Theses Doctoral

Coming of Age in Multiracial America: South Asian Political Incorporation

Bhojwani, Sayu

America has long been a nation of immigrants, but never before has it been as multiracial as it is today. This diversity coincides with an evolving political landscape, in which the role of political parties is declining, and nonprofits are increasingly more relevant in immigrant mobilization. In this multiracial and dynamic political arena, racial and ethnic groups are learning both how to build political power and how to negotiate for power across racial and ethnic lines. Among the many groups engaged in this process of political incorporation are South Asians, and this research looks at their political incorporation through a case study of New York City using elite interviews of nonprofit leaders, elected officials and political candidates. Often portrayed as a model minority, South Asians are perceived as well-integrated into American life. This study sought to assess whether in fact this perception applies to political incorporation, through the exploration of these questions: (1) In what ways do South Asians participate in electoral and non-electoral activities? What does their participation or nonparticipation indicate about their incorporation into the American polity? (2) How do socio-economic status and occupational sector influence and/or determine the ways in which South Asians are mobilized and the type of participation in which they engage? (3) What are the factors associated with South Asians' ability to achieve descriptive representation, particularly at the local level? and (4) What role do cross-racial and issue-based coalitions play in South Asians' ability to achieve their political goals such as representation and policy making?

The findings indicate that there is no common South Asian agenda across socioeconomic status, that the community's electoral impact is limited by the small number of registered South Asian voters, and that low-income South Asians are increasingly likely to be mobilized by nonprofits and other political actors. Further, the results suggest that South Asians are likely to remain dependent on multiracial coalition building as a strategy for electoral and policy gains, including for electing descriptive representatives. The study concludes that contemporary immigrant incorporation must be examined within the following frameworks: nonlinear pathways of participation, differential emphasis on national and local descriptive representation, and coalition building as a measure of political success, particularly in multiracial contexts.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Politics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 7, 2014