Diasporic intersectionalities: Exploring South Asian women's narratives of race, ethnicity, and gender through a community-based performance project
Mehrotra, Gita Rani
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Although South Asians constitute one of the largest, fastest growing Asian groups in the country, there is a paucity of U.S.-based social work literature about this community. Further, professional social work organizations and feminist social work scholars have called for the field to build paradigms and practices that address the intersections of oppressions facing individuals and communities, such as race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class, in a global context. Drawing from intersectionality theorizing, transnational feminisms, diaspora studies, and theories of narrative identity, this study explores how a local group of South Asian women construct their experiences of race/ethnicity, gender, class, and diaspora. Thirty-one in-depth interviews were conducted with participants of a culturally-specific, community-based performance project, Yoni Ki Baat (Talk of the Vagina). Thematic analyses, with attention to context and discourse, elucidated important similarities and differences across women's narratives. While all participants communicated a high sense of agency in defining themselves in terms of race/ethnicity, first and second generation women's narratives diverged significantly in the following domains: use of racialized vs. ethnic constructs, nationality, significant life events impacting racial/ethnic identification, and ways women perceive race/ethnicity assigned to them by others. In contrast, despite differences in age, generation, religion, and other life experiences, all participants narrated the centrality of marriage as a "cultural script" that produces ideal, middle-class, South Asian womanhood. Women's narratives illustrate some everyday ways this cultural script is communicated, enforced, and negotiated within families and communities. Overall, this study demonstrates the utility of narratives and cultural scripts for understanding meaning and self-making processes within diverse communities. Research findings herein also challenge traditional social work frameworks that often rely on essentialized representations of social groups, single-oppression analyses of inequality and identity, and/or U.S.-centric approaches to understanding oppression and experience. Analyses of South Asian women's narratives point to the need to expand intersectionality theorizing and social work education to incorporate: context; temporality, age, and lifecourse; transnational experiences; concepts of diaspora; and relationships between experiences of privilege and marginalization. Fostering deeper understandings of intersecting oppressions and processes impacting transnational populations in these ways can contribute to more liberatory social work scholarship and practice.
- Social welfare