Houston, TX 77005
1:00 p.m. Monday, April 1, 2013
On Campus | Alumni
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 proved to be a watershed that altered the demographic composition of the United States in unexpected and unprecedented ways. Immigrants from India and Pakistan (part of South Asia) represented a highly educated elite migration in the 1960s and 1970s and filled a gap in the American economy for technical and science-based labor. This advantage aided their emerging communities in achieving socio-economic success with unanticipated speed. My project addresses the central question of this nexus of power—the social and economic systems of privilege—that enabled immigrant mobility after 1965. I argue that due to the significant achievements of the Civil Rights and ethnic empowerment projects of the late 1960s, South Asian immigrants were able use their material wealth to position themselves strategically through residential patterns and school selection in order to gain the maximum privileges associated with whiteness; they simultaneously sought to create social distance between themselves and other racialized, marginalized groups. Through the utilization of sociological and historical methodologies, my interdisciplinary project produces new knowledge in understudied areas such as first-generation, South Asian immigrants after 1965 and expands the traditional black-white paradigm in race scholarship. Using census data, digital mapping techniques, oral history interviews, quantitative data, and close textual readings, my research examines how the Indian or Pakistani immigrant, steeped in the racialized knowledge of a South Asian past reconciled notions of whiteness and blackness from South Asia with those of the American New South. By combining interviews and GIS technology to layer changing income and race demographics in the Houston metropolitan area, I analyze how the immigrant generation—newcomers to American racial landscapes, though not to racial landscapes in general—understood, represented, and negotiated social hierarchies in the American South after the demise of “Jim Crow” segregation with those already circulating the postcolonial world. Borrowing from Critical Race Theory, my work demonstrates that from the 1960s to the present, broad-based patterns of targeted suburbanization adopted by white Americans and class-ascendant South Asian immigrants have helped perpetuate racial inequalities. I also employ racial formation theory to show that categories of race have remained fluid; for example, the nativist-led rejection of Asians as alien subjects ineligible for American citizenship at the turn of the twentieth century was replaced in the late 1970s with the media-led discourse of Asians as “model minorities.” By using South Asian immigrant experiences as a lens through which to view the urban and suburban U.S. of the 1960s onward, I demonstrate that “race” continued to function as a salient category. While immigration history is sometimes considered marginal to the main sweep of American history, my first project illustrates both the formation and transformation of sociocultural hierarchies in several geographic and analytical spaces: the South, Texas, urban and suburban areas, “Sunbelt” cities, middle-class America, and the knowledge-based (as opposed to skills-based) labor sector. Taken comprehensively, my research examines linkages and networks between geographically remote regions but ones that have been heavily invested in the expansion of capitalist systems. I contend that South Asians managed to insert themselves into a racially defined society and thereby consolidated both their social position and their economic/political power. The struggles of all minority groups are central to the nation’s conceptual formation of itself—they delimit the boundaries of identities and of a national ethos. In addition, the immigrant generation of Indians and Pakistanis in the U.S. continues to play a crucial role in ethnic community development by providing leadership, cultural schooling, and entrepreneurial enclaves through which young co-ethnics construct ethnic identities and consume ethnic culture. Finally, as these particular immigrant groups have accumulated wealth —Indian and Pakistani Americans are the highest-earning ethnic groups in the United States—they and their descendants are increasingly politically visible; my work seeks to explain this rapid rise to power.