- Lone Star Muslims: Transnational Lives and the South Asian Experience in Texas by Ahmad Afzal
While Ahmad Afzal was conducting his anthropological field work on Pakistani Muslims in Houston, Muslims perpetrated attacks on American soil in September 2001. Lone Star Muslims: Transnational Lives and the South Asian Experience in Texas attempts to disentangle automatic assumptions that “flatten” the identities of extremist Muslims acting in the name of an appropriated Islam—i.e., the few—with the identities of the Muslim masses—the many. It provides a much-needed corrective to what Afzal describes as a state-sanctioned fixation on Muslim “religious militancy and terrorism” (4). Though Pakistani Americans are implicated in nationalized, media-driven discourses of the extreme, Afzal demonstrates that, in contrast, it is the mundane minutiae of the routine and ordinary that inform their existence. By enlarging the social landscape within which Pakistani Muslim Americans feel, think, and act, Afzal argues that “everyday struggles” are, in fact, central in the shaping of “identity, community, and citizenship” (4). Lone Star Muslims challenges what Afzal sees as a historiographical focus on a South Asian mainstream that is normatively middle-class, highly educated, heterosexual, and Sunni Muslim. Afzal has organized [End Page 438] his ethnographic research on Pakistani Americans into two types of studies: (1) the subcommunities of Shi’a Ismailis, gay men, and entrepreneurs and (2) the place-making repercussions of the ethnic heritage economy, radio, and festivals.
Afzal’s compelling case studies, from immigrants without access to formal education to unemployed white-collar professionals, are woven throughout the text. Whether employed in Pakistani restaurants and grocery stores or as owners of South Asian video stores, these Pakistani working poor to middle-class individuals create an entry-level infrastructure for the “robust” Hillcroft Street–centered South Asian ethnic economy. Afzal foregrounds the cases of a married couple, an underemployed journalist, and two undocumented workers (one of whom is eventually deported), highlighting their particular challenges. For example, the shop owners struggle to raise a family despite all-consuming work demands. Men lacking family connections and capital, and working long hours, suffer keenly from social isolation. For some, their only social contacts are at local mosques and the workplace. “Where does one have the time to make friends?” asks a sixty-year-old restaurant worker (115). After meeting their material needs and sending money to family overseas, they have neither the time nor the resources to vastly improve their circumstances. Still, they reason, their children’s quality of life, whether in their home or host society, makes their sacrifices worth it. Resigning themselves to their toil, they rationalize that they are “blessed” to work in America and that their struggles must be the “will of [God]” (118).
Afzal analyzes Pakistani Muslim gay men’s negotiation of ethnicity and religion, suggesting that they are marginalized and racialized in a queer America that normalizes whiteness and vilifies the Muslim “other”; simultaneously, they are excluded from “public performances of [Pakistani] diasporic nationhood” (138). Regardless, Afzal insists that, relying on their own interpretations of Islam and favoring individual over communal forms of worship, Pakistani Muslim gay men locate Islam as “central to their lives” (142). By joining Internet-based, LGBTQIA networks such as Al-Fatiha, these men build transnational links that combat the invisibility and alienation they experience in Houston’s gay, white cultures. Perhaps at least partly out of necessity, the men sexually prefer other Pakistani men, even though their sexuality places them at the social fringes of Pakistani Houston as well.
Afzal also explores cultural practices, namely festivals and radio, enacted by a larger swath of Houston’s Pakistani community. In mid-August, the annual Pakistan Independence Day Festival draws roughly six thousand women, men, and children to enjoy an outdoor parade and, indoors, a live concert, children’s performances, local Pakistani theater, and nearly one hundred Pakistani vendors’ stalls. The parade, though highly choreographed, nevertheless subverts [End Page 439] dominant narratives of belonging by...