In her ethnographic account, Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley (Duke University Press), Shalini Shankar ’94 focuses on South Asian American teenagers (“Desis”) during the Silicon Valley dot-com boom.
The diverse students whose stories are told are Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, from South Asia and other locations, including first- to fourth-generation immigrants whose parents’ careers vary from assembly-line workers to engineers and CEOs.
Shankar analyzes how Desi teens’ conceptions and realizations of success are influenced by community values, cultural practices, language use, and material culture, and she provides a compassionate portrait of a vibrant culture in a changing urban environment.
Whether she is considering instant messaging, arranged marriages, or the pressures of the model minority myth, the author keeps the teens’ voices, perspectives and stories front and center. She looks at how Desi teens interact with dialogue and songs from Bollywood films as well as how they use their heritage language in ways that inform local meanings of ethnicity while they also connect to a broader South Asian diasporic consciousness.
Shankar is assistant professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University.