Women's Herstory Month Presentation, Roksana Badruddoja

Uploaded by fresnostate on 29.03.2012

>> Okay welcome the last of the Women's Studies Brown Bag Women's History Month special presentation.
Today I am very honored to present Dr. Roksana Badruddoja. She is a faculty member in women's
studies soon to be departing this university in order to take a job in the private sector
in New York working with homeless people. Dr. Badruddoja's specialty is on-- she's a
socialist with a PhD from Rutgers. He specialty, which she has been writing about a lot recently
is you could say the South Asian Diaspora and how is it to experience life in the U.S.
and elsewhere as someone whose ancestors, perhaps recent ancestors come from what is
called South Asia, from India, from Bangladesh for Sri Lanka, from Pakistan and
she has two books and I think she's going to-- are you going to read from one of the
>> Roksana Badruddoja: Actually, I'm going to read from both of them.
>> Okay. She's going to read from both of the books.
>> Roksana Badruddoja: Yea.
>> So, without further ado, Dr. Badruddoja.
[ Applause]
>> Roksana Badruddoja: Thank you very much. So I'm going to do two book readings today,
one is from my first book called, "Eyes of a Storm", I'm sorry. And this book is actually
being showcased at the Smithsonian right now. They have an exhibit called, "The Homespun"
and it is part of that project. So, it's at the Smithsonian. I was recently there to give
a book talk and it was really, really exciting. My second book is called, "The Peppermint
Generation, Not" and that is in press. I don't have a hard copy with me, but I chose some
things that I wanted to read for you from the manuscript. So, I'm going to go ahead
and start with "Eyes of a Storm." So, on an unusually warm weekday afternoon sometime
in November 2004, Rupa - one of the women involved in my fieldwork - shares with me:
I was born here (meaning the United States), but there is a part of me that feels like
I do not belong here. I currently embody everything that the majority of, at least eligible, voters
hate. And I think what she says next to me is highly poignant. She says, "I'm queer.
I'm Muslim and I'm brown. What else is there?" I mean she's not even talking about double
jeopardy. She's talking about triple and multiple jeopardy right? So, Rupa insightfully problematizes
the monolithic and linear notions of home, which are linked to a singular spatial category,
along with why she is simply not just an American, but indeed, also, "The Other." In, "Eyes of
a Storm", my first book published in 2010, I argue that space has become recognized as
a signifier of a group's status in society. For minorities, marginalized through race,
ethnicity, religion, and/or sexuality, uneven development in space has compounded their
sense of isolation. I begin with something, which I call, "The Orientalist Phantasmatic"
and I do this by indulging in a quote from Samina Ali's, "Madras on Rainy Days" and,
in fact, I also critique Jhumpa Lahiri, because she's known to be representative of the South
Asian community, but I am arguing both Samina Ali's work and Jhumpa Lahiri's work are quite
problematic in understanding migration and Diasporic movement of South Asians. So here's
something from "Madras on Rainy Days" and my argument is it represents South Asian American
identity formations with and American Orientalist discourse. So, Layla, the Muslim-Indian-American
protagonist, painfully reveals on page 26, and, in fact, as I'm reading this I am thinking
she is probably talking like this, right? She's like, I had faced this all my life,
the way each country (meaning U.S. and India) held a moral stance of the other. It was as
though each nation had its own uniform and I wore the shirt of one, the trousers of the
other, and both sides were shooting at me. I had never witnessed such confused and beguiled
lovers. So, in essence the second generation are thought to occupy a liminal zone, one
between hamburgers and chicken curry so to speak. They are the ABCD conundrum! However,
my book challenges the ABCD paradigm. So, I am certainly sympathetic to this as a theory
of real ruptures in lived experience, but this theory seems to be untenable as I probe
the real dispersion of cultural experiences across situations within a set of lives. So,
what then, are some of the sites of contention within this quote? It's absolutely imperative
to consider what the division between America and South Asia imply here. The central problem
with Layla's words is the "torn between two cultures" rhetoric right, this socially constructed
East-West divide. In the America-South Asia/ East-:West tradition-modernity discourse,
Americanness is simply an unambivalent index of cultural difference, even superiority,
and, of course, South Asia is the ultimate site of failure. So, let us now take a brief
glimpse at what is really going on in the lives of everyday South Asian-American women
in the context of race, ethnicity, and religion. I return to Rupa here. Not knowing how to
frame her relationship with her white-American and Christian boyfriend, Rupa, a Muslim-Bangladeshi-American,
used anti-religious discourse to talk to her parents. Over the summer, when I moved in
with him, I told them. I also told them that I wasn't Muslim at that time. I didn't know
how else to explain it without telling them, "Okay, this is the person I love." What ended
up happening was that I was disowned. As Rupa helped me to deconstruct her herstory, I uncovered
that engaging in practices that would perhaps be considered "un-Islamic" was a centrifugal
theme in her life. However, this is the interesting part, Rupa's words simultaneously showed me
that she is, nevertheless, strongly connected to a Muslim identity from an ethnic perspective.
So she doesn't identify as Muslim and yet she does. So, this is what she said. "I remember
having this discussion about the word "Jihad" with my boyfriend and I said, "Jihad doesn't
mean holy war. The actual word means struggle." He said, "No...it is like this really war-mongering
society." I said, "No, that is not all it is." I was-- It was interesting because I
didn't identify as Muslim, but I knew that was part of me somehow because I really felt
it was an attack on my people and me. So, Rupa's words demonstrate that she is uncovering
ways in which to realize her religion and ethnicity performatively and sexuality together
through redefinition rather than forging one for the other. I continued to problematize
the monolithic notions of both identity and home by introducing the words of one more
woman from my fieldwork, Priyanka. And I really love this quote as well. It's actually funny.
From the corner of my eye I could tell that he was staring at me for most of the train
ride...He finally decided to say something. First, he asked me, of course, if I was Indian.
He then asked me if I spoke Hindi...After all that, he asked me, "So, how long have
you been in this country?" which was the weirdest question of all because I don't have a foreign
accent. So, along with Rupa, Priyanka critically outline a tacit assumption of foreigness,
a denial that the women are from "here, there, and everywhere", multiple alliances and multiple
homes, and what it means to be an "American." And so, essentially what I'm saying is we
have a very monolithic, unmarked, and normative understanding of what an American national
self is! So, the authentic South Asian-American experience simply represents South Asia within
tropes of western hegemonic structures where South Asian and American are essentialized
identities, never broken down into further specificity. What is being written into both
the academic and popular narratives is a story of cultural displacement, which evades the
specificity of gender and depends on stereotypic propositions about America and South Asia.
Indeed, the cultural displacement model plays a key role in perpetuating the cultural authority
of the west. Reconfiguring the boundaries of identity may seem infeasible and even unfathomable
now as we come across anti-immigrant policies like Arizona's SB 1070 in which Jan Brewer's
"reasonable suspicion" means sharing phenotypic characteristics with Dora the Explorer. So,
I know my child is not going to Arizona anytime soon. And public speeches delivered by politicians
like Sharron Angle, who says "I don't know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look
a little more Asian to me." Okay, however, I vehemently argue that it is precisely at
this moment of rigidity that we can mobilize resistance. I mean this is he time to do it.
It is in this historical space that I offer to you my second book, the edited volume,
"The Peppermint Generation, Not!", which is still in press. One of the authors' contributions
inspires the title of the edited volume. Desai writes, is that what my generation has become?
Swirled red and white cliches like peppermints in neatly twisted plastic wrappers; gleaming
in ceramic candy dishes, free for the taking, unwrapping, dissecting. That is not how it
works. When you unwrap the mint you don't taste the red or the white, just one clean
coolness, refreshing. Desai describes her personal struggles with national belonging,
actually she describes her personal struggles with national not belonging, forced assimilation,
and multiculturalism in her poem "The Peppermint Generation." Her work begins to point out
that national belonging and its relationship with multiculturalism is subject to a heavily
contested debate. The reader will be further welcomed to poems and essays that speak to
the processes of colonization, Orientalism, hegemonic formations, and racialization, culminating
in the emptying and hallowing effects on identity work. Vidhya Shanker in, "Racism off the Rack:
Labels Belong to Clothes, Not to Shoppers" describes attending a graduation ceremony.
And I really love this piece, because I can't-- I can't the number of times that people have
seen Mina Sari and asked me if that was my costume, right. So, here's what she says.
The graduate I came to support wore formal attire he would have worn in his native country
of Nigeria, as did his wife. Many people, from many corners of the world, remarked at
how wonderful it was that they wore their traditional costumes. They are not costumes
my friends. They were not trying to dress up like Nigerians. [Laughter] Right, so it's
idea that saris are costumes, but jeans, which are quintessentially American are not called,
are you wearing your costume right? So, while Shanker's friends were not trying to dress
up like Nigerians, Ranjit Souri in his piece, "The Indian Wants-- The Indian Wants the Bronx,"
shares a shock. The lights come up and I was jolted by the sight of a young white actor
playing the part of the Indian, right. So, this particular play that he writes about
is-- the central character is an Indian and in fact, Runjit is an actor and he-- he tried
out for the part. He didn't get it, which was fine with him. But he was tremendously
shocked that there was a white man who was playing the part and all the Hindi lines were
like phonetically written out for him and he thought that was problematic. Because the
argument behind multiculturalism is you know what is authenticity? Well, if you want authenticity
then you should realize, for example, that Chai is not a drink that was made up in California,
right. [Laughter] So, Sarah Husain, in her poem, "New York City: When All Wars Come Home",
reconnects me with a fearful memory of removing my 24-karat gold chain housing a small medallion
with the word "Allah" etched into it before I entered LaGuardia Airport on a day sometime
after September 11, 2001. She writes, a Bengali photojournalist gets killed on a corner of
an east New York City block. A few Latino men, as children stand, their hands clutching,
caught peeking on the side of a building's shade. Ever wonder why a Pakistani woman living
in Queens for almost ten years speaks not one word of English, gives birth to her third
child, while her husband's detained in some INS prison, without money to pay her bills,
no groceries, no rent, no money for his defense. And in fact, when 9/11 happened there was
a huge raid in Astoria, Jackson Heights where Bangladeshi men were detained, right. So,
a fifteen year old Muslim girl gets raped by an eighteen year old Hindu boy not in Gujrat,
India but in Palo Alto, California. So, in other words, home and identity work are not
static, or neat, or clean. Rather, home, belonging, and identity often mimic a back and forth
movement like a pendulum between home and not home, comfortably and not comfortably.
I end with "Entry into the Sacred Temple", by Nirmala Natraj as she describes a trip
to Mahabalipuram, which is in South India. And this is what she writes, before our trip,
I'd pointed out Mahabalipuram on a map and told my mother, "This is where I want to go."
So this is actually her first trip to India. I remembered it from the huge picture books.
For so long, Mahabalipuram had been an invisible string hitching me to a history that wasn't
and had never really been mine. The sick conjecture I had before coming is finally confirmed.
Brown skin isn't enough. I am guilty as charged, a foreigner. I am both mournful and relieved.
So Nirmala Natraj talks about her first experience in India where she feels this-- this sense
of home, her people, but then she also feels a sense of alienation right? The anthology
then illuminates the paradoxes of national belonging and not belonging of Diasporic South
Asians in the United States and Canada, with selections written by individuals in their
20s, 30s, and 40s. The authors featured explore the meanings of "culture" and "cultural identity."
They investigate the intimate boundaries of their bodies and romantic partnerships; discuss
the hegemonic constructions of race and ethnicity in North America and the politics of brownness;
and, finally, question the notions of "home" and "mobile diasporas." The selections themselves
come from a wide range of literary genres, from fiction to social scientific inquiry
to comedic script, to name a few. Welcome to The Peppermint Generation, Not! I am Roksana
Badruddoja, author of, "Eyes of a Storm" and editor of the anthology, and I am elated to
have been given the opportunity to share both of my books with you. Thank you.
[ Applause ]