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Indian-American Scholar Susan Koshy Probes Interracial Sex
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"...Antimiscegnation laws worked in conjunction with immigration and naturalization laws to impede the reproduction of Asian immigrant communities, position Asians as racial aliens and sexual deviants, and secure the future of the United States as a white nation." Susan Koshy.


For nearly fifteen years, Indian-American scholar Susan Koshy has been probing certain key historical elements that impact South Asians in America. For instance, she prods the racial undercurrent that define whiteness, ethnicity, gender, color, and citizenship as it is reflected in the American response to Asian immigrants.


Interestingly, one gets a flavor of Koshy's intellectual response to the key issues of race and color in her poem published in 'Samar' and entitled 'American Dreams.'

"How thin you look!

Thinner than before.

America makes everyone fairer and fatter --

But you."

So they say when I return to India,

Every summer

Of every year.

My friends and neighbors deeply regret

That a dark-skinned woman having gone to America

Should return unchanged

Without even the comfort

Of gifts of microwaves, after-shaves --

Or happy endings.

Presently an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois , Urbana-Champaign, Koshy was previously on the faculty of Asian American Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara, where she won the 2004 Terrific Teachers award.

After graduating with BA and MA degrees from the University of Delhi, Koshy went on to earn her Ph.D. in 1992 from UCLA for her dissertaion “Under Other Skies: Writing Gender, Nation, and Diaspora.” Earlier this year she was an invited Plenary Speaker on “Racial Exclusion, Sexual Naturalization: Asian Americans and Anti-Miscegenation Law,” at the Asian Americans and the Law Conference, University of Illinois.

As an interdisciplinary scholar, Koshy takes a hard and penetrating look at issues of race and immigration and subjects them to microscopic scrutiny. Most recently she has ripped apart ideas of interracial sex and the way America perceives it, vis a vis Desis and other Asians.

The same rigorous interdisciplinary research that she has used to publish scholarly works in Diaspora, Social Text, Yale Journal of Criticism, Boundary, Transition, Journal of Asian American Studies etc has been brought to bear in her current work -- 'Sexual Naturalization - Asian Americans and Miscegenation' -- which has just been published by Stanford University Press.

In this book Koshy casts a wider and more provocative net. Drawing on the insights of history, sociology, literature, and legal studies, she locates narratives of white-Asian miscegenation in the context of anti-miscegenation laws, Asian immigration to the US, and US expansionism in Asia. Throughout, she argues that antimiscegnation laws turned sex acts into race acts, while creating new meanings for both.

Thus, the law claimed that interrracial sex was deviant and dangerous and viewed the sexuality of non-whites in opposition to white middle class sexual practices and family values. Koshy goes on to reveal how, for Asian Americans, including South Asian Americans, the antimiscegnation laws reaffirmed their status as perpetual foreigners, as racial and sexual aliens. Not only were sexual relationships between the predominantly male Asian immigrants and white women outlawed, but American women who married noncitizen Asian men were denaturalized. What's even worse, popular discourse identified Asian women as prostitutes and "bachelor " communities of Asian migrants as aberrant and pathological sexual formations.

Koshy shows how the presence of large numbers of new immigrants often concentrated in urban centers triggered fears of lawless and deviant sexuality, the proliferation of vice and prostitution, and the contamination of American genetic stock.

In the introduction, Koshy says that the book is meant to accomplish three critical tasks: remap the history of American sexuality by unveiling its hidden agendas in relation to Asians; question existing paradigms of Asian American racial identities; and provide a feminist theory in the process.

Interestingly, Koshy observes that "discourses of sexuality that determined the racialization of Asian Indians and Filipinos suggests that a threatening virility rather than effeminacy determined their alienness."

Koshy also provides an analysis of Bharati Mukherjee's characters such as Jasmine, who "is represented as an Asian love goddess who enters the US with fake papers and then moves through a series of romantic relationships with middle class white men whom she loves and leaves as she desires."

Essentially, Koshy's book provides an intellectual interrogation of America's efforts to preserve white superiority. Stanford University Press claims that this is the first major study of Asian-white miscegenation which traces the shifting gender and racial hierarchies produced by antimiscegenation laws and their role in shaping cultural norms. Koshy shows how the laws helped the reproduction of the United States as a white nation, which were also paralleled by extraterritorial privileges that facilitated the sexual access of white American men to Asian women overseas. "Miscegenation laws thus turned sex acts into race acts and engendered new meanings for both" observes Koshy.

Koshy reveals that laws that originally banned sexual relations between blacks and whites were eventually extended to prohibit marriages between whites and "Indians" (native Americans), "Mongolians" ( Chinese , Japanese, and Koreans), "Hindus/Asiatic Indians" (official term for south asians) and "Malays" (Filipinos).

Actually the earliest antimiscegnation laws that were passed in 17th century Maryland and Virginia affected the first South Asians who were brought as indentured slaves by the East India Company to the American colonies. Thus, records from the Maryland State Archives reveal that a daughter born in 1680 to an East Indian man and his Irish wife, was branded a mullato and sold as a slave in Maryland -- as a result of antimiscegnation law.

Eventually, says Koshy, 38 states adopted antimiscegnation laws, with 14 prohibiting white-Asian intermarriages.

One of the prominent Indian-Americans who was affected by this law was the patriot and revolutionary Dr Taraknath Das, whose American wife Mary K. Das was stripped of her birthright as a result of marriage with an "alien ineligible for citizenship."

As historian Joan Jensen noted, this was a time when America had developed a labor policy to use the workers of Asian nations to meet its own economic needs and had then discarded them as unworthy to become permanent members of the host nation.

"Excluded from immigration, prosecuted for their political activities, threatened with deportation, excluded from citizenship, denaturalized, excluded from land ownership, and regulated even in the choice of a mate in the states where most of them lived, Asian Indians now formed a small band of people set apart from Americans by what truly must have seemed a great white wall."

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Of her background, Susan Koshy reveals: "I was born and grew up in India as part of the first post-colonial generation, coming of age in a country newly independent after more than two centuries of British colonial rule. I inhabited a strange paradox being simultaneously a part of an ancient civilization and a nation barely older than I was. Since then it has been my peculiar fate to live across different time zones and in several countries. My husband and children live in the US but my siblings and parents are scattered across the world, in the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, and India."

What are her research interests? "I study globalization and cultural transformation, Asian American literature, postcolonial literature, and feminist theory. I am interested in how cultures are transformed by the movement of people, ideas, and capital at different historical moments. I also look at how literature and art become the sites where culture is contested and transformed, especially in emergent social formations."

Idea of a Good Time: "Traveling is one of my passions. I also love long walks, working out, biking, films, books, and the theater. I come from a long tradition of amazing cooks and from a culture where food was at the center of every occasion and gathering. Making food and sharing it with family and friends allows me to travel in another way and takes me back to places I can no longer return to."

indiaspora@gmail.com

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