Maina Singh, SIS
Up to 20 million Indians live overseas in about 110 host countries. Those diaspora experiences are as diverse as the countries that host them, according to Maina Singh, scholar in residence at the School of International Service, whose research explores this diversity and delves into questions of identity, gender, and ethnicity.
Singh knows her subject firsthand, having lived in six different countries and studied immigrant experiences in several others, including Israel, Ethiopia, Japan, and the United States. “My personal experience of negotiating several different social, religious, and linguistic cultures has deepened my own sensitivity to diaspora identity and assimilation,” she says.
In her most recent book, Being Indian, Being Israeli: Migration, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Jewish Homeland, Singh explores the experience of a rarely researched community—that of Indian Jews who migrated to Israel after 1948 and now number an estimated 70,000. For three years she traveled throughout Israel, conducting extensive fieldwork and hundreds of in-depth interviews and conversations among three Indian Jewish communities. Her research revealed a deep respect on the part of Indian Israelis toward India, which “had always embraced their Jewishness without antagonism or prejudice.” On the other hand, many Indians faced color bias, downward mobility, and social stratification in the early days of the Israeli nation.
As a sequel to this project, Singh focused on migration narratives from 40 first-generation Indian Jewish women, born in Israel and living in India for the last 40 years. “My articles focus on such narrations of an Indian Jewish girlhood untainted by anti-Semitism, and negotiating ‘Indian-ness’ and ‘Jewish-ness’ almost seamlessly,” she explains.
Since Singh’s arrival at American University four years ago, there has been a tangible increase in South Asian studies and programming at SIS. In February 2013, she was instrumental in organizing a discussion and dinner at the Embassy of India, where SIS dean James Goldgeier, AU Board of Trustees chair Jeffrey Sine, and the embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Arun Singh, a former ambassador of India to Israel, debated the future of the world’s largest democracy and its relationship with the United States. The program also featured Noah Kowalski, SIS/MA ’13, and Priyanka Srinivasa, SIS/BA ’14, who discussed how their studies of India and South Asia have contributed to their current work and future career planning.
At AU, Singh is studying another under-researched diaspora community, second-generation Indian Americans and their role in U.S. politics. “Today, there is an increasing number of U.S-born Indian Americans working in government and in electoral politics. It is time to examine the implications of this generational shift,” Singh says. She’s already observed some 40 events and performed interviews with Indian Americans on the Hill.
The “Global Indians” Singh studies share a homeland and heritage expressed through food, family, and even Bollywood. However, she stresses that the important thing is the unique assimilation experience of each community. “Indians in Ethiopia or Saudi Arabia are very different from the community in the U.S. or in Israel. Each one is a different model, shaped by the time of migration and the skills and social capital they bring with them,” she explains.
Jackson Named U.S. Professor of the Year
Baseball, anyone? Tossing a ball after throwing out a question is one way Patrick Thaddeus Jackson keeps students alert and engaged. Eschewing the traditional role of classroom lecturer, the associate dean for undergraduate education at SIS strives to encourage inquiry and debate among his students: “I know I’m doing a good job when a student comes to me and says ‘I never thought about this quite this way before. I hadn’t really put those pieces together like that.’”
Jackson’s unconventional approach caught the attention of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. The organizations named him the 2012 U.S. Professor of the Year for the District of Columbia.