Narratives of Ambivalence and Belonginganupama jain
Providing a useful analysis of and framework for understanding immigration and assimilation narratives, anupama jain's How to Be South Asian in America considers the myth of the American Dream in fiction (Meena Alexander's Manhattan Music), film ( American Desi, American Chai), and personal testimonies. By interrogating familiar American stories in the context of more supposedly exotic narratives, jain illuminates complexities of belonging that also reveal South Asians' anxieties about belonging, (trans)nationalism, and processes of cultural interpenetration.
jain argues that these stories transform as well as reflect cultural processes, and she shows just how aspects of identity—gender, sexual, class, ethnic, national—are shaped by South Asians' accommodation of and resistance to mainstream American culture.
"jain’s use of literary texts, films, interviews, and participant observation data offers an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to studying belonging, and she combines her approaches well. jain draws upon every major scholar, which is quite a feat. Overall, an impressive book." —Bandana Purkayastha, University of Connecticut, and author of Negotiating Ethnicity: Second-Generation South Asian Americans Traverse a Transnational World
"How to Be South Asian in America analyzes narratives of nation to demonstrate their influence on contemporary possibilities for assimilation in the United States. What gives jain's book a fresh profile is its structure: she has chosen to analyze film, novels, and social history—in particular, the migration of Guyanese to Schenectady. This tripartite organization offers a more complete account than most other books on this topic, and the examples are all strong and well-argued." —John Hawley, Santa Clara University, and author of Amitav Ghosh: An Introduction
"A sprawling study that combines ethnography, literary theory, and film criticism, jain’s book looks closely at narratives of South Asian American identity that circulate through the media, fiction, and film....jain (provides) a series of skillful readings of diasporic fiction and films.... (her) reading of Bharati Mukherjee’s work, in particular, is compelling.... jain’s book doesn’t offer any easy answers, but instead gives us more questions: What exactly are the stories of national, racial, and ethnic identity that we have been telling ourselves? Who is allowed into America’s national narratives? And on whose terms?" —Hyphen
"(j)ain shows how the literary and cinematic works she studies represent these aspirations to attain the 'American dream,' the ways of achieving them, and often of failing to do so; she also explores the agency available to fictional representatives of this community and the profound ambivalence many of them felt, be they Hindu, Muslim, Parsee, etc. (j)ain is a perceptive reader and elegant writer, and her observations on subjects' representation of the South Asian diaspora's urgent desire to belong, coupled with their 'audacious refusal to become (America's) Other,' deserves a wide readership. Summing Up: Highly recommended." —Choice
"Jain provides an impressive accounting of scholarly literature on diasporic identity and assimilation, attentive readings of South Asian American novels and films, and a model for new directions in the interdisciplinary field of 'Asian American postcolonial feminist cultural studies'.... She proves herself a skillful and attentive reader, able to bring theoretical insights to bear on the texts, but also able to bring forth the texts’ own ambivalent, fraught, mundane, and at times joyous conclusions about the necessity of Americanization. This ethic of reading and her groundbreaking work on recently arrived and working-class Indian immigrants from Guyana are Jain’s most significant interventions." —American Studies