There was something here staring me in the face and it took me a few more years to fully understand it. National belonging. Inclusion. Assimilation. Citizenship. Throughout so much of the history of South Asian migration and settlement in the United States, at least since the turn of the twentieth century, these have been our focus, our goals. The South Asian ship-workers who jumped ship in the U.S. during the Asian Exclusion era – and who settled and intermarried within African American and Puerto Rican communities – inadvertently, if only briefly, escaped the hold of these goals. Because the state rendered them “illegal aliens,” because they had to “disappear” into neighborhoods with others who looked like them, other brown-skinned women and men, their goals elided official inclusion in the nation. They sought to quietly put down roots and make new lives not as part of “the nation” but as part of the specific cities and neighborhoods to which they had come. Then, grounded in those local spaces, communities, and economies, they sought to work jobs and send money back across oceans, to their villages of origin in what was first East Bengal and later East Pakistan and would eventually become Bangladesh. They “bypassed the nation,” as I had put it, and instead forged human connections that were on a local and transnational scale.
What is National Belonging in a Nation that Doesn’t Belong?
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