Joy Block

  • Fellowship year:2022-2023
  • University: University of Wisconsin- Madison
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: South Asia/America
  • Dissertation Title: Visitors, Citizens, & the Paths Between: South Asians in the U.S., 1946-65
  • My dissertation examines South Asian student migration, settlement, and belonging in mid-20th-century America through a transnational lens. It studies specific South Asian Americans and post-secondary international education in the U.S. to demonstrate how dynamics surrounding the early Cold War and the long civil rights movement created new opportunities for South Asian migrants. Unlike Punjabi Sikhs in the early 20th century — who took up manual labor due to the era’s anti-Asian employment opportunities and land laws — South Asian students in the mid-20th century effectively used their college degrees to navigate a place in dominant, middle-class society. While still assumed to be “foreign,” South Asian college students could use their “outsider” status as a stepping-stone towards a U.S. career, greater social involvement, or political power.
    Rather than replicating the common chronological split of studying South Asian American exclusion before 1946 or population growth after 1965, I argue that events of the 1950s and 1960s and the developments they wrought played a critical role in transitioning South Asian American engagement from the first to the second half of the 20th century. My dissertation also helps to shift the paradigm of U.S. immigration history. Instead of charting immigration through American labor needs and the needs of sending countries, my work shows how U.S. policymakers utilized American universities as conduits for Cold War internationalism, establishing diplomatic ties with other countries by prioritizing the immigration of “international students” to the U.S. over “laborers.” While policymakers and mainstream press drew on the subsequent career achievements of these students to attest to U.S. racial progress and the superiority of American democracy to build alliance with developing nations, my research focuses on how South Asian international students negotiated their “outsider” status on an everyday level to tell a nuanced tale about race, nation, and social progress. Taken together, my dissertation establishes the central role that institutions of American higher education played in regulating U.S. immigration and serving as entry points for so many different Asian American groups in the late 20th-century. It also builds on the complex and conflicting ways in which race and class shaped the national and transnational belongings of South Asian Americans.