South Asian Americans

Article # 1
Mohanty’s essay shares the author’s personal anecdotes on her thoughts about the politics of gender in the construction of South Asian identity in North America.  The author explores the concept of home for migrants and immigrants by sharing her own experiences about being not only considered as a foreign student in the US, but being a female foreign student.  Mohanty focuses on studying the feminism of US women of color and Third World women.  The author reexamines the meanings attached to home and community in India and traces the roots of anti-colonialist, feminist struggle in her country.  As she remained strongly connected to her Hindu roots, Mohanty refused to give up her Indian passport and chose instead to remain as a resident alien in the US for the last decade.  This lead to her reflections on the complicated meanings attached to holding Indian citizenship while building a life for herself in the US.  Yet Mohanty recounts how racism is prevalent not just for South Asians in the US, but among Indians themselves in their own country.  The mobilization if Hindu fundamentalists have lead to violent racist discourses about Muslims, making it almost impossible to raise questions in public about issues such as ethics, or injustice of racial, ethnic, religious discrimination.  These religious wars in India made Mohanty realize that the battle for women’s minds and hearts was very much at the center-stage in Hindu fundamentalist strategy.  Women in Indian are mobilized not only in the service of their country, but become the ground on which discourses of morality and nationalism are written.  For Mohanty, one of the central challenges of Indian feminists is how to rethink the relationship of nationalism and feminism in the context of religious identities.   The lesson, according to Mohanty, for immigrants and migrants is that home, community, and identity all fall somewhere between the histories and circumstances they inherit.

It would be racist to conclude that Hindu Americans, or South Asian Americans, are destined to practice bad politics based on the political situations in their own home countries.  In fact, it would be discriminatory to simply label their political situations as “bad politics” since although democracy is an aspiration for many countries; religion still remains a very important and guiding factor in many countries as well.  Much of the violence and political conflict described by Mohanty about India in her essay are rooted in religion, Hinduism.  It shapes their politics, way of life, and culture.  Tracing their history necessarily involves an understanding of the fundamental elements of Hinduism, and how it has influenced so many other dimensions of life in India.   To label it as “bad politics” simply because it is something we ourselves have not experienced in the US is just narrow-minded.   Before one can label another country’s political dilemmas or sources of war as results of “bad politics” requires understanding the historical premises histories, and circumstances upon which such dilemmas or battles are rooted.

Article # 2
Sudbury’s article studies the reconstruction of black identity as a multiracial signifier shared by African, Asian, and Caribbean women in Britain.  The author argues that multiracial blackness should be viewed as an oppositional identity strategically invoked by black women activists to mobilize collective action against systems of oppression and gendered racialized boundaries.  In discussing social movement theory and the collective identity approach, Sudbury points out that there is often a tension between the need for black women to create a unified collectivity and at the same time to destabilize these identities from within.  In other words, Sudbury points out that black women’s struggle against gendered racism come from both outside and within black communities.  She then traces the history of black migrants from British colonies or former colonies to Britain, and how these migrants, whether from Africa, Caribbean or even Asia, nevertheless shared a common history of colonial oppression and similar discriminatory treatment as victims of race hatred, housing discrimination, and social and political exclusion.  Sudbury thus emphasizes the need for women (and men) from diverse histories, cultures, and experiences to focus on their commonalities and to build a united movement against interlocking systems of oppression.  Creating a common political identity will create strength among these diverse backgrounds in order to fight discrimination and oppression.  She further points out that insisting on the use of “political blackness” – of lumping together different races under one term – actually creates contradictions and dissonance.

It is difficult to break out of genderized racism if women, regardless of race, are collectively labeled as black.  It is difficult because it prevents these women from being understood and accepted within their own ethnic, racial, and historical context, as they are all lumped together under one label.  Even though, as Sudbury argues, a commonality in identity allows for a stronger voice in opposition, the problem here is that women forced to submit under one umbrella term must deal with issues not only regarding external racism but issues within their own communities as well.  As they struggle to define their roles, and make a place for themselves in the predominantly white environment they’ve adapted, collective action and common identity must be addressed with care to giving due regard for unique races, histories, and cultures within the common label or term.

Article # 3
Kukké and Shah’s article discusses the state of the queer South Asian movement in the US, and its intersection with progressivism as manifested in the context of South Asian communities in America.  Queer South Asian activists constitute organizations of gays and lesbians of South Asian descent.  These organizations, although generally intended to produce social and political sensibility, and a sense of community among its members, have historically been geared toward men, to the exclusion of women, thereby creating gender parity even within these organizations.  Workshops conducted by these organizations resulted in either discomfort by the audience at being addressed by two openly queer South Asian women, or in an audience turnout who came to the workshop merely to see a “queer freak show.”  In inviting queer South Asians to speak at these workshops, as attempts at “progressive vision,” these attempts actually showed manifestation of homophobia within their own South Asian communities.  Thus, the authors point out that progressive South Asian organizing has not been very successful in integrating queer perspectives and struggles in their progressive work.  Yet the authors point out, these endeavors are at least attempts to work together to further necessarily shared interests between progressive queer and non-queer South Asian activists.

As with any race or community, there are different perspectives, sexual orientation, and biases within any one particular ethnicity or social group.  South Asians in the US have to struggle with defining their identity as South Asians within the US setting, and at the same time, differences and biases within the South Asian community itself exists.  Queer and non-queer activists all strive for common goals of community and support, and organize themselves to form a venue for their own respective needs.   The overarching common interest binding both groups of course is that of being South Asians in the US.  And in helping to define their sense of identity, they must necessarily always take into consideration the various perspectives offered by each group, be they queer or non-queer.


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