‘It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re born’: re-theorizing diaspora and homeland in postcolonial Malaysia
Sharmani Patricia GABRIEL
ABSTRACT The concept of diaspora enjoys a significant currency in contemporary cultural theory. Its descriptive paradigm associates it with the shared experience of displacement, a sense of common origins, and a material or symbolic attachment to the ‘original’ homeland. This traditional framework overlooks diaspora as a narrative of national desire which enables contestation and disruption of dominant hierarchies and ideologies of nation from within the territorial, political, and cultural boundaries of the nation. It is this neglected aspect of diaspora as a narrative of national identification that is addressed in this paper, which examines the significance of contemporary diaspora cultural politics and formations vis-à-vis the exclusionary hegemonies and workings of the nation-state. In this sense, it seeks to re-orientate diaspora as a conceptual process that brings to the fore the ‘routed’ dimensions in the national affiliations and longings of marginalized minority communities. Focusing on the postcolonial nation-state of Malaysia and its literary productions, the paper’s point of anchorage and discussion, to paraphrase Paul Gilroy, is ‘where you’re born’, rather than ‘where you’re from’. This shift from a descriptive to a processual approach to diaspora enables more inclusive and emancipatory ways of reading both diaspora and homeland.
KEYWORDS: Diaspora, homeland, identity, nation-state, national identity, Malaysia
Sharmani Patricia Gabriel teaches cultural studies and postcolonial literature in the Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. She read for a doctorate in literary and postcolonial studies at the University of Leeds, UK under the auspices of the Commonwealth Academic Staff Award and was also a Fulbright Scholar at Northern Illinois University, USA. Her research interests revolve around issues of diaspora, race/ethnicity, nationalism, national identity, and multiculturalism within the politics of the nation-state. She has published numerous articles in leading journals in the humanities and social sciences.