DIASPORA AND DIS-ASSIMILATION
Part-3 of- On our Independence Day.
Each generation must discover its mission,
fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity
The Wretched of the Earth
What does Indian independence mean for millions of diaspora?
Around 9 million diaspora from the subcontinent were living all over the globe at the end of 20th century, according to historian Judith Brown. Edward Said spoke of how Orientalism failed to identify with human experiences, failed to see it as human experience and in opposition to this, narrative asserts the power to be born, develop and die. Barbara Gardner writes of how Indians cover the globe, and with their physical move from the homeland, the life-stories continue but often bring questions about the place of Indians in the world today, questions about assimilation into new cultures.
Diaspora- refers to any group of immigrants permanently settled outside their place of origin.
Workers in Arab world-Middle East and North Africa are viewed as expatriate workers, though some have stayed for considerable periods of time outside their country. These countries do not give residency rights.
Gardner introduces the concept of (Dis)assimilation as counterposed to Assimilation.
Assimilation means to take in, digest, and transform, or to make or become similar. This suggests a choice that many immigrants do not wholly choose to make, a choice they often see and feel as an abandonment, even a betrayal of their cultural identity.
The term (Dis)assimilation is used to represent the migrant’s ongoing choices and negotiations between cultures, recognizing that a transcultural existence bring destabilizing questions and problematics. Vocabulary such as transcultural and (dis) assimilation represents the ongoing negotiations immigrants make to survive in new cultural settings while retaining various levels of hold onto the beliefs and practices that make up their personal identity.
In the last decade of the century Indians with a population of nearing 1 million were the fourth largest Asian group in the USA, coming after Japanese, Filipinos and Chinese. The four states with the highest concentrations of South Asian settlement in the late 20th century were California, Texas, Illinois, and New York(Brown XV). Although many Indians never achieved professional status and thus became part of the United States working class, this wave of immigrants was particularly skilled and well educated. By the 1980s , “Indian men and women..earned more than their white counterparts”. At the start of the 21st century there were 38000 physicians of Indian origin in the USA, amounting to one in every 20 doctors practicing medicine.
“WE ARE WHAT WE EAT”
Pulitzer Prize winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri has used food to portray identity and assimilation. Through the stories of Ashima Ganguli in “The Namesake” (2003) and Mrs.Sen in “Interpreter of Maladies (1999)” Lahiri writes about the objects of the desires , the food of their homeland, the food of nostalgic memories, that nourishes not just the body, but the soul. The works also show how the assimilation process is different for parents and children as they start the process at different points of “investment” in their home civilization , with the parents as immigrants and the children as first generation locals. The assimilation process looks and works differently for each generation which can cause confusion and misunderstandings for those involved.
Lahiri, in an interview with Vibuthi Patel of Newsweek International, “remarks that Mrs.Sen was her attempt to imagine what life might have been like for someone like her mother, a young South Asian immigrant cast into the vastness of a largely white America of the 1960s.” Her immigrant identity is tied to the one area of her life where she has power to enunciate and perform her culture-preparing food.
“I have been corrupted by England, I see that now-my children, my wife, they too have been corrupted,” Samad-the character in Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth” is a textural representative of immigrants of various ethnicities, worries about the loss of his ethnic identity and culture through assimilation. The narrator says, “it makes an immigrant laugh to hear the fears of the nationalist, scared of infection, penetration, when this is small fry, peanuts , compared to what the immigrant fears-dissolution, disappearance.”
AFTER THE WARS..NO ‘JANAT’(HEAVEN)..A NORTH AFRICAN WORKER
I interviewed some long term expatriate workers from the subcontinent on the occasion of partition-independence.
One long term expatriate worker who was originally a Police inspector in Lahore region of Pakistan told of his switch to IT. He is a manager of courier services. As he filled forms for Canadian Immigration sitting in Tripoli, he told of the troubled regions of Pakistan.
“It was the brain and money of the US and Saudis which drove many unemployed poor youth to search for ‘Janat’ while fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s. The Soviet army withdrew, but there is no ‘Janat’ and these former revolutionaries have found themselves in extremist networks which has disturbed the harmony of our country,” the veteran of many Arab countries told.
There are lessons here for the proponents of bliss in afterlife and how the networks of extremism are related to imperialist neocolonial narratives. As he thought about the different columns he had to fill, many memories came back to him.
His son is studying law, just as he did a quarter century ago.
But he will meet these different currents in a different time and point of entry from his father who started life in the police.
THE EPISTEME OF RACIST COLONIALISM
In Archeology of Knowledge, Foucalt explains that an episteme
“May be suspected of being something like a world-view, a slice of history
common to all branches of knowledge , which imposed on each one the same
norms and postulates, a general stage of reason, a certain structure of though that
the men of a particular period cannot escape- a great body of legislation written
once and for all by an anonymous hand”
The episteme that the immigrants must fight is the episteme of racist colonialism.
Everyone knows the well known moniker-The British Empire as the empire upon which the sun never sets. Foucalt’s study of the discourse of language and its relationship to knowledge posits that knowledge and truth are based on power relations.
This episteme is faced by immigrant workers as we see the differential treatment based on the country of origin. Like the character Samad of “White Teeth” immigrant has not brought the honour and respect he expected from his ‘other country’. Instead he feels betrayed and emasculated. He still feels his place as subaltern within the relationship. Imperialism took away honour from Samad.
This character has many similarities with the Pakistani IT engineer who narrated the ground realities of his region from Soviet to Taliban times, to present day NATO backed/installed regimes. The episteme of racist colonialism came out in many layers – working life in Tripoli, preparing immigration papers for Canada, and how returning to Lahore is a no-brainer for his family. Even as I told him of the many plus and minus points of that type of life, he feels that he should give his children a chance to experience that culture.
* * *
As we finished our readings-discussions, in summary one can recall the difficulties of (dis)assimilation, as conveyed by White Teeth’s character –Samad,
“We are split people”
Gardner, Barbara J., “Speaking Voices in Postcolonial Indian Novels from Orientalism to Outsourcing” (2012). English Dissertations. Paper 85.
This was the concluding part of the sessions we had on the occasion of Indian independence
in which we discussed novels which describe some social realities of the subcontinenet
Discussion of Partition novels and some basic terms with examples from
Khushwant Singh’s “Train to Pakistan”
Discussion on power and corruption as related by Rohinton Mistry’s novel- “Such a long journey”