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  • Ethnic Routes to Becoming American: Indian Immigrants and the Cultures of Citizenship
  • Linda Trinh Võ
Ethnic Routes to Becoming American: Indian Immigrants and the Cultures of Citizenship By Sharmila Rudruppa Rutgers University Press, 2004. 239 pages. $62 (cloth); $22.95 (paper)

In an age of multiculturalism, how do new immigrant groups construct an American identity and assert their cultural claims to U.S. citizenship? What impact do racial and class backgrounds have on these processes? In this provocative study, Sharmila Rudruppa's research focuses on two non-profit organizations, Apna Ghar, a battered women's shelter, and the Indo American Center, a cultural association, in Chicago. She utilizes participant observation research methods to gain access as a paid staff member at the former and as a volunteer at the latter.

Rudruppa deliberately spends the first part of the book describing her observations and interactions at the two centers, with separate chapters discussing the workers and users of the sites. The organizations provide an interesting contrast. One is a social service agency with staff, volunteers and clients of varying racial backgrounds; the other is a cultural center, which has primarily Asian Indian volunteers and participants. Her skill as an ethnographer is admirable and her research notes are meticulous, allowing the reader to become immersed in the two sites.

Ironically, Rudrappa finds that both these ethnic organizations, contrary to the assumption that they are creating a separatist rhetoric, are inadvertently promoting assimilationist paradigms. Neither of these organizations is fulfilling its declared role of politicizing the community, rather it imposes assimilationist agendas, even to the extent of "de-ethnicizing" or "re-ethnicizing" community members. She explains how these ethnic organizations, originally created with interventionist goals, utilize more integrationist strategies as they have become more institutionalized and professionalized in order to compete for funding sources. Rudrappa acknowledges the vital service provided by Apna Ghar, but critiques this social service agency's approaches to assisting women who seek shelter, particularly their directive of disciplining the women to disconnect with their ethnic communities or networks, which she argues is counterproductive to rebuilding their lives. Rather than raising the political consciousness of their clients by providing them with alternative gender roles, they reinforce patriarchal ones.

The second part of the book focuses on the theoretical implications of her case studies of immigrant activism, interrogating notions of ethnic authenticity and citizenship. She argues that the specter of whiteness shapes how racialized immigrants are selectively incorporated [End Page 1857] into U.S. society. At the Indo Community Center, their emphasis is on the validation of the "good immigrant" model, which is confined to middle-class immigrants who are economically integrated into mainstream society. Through tours of their communities, ethnic curriculum development for school children, or performances to promote their ethnicity, they display what they consider to be authentic representations of ethnic identities and traditions. By revealing only what they believe is palatable to U.S. civil society, they hope to increase their stature as "good" moral Americans to be included in the U.S. polity, even if it means excluding segments of their community or aspects of their cultural practices. In this section, her discussion on the historical Americanization process for European immigrants and the rise of white ethnicity can be lessened, with more attention to how this model continues to shape the lives of contemporary racialized immigrant groups, other than just South Asians.

As a participant observer, Rudrappa attentively highlights how middle-class staff members and volunteers provide services to working-class immigrants, indoctrinating them on how to become Americans. Class and ethnic interests become intertwined since the negative perception of new working-class or impovished immigrants can be detrimental to more economically and culturally established ones. This seems to be a common concern for established immigrants, particularly those who have been negatively stereotyped and who engage in staging ethnic acts to lessen the level of hostility directed at them. Yet, as Rudrappa appropriately points out, the problem arises when cultural indoctrination maintains narrow, and often static, visions of ethnic culture, which dismisses the hybridity of cultures in the homeland and in the United States. She can elaborate on whether these two case studies reflect cultural...


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pp. 1857-1858
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