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Diaspora 3:3 1994 Reflections on Diasporic Identities: A Prolegomenon to an Analysis of Political Bifocality Purnima Mankekar Stanford University Making Ethnic Choices: California's Punjabi Mexican Americans. Karen Isaksen Leonard. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992. 1. Narratives and Counternarratives of Identity Formation Opinion polls, articles, letters to the editor in newspapers and, more recently, political rhetoric reveal that anti-immigrant sentiments have been on the rise in the United States. In California, Governor Pete Wilson launched an offensive against immigrants in his electoral campaign, claiming that "aliens" placed an additional burden on the financial resources of the state by exacerbating the unemployment situation and poaching off social services. A television advertisement produced for his campaign reveals how this rhetoric both tapped into and expressed some of the prevailing hostility towards immigrants. Telecast in May and June 1994 and ostensibly filmed at the United States-Mexico border, the advertisement portrays a group ofimmigrants creeping stealthily into United States territory. Photographed at a distance, the "aliens" resemble a host of insects scurrying across the screen: the dominant metaphors are those of infestation and invasion. While its rhetoric is apparently aimed at "illegal aliens," in particular those from across the United States-Mexico border, this advertisement reveals the manner in which immigrants from Third World contexts1 are being constructed at this historical moment in the United States, when antagonisms spurred by economic decline have combined with the jingoism unleashed by adventurist foreign policy interventions in different parts of the world. These racialized and racist representations ofThird World immigrants as Other are coimplicated with the consolidation of an "American" national(ist) Self that is monolithic, "unmarked" and normative.2 In this essay, I suggest that Karen Isaksen Leonard's Making Ethnic Choices: California's Punjabi Mexican Americans may be read as a counternarrative to some of these anti-immigrant dis- Diaspora 3:3 1994 courses. Intended as an exploration of ethnicity in California, this study presents a wealth ofinformation on the manner in which Punjabi men who migrated to California at the turn of the century, together with the Mexican and Mexican-American women they married, confronted economic hardship, loneliness, racism, and prejudice as they made lives for themselves in their adopted homeland . This counternarrative interrogates dominant histories of the United States, the subjects of which are Caucasian "pioneers," which is to say, migrants from other parts of the United States or from Europe, and thus challenges hegemonic notions of a homogeneous (white) "American" identity. My objectives in this essay are twofold. Leonard frames the formation of Punjabi-Mexican-American identities and communities in terms of"choices" the immigrants and their descendants made in the face of political and economic constraints. The pioneers' "ethnic choices" were mediated by state policy, political economy, the Punjabi Mexican Americans' relationships with the majority community , their family dynamics, and their positions along axes ofgender, class, and generation. I will examine this theorization of ethnicity for what it tells us about identity formation, particularly in the context of diasporic communities. Next, I will present a narrative constructed from my conversations with Harbhajan Kaur, a Sikh woman in New Delhi. While this woman is not, like the people described by Leonard, a diasporic subject, her narrative reveals how the politics of memory and shifting registers of identity refract the constitution of subjectivity. Although the historical experiences and sociopolitical locations ofthe Punjabi Mexican Americans and Harbhajan Kaur differ, a juxtaposition of their narratives reveals how experiences of displacement and marginality vis-à-vis a hegemonic national community implicate the identities of subjects. Leonard's study reveals the persistence of the web of connections linking diasporic communities and the "homeland." My juxtaposition ofthe processes ofidentity formation ofsubjects in the diaspora and the homeland will serve a second purpose, that offoregrounding the relationship between the politics of the diaspora and homeland. My objective is to offer a prolegomenon to an analysis of how diasporic subjects can (and do) forge coalitions based on a politics of location and accountable engagement with struggles in both the homeland and the diaspora.3 Recent anthropological critiques of notions ofculture, travel, and space have pushed us to reconceptualize the connections and disjunctures between different parts of the world...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 349-371
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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