborated with a local employment-equity organization to author a document on flexible labor. She was also part of a study that examined the racial politics of hiring practices for temporary work agencies. They found that some local employers were trying to get temporary agencies to send them candidates with specific racial characteristics; in other words, they wanted white workers. As we sat in her backyard garden sipping lemonade, Kate pegged the unemployment of skilled immigrant workers as a problem that starts with the bureaucratic lack of coordination between the federal government's management of immigration and the provincial government's management of labor. Immigrants are funneled into settlement services, where they often find they need to be retrained because regulatory bodies, which control access to licensed professions, will not accept their foreign credentials. This bureaucratic miscommunication results in many taking survival jobs. This narrative, first told to me by Kate, was one I heard repeatedly and was provided as an almost self-evident explanation of how this could happen. These people, the story goes, were tragically caught in bureaucratic entanglements.

Over time I came to interpret this narrative of bureaucratic inefficiency as symbolic of the struggle to understand the role of government in the context of the rolling back of the welfare state. In these accounts, bureaucracy is impersonal and painfully rational. Foreign-trained professionals are mere casualties of this efficiency. Rather than addressing these bureaucratic shortcomings, the government has further intensified the bureaucratic matrix by funneling money into settlement-services agencies, which treat unemployment as a problem of the body and attempt to remold foreign bodies into modern global workers. The body is stripped bare to the skin, whereby its color, adornments, and movements mark the condition of one's belonging — and this happens when people are at their most vulnerable.

In this context, classrooms are the site of affective encounters between strange bodies and those who serve as gatekeepers of inclusion, illuminating the legacy of colonialism and the failures of the multicultural project. As Sara Ahmed suggests, "Through strange encounters, the figure of the 'stranger' is produced, not as that which we fail to recognize, but as that which we have already recognized as 'a stranger.' ... The alien stranger is hence, not beyond human, but a mechanism for allowing us to face that which we have already designated as the beyond" (2000: 3; original emphasis). The rehabilitation of the immigrant body is based on the fantasy projection of an ideal worker who is to be constructed in the space of these workshops, where what constitutes appropriate bodily comportment for women is a racialized and gendered imagining of a global worker. Here we see the reinscription of Orientalist and colonial conceptions of a wild Other in need of domestication. I use the word "domestication" rather than "disciplining" because it references the taming of something wild, a kind of breaking in, like the training of a pet. To domesticate something is to make it housebroken, with broken being the operative word, involving the breaking down and rebuilding of bodies in the name of modernity and progress. From the seat of sensation, immigrant women's bodies are measured, deciphered, and codified as part of the metric of belonging.

Government-funded workshops are a critical site for racializing immigrant bodies as those refusing to conform to global economic standards. In the context of the global market, Pakistanis are decent workers as long as they stay in Pakistan; as immigrants to Toronto, they are matter out of place. These racial projects always and already see markers of race as problematic, and in these contexts, race is read as an obstacle regardless of skills. On the ground, culture or racialized difference is still an obstacle in a skilled immigrant worker's search for employment in Canada. Thus, culture and racialized bodily difference become barriers to full inclusion in the multicultural nation-state, which is predicated on accepting cultural difference. This is not simply a critique of multiculturalism — that Canada is not multicultural enough — but rather a demonstration of the contradiction that lies at the heart of multiculturalism when it operates as it is supposed to. In practice, multiculturalism concerns questions of food, music, and clothing, but not economic integration. This process leaves untouched not only social inequities in Canadian society, but deep-rooted inequalities in global capitalism.

These processes of domestication, these strange encounters, have a fundamental flaw: they are doomed to fail. Regardless of whether Pakistani women change their names, clothes, or smells, there are systemic barriers to their unemployment; some are easier to see, such as the nonrecognition of their foreign credentials, and some are less apparent, such as the inherent racism in discriminatory hiring practices. While racist imaginings of the ideal worker are still prevalent in contemporary Canada, as illustrated by Kate's study, these concerns are never explicitly addressed at the level of the everyday. As Kate illustrated, the most discussed explanation of the persistence of the foreign-trained-professionals problem is that of bureaucratic entanglements. These popular narratives, however, do not link bureaucratic functioning with racist ideologies. This chapter works to do just that by juxtaposing transformations in governance with their real-life implications in places like settlement-services agencies, painting a picture of the material and ideological barriers foreign-trained professionals face. I begin by explaining the bureaucratic matrix in place, including shifts in immigration policy as they pertain to labor and the role of regulatory bodies as gatekeepers. I then take a close look at the changing nature of work as expectations shift toward models of flexibility and adaptability in late capitalism, which themselves undergird transformations in immigration policy. Within that context, I situate and examine the practices of settlement services agencies as sites of strange encounters. Ultimately, we see how bureaucracy in Canada is not neutral, rational, or hygienic, but rather bureaucratic practice is a performance of neutrality and rationality. When faced with the irrationality of Other bodies, the constructedness of this performance becomes apparent and throws into stark relief the contradictions between multicultural policy and practice.

Bureaucratic Entanglements

Zubeidah is the person I had the most contact with in the field. She was my ally and friend. She was a counselor at the Center and in contrast to the unemployment workshop leaders, she understood the particular challenges and obstacles her clients faced. Her expertise was in one on one counseling. When we met she had been in Toronto for four years and had yet to feel established. Her husband had applied for entry hoping for a better life for the family, and ultimately left behind his job as an engineer in Pakistan. Before moving to Canada, Zubeidah ran a charity school for the underprivileged, worked in fundraising, and volunteered at a women's organization. She told me that she had a different picture of Canada before arriving. She thought it would be "a life without worries," but that they could always change their mind and go back if it did not work out. The process of immigration took two years, which is relatively fast compared to the average of six. Ultimately, she told me, it was the political situation that compelled them to leave Pakistan permanently, though she was reluctant to go into detail, perhaps wanting to leave the past in the past. For the first eight months her husband was unemployed and heard repeatedly that he was overqualified and possessed no Canadian experience, an exclusionary tactic that makes it almost impossible for new immigrants to establish themselves. One needs Canadian experience to find a job, but one needs a job to get Canadian experience.

Zubeidah said she felt disappointed in Canada because her life had completely changed. Her husband was working in sales and telemarketing to make ends meet, but still hoping one day to be able to return to engineering. Because of their financial difficulties in the first few years, she worked at Walmart as a sales associate in cosmetics and jewelry during the day, while her husband's job in telemarketing had him working at night. When she worked for Walmart she would leave home at 7:30 AM and get back by 6 PM, while her husband worked from 3 PMto 1 AM, which only allowed them to communicate through phone calls and notes. In my conversations with Zubeidah it was clear that different axes of identity including race, gender, class, and religion exacerbated her feelings of marginalization and increasing precarity. She said, "We felt things that all newcomers feel, only, at the time we thought it was just us, but now I know that all newcomers feel these things." They felt frustrated, desperate, and not fully established, waiting and hoping for better opportunities to materialize.

As Zubeidah's situation illustrates, contrary to a teleology of progress and improvement endemic to global processes, things have actually gotten substantially worse for skilled immigrant workers. Until 1980, new immigrants earned approximately 80 percent of the wage of a Canadian-born worker (Grady 2009: 28). Foreign-trained doctors and engineers arriving in the 1980s were more likely to find work in their professions than those arriving in the 1990s. For instance, a foreign-trained doctor arriving before 1980 had a 92 percent chance of working in medicine (not necessarily as a doctor) in Canada, but only 55 percent had that chance in 2001. Only 26 percent of foreign-trained engineers currently work as engineers (Boyd and Schellenberg 2008: 4, 5, 6). The trend is overwhelmingly one of decline.

In order to understand the downward mobility of foreign-trained professionals, it is important to situate this moment in longer histories of Canadian immigration policies, which over time have both helped and hindered transnational labor migration while also encouraging models of flexibility and adaptability. In 1967, Canada introduced the points system in order to relieve the burdens of sponsored immigration, which resulted in the targeting of highly skilled and educated immigrants. The new system afforded immigrants points on a scale that marked their ability to "fit in" in Canada. Since the 1970s, immigration to Canada from Asia, the Middle East, South America, and Africa has increased dramatically. Over time, the criteria under the points system have changed, as has the focus on occupational needs for skilled workers in the economy. In the 1967 model, the occupational categories comprised demand for one's occupation and a pre-arranged employment offer totaled twenty-five out of the possible 100 points. These criteria have shifted toward models of adaptability, as outlined below. Until the mid-1980s, Ottawa had been permitted to regulate immigration based on economic growth or decline in Canada. At that point, Brian Mulroney's government reformed immigration, resulting in increased immigration levels. His government kept the family-reunification class open in order to win votes from minority populations, but added the investor stream for those with a net personal worth of more than $500,000 (Abu-Laban and Gabriel 2002).


Excerpted from Downwardly Global by Lalaie Ameeriar. Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction  1
1. Bodies and Bureaucracies  25
2. Pedagogies of Affect  53
3. Sanitizing Citizenship  75
4. Racializing South Asia  101
5. The Catastrophic Present  127
Conclusion  153
Notes  169
References  181
Index  201

What People are Saying About This

Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class - Smitha Radhakrishnan

"Lalaie Ameeriar's critical examination of multiculturalism offers ethnographic nuance to long existing—and largely theoretical—debates about gender, cultural difference, and the multicultural state. By bringing these debates to life through the everyday lives of the women she interviews, Ameeriar highlights the urgency of these debates, as well as the lessons that we as scholars and citizens have yet to fully learn."

Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora - Junaid Rana

"As one of the few ethnographies on women from Pakistan, Downwardly Global offers a much-needed counterpoint to North American analyses of diaspora that overwhelmingly privilege the United States. Lalaie Ameeriar assesses the complexity of the role of gender in diasporic and migratory experiences, making a timely intervention into a number of debates and issues, from multiculturalism, the state, and bureaucratic institutions to gender, racialization, and the Pakistani diaspora. An important contribution to South Asian American studies."

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