Gender in the Storyline: Writing the Histories of Punjabi Migrants in the Early 20th Century

Friday, January 3, 2020: 2:30 PM
Gramercy (Sheraton New York)
Hardeep Dhillon, Harvard University
In the early twentieth century, men from the region of Punjab moved across the Pacific with the hopes of finding employment and financial security in new lands. In white-settler colonies such as Australia, Canada, and the United States, their arrival was protested by nativist groups, labor unions, and legislators who urged for more comprehensive legal strictures to deny them entry. Earlier scholarship has beautifully situated the way in which gender was central to the strictures that emerged to limit Asian immigration at the turn of the twentieth century by foregrounding notions of masculinity, marriage, and sexuality and their larger intersection with race and exclusion. This paper builds on this scholarship by tracing the trajectories of Punjabi men to develop a storyline of women left behind, marriage in new and old lands, tales of sexual deviance, and the contest for rights. As such, this paper argues that gender as an analytical category can unravel the various sites in an immigrant’s trajectory where imperial, state and local power is articulated, legitimized, and criticized. By situating gender as a fluid analytical category in this manner and highlighting its intersection with race, border making, labor and rights, this paper also provides a more detailed understanding of the legal strictures that came to define much of Asian migration across the Pacific at the turn of the twentieth century. Moreover, by reading the movement of British imperial subjects and Asians to dominions and the United States, this paper explores the multiple sites and scales at which the British empire, its officers, and subjects can be located.
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