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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

March 3, 2011

Written by C.N.

New Books: South Asians

Below are a few more recently-released books that highlight Asian Americans, immigration, and/or other racial/ethnic groups along a variety of historical and contemporary sociological issues. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

South Asia occupies a very interesting position in the field of Asian Studies and Asian American Studies — countries and cultures such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh share many similarities with those in East Asia and Southeast Asia but at the same time, such South Asian countries and cultures feature very unique histories and characteristics. South Asians here in the U.S. frequently disagree among themselves about whether they should be part of the larger “Asian American” category as well. To help us examine these intricacies in more detail, the follow books focus on the histories, experiences, and identities of people from South Asia.

Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History, by Canyon Sam (University of Washington Press)

'Sky Train' by Canyon Sam

Through a lyrical narrative of her journey to Tibet in 2007, activist Canyon Sam contemplates modern history from the perspective of Tibetan women. Traveling on China’s new “Sky Train,” she celebrates Tibetan New Year with the Lhasa family whom she’d befriended decades earlier and concludes an oral-history project with women elders.

As she uncovers stories of Tibetan women’s courage, resourcefulness, and spiritual strength in the face of loss and hardship since the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950, and observes the changes wrought by the controversial new rail line in the futuristic “new Lhasa,” Sam comes to embrace her own capacity for letting go, for faith, and for acceptance. Her glimpse of Tibet’s past through the lens of the women – a visionary educator, a freedom fighter, a gulag survivor, and a child bride – affords her a unique perspective on the state of Tibetan culture today – in Tibet, in exile, and in the widening Tibetan diaspora.

Gracefully connecting the women’s poignant histories to larger cultural, political, and spiritual themes, the author comes full circle, finding wisdom and wholeness even as she acknowledges Tibet’s irreversible changes.

How to Be South Asian in America: Narratives of Ambivalence and Belonging, by anupama jain (American Literatures Initiative)

'How to Be South Asian in America' by anupama jain

Providing a useful analysis of and framework for understanding immigration and assimilation narratives, anupama jain’s How to Be South Asian in America considers the myth of the American Dream in fiction (Meena Alexander’s Manhattan Music), film (American Desi, American Chai), and personal testimonies. By interrogating familiar American stories in the context of more supposedly exotic narratives, jain illuminates complexities of belonging that also reveal South Asians’ anxieties about belonging, (trans)nationalism, and processes of cultural interpenetration. jain argues that these stories transform as well as reflect cultural processes, and she shows just how aspects of identity, gender, sexual, class, ethnic, and nationality are shaped by South Asians’ accommodation of and resistance to mainstream American culture.

Colonialism, Modernity, and Literature: A View from India, by Satya P. Mohanty (Palgrave MacMillan)

'Colonialism, Modernity, and Literature' by Satya P. Mohanty

Mohanty has assembled an innovative volume of essays situated at the intersection of at least three multi-disciplinary fields: postcolonial and subaltern theory; comparative literary analysis, especially with a South Asian and transnational focus; and the study of “alternative” and “indigenous” modernities. This definitive new work grounds the political insights of postcolonial and subaltern theory in close textual analysis and challenges readers to think in new ways about global modernity and local cultures.

Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora, by Junaid Rana (Duke University Press)

Terrifying Muslims highlights how transnational working classes from Pakistan are produced, constructed, and represented in the context of American empire and the recent global War on Terror. Drawing on ethnographic research that compares Pakistan, the Middle East, and the United States before and after 9/11, Junaid Rana combines cultural and material analyses to chronicle the worldviews of Pakistani labor migrants as they become part of a larger global racial system.

At the same time, he explains how these migrants’ mobility and opportunities are limited by colonial, postcolonial, and new imperial structures of control and domination. He argues that the contemporary South Asian labor diaspora builds on and replicates the global racial system consolidated during the period of colonial indenture. Rana maintains that a negative moral judgment attaches to migrants who enter the global labor pool through the informal economy. This taint of the illicit intensifies the post–9/11 Islamophobia that collapses varied religions, nationalities, and ethnicities into the threatening racial figure of “the Muslim.”

It is in this context that the racialized Muslim is controlled by a process that beckons workers to enter the global economy, and stipulates when, where, and how laborers can migrate. The demonization of Muslim migrants in times of crisis, such as the War on Terror, is then used to justify arbitrary policing, deportation, and criminalization.


February 26, 2010

Written by C.N.

Links & Announcements #21

Here are some more announcements and links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents.

Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts: Special Issue Call

Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts invites submissions for the first issue of its fourth volume that will focus on “Intersections of Race and Gender.” Race/Ethnicity uses a classic piece as a point of departure for treatments of critical issues within the field of race and ethnic studies. While the classic piece establishes the thematic parameters of each issue, authors are under no obligation to actively engage the arguments posed by that work.

The issue will explore the multiple points where race and gender intersect across the globe, the range of consequences that meets those intersections, and the dynamics that occur at those intersections. Our focus on race and gender recognizes that there are numerous ways in which racialized and gendered identities intersect and that their intersection is often influenced by a variety of other cultural factors. We also welcome the viewpoints of practitioners working in the field. Deadline: February 28, 2010. Contact: Leslie Shortlidge at shortlidge.2@osu.edu; www.raceethnicity.org/coverart.html.

2010 Law & Social Inquiry Graduate Student Paper Competition

The editors of Law & Social Inquiry announce a competition for the best journal-length paper in the field of socio-legal studies written by a graduate or law student. Direct submissions as well as nominations of student work from faculty are invited.

The winning paper will be published in Law & Social Inquiry and the author(s) will receive a total cash prize of $500 (US). Law & Social Inquiry publishes both empirical and theoretical studies of socio-legal processes from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Deadline: March 1, 2010. Contact: (312) 988-6517; lsi-abf@abfn.org; www.blackwellpublishing.com/LSI.

American Institute of Indian Studies 2010 Fellowship

The American Institute of Indian Studies announces its 2010 fellowship competition and invites applications from scholars who wish to conduct their research in India. Junior fellowships are awarded to PhD candidates to conduct research for their dissertations in India for up to 11 months. Senior fellowships for scholars who hold the PhD degree are awarded for up to nine months of research in India. Deadline: July 1, 2010. Applications can be downloaded at www.indiastudies.org. Contact: (773) 702-8638; aiis@uchicago.edu.

Vietnamese American T-Shirts

My name is Ky Truong from San Jose, Ca. I recently started a line of Vietnamese inspired t-shirts called 3 Stripes Clothing. We are in the process of launching the line, but we decided to do something unique and let the people dictate what designs get printed by holding a poll on our Facebook fan page.

The reason why I started this line of t-shirts was because I felt that the Vietnamese community, especially those that are 2nd, 3rd or even 4th generation Vietnamese lack representation on the apparel market. When you look at the Filipino community, there are an abundance of shirts that represent their culture and pride. I would like to achieve that within the Vietnamese community.


February 11, 2010

Written by C.N.

Individual and Collective Success in India

The other day, I was flipping around the network evening news broadcasts and landed on CBS News. Apparently, they have a regular segment titled “Everybody Has a Story” in which they randomly pick a location in the U.S., travel there, and then the reporter takes out a phonebook and randomly flips to a page and puts his finger on a name on that page, and then they profile that randomly-chosen person and tell his/her story.

Also apparently, CBS News expanded this segment to “Everybody in the World Has a Story” and enlisted the help of an American astronaut to randomly point to a location on a globe where they would go and repeat the same procedure to profile the randomly-chosen person. In the segment I watched the other day, they ended up in Rewari, India (just outside Delhi). The video of their segment and the person they profiled is below:

As seen in the video clip, the person they profiled is Khushi Ram Goyal, a 78 year-old patriarch of a four-generation family who all live in the same house. Mr. Khushi also happens to be blind. But instead of being debilitated and resentful (although I am not suggesting that all blind people feel that way), Mr. Khushi actually leads a very fulfilling life. This is possible because his children and extended family members share everything — one house, one bank account, and one set of eyes as family members take turns watching over Mr. Khushi, not to do everything for him, but to give him a hand in case he needs it.

In watching this segment, I was very touched by Mr. Khushi, his family, and how they work together to share in their collective success as a family. Although it’s a different matter to generalize one example to an entire society, I suppose Mr. Khushi’s life does reinforce the notion that traditional Asian cultures such as India do indeed place a higher priority on familial duties and the importance of the family unit over the individual.

I’ve written about how this collective focus can sometimes be dysfunctional and actually lead to tragic consequences. Many Asian Americans can also attest to how difficult it is for parents and their children (even once they become adults) to express their love for each other.

Nonetheless, in this case, Mr. Khushi’s story is a nice example that sometimes, there are more important things in life than maximizing an individual’s economic success. Instead, his story shows us that the sharing of success and responsibilities throughout an extended family can be just as rewarding and nurturing for a person’s soul.


February 5, 2010

Written by C.N.

Posts from Years Past: February

You might be interested to read the following posts from Februarys of years past:

  • 2009: New University of California Admissions Rules
    Changes to University of California’s admissions rules are predicted to lead to declines in the number of Asian Americans admitted.
  • 2008: The Good and Bad at College Campuses
    Two incidents involving Asian Americans on college campuses highlight the “two steps forward, one step back” process of achieving racial equality.
  • 2007: Ten Things to Know About Asian American Youth
    A group of Asian American performers list 10 interesting things to understand young Asian Americans better.
  • 2006: The Rise of India
    A Newsweek article describes some of the opportunities and challenges facing India as it strives to become a global superpower in the 21st century.
  • 2005: Report on Asian American LGBT
    A new comprehensive report on Asian American LGBT highlights how many face multiple challenges based on their race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity.

April 16, 2009

Written by C.N.

The Tata Nano: India’s People Car is Here

For those who follow the automotive industry, you may have heard about Tata Motors — India’s biggest automaker. Corresponding with the political and economic rise of India in general in the past decade or so, Tata Motors is also emerging as a major international automaker. As one example, in 2008, it purchased the Jaguar and Land Rover luxury car businesses from Ford Motor Company.

Another reason Tata Motors has been making the news is that last year, it created a sensation when it announced that it would mass-produce a car for emerging countries called the Nano that would sell for about US$2,000, making it the cheapest new car available in the world. Speculation was rampant that it was technically and financially impossible, or that the final product would be nothing more than a rickshaw with bumpers.

Well, Tata’s Nano is finally here and as Edmunds Motor News reports, it is a real, legitimate car that in many ways, is a technical marvel:

The 2009 Tata Nano has the hopes and dreams of all India riding upon its tiny fenders. With a starting price of only $2,000, the Nano has been built to provide affordable all-weather transportation to those who might have never before been able to afford a car. . . .

When you see the 2009 Tata Nano in person, the first shock — other than its incredibly low price — is that the car looks, well, exactly like a car! . . . Media reports have run rampant with rumors that the Nano’s body is plastic, the chassis is glued together, or that the motor is powered by a hamster in a wheel. None of these are true. In fact, the Nano is remarkably simple in terms of how it’s built.

The body and chassis are constructed of steel; only the bumpers are plastic. Traditional spot-welding is used to fabricate the car. Computer-aided design has helped the engineers trim weight from the body and chassis. . . . The Nano has obviously been built to a price. But . . . Tata Motors didn’t skimp when it came to adding a little style. . . .

During a mix of city and highway driving, the Nano will average around 47 mpg. . . . Surprisingly, the engine emits only 101 g/km of CO2 emissions on the European driving cycle, which puts the Nano among the cleanest cars on sale anywhere. . . . The Nano’s cabin is remarkably quiet considering the car’s cost constraints. At top speed, the hum from the engine is never excessive or annoying. . . .

So the Nano is pretty clever in the way it saves costs. You expect this. But you might not expect how fun the Nano is to drive.

From an environmental point of view, many have questioned the wisdom of adding millions of Nanos onto India’s already-crowded streets and the pollution it’s bound to cause. As someone who is trying to consciously reduce my carbon impact on my environment, I would say that’s a fair question to ask. At this point, I only point out that in terms of pollution levels and resource consumption in proportion to its population, India is still significantly behind the U.S. and other industrialized nations, who pollute and consume many times more than India per capita.

Other people would probably also point out that at this point and in its current form, the Nano is not suitable for the American market. True, but we need to remember that it was never intended for the U.S. Instead, it was designed to provide reliable, inexpensive, all-weather transportation for average families in developing nations. And that’s where I detect the first hints of ethnocentrism regarding the criticisms about the Nano.

That is, much of this initial skepticism and criticism reminded me of when Tata Motors was in the process of purchasing the Jaguar and Land Rover brands from Ford. Back then, and similar to what people said regarding the Nano, many people in the automotive establishment and elsewhere questioned the ability and even appropriateness of Tata to buy and properly maintain such prestigious brands.

As I wrote back then, it seemed to me that much of controversy revolved around the fact that Tata Motors was owned by Indians, not Americans, Europeans, or Whites. As such, I hypothesized that many did not think it was “right” for prestigious British car brands like Jaguar and Land Rover and their overwhelming White workers to be owned and controlled by non-Whites from a developing country. As it turns out, Jaguar and Land Rover are doing just fine these days (or at least as well as most brands in this recession).

Similarly, much of the skepticism and criticism about the Nano also strikes me as a little ethnocentric, premised on the idea and stereotype of India and Indian companies as backward, undeveloped, and inferior. Certainly, not everything is perfect in India and it still faces many political and economic difficulties as it continues to modernize, just like China does and “developed” countries like the U.S. did when they were at this stage in their history.

But make no mistake about it, India’s emergence as a major global economic power is real as is the emergence of the Indian American community in the U.S. In fact, already-developed countries such as Japan are looking to India as a model to help them improve their educational institutions.

The point is, India’s technological and industrial potential is for real and it would be a mistake to underestimate what India and Indian companies are capable of doing.