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Asian Indian immigrant women in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area : work, home, and the construction of the self

  • Author(s): Das, Ashidhara
  • et al.
Abstract

My dissertation research focuses on the construction of self and identity by Indian immigrant professional and semi-professional women who live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have made an ethnographic study of the manner in which economic mobility and professional achievement remake gender, race, and class relations. The major issues are: What are the selves and identities of professional Indian women? How is continuity of selves and identities accomplished when individuals constantly shuttle between starkly different ethnoscapes of American workplace, Indian immigrant home, and transnational ideoscapes of ethnic belonging and cross-border ties? Indian immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area have often been defined as a model minority. Indian immigrant women who have achieved entry into the current post-industrial service-related and technology -based economy in the Bay Area value the capital accumulation, status transformation, socio-economic autonomy, and renegotiation of familial gender relations that are made possible by their employment. However, this quintessential American success story conceals the psychic costs of uneasy Americanization, social misrecognition, long drawn out gender battles, and incessant cross-cultural journeys of selves and identities. Americanization increases with the length of residence in the United States and duration of participation in the American labor force. However, despite their concerted attempts at being "American", my subjects continue to be viewed as "Indians", that is, as representatives of a foreign and exotic culture. Essentialization, whether positive or pejorative, causes psychological dissonance. My respondents are called upon to "speak for" Indian culture precisely when they are drifting away from old Indian habits and adopting new American ways. Nostalgia for the "homeland", as well as, "misrecognition" as "Indian" (rather than "Indian American") leads to a partial abandonment of the path to assimilation, and hence, it results in the reproduction of an Indian diasporic identity that is activated as and when needed. Thus, the Indian immigrant home becomes a principal site for the recomposition of Indian culture, and transnational ties to the "home-country" are strengthened. Code-switching back and forth between the performances of their dual American and Indian identities, my subjects have formulated a unique response to the contradictions in the expectations of American society and workplace on one hand, and the Indian immigrant home and community on the other

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