- Diasporas, Identity, and Agency in Transnational, Migratory, and Arranged Marriages
In their respective works, Marian Aguiar (2018) and Sari K. Ishii (2016) actively complicate the stereotype of the passive, nonconsenting, transnational South Asian bride that dominates the popular Western imagination. Readers of both books are introduced to a diversity of marriage actors, not all of whom are passive, female, or heterosexual. Readers also encounter subjects who use transnational marriage as an economic survival strategy, to perpetrate fraud, to escape prior marital obligations, to satisfy community needs, as well as to pursue love and desire.
With such orientation, Aguiar's monograph and Ishii's edited volume explore agential power within the diasporic marital subjectivities of arranged marriages. In Arranging Marriage, Aguiar explores how popular discourses reduce arranged marriage to coercion and conflate agency with individual consent and self-chosen love marriages. Aguiar argues that consent can be a collective experience for South Asian diasporas. Similarly, Caroline Grillot's chapter "Lives in Limbo: Unsuccessful Marriages in Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands" in Marriage Migration in Asia presents transnational Vietnamese brides not as victims but as women claiming social identities who "exercise their agency during various acts of resistance" (Ishii, 162). Aguiar and Ishii avoid simplistic constructions of the passive, naive, border-crossing Asian bride by presenting subjects who arrange marriages to ascend social hierarchies, work transnationally, perpetuate tradition, and/or exploit their partners.
Western media depict arranged marriages according to an exploitation narrative and the result is damaging rather than protective. The exploitation [End Page 269] narrative prompts governments to act as benevolent patriarchs as Marriage Migration in Asia contributor Ikuya Tokoro describes in "Centre/Periphery Flow Reversed?: Twenty Years of Cross-border Marriages between Philippine Women and Japanese Men" when a Japanese government crackdown on work visas made Filipina entertainers more susceptible to exploitative marriages. Aguiar cites how negative views on arranged marriage in the West have shaped social agencies' and governments' responses to individuals in dysfunctional arranged marriages seeking help. Aguiar argues that social agencies/governments overemphasize the exit strategy (i.e., leaving the marriage) for arranged marriages even though this severs economic and community relationships and overlooks mediation for nonviolent conflicts. Aguiar cites recent UK marriage/immigration laws (e.g., 2007's Forced Marriage [Civil Protection] Act) that heightens the state's patriarchal authority to decide who is allowed to marry or divorce based on its own marriage validity standards. Aguiar notes, "Exit from a marriage often means exit from a family and even from a local community" (131). Marriage exit thus could trap some South Asian women within a foreign low-wage economic system without appropriate social supports. Alternately Aguiar notes community organizations like Southhall Black Sisters who fight government policies that unfairly target South Asian women while supporting vulnerable South Asian women in their homes and in the community.
Scholars Aguiar and Ishii complicate arranged marriage by contextualizing marriage narratives as intersected by community, national, and global socioeconomic forces. Aguiar uses literary studies methods to highlight the narrative construction of meaning. This allows Aguiar to foreground ever-changing meanings of South Asian cultures against attempts to fix the meanings of these cultures/traditions as static across time/space. Including film and literature in her analyses allows Aguiar to highlight how traditional diasporic marriage narratives are both reinforced (e.g., Crespo and Schaefer's 2007 film Arranged) and challenged (e.g., Patel and Patel's 2014 film Meet the Patels). Aguiar highlights how hidden national and global socioeconomic forces underlie the frequent references made to tradition in popular filmic, literary, and legal discourses of arranged marriage. Aguiar brings the different discourses into conversation, recognizing that they inform each other, and delineates the differing understandings and representations by those both inside of and outside of the South Asian diasporic communities. [End Page 270]
These books present women (and men) of the Asian diasporas as active subjects constructing their own identities while resisting erasure both locally...