Reclaiming the Narrative: The Second-Generation Immigrant Experience in Bollywood Fusion Dance

The collegiate competitive Bollywood dance circuit is generally considered trivial to most Americans, but to a group of marginalized people, it presents an opportunity to engage in dialogue about the Asian American immigrant experience. As such, my question addresses how the Bollywood dance circuit challenges the hegemonic ideologies of what it means to be of Asian American immigrant origin. By providing a stage as a space of agency, dance becomes the medium through which second-generation Asian Americans engage in resistance. Able to share their narratives to their own communities in addition to those around the country, their stories identify the struggles and values of what it means to be uniquely and intersectionally Asian American.

As a leader in the circuit, Anubhav (Northwestern University’s competitive Bollywood Fusion Dance Team) takes on the responsibility of utilizing their visibility to counter the established hegemonic notions against Desi Americans. Since its formation in 2008, Anubhav has placed in over 25 competitions across the nation, including two national championship titles in 2014 and 2016. Their success stems from their unabashed commentary on subjects pertinent to transnational Asian American communities across the country as the issues these groups face relate to their unifying identity as immigrants. Sometimes this comes at a risk as the exchange works both ways. Anubhav reveals what it is like living as a second-generation Asian American not only to the larger American public, it also showcases their American experience to their own Asian communities. By bringing American values into consideration, Anubhav highlights the hegemonic forces at play within its own Asian communities as well.

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Anubhav took on the theme of sexuality and family structure in 2014 as a hegemonic force that dictates both American and Asian values. In addition to showcasing the Asian American experience to the country, Anubhav showcased the LGBTQ+ experience to its own community. The show featured a closeted gay son of a single immigrant mother, who devoted her life to work in order to send his son through school. Motivated by her sacrifice, he gains success in all other aspects of his life to try to make up for his fault as a gay son, eventually leaving the love of his life to marry a woman who would make his mother happy. Aside from the theme of sexual agency in a doubly oppressive environment of American and Indian values, there was an undertone of class and the heteronormative family. The political economic climate works against immigrant minorities, often forcing them to work long hours at jobs no one wants to take. Despite this, a single mother was able to nurture a son that succeeded in the American Dream not in spite of, but because he was a gay Asian American son.

The feminist theme for 2016 explored relationship between gendered agency and cultural citizenship. The plot highlights the divide in the culture of women from India and America by featuring a quiet and obedient immigrant mother bound by tradition juxtaposed by her American-raised, feminist daughter. With her arranged marriage underway, she begins the show by thinking, “Was I to be like my mom and accept my fate as a bride arranged by my traditionalist father, or was I to call my culture sexist and reject my Indian identity? Ma, was I just like you… or was I different?” She grew up being taught that the experiences of white women were representative of how all women encounter sexism, causing her estranged relationship with her mother. The hegemonic femininity of Indian women portrayed clashed with the independent values of Americans, demonstrating how intersectional identities such as sex can differ across cultural dimensions of identity. Furthermore, this show reflects the heteronormativity of the Asian American family dynamic of Flower Drum Song. Both authoritative fathers arranged the marriage while their children fought for their own independence, illustrating some the transnational hegemonic forces that govern Asian American immigrant families.

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This year, Anubhav plans to reappropriate the narrative of immigrants in America. Behind a reinterpretation of Life of Pi would be a commentary of how a family gave up everything for a fresh start in a new world. This turns the racist discourse into pan-ethnic unity as the intersectionality of nations all experience issues concerning immigration. By rejecting the hegemonic forces that give rise to anti-immigration sentiments through the creation of art, Anubhav is participating in resistance that is not too different from A Grain of Sand. Given the political climate from the Trump Administration, they will engage in protest through dance, culture and art to reclaim the narrative about immigration that has been taken away from immigrants by politicians in the media.

As a leader in the circuit, it is imperative that Anubhav sets an example for other minority groups and communities to follow. By telling transnational stories of the second-generation Asian American immigrant experience, they took back the narrative that was stolen from them by hegemonic forces on class, race, sexuality, gender and national identity. Their resistance in the form of dance and art may be small in the grand scheme of the country, but for a group of marginalized individuals, Anubhav is the representation that they would have never gotten.

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