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American Karma

Race, Culture, and Identity in the Indian Diaspora

Sunil Bhatia

Publication Year: 2007

The Indian American community is one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in the U.S. Unlike previous generations, they are marked by a high degree of training as medical doctors, engineers, scientists, and university professors.

American Karma draws on participant observation and in-depth interviews to explore how these highly skilled professionals have been inserted into the racial dynamics of American society and transformed into “people of color.” Focusing on first-generation, middle-class Indians in American suburbia, it also sheds light on how these transnational immigrants themselves come to understand and negotiate their identities.

Bhatia forcefully contends that to fully understand migrant identity and cultural formation it is essential that psychologists and others think of selfhood as firmly intertwined with sociocultural factors such as colonialism, gender, language, immigration, and race-based immigration laws.

American Karma offers a new framework for thinking about the construction of selfhood and identity in the context of immigration. This innovative approach advances the field of psychology by incorporating critical issues related to the concept of culture, including race, power, and conflict, and will also provide key insights to those in anthropology, sociology, human development, and migrant studies.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-11

The displacement of millions of migrant laborers, refugees, and professionals from the postcolonial Third World to the First World and the formation of numerous migrant “ethnic enclaves” were among the most important defining features of the twentieth century. Given that currently one-fifth,...

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1 American Karma: Race, Place, and Identity in the Indian Diaspora

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pp. 12-41

I remember one significant moment in my ethnographic research when I asked Rani,1 a first-generation Indian who has lived in America for the last three decades, to define “American culture.” Acknowledging that it was difficult, Rani quickly rattled off two points as though she had thought about them for a long time....

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2 Qualitative Inquiry and Psychology: Doing Ethnography in Transnational Cultures

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pp. 42-73

This research project uses a set of methodological tools that can be best described as ethnographic. The professional Indian migrants in this study construct meanings for their identities as they move between different cultural spaces. How do they make meanings of their postcolonial migrant...

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3 Des-Pardes in the American Suburbia: Narratives from the Suburban Indian Diaspora

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pp. 74-111

In the last decade, there has been a growing interest in researching and studying the concept of diaspora.1 This outpouring of scholarship has led to a proliferation of terms—such as borderlands, travel, hybrid, and hyphenated identities—to explain the rapid back-and-forth movement...

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4 Saris, Chutney Sandwiches, and “Thick Accents”: Constructing Difference

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pp. 112-154

While conducting my ethnographic fieldwork in the Indian diaspora, I asked Rani, who lived in a suburb of Connecticut, to recall an episode that made her feel “unwelcome” or “unwanted” as an Indian immigrant in the United States. Rani mentioned one question that her friends and neighbors often ask her: “So, when are you planning to go back...

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5 Racism and Glass Ceilings: Repositioning Difference

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pp. 155-183

When examining the construction of South Asian American identity, we must focus on the “tension between assignation and assertion that sociologists suggest shape racial identity, the negotiation that identity categories bring with them and those to which they are assigned” (Koshy 1998, p. 285). Waters showed (1999) how the Caribbean transnational migrants...

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6 Analyzing Assignations and Assertions: The Enigma of Brown Privilege

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pp. 184-219

Bharati Mukherjee, a well-known Indian American novelist, published an article in which she wrote, I am less shocked, less outraged and shaken to my core, by a purse snatching in New York City in which I lost all of my dowry gold—everything I’d been given by my mother in marriage—than I was by a simple question asked of me in the summer of 1978 by three high-school boys...

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7 Imagining Homes: Identity in Transnational Diasporas

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pp. 220-234

During my fieldwork in suburban Connecticut, Vishal and I discussed the concept of “America return” in the 1960s and 1970s. I told him that it was quite common for the entire family to go to the Mumbai airport when someone was returning from America or England. The families would hire a Matador van, and some fifteen to seventeen people would wait for the family member to come out of the arrival gate...


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pp. 235-242


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pp. 243-256


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pp. 257-270

About the Author

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pp. 271-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780814723111
E-ISBN-10: 081472311X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814799598
Print-ISBN-10: 0814799590

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 181103744
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Karma

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Emigration and immigration
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
  • East Indian Americans -- Ethnic identity.
  • India -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • East Indian Americans -- Social conditions.
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