Synopses & Reviews
This is a study of the flexibility of ethnic identity. In the early twentieth century, men from India's Punjab province came to California to work on the land. The new immigrants had few chances to marry. There were very few marriageable Indian women, and miscegenation laws and racial prejudice limited their ability to find white Americans. Discovering an unexpected compatibility, Punjabis married women of Mexican descent, and these alliances inspired others as the men introduced their bachelor friends to the sisters and friends of their wives. These biethnic families developed an identity as "Hindus" but also as Americans. In this work, Karen Isaksen Leonard has related theories linking state policies and ethnicity to those applied at the level of marriage and family life. Using written sources and numerous interviews, she invokes gender, generation, class, religion, language, and the dramatic political changes of the 1940s in South Asia and the United States to show how individual and group perceptions of ethnic identity have changed among Punjabi Mexican Americans in rural California. The intermarriages featured conflict as well as respect and love, and the Punjabi-Mexican families formed a unique community in many ways. As she inquired about the childhood experiences of people with names like Maria Jesusita Singh, Leonard discovered the swift communication network of the "Mexican Hindus", the dynamics between domineering Indian men, and the strong kinship ties and compadrazgo relationships of their Hispanic wives. She describes the cultural inventiveness of the children of these unions, who claimed the "Hindu" identity despite their incomplete inheritance of Punjabi culture. Shealso examines the problematic kinship between recent South Asian immigrants and the Punjabi Mexican Americans. Assembling life stories as well as collective biographies of localized groups, Leonard demonstrates that ethnicity is both persistent and flexible, that ethnic identi
"[A] thoroughly original study that greatly expands our knowledge of how ethnic identities are formed. Leonard writes clearly and her inclusion of the voices of the Punjabi-Mexicans lends humor and depth to the history. This insightful study will be of interest to all scholars concerned with immigration and ethnicity and the history of California."
—The Journal of Asian Studies
"This is an extraordinary work. It is simultaneously an ethnography of early South Asian immigrant life in California, a model of fine-grained historical research using all manner of documents to reconstruct and interpret the migration flows, social structure, and family cycles of Punjabi men and their Mexican spouses, and a sophisticated examination of the complex role of 'identity' in their perceptions of themselves and their descendants.... In the midst of contemporary discussions about multi-culturalism, politically correctly positions, and valuing diversity, this book would be a fine place to begin a thoughtful consideration of the potential multiplicity of meanings ethnicity may have for human begins."
—Journal of American Ethnic History
"No other book has the scope or the vision of Karen Leonard's work. I expect this book to be consulted as a model of historical research for many years to come."
—James Freeman, San Jose State University
About the Author
Karen Isaksen Leonard is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.