Negotiating Ethnicity: Second-Generation South Asian Americans Traverse a Transnational World

Negotiating Ethnicity: Second-Generation South Asian Americans Traverse a Transnational World

Negotiating Ethnicity: Second-Generation South Asian Americans Traverse a Transnational World

Negotiating Ethnicity: Second-Generation South Asian Americans Traverse a Transnational World

Synopsis

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. 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.

Excerpt

In 1965, FOLLOWING THE Civil Rights movement, the United States rescinded several long-standing rules restricting the permanent migration of non-whites to this country. Since the ban on Asian migration that had been in place from 1917 was also lifted, larger numbers of “new” migrants from several Asian countries came to the United States. However, these immigrants had to meet new requirements in order to migrate: they either had to possess the high skills in demand in the United States or they had to be family members of these highly qualified migrants. A significant proportion of the migrants from the Indian subcontinent, who arrived during the next two decades, embodied the selection criteria of these laws. Scholars documented how such “new” immigrant groups, who were proficient in English, found and acquired white-collar jobs, such as medicine, scientific research, engineering and information technologies, settled in middle-class suburbs and appeared to fulfill the American Dream (for example, Jensen 1988; Saran 1985). Their language proficiency, high human capital, non-ethnic residential location, and earnings from mainstream jobs appeared to confirm the openness of United States society toward all groups, irrespective of their racial status, who worked hard to achieve middle-class status. Certainly the mainstream media described them in these terms, valorized them for their “achievements,” and, along with other Asian Americans, labeled them the “model minorities.”

However, hidden by these accolades, a different story unfolded. Many of these highly educated “strangers from a different shore,” as Takaki (1994) has called them, experienced racial discrimination in various arenas of life. By the 1980s, several community sub-groups successfully lobbied the Census Bureau to move them from the white racial category to Asian American so that they could challenge their discrimination as racial minorities. According to recent work on this group, structural integration and ethno-racial marginalization, economic affluence and social marginality have been facets of these immigrants’ experiences (for example, Prashad 2000a; Shankar and Srikanth 1998). Given these contradictions, it is important to enquire how the children of these middle-class non-white immigrants, many of whom are now in college or starting their own occupational careers, are faring in the United States.

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