The lives of South Asians in America, or desis—a term meaning “of
the land” from the Hindi/Urdu word desh, or country—are both
historically constituted and circumscribed by global processes and
the limitations of what is possible today. Yet some members of this
community, such as South Asian American hip hop artists, take
active roles in their surroundings by disrupting seemingly fixed
ideologies in order to generate new possibilities. In chapter 1 of
this volume, “Alternative Ethnics,” I explore the artists’ ambivalent
relationships to ethnicity and the influence of South Asian par-
ents and peers from recollections of their childhood and college
experiences. While nearly half of the artists grew up in middle-
class, mostly White neighborhoods (as most desis do) where they
have contended with racism from a young age, the other half came
from racially and class-diverse neighborhoods in which they grew
up alongside Blacks and participated in creating hip hop culture.
Thus, class alone does not explain who becomes a hip hop artist;
however, where the artists grew up had broad implications for
their interactions with Blacks and their experiences with racism. I
illustrate the critique by these artists of expectations of ethnic au-
thenticity expressed within American South Asian communities as
hegemonic notions of desiness—that is, as conservative responses
to displacement, racism, and a desire to fit high up in American
society. Their production of “ethnic hip hop” illustrates a process
of sampling.
These individuals turn toward alternatives by rejecting not only
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