urgency of documenting contemporary South Asian contri-
butions to movements for social transformation first struck me
after I attended the ‘‘Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our
Name’’ conference held at mit in 1994. More than two thousand
attendees had gathered to reflect on the sensationalized public attacks
on Anita Hill and Lani Guinier and the quotidian practices that
delegitimized black women’s scholarship and activism in the academy
(see White 1999, 257–65). During this historic conference, the term
‘‘black women’’ became a contested and contentious category: Who
could claim to be black women and on what basis? For some panelists
and attendees, the presence of Asian American women, including
South Asians, was indecipherable because some African American
women had only encountered Asians as model minorities. It was at
this event that the feminist scholar-activist M. Jacqui Alexander called
for research that would allow people of color in the United States to
become conversant in each other’s histories. Such fluency would re-
quire a familiarity with those histories that had yet to become part of
U.S. academic and activist repertoires of struggles against ethnic-
racial oppression.
When two years later I embarked on the project that led to this
book, I wanted my rendition of South Asian feminist, queer, and
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