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Reviewed by:
  • New Cosmopolitanisms: South Asians in the U.S.
  • Ketu H. Katrak (bio)
New Cosmopolitanisms: South Asians in the U.S. Edited by Gita Rajan and Shailja Sharma. Palo Alto and London: Stanford University Press, 2006.

New Cosmopolitanisms is an important and well-researched scholarly text that advances the dialogue between Asian American Studies and Diaspora and Globalization Studies. The text is a welcome addition to existing scholarship specifically in South Asian American Studies, such as texts by Rajini Srikanth, Sunaina Maira, and Karen Leonard, among others. New Cosmopolitanisms, a unique volume of six disciplinary and interdisciplinary essays, provides new illuminations to discussions of Bollywood cinema, religion, and museum collections on South Asia. The essays discuss visual and written media along with cultural expression in the practice of religion. Two essays worth noting for their original subject-matter in South Asian American Studies are Vidhya Dehejia's essay on how ethnic art is museumized and packaged for general consumption, and Dana S. Iyer and Nick Haslam's essay on eating disorders among South Asian American women.

The editors, Rajan and Sharma, present an original rethinking of the notion of the cosmopolitan by defining "new cosmopolitans as people who blur the edges of home and abroad by continuously moving physically, culturally, and socially, and by selectively using globalized forms of travel, communication, languages, and technology to position themselves between two homes, sometimes even through dual forms of citizenship, but always in multiple locations" (2–3). This configuration differs from traditional notions of diaspora that usually describe people moving from one space to a different one that becomes home. On the other hand, contemporary cosmopolitans may have multiple homes and intervene socially both in homeland and adopted homes. They inhabit "diasporas in motion," which includes the movement of people and of "capital, technology, media forms." The editors aptly recognize that "the new partakes of the old," and ground [End Page 98] their discussion of new cosmopolitanism in the formative work of immigration scholars, historians, anthropologists, and cultural critics.

In discussions of diaspora, the dimension of class is often left out. Its inclusion is an important contribution of this volume that recognizes the new cosmopolitans as belonging to different classes—professional middle class, the wealthy, and working class. This provides a strikingly different picture from the dark-suited cosmopolitan, mostly of an elite class, sometimes also an exile or expatriate. In the contemporary moment, South Asian-origin folks of different classes and generations partake equally of the South Asian homeland captured on Bollywood cinema, or in religious practice in temples, mosques, and prayer halls, or in satisfying nostalgia for South Asian foods. Their participation in U.S. public life, although described as a "new trend," is not entirely so, although perhaps more visible now than in earlier times as researched by scholars such as Karen Leonard and Susan Koshy. The editors also subtly point to a paradoxical reality of "shifting relationships between class and privilege that account for this group's success, which coexists with a level of invisibility" (7).

Iftikhar Dadi's essay on "The Pakistani Diaspora in North America" traces the complex history of Muslim identity. Dadi explores how the older paradigms of "diasporic cultural expressivity" in literary texts are being "supplemented by new expressive possibilities that are enacted at the popular level in various media, in activism, as well as in academia" (37). Dadi usefully articulates the problem of referring only to India in discussions of South Asia, leaving Pakistan out along with other nations that constitute the sub-continent. This essay discusses the constitution of the Pakistani diaspora, nationalism and cultural expression, class, gender, and religion, political activism by exemplary figures such as the late Eqbal Ahmad. Dadi closes with a very useful section on "the Aftermath of September 11" that provides extensive references on the racial profiling of Pakistani-Americans and other South Asian Americans.

"Identity and Visibility: Reflections on Museum Displays of South Asian Art" by Vidhya Dehejia explores the activity of museum curators in dealing with South Asian art, its selection process and target audiences. Muslim art is situated in the important contemporary context of "cosmopolitanism." Deheja reminds us that "Asian" art in museums mostly...


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