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Excerpted From: Tayyab Mahmud, Migration, Identity, & the Colonial Encounter, 76 Oregon Law Review 633 (Fall 1997) (181 Footnotes) (Full Document)

Tayyab MahmudA specter is haunting the “new world order:” the specter of the immigrant. To live with this specter is to live with desires and anxieties of the state and the nation. It is also to live with the heritage and genealogies of empire and imperialism. The public debate about, and legislative responses to, this specter remain preoccupied with characterizing the immigrant as an outsider and a threat, with immigration configured as a problem to be solved, a flaw to be corrected, a war to be fought, and a flow to be stopped. This posture rests on some implicit assumptions of fixed identities, unproblematic nationhood, indivisible sovereignty, ethnic homogeneity, and exclusive citizenship. These assumptions posit a picture of the inter/national system that consists of complete, differentiated, and closed living spaces, constituted by the pivotal organizing principle of sovereign nation-states. The immigrant does not fit this picture well. She remains an outsider, an alien body, to be normalized, homogenized, and assimilated. As a non-citizen, she is to be marginalized in distribution of legal rights and political protections. As a cultural signifier, she is to be erased. As a violator of borders, she provides the rationale to ever strengthen the territorial divides. The threat perception triggered by the immigrant traverses two fields: that of the state, and that of the nation. The immigrant puts at issue the inviolability of borders, territoriality of sovereignty, particularity of jurisdiction, and uniformity of citizenship--fundamental characteristics of the modern state. The immigrant calls into question cultural homogeneity, linguistic commonality, shared history, a sense of belonging, and security of identity--the key ideologies of the nation.

These assumptions and postures warrant a reexamination of some fundamental questions that surround the phenomenon of migration. Are the causes, sources, and processes of migration uniform and predictable? Is the migrant available for sovereignty's demand for complete allegiance? Can the migrant partake of the pre-existing imagined community, the nation? Is the migrant compatible with the institutional designs of the state? Is migrant identity commensurable with requisites of citizenship? This Article explores these questions by locating them in spatial and temporal sites removed from the common foci of the immigration debate. It argues that the relationships of empire and imperialism between “the West and the Rest” are central to the inter/national imagining and construction of the immigrant; that progressive incorporation of different parts of the world into a unified system of accumulation and the resulting global division of labor is the primary context within which the interface of the migrant and the inter/national system unfolds. The relationship of empire and imperialism with migration, however, is not a mechanical or deterministic one. The terrains of empire and imperialism are contested sites, where contradictions between imperatives of exchange and sovereignty, and conflicts between domination and resistance, are played out. Using stories from colonial and postcolonial South Asia I argue that within the general contexts of empire and imperialism, the determinants and processes of migration in the modern world system are multiple, as borders are porous, identities flexible, and sovereignties malleable. Additionally, I argue that the compatibility of migration with sovereignty, nation, and state is always partial, contingent, and unstable.

The first part of this Article narrates three stories of migration that unfolded in the context of India's encounter with British colonialism. While these were not the only migrations triggered by colonialism both within and from India, these particular stories highlight this article's central thesis that inter/national imaginations of the immigrant must take account of the relationships of empire and imperialism, and that within the context of these relationships, the causes, processes, and results of migration, and the accompanying constructions and deployments of identities, are diverse. This examination of the colonial encounter aims not simply to document its record of exploitation and domination, but also to track its failures and silences, in order to focus on displacements and identities produced by its functioning. Implicated in this study are not only the successfully implemented designs of colonialism, but also its accommodations, ambivalences, and breakdowns. Center stage here are not only the strategies of colonial power but also native designs of resistance. Of the three migrations examined, one was the product of colonial design, one of anti-colonial resistance, and one occasioned by the collapse of colonial rule. These three narratives locate determinants of migration and constructions of migrant identities at the intersection of the demands of global systems of production and imperatives of the principles of sovereignty and nation-state, and suggest that migrant identities are forged through both operations of power and strategies of resistance.

The second part of the Article addresses the issue of construction and deployment of post-migration identities. This part narrates a brief story of post-migration existence of a particular South Asian community in order to draw conclusions about the relationships of immigrants with the nation, the state, and citizenship. I argue that these relationships are contingent and unstable because the construction and political deployment of the immigrant's identity is subject to the shifting alignments of political forces in any particular setting. Whether the immigrant is privileged or marginalized in the national imagination may not be the consequence of migration, but rather of specific political conjunctures that determine the extent to which the nation may be reimagined, the state reordered, and norms of citizenship restructured.

[. . .]

The immigrant is traditionally located in the inter/national imagination through the prism of the laborious moves of statism to project an image of the world divided along territorially discontinuous and separated sovereign spaces, each supposedly enclosing homogeneous cultures and impervious essences. From this line of vision, the immigrant is always the outsider, the abnormal, the other. The historical record of the modern inter/national system, however, suggests a different point of departure focusing on the interlocking processes of capitalism, colonization, and migration. Examination of migratory patterns of South Asia reveals that they are intrinsically tied to the region's incorporation into the global division of labor through the operation of colonialism. However, the relationship between migration and colonialism is not mechanical or stable. Of the three migrations examined in this article, one was the product of colonial design, one of anti-colonial resistance, and one of the collapse of colonial rule. Each of these migrations was accompanied by contingent and unstable constructions and deployments of identities. Colonialism, like all power relations, was a contested site, and the migrations and migrant identities it triggered were constituted both by operations of power and strategies of resistance. Power and resistance similarly intermingle in the construction and deployment of post-migration identities of the immigrant. These identities are not related so much to the fact of migration as they are to the shifting alignments of political forces. The relationship of the immigrant with the state and the nation is contingent and unstable because the state never just is; it is always in the process of becoming, and so is the nation. 

Associate Professor of Law, Cleveland State University. B.A., 1973, University of Punjab; M.Sc., 1975, University of Islamabad; Ph.D., 1981, University of Hawaii; J.D., 1987, University of California, Hastings College of Law.



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