- Lone Star Muslims: Transnational Lives and the South Asian Experience in Texas by Ahmed Afzal
Lone Star Muslims is an ethnographic account of the everyday lives of Pakistani American and Pakistani immigrants in Houston, Texas, during the first decade of the 21st century. With this research, Afzal joins a body of scholarship on transnationalism that attends to the increasingly de- or re-territorialized ways in which immigrant communities negotiate belonging to two or more nation-states. He responds to prevailing scholarly and popular discourses that tend to frame Muslim Americans as a homogenous and monolithic community by engaging a diverse cast of interlocutors whose lives as Pakistanis in Houston vary along lines of class, religion, and sexual orientation. Moreover, although Afzal focuses his attention on Pakistanis in Houston, he turns his attention away from questions about ethnicity and nationality in order to develop a better understanding of how religion—specifically Islam—shapes the Pakistani Muslim experience in America.
The title of Afzal’s monograph, Lone Star Muslims, sets the stage for the anthropological project that follows. The title’s reference to Texas’s epithet, “the Lone Star State,” serves to signify Afzal’s commitments not to generalize the Pakistani experience in the US, but rather to examine the particular experience of Pakistani’s living in Houston. As such, Afzal’s first chapter does not immediately introduce us to his interlocutors. Rather, he foregrounds Pakistani population movements within the context of post-1965 American immigration policy and Houston’s emergence as a center of the American energy industry during the early 20th century. The historical overview provided in the first chapter paves the way for Afzal to illustrate the variety of ways in which Pakistanis in Houston have “have claimed, and continue to claim, space as Houstonians” (10). [End Page 345]
In the second chapter, Afzal follows the professional trajectories of the upwardly mobile, highly skilled Shia Ismailis who work in Houston’s corporate sector—many of whom were affected by the collapse of Enron during the winter of 2001. Afzal interrogates the unequal racial regimes and transnational labor flows fostered by post-1965 immigration policy in the US. Contrary to the popular discourses that ascribe model minority successes in the US either in terms of an innate cultural propensity for educational and professional achievement or in terms of communities’ whole-hearted embrace of American capitalist values, Afzal’s interlocutors reveal the ways in which Shia Ismailis’ educational and professional aspirations are grounded in Ismaili religious ideology and transnational Shia Ismaili networks.
The third chapter turns an ethnographic and analytic lens to the consumptive and economic processes that undergird Pakistani lives and businesses in Houston. With Pakistani ethnic entrepreneurs and the working poor employed in Pakistani ethnic businesses as his chief interlocutors, Afzal makes two important points about the quotidian—and transnational—experiences of Pakistanis living in Houston. First, he highlights the ways in which South Asian geopolitical realities—such as the fractures in the South Asian economy along religious lines during the 1990s—facilitated the mass circulation of Islamic religious commodities and informed contemporary Pakistani American consumption practices. Second, Afzal’s interest in Houston’s Pakistani ethnic economies serves as a site for understanding the individual life histories of ethnic entrepreneurs, the working class, and the working poor, who experience violence and abjection in the face of multiple marginalities. Importantly, in the face of racism, classism, and Islamophobia, Afzal’s interlocutors demonstrate how religion, and an “American dream reworked as individual effort and success in the service of family rather than the self” (123), are the instruments of agency and resilience in the face of oppression and discrimination.
Within the context of the broader literature on transnational identity and belonging, Afzal’s key theoretical intervention in this book is to pay attention to the intersection of transnationalism and religion. Together, these two chapters serve to illuminate how highly skilled Shia Ismaili professionals working in Houston’s corporate sector as well as ethnic entrepreneurs, the working class, and the working poor negotiate “the intersections...