Indian American identity formation as conceptualized through interactions in the schooling space

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2016-05

Authors

Ramaprasad, Venkat Raghavan

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Abstract

This dissertation presents a six-month study using critical case studies to gain insights into how the schooling experiences of five Indian American students inform and shape their self-conceptualizations of their Indian racial and cultural identities. The research questions focus on aspects of identity related to schooling interactions with educators, peers and curricula, and how participants resist schooling mandates and prescribed ways of being particular to school culture when self-authoring their identities. To this end, this study uses a multilayered theoretical framework incorporating postcolonialism, bodies of color as “space invaders” in institutional spaces, cultural identity in diaspora, and youth agency/resistance. Data was collected through interviews and classroom/school observations to understand participants’ perceptions of their schooling experiences and gain first-hand observations of classroom contexts. The findings are presented in three chapters. Chapter four presents participants’ social lives at Cresthill High School (CHS). As CHS contains a student population composed of mostly Asian and White students, a dual-tiered social hierarchy emerged where achieving and Whitewashed students were placed at the top and all remaining groups relegated to the bottom. The borders around being Indian/Indianness were used to form social groups, position students within the social hierarchy, and contained heavy links to achievement. Chapter five presents key findings from interactions in formal educative spaces with teachers, peers and pedagogy, demonstrating how pedagogical contexts solidified/destabilized participants’ Indianness related to achievement, how achievement itself became a racializing device, and how Orientalized curricula made it difficult for Indian American students to to see themselves positively in classroom contexts and learning activities. Chapter six presents participants’ home contexts and the different ways their Indian racial and cultural identities were informed through diasporic networks, parental expectations around achievement and dating, consuming transnational media, and the consuming and production of Indian culture through food and native language practices. General conclusions include the flexibility of Indian/Indianness as a positioning device requiring the need to carefully self-regulate one’s outward displays of Indianness to mitigate difference, and how interactions in home and community underpinned participants’ formation of hybridized identities that were time-, place- and space-specific.

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