Category Archives: immigration

Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race [Conference Notes]

by Latoya Peterson

These are the notes for “ Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race.” The notes are from a paper by Madhavi Mallapragada, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.

  • Resist identifying South Asians as a knowable identity
  • Media produced by SA as well as media cultures that speak to them are major influences in web 2.0
  • Categorizes are informed by transnational sensibilities
  • What is the “Indian” being imagined in the construction of Indian American?
    • How is the web mobilized around categorizes and what are the politics around these identities.
  • Focusing on the term “Desi”
    • Derived from “desh” which means homeland
    • Term of self and community identification
    • 2nd and 3rd gen youth often collectively identify as desi
    • While desi is a pan-South asian term, it often means Indian
  • She points to the popular website desihits.com
    • Bicultural remixes uniquely reflect the reality of people
    • Overwhelmingly focused on bollywood
    • Centrality of Indian pop culture and politics
  • Mallapragada plays the video “You Are Not an Indian
    • In this video titled, “You are not an Indian,” a young male addresses viewers who like him are neither just American nor Indian but desi. Wearing a t-shirt with the word “desi” written prominently in Hindi across it, the young man points out that desis are not South Asians but of South Asia. People of South Asian origin in the United States commonly refer to each other as Desi. The term means “from the homeland” and simultaneously invokes one’s identity as South Asian but also as being “outside South Asia”. As the young man reminds his viewers, the difference is key. Being desi implies being critically engaged with the “realities” of India rather than uncritically celebrating the hype surrounding its contemporary global image as high-tech nation.
    • Video is important as it displays the process of reasserting identity against a current narrative – of reclaimation, of identification
    • The idea of desi is undergoing a renovation in South Asian community spaces
  • Desi is being articulated as brown racialized identity asserted against the American nation state
  • Continue reading

    When Systems of Oppression Intersect: Mental Health and the Immigration System

    By Special Correspondent Thea Lim

    Angry Asian Man reports on the story of Xiu Ping Jiang, a 35 year-old Chinese illegal immigrant diagnosed with a mental illness who has been stuck in immigration limbo for over a year. From the New York Times:

    jiang

    [Jiang] has spent more than a year in jail, often in solitary confinement, sinking deeper into the mental illness that makes it impossible for her either to fight deportation or to obtain the travel documents needed to make it happen, according to a pending habeas corpus petition that seeks her release. It contends that she is suicidal, emaciated and deprived of proper medical treatment.

    More distressing is the report of her first court appearance in the NYT, which led to her deportation order:

    Twice the immigration judge asked the woman’s name. Twice she gave it: Xiu Ping Jiang. But he chided her, a Chinese New Yorker, for answering his question before the court interpreter had translated it into Mandarin.

    “Ma’am, we’re going to do this one more time, and then I’m going to treat you as though you were not here,” the immigration judge, Rex J. Ford, warned the woman last year at her first hearing in Pompano Beach, Fla. He threatened to issue an order of deportation that would say she had failed to show up.

    She was a waitress with no criminal record, no lawyer and a history of attempted suicide. Her reply to the judge’s threat, captured by the court transcript, was in imperfect English. “Sir, I not — cannot go home,” she said, referring to China, which her family says she fled in 1995 after being forcibly sterilized at 20. “If I die, I die America.”

    The judge moved on. “The respondent, after proper notice, has failed to appear,” he said for the record. And as she declared, “I’m going to die now,” he entered an order deporting her to China, and sent her back to the Glades County immigration jail.

    As Angry Asian Man says:

    The situation illustrates the vulnerability of the mentally ill in the immigration system. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement keeps putting increasingly strict enforcement measures in place, more and more people with mental illness are being put into detention — and no one is really looking out for them.

    In a bizarre twist, the only reason Jiang’s case is getting attention is because she happens to have the same name as the ex-wife of Jiverly Wong, a Vietnamese American who shot 13 people in April at a Binghamton immigration services center. In looking for Wong’s ex-wife, reporters stumbled across Jiang.

    Yet Jiang is by a long stretch not the first (or I imagine) the last immigrant of colour with a health issue to be forgotten within the double prejudice of a system that is both xenophobic and ableist. Continue reading

    Canada’s misplaced tolerance? Or your misplaced fear?

    by Guest Contributor Krista, originally published at Muslim Lookout

    Be prepared for some major eye-rolling in this article from the Calgary Herald. In it, Mahfooz Kanwar praises Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (see here for why this is a bad idea), and berates Canadians that he perceives as not having “assimilated” enough. A Muslim originally from Pakistan, Kanwar spends the article extolling the perfection of Canada’s values and culture, and blaming all problems on those immigrants who bring foreign baggage with them into this happy utopia.

    Kanwar’s definitions of “Canadian” identity and values are disturbingly narrow. It seems to apply only to those values already existing among people living in Canada, who have good values such as “equality.” People who move to Canada, according to Kanwar, need to adopt Canadian values, and lose (or at least hide) anything they brought from their home country. At no point does Kanwar allow for the possibility that there might be Canadian values that aren’t so great, or that our actual track record for “tolerance” and “equality” isn’t exactly as impressive as we’d like to think. He also never acknowledges that there might be some “foreign” values that could actually enrich or improve Canadian society. Immigrants are called to adopt “mainstream” Canadian ideas and behaviours, and the assumption is that these must be necessarily better than the ideas and behaviours that immigrants brought with them.

    Kanwar also calls for all immigrants to be unquestioningly patriotic and undividedly loyal to Canada, which is not a standard that most Canadian-born (and white) Canadians are ever called to adhere to. He writes, for example, that “Those who come here of their own volition and stay here must be truly patriotic Canadians or go back.” As a white Canadian whose family has been here for several generations, I have never been told that I should “go back” anywhere, despite a history of acts that I am sure Kanwar would classify as deeply unpatriotic. I am disturbed at Kanwar’s argument that all immigrants should have to adopt an uncritical sense of national pride in order to belong here, and that there does not appear to be any room for immigrants to be at all critical of Canada (or of the overall concepts of patriotism and nationalism, which I would also argue are worth critiquing) if they want to be considered worthy of living here. Continue reading

    City Councilman Promoted Violent Anti-Immigrant Video Game

    by Guest Contributor Cara, originally published at The Curvature

    comic 3

    I just came across a post at Sociological Images about an outrageously racist flash video game called Border Patrol. They note that in the game, “you try to keep three types of Mexicans from crossing the border: drug dealers, Mexican nationalists, and ‘breeders.’” Video game site Kotaku — which thankfully also calls the video game racist — gives a highly similar description. As you’ll notice in the image above, which is of a heavily pregnant and barefoot caricatured woman crossing the border, she is also on her way to the welfare office.

    But you may also notice something else. Looking at the image, there are bullet holes in the sign that says “Welcome to the United States” (with a picture of a flag that seems to indicate an anti-Semitic message that the country is run by Jews — am I missing something?). The woman in the game also looks like her head is in the cross hairs of a gun.

    That’s right, in this game we’re not “stopping” Mexican immigrants from crossing the border without documentation by, oh, calling the police. Or by using another horrific and degrading option like catching them in a net to send them back over the border.

    No, players are shooting them dead. Continue reading

    Postmaster Refuses to Serve Non-English Speaking Patrons

    by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

    The Daily Mail has published an article about a British postmaster’s controversial move: He’s refusing to serve customers who don’t speak English. Complicating matters is that the postmaster, who works in a culturally diverse section of Nottingham, is of Sri Lankan decent. He became a naturalized British citizen 17 years ago.

    “I tell them if they don’t speak the language and they can’t be bothered to learn, then don’t bother coming here,” the Daily Mail quoted Deva Kumarasiri as saying.

    In making this statement, Kumarasiri ignores his background of privilege. For instance, later in the article, we discover that he learned English in school in his native Sri Lanka. This is an opportunity that scores of immigrants never receive.

    The author of the article doesn’t say what age Kumarasiri was when he began to learn English, but studies have shown that the younger a person is when introduced to a language, the better chance the person has of mastering it. So, if Kumarasiri was a minor when he learned English, he has an additional edge over the immigrants he accuses of not “bothering to learn” the language. And is it fair to say that the immigrants in his area haven’t bothered to learn? I could argue that Kumarasiri didn’t bother to learn English either. He had to speak English by virtue of being a student in a school that instructed him in the language.

    Throughout the article, Kumarasiri continues to make arguments that are downright shoddy. He resorts to using offensive clichés when he says, “If you don’t want to be British, go home.” Even when he puts more thought into his explanations for banning non-English speakers from his shop, his points are flawed. For example, Kumarasiri argues, “The fabric of the nation begins to unravel if we don’t all speak the same language.” Continue reading

    Interracial Marriage Rate Declines Among Asians

    by Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

    The Washington Post has an interesting story on recent trends in interracial marriage in America — specifically, a decline in the rate of Hispanics and Asians marrying partners of other races in the past two decades: Immigrants’ Children Look Closer for Love.

    Sociologists and demographers are just beginning to study how the children of recent immigrants will date and marry. Conventional wisdom has it that in the open-minded Obama era, they will begin choosing spouses of other ethnicities as the number of interracial marriages rises.

    But scholars are coming across a surprising converse trend. According to U.S. Census data, the number of native- and foreign-born people marrying outside their race fell from 27 to 20 percent for Hispanics and 42 to 33 percent for Asians from 1990 to 2000.

    Scholars suggest it’s all about the growing number of immigrants. It seems that the large immigrant population fundamentally changes the pool of potential partners for Asians and Hispanics. Thus, the second generation is more likely to marry people of their own ethnicity.

    It’s not quite like it was before, when there were only two Asian kids in your school — you and this other boy/girl — and everyone thought you two should go together to the prom. Forced coupling. Now half the school is Asian, so it’s not such a big deal. Something like that.

    Losing My Religion

    by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. A longer version of this article appears on altmuslimah.

    I finally got around to watching AmericanEast this weekend. Full disclosure: I had originally read Tariq Nelson’s review, which was a pretty good rundown.

    AmericanEast is an attempt at mainstreaming American Muslims and attempts to portray the struggles Muslims face in the United States. In my opinion, they overdid it and never established a coherent plot. And on top of that, I found that the characters had no depth and some were cartoonish caricatures.

    The movie centers on Mustafa, an Egyptian immigrant who owns a café in a heavily Middle Eastern part of Los Angeles. His life, and the lives of several close to him, is one problem or tragedy after another: at one point during the movie, I asked myself whether anything good was ever going to happen to anyone.

    Mustafa has a sister, Salwah. Tariq outlines her character:

    Salwah Marzouke, Mustafa’s sister, was a nurse that styled hair in the back of her brother’s restaurant and was arranged to marry her cousin Sabir. However she did not like him and they did not get married. But the cousin was never informed (at least not on camera) and the story was dropped. Salwah was also interested in a doctor at her hospital who was not Muslim.

    The movie stresses over and over that marrying Salwah off is Mustafa’s duty (or so he believes). Sabir comes from Egypt to marry Salwah and take him back home with her, although she is less than excited (that’s an understatement) about this arrangement. Even though she often fights with her brother, she gives off major submissive, dutiful vibes that plague many female Muslim characters in the form of wide-eyed, helpless stares contrasted with humbly averted eyes and lowered chin. Continue reading

    Sundance Interview: Cherien Dabis, Director of Amreeka

    by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, orginally published at Women and Hollywood

    Cherien Dabis is having one of those dreamlike weeks. She was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2009, and her film Amreeka had its world premiere at Sundance this past weekend to a standing ovation and positive reviews. Now all she needs to do it sell the film and get an agent.

    Not being in Sundance, I haven’t seen the film but if I were there, it would been tops on my list. Here’s the description from the catalog:

    Director Cherien Dabis’s auspicious debut feature, Amreeka, is a warm and lighthearted film about one Palestinian family’s tumultuous journey into Diaspora amidst the cultural fallout of America’s war in Iraq. Muna Farah, a Palestinian single mom, struggles to maintain her optimistic spirit in the daily grind of intimidating West Bank checkpoints, the constant nagging of a controlling mother, and the haunting shadows of a failed marriage. Everything changes one day when she receives a letter informing her that her family has been granted a U.S. green card. Reluctant to leave her homeland, but realizing it may be the only way to secure a future for Fadi, her teenage son, Muna decides to quit her job at the bank and visit her relatives in Illinois to see about a new life in a land that gives newcomers a run for their money.Dabis weaves an abundance of humor and levity into this tale of struggle, displacement, and nostalgia and draws an absorbing and irresistibly charming performance from actress Nisreen Faour as Muna, who stands at the heart of this tale. Amreeka glows with the truth and magic of everyday life and signals the arrival of an exciting, new directorial talent.

    She took a couple of minutes to discuss the film and her Sundance experience.

    Women & Hollywood: What made you want to make this film?

    Cherien Dabis: The story is quite personal, inspired by my family and loosely based on true events. I grew up in a small town in Ohio of about 10,000 people. I actually grew up between Ohio and Jordan but most of my time was spent in this small town where as Arab Americans we were isolated because there was no Arab community and not a whole lot of diversity. For a while everything was fine and we fit in relatively well until the first Gulf War when my family was scapegoated and overnight we virtually became the enemy. All kinds of absurd things happened. My father who is a physician lost a lot of his patients because they wouldn’t support an Arab doctor and then it came to a head when the Secret Service came to my high school to investigate a rumor that my 17 year old sister threatened to kill the president.

    Continue reading