Faiza Hirji Kassam 1 CERIS Graduate Student Research Award Report Resistance is Futile? Diasporic Cinema and the Construction of Identity in Young Canadians of South Asian Origin This dissertation examines the ways that young Canadians of South Asian origin, especially Muslims, employ Bollywood cinema in the construction of identity. Bollywood film, similar to other forms of cinema, has often been cited as a medium that promotes a strongly defined Indian, Hindu, middle-class identity. As such, Bollywood can be seen as an oppositional force in the face of cultural imperialism, or as a commercial entertainment form that suppresses regional difference and independent production. Alternately, it can be seen as a cultural producer that is both resistant and complicit, nationalist and cosmopolitan, meaningful and shallow. A hybrid form in itself, Bollywood can be interpreted and used by young diasporic viewers in a number of ways as they seek media that represent them and speak to the reality of their complex, pluralist lives. The way in which young people construct identity and sense of self affects their ability to engage positively in civic life, as students, workers, parents, professionals and voters. Media can be important socializing agents, and in particular, popular Indian films have been acknowledged for their ability to educate diasporic South Asian youth about their culture, traditions and values. At a time of increased migration flows and media saturation in many societies, young South Asians living in diaspora are subjected to a number of competing social influences. Despite their fantasy and escapism, Bollywood films promote a distinct version of cultural and national pride, and they also provide a site of commonality and community for disparate young South Asians living in diaspora. Questions of how diasporic young adults construct their identity and sense of self are deeply significant, given nation-states' continued emphasis on civic engagement and integration. The issue of identity construction is particularly crucial in the period following September 11, 2001, when young Muslims of South Asian ancestry have been made to feel acutely conscious of racial and religious markers that may distinguish them from other Canadians. The effect for some has been a sense of marginalization, while others have reacted by attempting to establish their Canadianness more strongly. Many young people, however, have continued to stake out a position with which they were already familiar: attempting to negotiate multiple cultures and educating themselves more thoroughly about the cultural and religious traditions which have historically occupied their lives and still do. Although the participants in this study generally recognized the challenges and imperfections of such a process, they nonetheless found it important to engage with the question of how to negotiate different cultural values, and of defining these values in a way that still allowed them to claim a Canadian identity. Methodology Accordingly, this dissertation involved conducting focus groups and interviews with young Canadians of South Asian origin in order to determine what role the nationalist and cultural values promoted in Bollywood cinema may play in their construction of identity. Participants were 19-29 years of age and had lived in Canada most or all of their lives. Given the study’s emphasis on Muslims, nearly half of the 22 respondents were Muslim, but the rest were Hindu, Sikh, or Christian, providing a basis for comparison. This is important because Bollywood film is so highly infused with a sense of religiosity, and yet it is an occasionally exclusionary or stereotypical sense. The role of religion is even more significant in terms of the media and policy emphasis—nationally and globally—on Muslims as a group whose ability to integrate into the host country may be in question. Participants were interviewed chiefly in Vancouver and Toronto, where the largest communities of South Asians can be found, but some respondents were also recruited in Ottawa. Interviews took place in 2005 and 2006, with the portion sponsored by CERIS occurring between May and August 2006. In total, 22 participants were interviewed and provided complex, meaningful and interesting data. Interpreted in the context of a theoretical framework related to citizenship, migration and hybridity, and in light of the literature already existing on religious and cultural meaning in Bollywood films, Faiza Hirji Kassam 2 CERIS Graduate Student Research Award Report the interviewees’ comments added significant depth to previous studies conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom on Bollywood’s influence. Outcomes and Relevance Bollywood cinema does not play a meaningful role in the lives and identity construction of all of the participants, but its messages of loyalty to India and to certain traditions do have some effect on the young people who view them in diaspora. Some viewers were particularly discerning about the nationalist messages embedded in this cinema, and very few accepted these at face values. Most participants, some of whom came from families with a history of multiple migration, felt some identification with South Asia but they clearly claimed a Canadian national identity. None denied the importance of their South Asian heritage, explicating the ways this functioned in their lives, but some folded this heritage into their Canadian identity by indicating their awareness of the notion of multiculturalism, and the official acceptance of diversity. Many noted the challenges of balancing multiple affiliations and identities, but few suffered from any confusion regarding their national identity. They critiqued those Canadians who could not accept them as fully-fledged citizens, but refused to be cowed by them. Similarly, several noted their refusal to be intimidated by religious or cultural authorities who attempted to impose a particular identity upon them. Media were meaningful in the construction of identity, and some young people did comment on the lasting resonance of particular Bollywood films. However, the influence of Bollywood was contextualized by other factors: family, formal and informal education, other media, travel, and peers. In particular, the first two factors, family and education, were enormously significant, while the influence of media varied considerably from one respondent to the next. Some participants were very knowledgeable about, and attracted to, Bollywood cinema, noting its ability to fill a cultural vacuum during times when other symbols of South Asian culture might not have been readily available or visible. Others were repelled by what they saw as Bollywood’s restrictive portrayals of gender, its thinly veiled prejudice against non-Hindus, and its growing tendency to incorporate sexually explicit themes and costumes. Several balanced these sentiments, acknowledging Bollywood’s ability to provide generally family-friendly entertainment and a positive depiction of South Asian life and culture, while also noting its lack of realism and its limitations in terms of being truly representative. Overall, however, the young people interviewed here had a genuine interest in their heritage and in their country, and felt that there should be no conflict in balancing these feelings. They hinted at a sense of marginalization, which may have been the impetus for their obviously thoughtful explorations of, and insights into, their positionality and their identity. However, they did not appear to be moving towards the kind of alienation experienced by some second-generation immigrants living in European countries, for instance, which has raised alarms for those who study issues of migration and citizenship. For the respondents in this study, there is undoubtedly some ambivalence towards the host country and its policies towards citizenship and multiculturalism, but there is also a conviction that they belong to Canada, that they have no other home to which they are likely to lay claim, and that they will continue to defend their right to a Canadian identity in the face of any opposition.