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Negotiating Ethnicity

Negotiating Ethnicity: Second-Generation South Asians Traverse a Transnational World

Bandana Purkayastha
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj347
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  • Book Info
    Negotiating Ethnicity
    Book Description:

    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 inchoosingandconstructingtheir 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." Drawing on information gathered from forty-eight in-depth interviews and 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 Ethnicityis an important contribution to the literature on ethnicity and racialization in contemporary American culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-3780-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    In 1965, following the Civil Rights movement, the United States rescinded several long-standing rules restricting the permanent migration of non-whites to this country.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.¹ A significant proportion of the migrants from the Indian...

  5. Chapter 2 Racial Boundaries and Ethnic Binds
    (pp. 25-56)

    “Asian Indian American,” “American male of Bangladeshi origin,” “Nepali American,” “Pakistani American” … what do these hyphenated labels reveal about the ethnicity of South Asian Americans? Even though many scholars have taken the objective criteria of the integration of these groups—their residential location, linguistic proficiency, education, occupational concentration—to conclude that “assimilation” into the white middle class works in their favor, Samina, Prativa, and Anita’s statements reveal a more complicated picture. Their responses highlight some of the core themes that the South Asian Americans in this study articulated to explain their choice of hyphenated labels. They are, like other...

  6. Chapter 3 Maintaining Meaningful Connections
    (pp. 57-86)

    When South Asian Americans like Anita, who was quoted in the last chapter, spoke of “having culture,” they generally referred to a subset of cultural practices. These are marked through external ascription or racial stereotypes to construct the boundaries between them and their white peers. Since the “marked” culture arises within the structural context of the United States, along with the marking of phenotypes, Samina’s comment above shows how individuals use their experiences in other places to try to disengage from the racial ideology (about the normative white standard) prevalent in the United States. Namrata’s comment indicates another dimension of...

  7. Chapter 4 Constructing Ethnic Boundaries: Negotiations and Conflicts over Gender, Religion, Race, and Nationality
    (pp. 87-116)

    The role of nuclear families in socializing the next generations is well recognized in ethnicity literature (Bacon 1996). However, much of this literature tends to conceptualize families as separate cultural worlds, instead of worlds that are structurally and culturally related. In this chapter, the discussion of South Asian Americans within their nuclear families moves away from ideas about two cultural worlds identifiable by stable sets of socially shared meanings and practices. Instead I look at how emerging cultures are affected by the interaction of social structural processes at the node (that is, in the United States) and the transnational field....

  8. Chapter 5 Ethnic Practices, Cultural Consumption
    (pp. 117-144)

    This exploration of South Asian Americans’ reasons for choosing hyphenated identities has focused, so far, on boundaries that result from social relations that constitute nation-states, ethnic communities, and nuclear and transitional families. I have illustrated how racialization processes and hegemonic ethnic community forces use “essential culture” frameworks (albeit in opposite ways) to construct ethnic boundaries. Nuclear families emphasize ethno-national identities; in contrast, their transnational family experiences make them realize they are “culturally American.” South Asian Americans negotiate their ethnicity amidst these often-contradictory constraints and opportunities: even though they are pushed to privilege their ethno-national identities in college, in the company...

  9. Chapter 6 Sifting Through “Traditions”
    (pp. 145-166)

    In the earlier chapters I focused on how individuals negotiate ethnicity and looked for recurrent patterns to delineate the group experiences of South Asian Americans. In this chapter I focus on second generation organizations and their role in creating collective identities. These organizations develop and promote sets of affirming representations and relations; they develop a sense of shared “we” through interaction (see, for example, Gamson 1996 or Taylor and Whittier 1992 for descriptions of the construction of gay and lesbian identities). The statements in the chapter’s epigraph and the evidence in the earlier chapters indicate that positioned at the nexus...

  10. Chapter 7 Bridges and Chasms
    (pp. 167-178)

    Much of the work on children of immigrants examines to what extent they become “American,” that is, whether they come to reside in mostly white suburbs and whether their educational and occupational achievements are similar to middle-class whites. This book has focused on the children of highly educated, non-white immigrants, who already meet this criteria and asked whether and how they remain ethnic. Focusing on South Asian Americans who grew up in mostly white suburbs, who have or are acquiring advanced degrees, and who expect to be in white-collar professions, I examined why they describe themselves with hyphenated labels, as...

  11. Appendix: Methodological Notes
    (pp. 179-188)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-202)
  13. References
    (pp. 203-214)
  14. Index
    (pp. 215-220)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)