Academic journal article Social Justice

From Traitor to Collaborator: Nepali Social Action in the Context of Immigration, Transnationalism, and Diaspora

Academic journal article Social Justice

From Traitor to Collaborator: Nepali Social Action in the Context of Immigration, Transnationalism, and Diaspora

Article excerpt


THIS ARTICLE EXPLORES THE WORK OF A SMALL GROUP OF NEPALI IMMIGRANTS LIVING in the San Francisco Bay Area, who are attempting to move away from the debilitating force that Amartya Sen (1999) calls "national/cultural chauvinism" by living transnational lives that appreciate both cultures while also engaging in deliberate social action benefiting both "homes." While understanding and enjoying some aspects of their new lives in the United States, many members of the Nepali immigrant community are well aware of the negative effects of emigration on their country of origin. Specifically, the loss of professionals and "formally" educated Nepalis cannot be ignored. (1) Therefore, we engage in ongoing collaboration with our Nepali counterparts to move beyond oversimplifications and generalizations and to work toward social change.

By creating an innovative transnational development project, this group has attempted to break down stereotypes and reverse the negative connotations attached to the word "immigrants." Since the Nepali community is a minority even within immigrant groups in the United States, we are often seen as passive people attempting to maintain our identity in the U.S. by promoting our "exotic" culture and heritage. In his work on Mexican transmigrants in the U.S., Robert C. Smith (1998: 197) speaks of the images commonly connected with immigrant groups:

   We [academics] are accustomed to equating membership in a political
   community with citizenship, or membership in a nation-state; to
   treating immigration as a unilinear, stage-like process of
   incorporation or assimilation; and to treating migration as a
   structural phenomenon through which migrants passively respond to
   "push" and "pull" forces. These images have captured the
   imaginations of scholars precisely because they correspond to
   important realities: most of us do live our lives as citizens in
   nation-states; immigration is a process of incorporation; and
   migration is induced by structural causes. However, these
   conceptualizations also lead us to develop what Veblen called
   "trained incapacity": the inability to see what is there because of
   how we have been trained to look.

This article challenges that "trained incapacity" by looking at the organizing, collaborative, and action-oriented attributes of a small but growing immigrant community. It reveals that far from being a unilinear process of incorporation, the immigrant experience is a dynamic process of dialogue, resistance, reflection, creation, and critical action. Through a detailed ethnographic account of the creation, implementation, and success of a transnational Nepali action group, Kartabya, this dynamism will hopefully become apparent.

Globalization from Below and Its Possibilities

This article seeks to move beyond pro- and anti-globalization dichotomies to look more deeply at the possibilities inherent within our "globalized" world. The term "globalized" indicates the existence and perpetuation of hegemonic forces that promote divisions based on power and privilege, as well as new grass-roots forces that seek to dismantle that hegemony and offer new possibilities for equity. To this end, this article utilizes a completely redefined notion of citizenship and nationality. As McMichael (2003) observes, "corporate globalization clarifies the world-historical and exclusionary dimensions of citizenship as it erodes social entitlements, and redistributes people across national boundaries, complicating the question of sovereignty and citizenship." McMichael invokes Held's work (1995) concerning whether the rights embodied in citizenship can be sustained within the framework that brought them into being and explores new conceptions of citizenship--cosmopolitan citizenship through mobility citizenship (Urry, 2000) to global citizenship (Muetzelfeldt and Smith, 2002)--as well as the notion of the "multi-layered citizen," in which "people's rights and obligations to a specific state are mediated and largely dependent on their membership of a specific ethnic, racial, religious, or regional collectivity, although they are rarely completely contained by it" (Yuval-Davis, 2000: 171). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.