Cultural Critique 53 (2003) 149-153
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Immigration and the Political Economy of Home: West Indian Brooklyn and American Indian Minneapolis, 1945-1992, by Rachel Buff. Harvard University Press, 2001
The processes of globalization, such as large-scale patterns of immigration, flows of capital, labor, and technology, and the interdependence of state systems, have intensified in recent years, reshaping the economy, demography, and culture of the United States. These global processes, combined with the liberalization of U.S. immigration policies in 1965, have had a tremendous impact on the flows of migration from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America to the United States: 30 million Latinos and 10 million Asian Americans now live in this country, and nearly 1.5 million African Americans are recent immigrants from the Caribbean, such as the British West Indies (Del Pinal and Singer 1997; Martin and Midgley 1999; Waters 2000). In cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, and San Antonio, more than half the population now includes American Indians, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos (Pollard and O'Hare 1999). As U.S. historian George Lipsitz observes, these global processes "affect everything from the national origin of babies available for adoption to the ethnic identity of clerks in local convenience stores, from ownership of downtown skyscrapers to the price of drugs in the inner city. . . . [Today] public policies respond to the preferences of the international bond market rather than popular desires" (2001, 6).
Such transformations have prompted Lipsitz and other scholars to rethink studies of American culture beyond the confines of the bounded nation-state, at once challenging and critiquing earlier work that depicted America as an "exceptional" nation (Rowe et al. 2000; Noble 2002). Rachel Buff's important new book Immigration and [End Page 149] the Political Economy of Home takes on the challenge of studying American culture in the context of globalization by comparing the cultural performances of two im/migrant groups: American Indian powwows in Minneapolis and West Indian carnival in Brooklyn, New York (Buff uses the term "im/migrant" to capture the movement of people both within and between nations). While at first glance these groups and their cultural expressions may seem dissimilar—West Indians came from the Caribbean, and Native Americans came to Minneapolis from reservations as a result of the 1954 urban relocation programs—Buff effectively draws parallels between the two, pointing to their shared histories of colonization and resistance and the ways their cultural performances serve as "sites of memory" that both perform history and "dramatize battles for municipal and hemispheric survival" (7).
For any student of American popular culture, Buff's book is a model for doing postnationalist American studies and doing it well. It is difficult to fill in the comprehensive historical scope necessary to understand the historical relationship of the United States to other countries and cultures, but Buff provides not only the relevant his-toriography of American Indian removal and the powwow tradition, but that of West Indians, their immigration to the United States, and their cultural expressions such as calypso and steel drumming. Further, she shows how cultural innovations such as West Indian carnival and American Indian powwows can be seen as responses to the social experience of migration, colonial administration (i.e., the British and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs), and the reach of twentieth-century popular culture. In addition, Buff's historical examination of contemporary cultural expression illustrates how the line between tradition and invention can be a slippery one. American Indian powwows and West Indian carnival both draw from past traditions, but also invent new ones, reinventing "tradition" while laying claims to the past in the process. For example, the jingle dress dance represents at once European-American style and Native American concerns. The first dress made by an Ojibwe woman in 1919 was made of cloth, and its jingles came from chewing tobacco tin can scraps. The resurgence of the jingle dress dance as a "traditional" native cultural expression and healing practice spread [End Page 150] through reservation powwows...