'You Will See My Family Became so American': Toward a Minor Comparativism
The American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 63, No. 3, 2015
64 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2016
Date Written: October 2015
How does the appearance of racial difference shape our view of citizenship and national identity? This Article seeks to answer that question by examining to early twentieth-century cases involving the naturalization of Indian immigrants in the United States. In United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), the Supreme Court determined that ‘Hindus’ were ineligible for citizenship in the United States because they were not ‘white persons.’ The Court recognized that, although individual immigrants from India had proven themselves capable of cultural assimilation, as a group, they were disqualified because they would remain visually inassimilable. Through a close reading of the Court’s analysis, this Article examines the ways in which law participates in the visual construction of both racial difference and national identity. Dinshah P. Ghadiali was one of several Indian immigrants whom the United States sought to denaturalize in the wake of Thind. Since the Court announced that visual assimilability was the relevant test for naturalization, in 1932, Ghadiali found himself in the peculiar position of having to defend his citizenship by demonstrating to a judge that he looked white. At his denaturalization trial, Ghadiali submitted into evidence several photographs of himself, his children, and his properties, assuring the judge, “You will see my family became so American.” Through a close reading of these photographs, I explore the demands of visual conformity that the law imposes on racialized minorities.
This Article also seeks to introduce to comparative legal scholarship a method of analysis that engages the critical reflections of minoritized subjects to challenge the received authority of legal texts. While comparative legal scholarship seeks to defamiliarize the legal rules, institutions, and culture of one country by comparing them to those of another, the “minor comparativism” proposed in this article seeks to challenge the country’s self-image by engaging the perspective and reflections of its subordinated minorities.
Keywords: race, immigration, comparative law, law and humanities, visual culture, family law
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