AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 728

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Session 728: Boundaries, Border-Crossings and Migrant-Identity: Asian Perspectives

Organizer: Lopita Nath, Independent Scholar, USA

Discussant: Anindita Dasgupta, Independent Scholar, Malaysia

Rapid globalization has thrown traditional understandings of boundaries, border-crossings and migrant- identity formations into a state of confusion and contestation with large-scale population movement taking place from the developing to the developed world. This is especially critical for Asia, a migrant-sending and a migrant-receiving region, and witness to unprecedented scales of border-crossings by workers, professionals, particularly since the 1990s. The papers in this panel will attempt a cross-regional interpretation of the meaning of boundaries and analyze the real and imagined changes to such boundaries brought about by population mobility in different parts of Asia. To what extent has the post-colonial delineation of ‘national’ boundaries affected native-migrant relations and migrant perspectives of their own identity in post-colonial societies? How have post-colonial immigration policies in East-Asian countries dealt with their inherent gender-bias, and how has social injustices perpetrated the “othering” the female migrants in host countries? How has the overwhelming presence of migrant workers in a globalized economy intersected the public and private space in the Malaysian society? How has the Italian immigrant perspective of the Japanese women, impacted on the social and ethical boundaries and the integration of both cultures? This panel, by including papers from different geographical areas in Asia and across-disciplines, seeks to engage the concept of inter-area and border crossing, which is the domain of migration researchers worldwide. While adding an important dimension to the understanding of border-crossings in Asia, the panel also raises new issues in migration discourse that have serious socio-economic, political and social ramifications in a rapidly globalizing world.

Blurry Boundaries, Changing Landscapes: Evolving Native-Migrant Relations in India's Northeast
Anindita Dasgupta, Independent Scholar, Malaysia

This paper will interpret the meaning of national boundaries and changing landscapes in the context of two major immigrant communities in the Indian state of Assam: the Nepalis and the Muslims of East Bengal origin. In the colonial period population mobility between Assam on the one hand, and neighbouring Nepal and East Bengal on the other was simply a matter of moving across a shared economic and cultural region. The post-colonial delineation of national borders and citizenships, however, changed the established migration dynamics as three new nations emerged out of the same shared space. While continuing Nepali and East Bengali (Bangladeshi) population movements across the newly defined international boundaries concerned the native Assamese communities deeply, it meant little to the migrating communities who still saw themselves moving across well-trodden paths and for whom the new borders were both invisible and irrelevant. The national boundary thus became a blurry image, ill-defined and unexplained, to the immigrant communities, while the changing demographic landscapes led the Assamese to protest and seek regulation of the ongoing immigration, some of which was undocumented. The post-colonial anti-immigrant movements in Assam not only questioned the rights of immigrants to disregard boundary regulations but also their continued right to live in postcolonial Assam. Such movements in turn led the immigrant communities to re-examine their own ethnic identity and evolving status within the host society where their forefathers had been migrating for the past 200-odd years. This paper will examine these pertinent questions within the framework of native-migrant relations in Assam.

Female Migration, Re-Presentation, and Identity Politics in East Asia
Catherine Chia-Lan Chang, Winthrop University, USA

Issues surrounding female transnational migration are economic, political, moral, and gendered. In addition to analysis of the international division of labor, the literature of female migration presents how social injustice has existed in the process of “othering” female migrants in host countries. It also reveals how feminists and social activists endeavor in mobilizing migrants to form their own support groups and in urging host countries to revise biased immigration policy. This paper will situate this literature and the “othering” process in East Asian geopolitics from the 1970s onward. The purpose is twofold: it wishes to build the correlation between the phenomenon of female transnational migration and the changing economic status of East Asian countries in the past four decades; and then it wishes to answer the questions of how female migrants are re-presented in the literature and how these scholarly works emerge in each nation’s statist or postcolonial context. This paper will first explore identity politics and changes of immigration policy by tracing the history of female migration, such as those from Southeast Asia and Taiwan to Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, from Southeast Asian and China to Taiwan and Japan since the 1980s, and from Southeast Asia to Korea in the present. Secondly, the paper will discuss how true and often these female migrants voice for themselves in this literature. Thirdly, it will study how scholars, particularly those having imbued with the nationalist and postcolonial discourses, explore issues of transnational migration in terms of gender.

Shifting Landscapes, Changing Identities: Impact of Contemporary Migrant Labor on Malaysia’s Public and Private Space
Neeta S. Singh, Independent Scholar, Malaysia

Multi-ethnic Malaysia is a product of the continuous migration of peoples into the Peninsula from earliest times. Historically and in contemporary times, economic factors have largely been responsible for the influx of migrant labor into Malaysia in three main phases.In the first phase, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the growth of the rubber and tin industries under British colonial rule necessitated the importation of labor from India and China to augment local labor shortages. However, the economic depression of the 1930s forced the British to pass the Immigration Control Act which reduced migrant workers to a trickle.The second phase, from the 1970s to the 1980s the growth of the manufacturing sector once again created a demand for foreign labor. Furthermore, as more women entered the work force domestic help was increasingly imported from Indonesia and the Philippines.In the third phase, from the 1990s to the present, the forces of globalization attracted a new breed of foreign migrant worker especially in the service industry from India, Bangladesh and Nepal.This paper focuses on the third phase of foreign migration and examines the migrant worker’s impact on the public and private space. The discussion will emphasize how Malaysian society perceives the blurring of boundaries and the changing landscape, and especially the impact on society, economy, physical environment, security issues, and psychological challenges.

Looking for “Madama Butterfly”: Italian Immigrants in Japan Dealing with the Western Myth of Woman
Michele Monserrati, Rutgers University, USA

My paper aims to investigate the imaginary of the Japanese woman as a popular symbol of western erotic and exotic fantasy. Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly (1898) is the most popular stereotype of the Japanese woman because it embodies different sexual western fantasies, like the exotic damsel, submitted to a man, or the perfect wife. There is not an Italian traveler in Japan who does not deal with this stereotype. As I describe how Italians have portrayed Japanese women, I will also consider the point of view of Italian women who have lived in Japan. I will show a short video from the Italian state owned public service broadcaster (RAI television) about the experience of an Italian man who emigrated to Japan and married a Japanese woman. Through all this material I will try to answer to these questions: what is the myth of the Japanese woman, according to the Italian immigrants? how are the social and ethical boundaries between uprooted Italian immigrants and native Japanese women an obstacle for the integration of the two cultures? Shifting the gender border, from the male to the female standpoint, we might also ask: how have the Italian women (living in Japan) dealt with this model of Japanese femininity? From these examples, it turns out that the representation of the Japanese woman is a mirror in which is possible to measure the cultural and social distance between Italian and Japanese world, yet we cannot deny a cultural and historical attitude of these two worlds to come across and look at each other.

Blurry Boundaries, Changing Landscapes: Evolving Native-Migrant Relations in India's Northeast
Lopita Nath, Independent Scholar, USA

This paper will interpret the meaning of national boundaries and changing landscapes in the context of two major immigrant communities in the Indian state of Assam: the Nepalis and the Muslims of East Bengal origin. In the colonial period population mobility between Assam on the one hand, and neighbouring Nepal and East Bengal on the other was simply a matter of moving across a shared economic and cultural region. The post-colonial delineation of national borders and citizenships, however, changed the established migration dynamics as three new nations emerged out of the same shared space. While continuing Nepali and East Bengali (Bangladeshi) population movements across the newly defined international boundaries concerned the native Assamese communities deeply, it meant little to the migrating communities who still saw themselves moving across well-trodden paths and for whom the new borders were both invisible and irrelevant. The national boundary thus became a blurry image, ill-defined and unexplained, to the immigrant communities, while the changing demographic landscapes led the Assamese to protest and seek regulation of the ongoing immigration, some of which was undocumented. The post-colonial anti-immigrant movements in Assam not only questioned the rights of immigrants to disregard boundary regulations but also their continued right to live in postcolonial Assam. Such movements in turn led the immigrant communities to re-examine their own ethnic identity and evolving status within the host society where their forefathers had been migrating for the past 200-odd years. This paper will examine these pertinent questions within the framework of native-migrant relations in Assam.