Monday, June 22, 2020

Uzma Quraishi's "Redefining the Immigrant South"

Uzma Quraishi is assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Redefining the Immigrant South: Indian and Pakistani Immigration to Houston during the Cold War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Redefining the Immigrant South lands the reader in the middle of Chapter Two which broadly examines the second phase of the migration process as outlined in this book—that of getting acquainted with one’s host society. It moderately illustrates the value of the whole book, though it does not directly engage with the regional and local histories detailed in the second half of the book. A casual perusal of the page offers information on the financial solvency of international students in the 1950s and early 1960s.

However, a careful reading of the page reveals much larger processes underway, namely the rising primacy of the United States in the postwar world, the Cold War-driven expansion of American higher education, and the privileges attached to the cultural capital of South Asian immigrants (i.e. advanced degrees). The page casts a spotlight on a moment in American history when the country actively encouraged and invited international students to pursue higher education while simultaneously denying that opportunity to African Americans. Thus, it indirectly draws attention to the paradox of privilege enjoyed by Asian immigrants in a Cold War United States that was deeply concerned with its racial image abroad versus the systemic racism long endured by African Americans across the country but acutely in the U.S. South.

Based on the economically lean beginnings described on page 99, South Asian immigrants often evoke the “rags to riches” trope in reinforcing the American Dream myth. For many of the South Asian immigrants that I interviewed, the resulting false binary, that of their own “success” versus black “failure,” lends legitimacy to their own championing of the model minority myth. This narrative was circulated in the 1960s and 1970s to undermine the radicalism of the civil rights and Black Power movements.

Pointedly, access to American universities was not merely a result of Asian immigrants’ individual effort. Passage of the civil rights-inspired 1965 Hart Celler Act eased anti-Asian immigration restrictions into the country, while the Civil Rights Act of 1964 facilitated Asian American participation in American society.

Furthermore, the rise in international students attending American universities was subsidized by the U.S. government, posing a further challenge to the individualism of the model minority myth. As I note on page 99:
The generous amount of financial support available at American universities—unlike at other Western universities—was an important part of the calculus by which middle-class South Asian students opted to pursue higher education in the United States. In 1963, American universities and the U.S. government paid for one third of education-related costs for international students, regardless of major. Approximately half of all foreign students were supported by scholarships and grants in the 1960s. By the 1970s, British universities began drastic reductions to international student support, further contributing to the rise in international student enrollment in the United States.
The last sentence in the above passage touches on the ascent of American higher education in the global arena. By the end of the 1960s, Indians’ and Pakistanis’ preferred destination for academic advancement was the United States, partly due to the United States’ unprecedented expansion of its university system but also as a result the Cold War promotion of American education through U.S. public diplomacy abroad.

Page 99 offers the reader a sense of the depth and breadth of the historical forces at play in the early decades of the Cold War.
Learn more about Redefining the Immigrant South at the University of North Carolina Press.

--Marshal Zeringue