Shahr and Pind: Asian Americans and Rural Development

Last month I attended PolicyLink‘s 2008 Regional Equity Conference in New Orleans. The conference covered poverty and racial inequality in the context of the U.S., but it focused on the connections between living spaces — i.e., between neighborhoods, cities, suburbs, and rural lands.

While cities were at the center of the discussion, I spent my last day at the Rural Equity Caucus, where representatives from some of the U.S.’s rural communities (Hawaii, Mississippi and Georgia, California, Connecticut and Massachusetts, North Dakota, Wyoming) gathered to discuss advocacy, development, and the common issues facing their communities. While the conference took place in the South, the overwhelming number of people in the room were from California’s Central Valley. There was some racial diversity among those present — a handful of African American farmers from the South, and a smattering of Latinos/Latino-Americans from California’s rural core, but there were almost no Asian Americans.

I reflected on the narrative and divide between urban/rural communities, but also within rural communities. Within California there is a unique and long community history for Punjabis in the agricultural belts of the state. This history also includes Japanese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Arab-Americans. Those of us from the City may feel a slightly foreign experience walking into neighborhoods that remind us of Punjab’s farming communities. While this “foreign-ness” may be discomfiting, there’s a strange unease knowing that many of these communities lack the comforts we take for granted — including clean, affordable, drinking water and paved roads. However, for the enclaves of Asian American communities living throughout rural America, these broader community concerns are compounded by the critical lack of resources, support, language-access, and services.

When posing this question within a City context, a common response is to place responsibility with “at-risk” communities. It’s true that many of these communities know their own experiences the best. But throughout the country, the trend among the highly skilled — particularly those with a higher education — is to leave for greener pastures.

What does this mean for the many of us who grew up in, or have family living in, rural America? I used to believe that the responsibility for addressing social concerns lay with the greater (ethnic) community, including those metro-folk who benefit from the resources and services produced in rural spaces. After all, the narrative around rural underdevelopment among metro-elites has often paralleled the rhetoric between “developed” and “underdeveloped” countries in the post-WWII era.

The image of rural America is historically white, and it only recently has begun to readmit color into its narrative. Through a variety of factors — spacial and otherwise — Asian Americans have been largely written out of this new narrative. Given these challenges and the very limited resources within rural communities, does it make sense to ask subaltern communities to fund, create, and offer completely different services, or would it make more sense to integrate translators and culturally-relevant programming into pre-existing organizations? We’ve seen this general move with the increasing inclusion of Latino migrant and native communities, both through larger national “affinity” organizations and through non-specific service agencies (e.g., Rural Legal Aid). Given the similar barriers and histories that Asian American communities have faced, is it unreasonable to model resources through inclusion as opposed to duplication?

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2 Responses to “Shahr and Pind: Asian Americans and Rural Development”

  1. There is a hell of difference between rural and urban life. Urban life is better than rural life and it can be seen in whole world whether it is Asia or America. In big cities people have all facilities easily and they have easy access to these but in villages or rural areas people don't have it.But now different organizations are looking forward to rural areas to provide them resources and facilities to draw colors in their lives.

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