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How to Be South Asian in America: Narratives of Ambivalence and Belonging

anupama jain

Publication Year: 2011

Providing a useful analysis of and framework for understanding immigration and assimilation narratives, anupama jain's How to Be South Asian in America considers the myth of the American Dream in fiction (Meena Alexander's Manhattan Music), film (American Desi, American Chai), and personal testimonies. By interrogating familiar American stories in the context of more supposedly exotic narratives, jain illuminates complexities of belonging that also reveal South Asians' anxieties about belonging, (trans)nationalism, and processes of cultural interpenetration.

jain argues that these stories transform as well as reflect cultural processes, and she shows just how aspects of identity—gender, sexual, class, ethnic, national—are shaped by South Asians' accommodation of and resistance to mainstream American culture.

Published by: Temple University Press

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pp. vii-x

This book has been shaped by a wealth of different people and ideas over the past decade. My family and close friends, professional colleagues, anonymous peer reviewers, acquaintances, and even complete strangers have collectively added to the ways in which I conceive of ambivalence and belonging. While I am technically a first-generation immigrant...

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pp. 1-29

How to Be South Asian in America investigates assimilation narratives concerned with the ambivalence engendered when accommodating a shifting (and thus elusive) national ideal. The title phrase “how to be” signals this study’s central goal of demystifying a purportedly authentic or unchanging American cultural identity. It must immediately be acknowledged that “South Asian” is also a category describing a dynamic...

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1. Reading Assimilation and the American Dream as Transnational Narratives

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pp. 30-78

As described in the introduction, in light of South Asians’ dispersal in multiple countries, it is necessary to read their assimilation stories within a sustained (trans)national framework that can be sensitive to both postcolonial and national histories, in order to supplement cultural analyses that would otherwise be incomplete. Given this imperative, my discussion of ambivalent...

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2. They Came on Buses: “GuyaneseOpportunities” as a Contemporary Americanization Program

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pp. 79-131

In the previous chapter, I laid the foundations for the current and subsequent ones by outlining various layers to the story of South Asian Americanization and diasporization. I pointed out that, contrary to traditional practice, we can make sense of contemporary Americanization processes only by presencing relevant (post)colonial histories as well as more recent migration patterns. In this chapter, I move from cultural...

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3. “Stretched over Dark Femaleness”: Three South Asian Novels of Americanization

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pp. 132-186

The first chapter of this book laid the foundation for analyzing distinct sets of South Asian stories and the second chapter moved from the theoretical to the empirical, highlighting how narratives of assimilation are always in dialogue with one another across local and global contexts. This third chapter complements “official,” socio-historical, and ethnographic accounts of...

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4. “How to Be Indian”: Independent Films about Second-Generation South Asian Americans

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pp. 187-226

Chapter 1 of this book acts as a foundation for prominent discourses concerning assimilation and diasporization. Building on this foundation, in chapters 2 and 3, I differentiated particular sets of South Asian stories that highlight unique aspects of various politics of belonging. In this chapter, I shift the focus again and offer another vantage point for reconsidering narratives of national assimilation by looking at fictions...

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Conclusion: Ambivalent Americanization and South Asian Narratives of Belonging in Diaspora

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pp. 227-231

As suggested by the analyses in this book, when investigating assimilation stories and related narratives of belonging in the United States, one finds that multiple other discourses are inevitably implicated. Authenticity expectations are relevant for national belonging as well as for other systems of self-naming, including religion, diaspora, region, and so on...


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pp. 233-250

Works Cited

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pp. 251-269


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pp. 271-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781439903049

Publication Year: 2011