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Making Ethnic Choices: California's Punjabi Mexican Americans (Asian American History & Cultu) Paperback – January 25, 1994
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—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
—James Freeman, San Jose State University
From the Publisher
Defining and changing perceptions of ethnic identity --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
An earlier reviewer of Leonard's book claims that the author was unaware of the difference between Hindus, Moslems, and Sikhs--and this reviewer thereby questions her scholarship. The claim is simply not true. Leonard makes clear that the lumping of all three Indian groups under the category "Hindu" was accomplished by the prevailing "Anglo" community in California. The term became so widely used that the Indian men finally acquiesed and referred to themselves in that way, whatever their religion. But they were not confused, and neither is Dr. Leonard. All this is explained clearly in her study.
For a unique and eye-opening view of Americanization under the most trying of circumstances, buy and read this book.
After she presented a talk on "Women in Indian Culture" at Yuba Community College in 1979, she discovered that Punjabi males of the Sikh religion and a small number of Punjabi Muslims had immigrated to California (many via Canada) before the British partitioned Punjab into the Pakistani West and the Indian East, and that most of the Sikhs and Muslims in California had married Mexican-American Catholic or Mexican Catholic wives. Further their half-caste American-born offspring were marrying Sikhs and Muslims back home from India through arranged marriages rather than mixing with the opposite sex in California and stumbling into lust relationships. Leonard said in her preface that she "had been totally unaware of the recent large Punjabi immigration to rural northern California and of the operation of this marriage network linking Marysville and Yuba City with peasant villages back in Punjab" (p ix). Without any previous knowledge of Sikhism or Islaam, Leonard "decided to trace the handful of Mexican-Hindu [sic] families to see how these pioneer Punjabi men had transmitted Indian beliefs and behaviors to their descendants. That was my initial, simple preconception of the research project" (p x).
Leonard's methodology was historical social science rather than ethnography and participant observation. Not knowing the difference between a Sikh and a Hindu, or a Muslim and a Hindu, Leonard unknowingly charted an oral history course for herself involving a steep learning curve that she had difficulty ascending. By lumping Sikhs and Muslims together under the misnomer of "Hindu", she displays ignorance of the cultural and even linguistic differences between the three groups. Her background was equally ignorant of Mejicana Catholic culture. In addition, Leonard'sr unfamiliarity with Sikh and Muslim cultures and her inability to distinguish Sikhs and Muslims from Hindus raises questions about her previous study on Hindus in Hyderabad, India and the extent to which she truly understood Hindu culture.
The result, alternatingly insightful and irritatingly wrong to the initiated reader is this book - "Making Ethnic Choices", which contains 13 chapters grouped into three parts. The three parts are 1. Introduction, 2. The World of the Pioneers, and 3. The Construction of Ethnic Identity. The 13 chapters are 1. Exploring Ethnicity, 2. Contexts: California and Punjab, 3. Early Days in the Imperial Valley, 4. Marriages and Children, 5. Male and Female networks, 6. Conflict and Love in the Marriages, 7. Childhood in Rural California, 8. The Second Generation Comes of Age, 9. Political Change and Ethnic Identity, 10. Encounters with the Other, and 11. Contending Voices. These interesting and pleasantly readable chapters are followed by appendixes, over 60 pages of notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Chapter 7 -11 under Section Three examines the English-speaking American-born offspring of the Sikh and Muslim Punjabis with their Mejicana wives (or "Hispanic" wives according to Leonard) and is where the author's understanding of cultural theory begins to show. She shows how the second generation of Punjabis saw themselves as Indian rather than Mexican, yet often went on to marry Mejicana spouses that shared ethnicity with their mothers. Most of the second generation was assimilated after that and the third generation was not to be.
Leonard's empathy and ability to interpret and analyze the data from her research clearly lies with the second generation who most resembled Leonard. When Leonard otherized the Indian-born Sikhs and Muslims, worse - when she lumped them under the misnomer of "Hindu", she displayed her difficulty in remaining objective. Leonard's attempts at interviews and interpretation were related to sociological issues of "self and other". Her research was biased in seeing cultural differences from the standpoint of her own here and now and judging those differences according to the degree they deviated as cultural backwardness. Worse, Leonard may not even be aware of her bias. Aristotle said it succinctly - "we like those who resemble ourselves". If Leonard could live and teach in Jullinder or Lahore long enough to speak and understand Punjabi, then live in Mexicali or Hermosillo long enough to speak and understand Spanish, then rewrite this book under her newly acquired culturally-informed awareness, the result would probably bring more validity by relating to all participants rather than those who most resemble Leonard.