Aspiring to Home: South Asians in America

Aspiring to Home: South Asians in America

Aspiring to Home: South Asians in America

Aspiring to Home: South Asians in America

Synopsis

What does it mean to belong? How are twenty-first-century diasporic subjects fashioning identities and communities that bind them together? Aspiring to Home examines these questions with a focus on immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Advancing a theory of locality to explain the means through which immigrants of varying regional, religious, and linguistic backgrounds experience what it means to belong, Bakirathi Mani shows how ethnicity is produced through the relationship between domestic racial formations and global movements of class and capital.

Aspiring to Home focuses on popular cultural works created by first- and second-generation South Asians from 1999- 2009, including those by author Jhumpa Lahiri and filmmaker Mira Nair, as well as public events such as the Miss India U.S.A. pageant and the Broadway musical Bombay Dreams. Analyzing these diverse productions through an interdisciplinary framework, Mani weaves literary readings with ethnography to unravel the constraints of form and genre that shape how we read diasporic popular culture.

Excerpt

We are here to pervert—excuse me, to preserve—our culture.
—Teju Patel, addressing the Miss India USA pageant

As I walked into the Miss India USA pageant, I momentarily felt out of place. Inside the hotel banquet room, speaker systems buzzed with static as emcees commandeered the microphone and audience members chattered loudly with their friends. Glancing through the program booklet, I noticed that the preparation for the evening exceeded the actual events onstage. The pageant was not simply about who won the contest, but about the community itself. Threaded through the talent and fashion shows were stories about local immigrant entrepreneurs whose small businesses funded the contest; about parents who invested their time and money into the display of their daughters; and about the young women who aimed to win the crown. Throughout the evening, the pageant organizers, beauty queens, and emcees appeared to represent an upwardly mobile immigrant group. Yet while the pageant promoted a singular narrative of ethnic and national community those who gathered at the event came from diverse backgrounds. The contestants represented more than twenty states across the United States, and as many regions of origin within India. They were Hindu and Sikh, Muslim and Christian; they spoke Telugu, Hindi, Punjabi, and Malayalam. The audience included first- and second-generation immigrants from India, as well as Fijians and East Africans of subcontinental origin. Despite my initial hesitation, I was compelled by the spectacle of belonging generated at the pageant. As an Indian national from Japan, an academic, and as a feminist who rejected the objectification of female bodies, I considered myself to be unlike the immigrants who attended and participated in this event. Yet like . . .

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