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Journal of Asian American Studies 6.2 (2003) 213-214
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Social Science Book Prize Awardee
Callaloo or Tossed Salad? East Indians and the Cultural Politics of Identity in Trinidad , by Viranjini Munasinghe (Cornell University Press, 2002).
Award Committee: (chair) Edward J. W. Park, Dylan Rodríguez, Linda Trinh Vo
Viranjini Munasinghe's Callaloo or Tossed Salad? presents a rigorous study of Trinidadian cultural and racial formation, enmeshing a variety of political and communal movements from the colonial moment to the present. While focusing on the political challenges confronting East Indians in the statecraft and national telos of Trinidad, Callaloo sifts and slices through a crucial geographic site in the post-conquest Americas as it thoroughly examines "the articulation of class position with the significations of race." It thus marks a significant contribution to the intersecting fields of cultural studies, critical race studies, and ethnic studies. Munasinghe's study dramatically resituates the paradigmatic concerns of "Asian American Studies," invoking a conception of the "Americas" that our field has elided for too long. Few of us have attempted to write or teach of "Asians" in the Americas other than those historically situated in the North American (and inevitably United States) context. Perhaps the most important contribution of Callaloo is its skillful navigation of a difficult theoretical problem: the disentanglement of multiple political idioms that find coherence through discourses of race, ethnicity, and "nation," which in turn generate overlapping, competing challenges to (post)colonial cultural hegemonies. Munasinghe's text deftly elaborates the modalities in which East Indian Trinidadians have attempted a rearticulation of the category "Trinidadian," in ambivalent relation to the categories of "African/Black" and "Creole."
We are further reminded in Callaloo, that the long presence of South Asians (East Indians), Japanese, Chinese, Pilipinos, and other communities throughout South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, must become central fields of focus in our allegedly interdisciplinary, counter-traditionalist field of study. The particular importance of the book to Asian American studies lies in its theoretical richness, the way in which it generates new lines of theoretical and empirical inquiry that speak to the movement, fracturing, and "creolization" of cultural practices and ethno-racial identities. Munasinghe suggests that such lines of inquiry can best be pursued through a conception of "Asian Americans" that is at once situated in the "local," while theorized as locally diasporic (that is, Asians as subjects of the "Americas" in the most plural sense).
Finally, Munasinghe's study presents an immersion in theories of ethnicity, nation/nationality, postcoloniality, and critical geography that speaks compellingly [End Page 213] to scholarship in African Diaspora and Africana Studies. Callaloo, with its close reading of the Trinidadian Black Power movement and the lasting public/intellectual work of C. L. R. James, Eric Williams, and others, creates a mode of engagement for Asian American studies that departs drastically (and productively) from the conventional focus on "Black-Asian relations." Munasinghe has produced a book with estimable implications for the scholarly trajectory of our field.
University Of California, Riverside