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In Event: Division J Vice Presidential Session: Embodying, Negotiating, and Rejecting Par/Desi Narratives: Cultivating Desi-South Asian Scholars’ Decolonizing Onto-Epistemologies in Higher Education
Intersectionality for the Desi-South Asian community has been both understudied and undertheorized. Besides an analytical framework or methodology, what possibilities might intersectionality offer? What do these possibilities hold for Desi-South Asian communities? This paper holds up a mirror to the “outsider-within” (Collins, 2015) using my drama-informed mixed methods research with eight queer Desi-South Asian young adults in Toronto as the basis for unearthing the challenges and possibilities of intersectionality. Using a series of “stop moments” (Appelbaum, 1995; Fels, 2015), the paper proposes intersectionality as a sensibility - a praxis of Mishrit (Hindi meaning mixedness) that not only acknowledges the delimiting systemic forces but also is produced simultaneously as situational, relational, and through the interplay of the perceived, the lived, and the imagined.
This paper places the rich legacy of intersectional scholars (e.g. Anzaldúa, Crenshaw, Collins) in conversation with contemporary South Asian scholars (e.g. Gopinath, Puar, Prashad). Such a conversation is necessary to prevent an over-reliance on black/white discourses to explicate Desi/South Asian experiences. Furthermore, unearthing a Desi-centered ontoepistemological framework is necessary to explore the complexity of intersecting social identities and acknowledge both the challenges and possibilities of diaspora and the transnational movements of peoples.
Methods and Data Sources
This paper uses data from a larger mixed methods research project that examined and explored the ways in which eight queer Desi-South Asian young adults constitute and negotiate their queer racialized identities in Toronto. Data were gathered over nine months in the form of a quantitative survey (n = 77), two sets of personal interviews (approx. 120 mins each), “time-pass” - a colloquial word with a strong Desi sensibility that literally means ‘passing time with kin’ (also see Bhattacharya, 2009), and almost 20 hours of embodied social practices that involved poetry, drawing, and drama. These data points are then woven together to form a kantha (a quilt and storied South Asian tradition) with memos of interactions, field notes, etc.
The queer Brown body is situated at the margins in both communities: Desi/South Asian and queer. While the queer community and its activism are largely experienced on dominant white terms (Muñoz, 1999), Blackness is seen as a mark of degeneracy (Razack, 2002). The racial ambiguity of the Brown body (Harpalani, 2013) explains, in part, why both race (and queerness) are often experienced in Black and white terms. Mishrit offers the opportunity to not only shift the conversation away from a dichotomy, but also bring clarity to the “ambiguity” argument. It simultaneously allows for a recognition of colonial histories while acknowledging the complex settler conditions that implicate racialized communities. This paper is about making space and moving towards a kantha (quilted) analysis of Brownness to explain our communities’ quotidien experiences.