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The issue of assimilation insociety and the example of chinese anglo conformists

In 1966, she followed her husband to his ancestral home of Canada, where they lived, first in Toronto and then in Montreal, as citizens until 1980. In 1981, Mukherjee and her family left Canada to return to the US, residing in New York until the late 1980s, before the move to San Francisco, California, where she continues to live and work.

Mukherjee became a naturalized US citizen in 1988. Concomitant with her literary and ideological reinscriptions of diaspora, Mukherjee has elected to describe herself as an "American" writer and has announced through various forums that it is the cultural narrative of America that has provided the enabling site for her own identity transformations as well as those she celebrates in her fictions.

Her revisionary cultural politics has aroused considerable critical interest, itself a measure of the author's rising stature, and it is necessary at this stage to briefly gesture to the wider discourse of literary criticism in which Mukherjee is placed with a view to understanding some of the meanings accrued to her and to her writings in a diasporic context.

Yet other scholars have attacked her pro-US orientation in the present world order, viewing it as mark of a compromised post-colonial praxis see Banerjee and Brewsterand there are others who argue that her works, in particular the novel Jasmine, represent a co-optation into Eurocentric, colonial discourses of identity see Inderpal Grewal.

US Immigrants and the Dilemma of Anglo-Conformity

While such critics provide considered analyses for their critique of what they perceive to be the author's complicity with hegemonic practices, I nevertheless wish to argue that a nuanced reading of her texts and an unpacking of her terminology will reveal that Mukherjee has not been wholly uncritical of dominant ideologies in her literary and cultural imagining of the American nation.

Disrupting the constraints and absolutisms of nationalist boundaries, her poetics of diaspora embody her sense of what, as in her case, it means to be a writer who was born and raised in India, been a citizen of Canada and the United States, and who has been shaped and transformed by the cultures of India and North America.

Mukherjee herself elucidates her aesthetic stand on the identity reformulations made possible by diaspora and its contexts in terms that involve a trajectory from "unhousement" to "rehousement," a process that entails "breaking the issue of assimilation insociety and the example of chinese anglo conformists from the culture into which one was born, and in which one's place in society was assured" and "re-rooting oneself in a new culture" Hancock 39.

Erosions and accretions come with the act of emigration" "American Dreamer" 4. Indeed, the potential of minority populations to challenge linear and homogeneous nationalist narratives through the "erosions and accretions" of diaspora, what the cultural anthropologist James Clifford describes as the "routes" of identification, has emerged as an important aspect of the cultural narration of the nation in recent years.

Homi Bhabha and other cultural theorists view the new forms and configurations of identification of diaspora communities as provoking a dismantling of exclusionary narratives of the nation and of national policies such as multiculturalism. In his influential essay, "DissemiNation: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation," Bhabha contends that the nation's margins, to which diaspora and other minority communities are relegated, are highly complex and flexible recesses of cultural production from where various oppositional practices and analytic capacities can emerge.

The space of betwixt and between, the margins constitute that interstitial space of overlap of cultures and histories, the very site from which new narratives of national and cultural identity can be written and imagined.

Gilroy's characterization of diaspora as a space "marked out by flows" particularly resonates with the terms of my discussion for it calls up the global dynamic of "flows" — of peoples, cultures, ideas, capital, and institutions — that has given rise to what has come to be known as "cultural citizenship," a category of analysis which has gained currency in recent scholarship on identity politics in response to the dramatic transformations that are taking place as a result of the great waves of migration of the past fifty years.

Thus, while conventional narratives of citizenship frame national identity within neatly bounded spatial parameters, placing emphasis on "roots" and origins, cultural citizenship offers a flexible framework which can deal with the questions of home and belonging set into motion by the complicated "routes" of identity in an age of diaspora. Such normative notions of citizenship often disregard the more informal or subjective processes by which minority communities interact with dominant views of belonging.

This is what gives particular salience to the idea of cultural citizenship; as a concept that gestures to the private domain of citizenship, it brings into focus the people's emotional ties or psychological experiences of belonging, or non-belonging, to the nation.

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As a concept that addresses the relationship between cultural identity and citizenship, cultural citizenship takes into consideration the subjective notions of race, ethnicity and otherness in the making of the national narrative of identity and citizenship.

Central to cultural citizenship, then, is the idea of difference. The cultural anthropologist Renato Rosaldo argues that cultural citizenship involves the right for people from minority or subordinated groups recent immigrants, women, members of disadvantaged ethnic groups, etc.

By thus linking culture and citizenship, the fundamental aim of the discourse of cultural citizenship is to call for "the positive acknowledgment of difference in and by the mainstream" Miller 2. I am aware that the particular issues which give rise to the debates on multiculturalism differ across the national boundaries of Canada and the US, given the very different demographic and historical circumstances which have contributed to the distinctive character of each nation.

Besides providing opportunities for contesting hegemonic narratives of national consolidation, the dynamics at work in the fictions that I will set out to examine also help us gain some sense of the relationship that exists between cultural difference and national unity or identity. At the very least, by suggesting that it is something that can be the issue of assimilation insociety and the example of chinese anglo conformists and contested, they problematize for us the notion of multiculturalism.

As Chelva Kanaganayakam, in his review of a special issue of the journal, Mosaic, dedicated to "the rhetoric and reality of multiculturalism," so aptly reminds us, "[O]ne should not forget that this too is a narrative of sorts, a discourse shaped by cultural and ideological needs. Despite their disparate cultural histories and social differences, Mukherjee's characters share the experience of diaspora as they explore new ways of belonging and "becoming" in America.

They are America's new "middlemen," as epitomized in the title of Mukherjee's 1988 collection of short fiction, the "not-quite[s]" "Lady from Lucknow," Darkness 18, 23 who have to negotiate "between two modes of knowledge" "Management of Grief," Middleman 189 and remake home out of "the hurly-burly of the unsettled magma between two worlds" "Four-Hundred-Year-Old-Woman" 37.

In this regard, it must be pointed out that the ideological importance of her writings depends not so much on Mukherjee's representation of diaspora as an emancipatory narrative of self-reinvention, although, as several critics have compellingly argued, Mukherjee's poetics is certainly committed to foregrounding the positive transformative potential of immigration see, for instance, Wikramagamage.

Rather, I would insist that the distinctiveness of her work in the tradition of diaspora literature in general and American literature in particular lies in Mukherjee's ability to mine the tension that holds in balance her awareness of diaspora as a condition of loss or "unhousement," involving a break in that link between cultures, peoples or identities and places, on the one hand, and her acknowledgement of it as a condition of gain or "rehousement," of recreation, re-imagination and regeneration in new social, political, cultural and geographical landscapes, on the other.

Indeed, it is the innovation and energy with which Mukherjee's fictions chart resilient and enabling responses to diaspora in the face of its spatial, cultural and temporal disruptions that invest her identity as a writer and her writing with charged significance. Reflecting the author's mood of "unhousement" as a non-white immigrant in Canada, Mukherjee's early stories are pessimistic accounts of rootlessness and despair which depict her immigrant characters as "lost souls, put upon and pathetic [.

In "An Invisible Woman," an early essay on the workings of Canadian racism and multiculturalism, Mukherjee highlights the paradoxes involved in her everyday experience of living in Canada as a woman rendered "invisible," on a national and cultural level, by the colour of her skin, a key marker of her visibility as a non-European immigrant.

Exoticized as different, but also as inferior, in Toronto and Montreal, she asserts she was never considered a cultural citizen, really Canadian, only a "smelly, dark, alien other" Connell 12 who threatened to contaminate the white national self.

A few words may now be necessary to describe Canada's national project. Multiculturalism as an official policy was implemented in Canada in 1971, by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as a sign of the nation's commitment to cultural plurality through the accommodation, within the issue of assimilation insociety and the example of chinese anglo conformists national space, of Canada's ethnically diverse composition, heritage and traditions: However, Mukherjee's contention is that the Canadian multicultural mosaic did not confer cultural citizenship to all of Canada's citizens.

The terrorist attack in 1985 on the Air India plane which killed all 300 of its passengers, mostly Canadians of South Asian ancestry, documented in Mukherjee's non-fiction text, The Sorrow and the Terror, stands as a harrowing example, according to Mukherjee, of Canada's failure at multiculturalism. What Mukherjee found to be highly revealing and disconcerting about this incident was that the Canadian government treated the crash as an "Indian" tragedy, the underlying assumption here being that Canadian citizens of Indian origin are not legitimate, not real, Canadians.

Ratna Clayton, one of the story's two central characters, is a Calcutta-born journalist of Indian and Czech descent. Thus, while formally or "technically" a Canadian, she is aware that she is still positioned as an outsider on account of her "being half — the dominant half — Indian" D 36.

In this instance, it is Ratna's darkness of skin, the "visible" marker of her cultural difference, that fixes her identity as a foreigner, the national other, in dominant-white Canada: She was something called, after the imported idiom of London, a Paki.

And for Pakis, Toronto was hell" D 33. Categorized as an "ethnic," as designated by official multicultural policy, Ratna has consequently been placed "outside" of Canadianness. At the story's opening, his chief concern is that Ratna will be persuaded to change her mind and agree to their relocation to Toronto, where he has been offered a job promotion. The island setting itself offers the site for an alternative conception of Canadian citizenship, identity and belonging.

The fact that the title of her story alludes to the theory of plate tectonics can indeed be read as a measure of the significance that Mukherjee attaches to it.

India got smashed into Asia. In her insightful explication of the conceptual idea of the island in her article, "Discourses of the Island," Gillian Beer points out that "the emphasis in plate tectonics is on fracture, drift, the lateral slide of plates against or alongside each other" 8. Beer explains that according to this theory, the earth, rather than being thought of as one rigid, sturdy body with fixed continents and permanent ocean basins, is broken into several large plates and a few smaller ones, which move very slowly and then collide with or jostle one another.

What is particularly interesting is the similarity Beer observes as being present in the process of "unfixing" that takes place in the geological phenomenon of plate tectonics and the Derridean idea of epistemological "ungrounding" or differance. It is in this sense that I read Mukherjee's narrative recourse to plate tectonics as a sign that gestures to an interrogation of the inherent fixity and stasis that underpin the Canadian mosaic, a model of multiculturalism and national unity which views cultural inscriptions, and hence the notion of difference, as stable, coherent and autonomous.

This conception of multiculturalism denies the presence of ambivalence or hybridity through its assertion of superficial pluralism and its belief in the existence of clear boundaries between cultures. In such a "multicultural" nation, differences are organized into neat, virtual grids of distinct ethnic communities, each with its own "culture. A transparent norm is constituted, a norm given by the host society or dominant culture, which says that these other cultures are fine, but we must be able to locate them within our own grid.

More significantly, this conception of multiculturalism perpetuates the myth of "natural," or "real," difference, from which the discourse of racism gains its pervasive strength.

In thus consolidating the dominant discourse of the state, where forms of national identity are exclusionary, homogeneous and unitary, this all too neat and ordered model of a multicultural society fails, as Mukherjee's narrative suggests, to engage with the exchanges, crossings and complex identity "routes" set into play by diaspora, when different groups of people come to live and interact together, sharing one nation.

The "Chinese Question" and American Labor Historians

Through Ratna's perception of what appears to her to be the cultural indeterminacy of the island, along with the Indian shops, the nineteenth-century Lutheran churches built by Swedish missionaries, the mission school run by Quebec priests, and the colonial relics of the King's palace and Band, Mukherjee conveys the signs of the complex heterogeneity of national space.

Classified in Canada under the rubric of "visible minority" status, Ratna Clayton finds herself consequently excluded from the dominant discourse of Canadianness. Half-European, her darkness of skin is the signifier of the difference which fixes her cultural identity as an Indian or South Asian ethnic, a category viewed to be mutually exclusive with Canadianness.

By invoking the subjective narrative of home and belonging often overlooked by the discourse of formal citizenship and nationalism, Mukherjee suggests that Canadian citizenship needs to be reconceptualized as something that goes beyond the legalistic definition of Canadianness to guarantee a commitment to equality for all subjects, regardless of roots and origins or colour. This shift was possible, Mukherjee argues, on account of the US "melting-pot" project of constructing citizenship and national belonging.

The melting pot narrative of the nation refers to the process of assimilation, where the different cultural and ethnic communities in a nation are conceived as coming together to create a new "American" race or culture.

The issue of assimilation insociety and the example of chinese anglo conformists

Jean de Crevecour wrote about the American as "the new man" being "melted into a new race of men. Rather, it is the dynamics of fluidity and contingency inherent in the melting pot that are able to offer Mukherjee what she herself calls the "metaphors and symbolic location" Connell 19 necessary for reinscribing cultural citizenship and national belonging in her fiction. In a now classic front-page article written in 1988 for the New York Times Book Review, Mukherjee articulates for the first time her revised cultural politics by calling attention to the changing cultural and political landscape of the American nation as well as the place and contribution of the non-traditional immigrant writer in these transformed contexts.

This "altered America" "Immigrant Writing" 1whose meaning she will henceforth narrate into existence, is constructed out of the stories of a group of people never before written about in American literature, namely "the new Americans from non-traditional immigrant countries" "Immigrant Writing" 28 who, in the words of one of her characters from the "American" phase of her Darkness collection, are "a new breed testing new feelings in new battlegrounds" "Visitors" 149.

However, Mukherjee's use of the word "battleground" in her narrative of identity transformation should not go unnoticed for it points to the author's implicit recognition of the risks and difficulties involved in constructing national identity and belonging in the context of the apparently inclusionary and equitable social and political possibilities offered by the American melting pot.

Stanford M. Lyman

Hence, hers is not an uncritical acceptance or endorsement of the hegemonic ideology of assimilation embedded in American multiculturalism. Indeed, her rejection of dominant terms and her critical engagement with the dynamics of cultural citizenship are manifested in her description of herself as "an American writer, in the American mainstream trying to extend it" Meer 26.

Thus, it needs to be pointed out that in actively rejecting identifications like "Asian-American" and "Indo-American" and in her avowal of a full, "unhyphenated American" identity "Imagining Homelands" 69Mukherjee is participating in a counter-hegemonic move that refuses to compartmentalize American national identity and citizenship along Manichean lines, in terms of mainstream and minority cultures or values, of inclusions and exclusions.

The issue of assimilation insociety and the example of chinese anglo conformists

In renouncing the hyphen, Mukherjee is consciously setting out to contest the essentializing strategy in this binary construction of national identity and ethnicity that upholds a Eurocentric framework of values and meanings associated with the hegemonic culture in American multiculturalism.

In accordance with her refusal to treat ethnicity as a clearly divisible and dichotomous category that exists outside of Americanness, Mukherjee reconceptualizes melting-pot assimilation as something "genetic" rather than "hyphenated" Jasmine 222. Such a language is not at variance with her erstwhile rejection of the fixity of biological notions of identity. Integral to Mukherjee's rejection of hyphenation, then, is the idea that the emergent "American" identity produced by melting pot multiculturalism is "genetically" distinct — "something different, something new and unrecognizable" Bhabha, "The Third Space" 211 — whole yet already differentiated within itself, divested of the hyphen and its hierarchical and separatist prescriptions.

In reconfiguring the American political and cultural fabric as the site of ongoing contestation and definition, Mukherjee also implies that while America transforms all those who make their home in it, America itself is being transformed: In other words, just as America's melting pot transforms non-traditional immigrant communities, Mukherjee maintains that mainstream culture and values, too, are shaped and moulded, unavoidably and ongoingly, by the presence of these new immigrants.

As a way of drawing attention to the productive hybrid configurations exemplified by the melting pot's inevitable two-way process of cultural interchange and interaction, Mukherjee eschews the term "assimilation," and its coercive, homogenizing connotations, in favour of an ethic where identity and difference are built simultaneously in the national project.

Accordingly, Mukherjee emphasizes that her literary agenda is to "redefine the nature of American and what makes an American" "Four-Hundred-Year-Old Woman" 35, emphasis in original through the idea of cultural and ideological "mongrelization," a term she says she borrows from the writer Salman Rushdie to point to the "sense of the interpenetration of all things" "Four-Hundred-Year-Old Woman" 34.

Thus, the American cultural narrative of the nation that Mukherjee favours is endorsed for constituting other than the simple, pluralistic "politics of difference" that she sees structuring the commitment to diversity in Canada. More significantly, Mukherjee's argument for the melting pot is premised on her belief that, unlike the mosaic that reinforces boundaries and cultural stereotypes, the former offers a more "nuanced [and] accented multicoloured myth of shared values" "Imagining Homelands" 69 where the different communities in a nation are continually engaged in a complex process of interconnection and intermixing, giving rise to a mutual constructedness of identity and otherness that blurs the boundaries between majority and minority communities and cultures.

Renata's fervent hope is that her family, whom she considers "very American" M 58 in their cultural values and attitudes, "will more than tolerate him" M 63. As if to undercut the narrator's preconceptions about what makes up Americanness, the text assiduously assembles a motley crew of family members for Renata.

The issue of assimilation insociety and the example of chinese anglo conformists

Of course, there is also Renata's lover, Roashan, son of a rich landlord in Kabul who has been smuggled into the US on a fake visa to escape detention by the new Soviet-backed regime.

Renata tells us, "[Roashan]'s been in the States three months, maybe less" M 64 ; he is the latest arrival into the American melting pot. By bringing these characters together and making them inhabit the same space, Mukherjee constructs the melting pot as the symbolic site of national unity or consensus.

But the text clearly suggests that this is not a space of easy and harmonious synthesis. For within the characters' interchange through their heteroglossia of cultures, accents, histories, memories, and experiences, there abound also prejudices, prohibitions, misunderstandings, and confusions. Indeed, Mukherjee posits the melting pot as a space of conflict and potential tension.

By writing him as guest of the deMarcos' Thanksgiving ritual, Mukherjee's larger aim, it becomes increasingly clear, is to write him into the national discourse. More significantly, as immigrant, Roashan is the figure of intervention who calls into question the narrator's — as well as the reader's — stereotyped views, expectations and preconceptions not only of other cultures but also of what constitutes Americanness.

In this regard, assumptions about identity and difference, and the processes of national selfhood and othering are set to undergo a radical interrogation. Renata is concerned that her family will disapprove of the "foreignness" which Roashan represents in their "very American" midst. Significantly, it is Roashan who is put in charge of carving the Thanksgiving turkey, symbolically marking his entry into and acceptance by the family and, by extension, his incorporation into American national space.

However, Mukherjee suggests that the immigrant's entry into the melting pot is set to change not only him but also the dominant culture. For it is the immigrant's implicit challenge to melting pot conformism that is reflected when, instead of conceding to the use of the traditional carving knife, Roashan reaches for his own cultural resources in the form of his Afghan dagger.

The dagger itself is a sign, not of congenial amalgamation, but of peril and risk and danger — that messy "battleground" avoided by the expatriate, and which Mukherjee's immigrant has to negotiate and engage with in order to keep the national narrative of America alive and open to new meaning.