Desi Land

Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley

Desi Land

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: Published: October 2008

Author: Shalini Shankar

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian American Studies, Cultural Studies

Desi Land is Shalini Shankar’s lively ethnographic account of South Asian American teen culture during the Silicon Valley dot-com boom. Shankar focuses on how South Asian Americans, or “Desis,” define and manage what it means to be successful in a place brimming with the promise of technology. Between 1999 and 2001 Shankar spent many months “kickin’ it” with Desi teenagers at three Silicon Valley high schools, and she has since followed their lives and stories. The diverse high-school students who populate Desi Land are Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs, from South Asia and other locations; they include first- to fourth-generation immigrants whose parents’ careers vary from assembly-line workers to engineers and CEOs. By analyzing how Desi teens’ conceptions and realizations of success are influenced by community values, cultural practices, language use, and material culture, she offers a nuanced portrait of diasporic formations in a transforming urban region.

Whether discussing instant messaging or arranged marriages, Desi bling or the pressures of the model minority myth, Shankar foregrounds the teens’ voices, perspectives, and stories. She investigates 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. She analyzes how teens negotiate rules about dating and reconcile them with their longer-term desire to become adult members of their communities. In Desi Land Shankar not only shows how Desi teens of different socioeconomic backgrounds are differently able to succeed in Silicon Valley schools and economies but also how such variance affects meanings of race, class, and community for South Asian Americans.


Desi Land is a rewarding read. Shankar deftly weaves teen narratives and theoretical analysis to present a compelling and spirited portrait of youth in a time of transition. By bringing the study of pragmatics to bear on sociolinguistic concerns with style and identity in an ethnography of material culture, her monograph attends to processes of ‘diasporization’ in sites of settlement, thus adding to recent attempts to remake diaspora studies. . . . Written in an accessible and engaging tone, Desi Land delivers a useful contribution to a linguistic anthropology of education that should appeal to undergraduates and scholars of globalization, multilingualism, race, class and diaspora.” — Kitana Ananda, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

Desi Land offers important insights into a community and a generation in transition. . . . Shankar’s study provides an important corrective to the overidealised ‘American (Desi) Dream’ while recognising too its enduring power and promise for successive generations.” — Claire Alexander, Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

“[A] fascinating look at South Asian American youth culture at a pivotal moment in modern American history. . . . The highly particular nature of this book belies its richness; Shankar delves deeply into the interplay of race, class, gender and social status. . . . This book’s vibrancy and immediacy, even a decade later, make it an absorbing read for anyone interested in cultural studies.” — Jennifer Wedemeier, Feminist Review blog

“Magic happens when a work from academia transcends the straitjacket of social science jargon and floats across the page like literature: the characters are given life; the setting is vividly rendered; and the dialogue is memorably fresh. Shalini Shankar pulls her rabbit out of the Silicon Valley hat she calls Desi Land.” — Rajesh C. Oza, India Currents

“Shankar’s book is a compelling and intelligently mediated ethnographic study of Desi teen culture and their families who made their homes in famous Silicon Valley in California during the high-tech boom of the late 1990s and early twenty-first century. . . . It is not easy to do justice to Shankar's insightful and compelling read of Desi land. More than a description of Desi lives in Silicon Valley, the book is an astute analysis of the ways in which the quotidian becomes enmeshed in the larger societal and cultural issues around identity, belonging and the politics of place.” — Vivienne Muller, M/C Reviews

“This is a really enjoyable and instructive read, highly recommended.”
— Kiran Morjaria, South Asia Research

“Using a lively, lucid style, Shankar draws on her field work to discuss how desi youth fashion race, class, and gender identities. . . . What is striking about the book is its discussion of a group that is a hyper odel minority, particularly at this moment and in this region, and that constructs its identity in relation to notions of the American Dream and mythologies of unlimited growth and expanding possibilities that obscure racial and class inequality.” — Sunaina Maira, Contemporary Sociology

“With Desi Land, Shankar has succeeded in presenting a well-researched, well-executed ethnography that captures an American experience that will benefit Asian American Studies and beyond.” — Rupa Pillai, Southwest Journal of Cultures

“An excellent, ethnographically rich study of the lives and practices of young South Asian Americans living in Silicon Valley, Desi Land lends itself to use in courses in fields including anthropology, cultural studies, gender studies, and Asian American studies. What I like best of all is that Shalini Shankar trains her lens on a particular generation’s experience while providing us with a rich cultural history of life in Silicon Valley at the turn of the twenty-first century.” — Purnima Mankekar, author of Screening Culture, Viewing Politics

“In this exciting book, Shalini Shankar writes about Desi teens in Silicon Valley with deep sympathy, humor, and genuine insight. The high-school students come alive through ethnographic detail, and yet Shankar’s analysis is sharp and thought provoking. Her theoretically sophisticated approach to diversity makes an important contribution to urban anthropology. I will recommend this book to everyone I know—scholars, educators, and advocates—who works with twenty-first-century youth.” — Jan English-Lueck, author of Cultures@SiliconValley

“Shalini Shankar’s Desi Land is a loving portrait of young people trying their best to fashion culture and life in jobless America. Thick description and rich analysis of young Desis is an eye-opener, whether you’re wearing your mad tight color contacts or not.” — Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Shalini Shankar is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface and Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Welcome to Desi Land 1

1. California, Here We Come, Right Back Where We Started From 25

2. Defining Desi Teen Culture 53

3. Living and Desiring Desi Bling Life 80

4. Desi Fashions of Speaking 100

5. Being FOBulous on Multicultural Day 119

6. Remodeling the Model Minority Stereotype 142

7. Dating on the DL and Arranged Marriages 167

8. In the New Millennium 193

Postscript 211

Appendix 1: Student Interview 213

Appendix 2: Faculty Interview 218

Appendix 3: Parent and Relative Interview 220

Appendix 4: Student Survey 223

Notes 225

Glossary of Hindi and Punjabi Terms 237

Bibliography 239

Index 263
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4315-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4300-4
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