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An On-Going Project of Education

Including South Asians in the History of Immigration to the U.S.
By Julie Laut |
JUNE 30, 2012
This spring I was privileged to play a small role in the planning and execution of an upper level undergraduate course on the history of American immigration here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dorothee Schneider, a UIUC lecturer with decades of teaching experience and a recent book on migration and citizenship (see works cited), graciously allowed me to shadow her throughout the semester so I could learn from a master how to teach on the subject of immigration. She also allowed me to add several readings to her already rich syllabus, and I gave two short lectures focused specifically on the history of South Asian migrants in the U.S.

My first guest lecture focused on early South Asian immigration (1880-1924), which I subtitled "Race, Gender, and the Imperial Politics of Mobility." My goal was to give students a broad understanding of the push and pull factors that brought South Asians to North America in this period and why those numbers remained so small before 1965. Factors I highlighted included colonial land policies that pushed Indians off their land; the increasing flow of South Asian labor across the globe; and the tightening of racist and gendered immigration laws in the self-styled "white men’s countries." (See Bald, Kazimi, Lake and Reynolds, Mongia, and Shah.)

For my short lecture on post-1965 South Asians in the U.S. I chose to focus on the politics surrounding the "model minority" myth and recent scholarship on the less visible South Asian communities in this country (see Dasgupta, Koshy, Mohammed-Arif, and Rana). Several students were particularly taken with the hip hop music being produced by desi artists such as Chee Malabar and Rainman (see Sharma and link to the Himalayan Project).

Unlike the better-known history of American immigrant groups such as those from Germany, Ireland, Italy and even Japan, most U.S. college students know little about either the historical context or contemporary realities of South Asian American immigration. Given the statistics in a recent New York Times article on the increasing number of Asian American immigrants, however, I hope that more classes on immigration in the U.S. begin to include South Asians on their syllabi (see Semple).

Works Cited
• Bald, Vivek. "Overlapping Diaspora, Multiracial Lives: South Asian Muslims in U.S. Communities of Color, 1880-1950." Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society 8:4 (2006): 3-18.
• Continous Journey. Dir. Ali Kazimi.
• Dasgupta, Shamita Das, ed. Body Evidence: Intimate Violence Against South Asian Women in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007.
• Himalayan Project: Music Culture and Sports. Web.
• Koshy, Susan. "South Asians and the Complex Interstices of Whiteness: Negotiating Public Sentiment in the United States and Britain." In White Women in Racialized Spaces: Imaginative Transformation and Ethical Action in Literature. Edited by Samina Najmi, 29-50. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.
• Lake, Marilyn and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Color Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality (New York: Cambridge UP, 2008)
• Leonard, Karen Isaksen. Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
• Mohammad-Arif, Aminah. "Pakistanis in the United States: From Integration to Alienation?" In Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict, and Change. Edited by Virinder S. Kalra, 316-334. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
• Mongia, Radhika Viyas. "Race, Nationality, Mobility: A History of the Passport." In After the Imperial Turn: Thinking With and Through the Nation. Edited by Antoinette Burton, 196-214. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.
• Rana, Junaid. "Controlling Diaspora: Illegality, 9/11, and Pakistani Labour Migration." In Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict, and Change. Edited by Virinder S. Kalra, 43-62. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
• Semple, Kirk. "In a Shift, Biggest Wave of Migration is Now Asian," New York Times 18 June 2012: A11.
• Schneider, Dorothee. Crossing Borders: Migration and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Harvard University Press, 2011)
• Shah, Nayan "Between 'Oriental Depravity' and 'Natural Degenerates,'" American Quarterly 57 (2005): 703-725.
• Sharma, Nitasha Timar. Hip Hop Desis: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a Global Race Consciousness. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Julie Laut is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she studies global South Asian mobilities and the history of the British Empire. Her dissertation project is a cultural analysis of India and postcoloniality at the United Nations.