Book, lecture aims to critique traditional American history narratives


Raveena Bhalara

Nayan shah, author of the book “Stranger Intimacy” spoke on campus Wednesday. His lecture cited court cases, specifically those referencing sodomy, to challenge many traditional views on immigrant history.

Samuel Liebl

In his new book, visiting scholar Nayan Shah challenges the conventional narrative of the American West centers on white nuclear families.

Shah, a professor at the University of California San Diego, presented his book, “Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West” at a lecture Wednesday. The event was sponsored by the Center for Asian American Studies, the Gender and Sexuality Center, the Institute for Historical Studies and the South Asia Institute.

The center does not have the funds to bring in scholars on its own and would not have been able to host Shah had he not been in the area, said Madeline Hsu, associate professor and director of the Asian American Studies center.

Hsu said the Center for Asian American Studies shares Shah’s goal of disrupting conventional narratives.

“The challenge in Texas is that Asian-Americans are not really integrated into the culture and history of Texas,” Hsu said. “One of the things that we’re trying to do with the center is to be able to document and share these stories [of Asian Americans] and remake how people understand the history of the South and the history of Texas, to be more inclusive of these stories.”

Shah shared stories of South Asian immigrants in the early 20th century that he said he hoped would destabilize the conventional history of the American West.

“I’m trying to capture important dimensions of migrant experience that do not fit neatly with the traditional categories with which we understand immigrant history,” Shah said.

Shah said that the conventional narrative of Asian immigrants immediately assimilating into Western society by forming conventional families does not reflect what really happened.

Shah said he drew much of his material from court cases, especially those based on sodomy.

“I used court cases of seduction and sodomy, gross indecency, murder cases, everything that’s now emblematic of ‘Law & Order: SVU,’” Shah said.

Shah said his work connects to the current debate over gay rights. His research raised issues like the liberty of association and the right to have one’s relationship recognized by the law, he said.

“There are all kinds of possibilities and alternatives that are closed off if we don’t constantly remain curious about what happened in the past and what was ignored,” Shah said.

Printed on Thursday, February 9, 2012 as: Visiting scholar presents new book, gives lecture on migrant experience