False Binaries: Recentering South Asian Identity for Healing




Desai, Shruti

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Texas Education Review


Many thoughts emerge attempting to define South Asian, Asian, Desi, or Indian. One approach refers to a country, the other cultural norms, and yet another, a racial and ethnic category far too vast. For the sake of this article, South Asian and Desi refer to the composition of individuals with ancestry in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and India. Indian refers to individuals with ancestry solely in India. Asian is the larger United States racial construct for all individuals from the continent of Asia, more specifically South and East Asia such as Japanese, Thai, or Indian. South Asians have a broad definition in terms of racial and ethnic categorization and are one of the fastest-growing minorities in the U.S. (Census, 2012). South Asians, as a racial group, experience a great deal of complexity regarding racial and ethnic constructs in the U.S. These include processes of assimilation, meaning making within the Black and White racial binary, and confronting the stereotypical ‘model minority myth’ as unwavering truth. Because South Asians exist in a racial gray space, they are stereotyped in a contradictory manner as both “model minority” and “dangerous.” Wingfield (2016) describes model minority as “a group whose hard work, initiative, personal responsibility, and success offer proof that American meritocracy works as intended” (para. 1). These challenges positively and negatively affect their narrative. South Asians have started to take political office, to change the societal climate, and to affect the future of the United States. This shift of South Asians being visible in the U.S. is dramatically different from the historic conflict of whether or not South Asians identified as Black or White in their first days of settlement in America. South Asians still face many challenges that immigrants face in the U.S., but these challenges are not necessarily uniquely associated to South Asian identity. The dynamic of living on the margins and responding to systemic oppression and racial categorization demands greater attention to understand South Asian identity as in-between.



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