Transnational perfromances : race, migration, and Indo-Caribbean cultural production in New York City and Trinidad




Tanikella, Leela Kumari

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This dissertation examines the production of culture among Indo-Caribbean communities in New York City and Trinidad. It seeks to understand how cultural producers use performance as a way to mediate their experiences of racialization in local, national, and transnational spheres. Based on a multisited ethnographic study, I analyze the Indo-Caribbean diaspora as a result of nineteenth and twentieth century indentured labor migration and as a focus of post-1965 transnational migration. To do so, I introduce the idea of "transnational performances," which I employ to examine how expressions of Indo-Caribbean identity are performed in Trinidad and New York City as a way of mediating global processes. Specifically, this dissertation begins with a geographic and historical overview of Indo-Caribbean transnational populations, then provides an ethnographic study of contemporary Hindu religious festivals in Trinidad, an Islamic festival held in both New York City and Trinidad, Indo-Caribbean media in New York, and a cultural and arts center in New York. In all these sites Indo-Caribbean cultural producers engage the politics of public representation of Indo-Caribbean identity. I argue that while Indo-Caribbean religious, festival, media, and cultural producers engage with diasporic formations of identity and develop diasporic narratives that address Indian origins, they simultaneously develop new, creative, and flexible Indo- Caribbean transnational performances in the public sphere often coproducing their identities in relation to other diasporic communities. Concerns about authenticity exist alongside the desire to create new cultural practices that employ hybridity as a strategy to assert belonging. These transnational performances are spaces from which Indo-Caribbean communities develop a public voice that responds to perceived exclusions and erasures. The geographies of belonging that are central in the transnational performances of Indo-Caribbean cultural producers suggest that we must attend to the cultural practices developed within and across boundaries while taking a historical perspective on global processes that are reconfigured in the contemporary period.




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