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In Place / Out of Place: Punjabi-Sikhs in Reno, Nevada
AuthorBenson, Heather Lené
AdvisorBerry, Kate A.
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Plenty of research has focused on major immigrant destination metropolitan areas (Singer, Hardwick, & Brettell, 2008); however, little work has focused on small to mid-sized urban areas and re-emerging immigrant gateways (Singer, 2015). The greater Reno metropolitan area in Nevada, which in the early 21st-century is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, has re-emerged as an immigrant destination, yet it has been largely overlooked in scholarship. With this work, I fill the gap in the literature by exploring the lived experiences of an understudied, BIPOC transnational group (Punjabi-Sikhs) in a small to mid-sized and previously overlooked re-emerging immigrant gateway (the greater Reno area). This study investigated the socio-spatialities of Punjabi-Sikhs and their experiences with geographies of inclusion/exclusion during the early twenty-twenties, a period broadly characterized by the COVID-19 pandemic, a contentious political election, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, and a surge in neo-nationalism and anti-Asian sentiment. I argue that the national and international public issues that became ever more apparent in the early twenty-twenties uniquely affected BIPOC and migratory groups in re-emerging immigrant gateways and small to mid-sized urban areas and resulted in new and unexpected socio-spatialities and geographies of inclusion and exclusion. Specifically, this work focuses on how Punjabi-Sikhs experience and navigate these new and complex geographies in the greater Reno area of Northern Nevada. To better understand these complex geographies, this research focused on three topics: (1) how the lived experiences and socio-spatialities of Punjabi- Sikhs have been impacted and navigated, (2) the implications of losing transnational gathering spaces during the pandemic, and (3) how the Punjabi-Sikh body has been Othered in everyday spaces during this tumultuous period. The qualitative phenomenological analysis presented in this dissertation relied on participant observation, semistructured interviews, and focus groups with fifteen Punjabi-Sikh men and women who resided in the greater Reno area. Fieldwork was conducted during the 2020-2021 global pandemic, the 2020 presidential election, and the final year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, a presidency widely described as embracing a neonationalistic agenda. When considering the current ever-changing social and political atmosphere, some general trends are evident: a consistent rise in anti-Muslim, anti-minority, and anti-immigrant discourse; increased xenophobic political rhetoric that translates into socio-spatial exclusion; and a lack of worldly knowledge among members of the general public that results in increased negative stereotyping and discrimination against Punjabi-Sikhs and other BIPOC and migratory communities. However, the findings of this research also show that Punjabi-Sikhs are incredibly resilient and have developed sophisticated strategies for navigating adverse social and political landscapes. Thus, this research highlights the strength acquired through resiliency by these communities into creative and effective solutions.