Unruly Immigrants

Rights, Activism, and Transnational South Asian Politics in the United States

Unruly Immigrants

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: Published: October 2006

Activism, Asian American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

In Unruly Immigrants, Monisha Das Gupta explores the innovative strategies that South Asian feminist, queer, and labor organizations in the United States have developed to assert claims to rights for immigrants without the privileges or security of citizenship. Since the 1980s many South Asian immigrants have found the India-centered “model minority” politics of previous generations inadequate to the task of redressing problems such as violence against women, homophobia, racism, and poverty. Thus they have devised new models of immigrant advocacy, seeking rights that are mobile rather than rooted in national membership, and advancing their claims as migrants rather than as citizens-to-be. Creating social justice organizations, they have inventively constructed a transnational complex of rights by drawing on local, national, and international laws to seek entitlements for their constituencies.

Das Gupta offers an ethnography of seven South Asian organizations in the northeastern United States, looking at their development and politics as well as the conflicts that have emerged within the groups over questions of sexual, class, and political identities. She examines the ways that women’s organizations have defined and responded to questions of domestic violence as they relate to women’s immigration status; she describes the construction of a transnational South Asian queer identity and culture by people often marginalized by both mainstream South Asian and queer communities in the United States; and she draws attention to the efforts of labor groups who have sought economic justice for taxi drivers and domestic workers by confronting local policies that exploit cheap immigrant labor. Responding to the shortcomings of the state, their communities, and the larger social movements of which they are a part, these groups challenge the assumption that citizenship is the necessary basis of rights claims.


“”Das Gupta’s point is straightforward: if citizenship is by definition exclusionist, then to predicate rights on having citizenship is to leave out those who do not or cannot have citizenship. . . . The strength of the book is that it documents radical struggles that are at the forefront of challenging contemporary global inequities and does so by going beyond the necessarily narrow and exclusionist framework of juridical citizenship. . . . Unruly Immigrants is ambitious in scope: it is a multi-sited ethnography that provides comparative analysis and exemplary grounded ethnographic research of seven organizations that could only have been achieved by Das Gupta’s many years of active and sustained participation and fieldwork.” — Yen Le Espiritu, Qualitative Sociology

Unruly Immigrants is an important and groundbreaking work. It makes great contributions to the study of South Asians in the United States, immigrant activism, and theories of rights and citizenship. And there is no doubt it will become foundational to our understanding of the contemporary state of the South Asian American community and specifically of progressive South Asian American activism.” — Linta Varghese, Journal of Asian American Studies

Unruly Immigrants is well-written and informative.” — Kamela Visweswaran, Economic and Political Weekly

“[T]his is an interesting and dynamic book that illuminates how South Asian American organizations form and evolve. It is extremely informative for researchers and students interested in South Asian America, Asian America, transnational and diaspora studies, and social movements. . . .” — Grace Kao, American Journal of Sociology

“I recommend this book highly to practitioners, activists and academics. It can serve as a model of an "intersectional" analysis for students and as a benchmark for a Canadian-based study on the topic to measure itself against. Those who work in the area of immigration can gain much from her exposition for she discusses in fascinating detail the impact of successive Immigration Acts on the diverse nature and interests of immigrant populations. Another major strength of the book is that it delves into the issues, the details, and the difficulties and triumphs of organizing marginalized populations, making it very useful for activist-scholars thinking through comparable issues. The argument that claims of contemporary immigrant groups go beyond those for inclusive citizenship is timely, and this book puts it forward intelligently and compassionately.” — Sara Abraham, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“The book expands understanding of the complexity of the immigrant experience and the articulation of immigrant rights in the context of globalization and the newly emerging activism that calls for greater transnational social justice.” — G. Rabrenovic, Choice

“This book is especially worthwhile in understanding social justice organizing; the intersection of immigration and race with gender, queer, and labor activism; and critiques of the neoliberal state relative to immigration . . . In particular it is a significant addition to the literature on Asian-American activism and on social justice organizing.” — Pawan Dhingra, Contemporary Sociology

“This is a well-researched and well-analyzed study of South Asian community in the United States, and it should be read by all South Asians and used in courses on immigration.” — Nupur Chaudhuri, Pacific Historical Review

Unruly Immigrants is a brilliantly written study of feminist, queer, and labor activism among post-1965 South Asian immigrants in the United States. These transnational activists confront issues of rights, citizenship, and identity to mount challenges both within and outside their communities against the monolithic positioning of South Asians as ‘model minorities.’ This book is a path-breaking contribution to South Asian diaspora studies.” — Linda Carty, Syracuse University

Unruly Immigrants makes a vital contribution to the fields of Asian American and South Asian diaspora studies by detailing the multiple strategies by which post-1965 South Asian progressive organizations in the United States have contested notions of citizenship, belonging, authenticity, and culture.” — Gayatri Gopinath, author of Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Monisha Das Gupta is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of Hawai’i.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Encounters 1

1. Terms of Belonging 27

2. Contests over Culture 56

3. Law and Oppression 82

4. “Owning Our Lives”: Women’s Organizations 109

5. Subverting Seductions: Queer Organizations 159

6. “Know Your Place in History”: Labor Organizations 208

Conclusion 237

Notes 261

Works Cited 275

Index 299
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3898-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3858-1
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