Locating Desi: A Survey to establish Identity

Political mobilization of the word 'desi' in USA

An Indian girl. Image Courtsey: food.ndtv.com

By Shubhi Mangla

Kerishma Panigrahi, a student of the New York University is pursuing studies in issues related to religion, race, racial subject formation mainly within the context of South Indian Diaspora. As part of her course, she is currently working on “Locating Latinidad“. The study includes tracing its history, genealogy and constitution as an identity. She has started a survey to know about the personal and political identification of people of South Asian descent in USA for folks who are 18 years or older.

You may take the survey here: Locating Desi

Kerishma says, “How I identify can shift as quickly and as easily as my surroundings shift; depending on where I am and who I’m with. I could be a Gujarati, Oriya, Indian(-American), South Asian(-American), American, desi, “brown”…the list goes on. What I became fascinated by was how intertwined and slippery racial, ethnic, and national identities are and how contingent they can be on one’s surroundings—which makes it even harder to effectively locate”.

What complicated her was the word ‘Desi’. According to her, it is a word which she can feel closer to and politically identify herself with it. With her experience from living among other South Asians in US, she feels that ‘desi’ is more of an informal and comfortable word as compared to South Asian-American. She is curious to know the experience of other folks of South Asian decent about the non-existent  political mobilization of the word ‘Desi’ compared to mobilization of ‘latinx’.

Related link: Indian Diaspora in Holland

According to her, ” ‘Desi’ is also an imperfect term and there are shortcomings that may take away from people’s ability to identify with it; does “desi” have the ability to expand and accommodate this difference? Is there a disparity of identification along age group, migration status, country of origin, multiracial status? How does multiple diaspora (e.g. folks of Indo-Caribbean or Indo-African heritage) effect identification?”

Report prepared by Shubhi Mangla- an intern at Newsgram and a student of Journalism and Mass Communication in New Delhi. Twitter @ shubhi_mangla