By Aaron Sayama, Summer 2012 Intern
Pawan Dhingra is the founding curator for the HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project and is the Chair of the Department of Sociology at Tufts University. His latest book, Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream, examines the relationship between the Indian American motelier and the idea of American exceptionalism.
Drawing from first-hand field research, Dr. Dhingra fuses Indian American motelier narratives with various theoretical perspectives to create a balanced and full portrayal of Indian Americans in the motel industry. Dr. Dhingra deftly explores the different means Indian Americans create professional appearances to sustain the growth of their local businesses.
The book concludes with Dr. Dhingra calling for the reassessment of three main threads uncovered while conducting research: the narratives of success, immigrant adaptation, and regionalism. These threads of research follow traditional and received logic about how and why immigrants succeed within America: the utilization of ethnic networks, the notion that attainment—of education, of income—leads to adaptation, and the role regions play in constructing the lives of immigrants. Indeed, Dhingra’s insightful call for a more nuanced approach to how “immigrants construct meanings about and navigate their environment” leaves open the door to more scholarship that complicates the traditional, vertical trajectory of the entrepreneurial immigrant.