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Smashing the Myth of the Model Minority

University of Minnesota Press (June 2000)

University of Minnesota Press (June 2000)

What do you make of the use of the term "desi" in the U.S.? Do you think this means the second generation has formed an identity over and above political boundaries on the subcontinent?

I love the word 'desi.' It is so beautiful. I can go around saying it over and over again. I'm of the view that it is the best word to describe ourselves. Phrases like African Americacan, Asian American, Hispanic American, etc. are bureaucratic words that do not hold within them the revolutionary aspirations and histories of a people (categorized but not controlled). I prefer words like Black, desi, Latino, Chicano, because these words raise associations of struggles, such as the Black Power movement ('Black is Beautiful,' etc.), the Chicano struggles of the farm workers, of La Raza, and what not. Desi seems to be a similar word, one filled with so much historical emotion. And again, it is an ironic word, because it means of the homeland, but it does not say what that homeland is. We who use it do not hearken back to the 'homeland' of the subcontinent, because we are generally not nationalistic in that sense. Our homeland is an imaginary one that stretches from Jackson Heights to the Ghadar Party, from the rallies against Dotbusters to the Komagata Maru, from the 1965 Immigration Act to Devon Street. This is a homeland that we can relate to and it is what makes us feel like we belong in something of a collectivity. Hence desi. And [the term] is under construction.

Interview conducted by Michelle Caswell of Asia Society.