Roots and Reflections


Routes and Reflections:  South Asians in the Pacific Northwest

by Amy Bhatt & Nalini Iyer

Available now for order through the University of Washington Press.

So sometimes I would write home, write a letter. You know, in those days telephone was impossible. As a matter of fact, when I came to Seattle and I moved into the house, if you wanted to call India, we would place the call in the evening about six o’clock. And we’ll get the connection about four or five in the morning. You called the operator—“I want to call India, such and such number,” and then she called you back…That was big deal, getting a call through to India [and you had to shout at the top of your voice to be heard on the other end]. And now you just pick up the phone and dial and there it is. And the connection is very, very clear—like you’re talking to anybody here in Redmond or Seattle.  -Sat Kapahi

The India that Sat Kapahi left in the 1950s had no private telephone companies, few phone lines in most family homes, and mailing a letter took almost three weeks from leaving the Seattle post office and arriving in Delhi.  Today, India is but a Skype call or email away.  Over the past six decades, South Asian migration to the Pacific Northwest has changed dramatically and the world in which immigrants live has also expanded to include new diversities and experiences. Routes and Reflections:  South Asians in the Pacific Northwest is a cultural history of South Asian immigration that explores these changes by examining life stories of settlers who came to the Pacific Northwest between the 1940s and the 1990s.

In this book, Amy Bhatt and Nalini Iyer draw on oral histories from the South Asian Oral History Project at the University of Washington Libraries, archival material, and popular culture representations to explore the various routes that brought South Asians to the Pacific Northwest, their motivations for leaving their homelands, and their experiences upon arrival.  Starting with an introduction to early immigrants who were among the very first from South Asia to come to the United States between the 1890s and 1920s, this book captures the nuances and intricacies of immigrant life following the Second World War.

Tackling issues like dealing cultural dislocation, adapting to new educational systems, labor markets, and regional industries, forming families, negotiating gender roles, intimate relationships and inter-generational differences, and developing new community institutions, this book uses stories to explore the local dimensions of a global phenomenon.

What emerges is that the notion of the “South Asian community” is a contested one and cannot be understood either as a model minority or an exotic other, but as groups of people whose experiences are distinctly located and shaped by the Pacific Northwest. From the proliferation of bhangra-style exercise classes to dosa and chaat cafes to entire strip malls dedicated to South Asian businesses, South Asians have made an indelible impact on the suburban hills and valleys that edge the metropoles of the Pacific Northwest.

This book thus contributes to migration studies and postcolonial area studies by demonstrating how regional histories are essential for complicating and deepening understandings of both regions and communities. It also speaks to debates in diaspora studies and ethnic studies by showing how South Asian American history is a history of geo-political shifts, changing boundaries, and new patterns of global movement. By situating individual stories within larger historical patterns of immigration, settlement, and community-building that cut across the Pacific Northwest and the United States at large, the life histories profiled in this book also reflect the continuities and differences across time periods that shape immigrant experiences.

Bhatt and Iyer craft a narrative about diaspora, immigrant community formation, and changing regional affiliations by foregrounding the voices of individuals, but do so with critical reflection on how people actively create images of themselves, reinterpret the worlds that they have encountered, balance assimilation and cultural continuity, constantly negotiate their connections to homeland, family, and national identity—and ultimately show how despite the various routes that led them here, South Asians are very much rooted in the Pacific Northwest.

Press and Publicity

“The authors address different social mores for women and men, as well as organizations created to support progressive world agendas and help individuals. Highly recommended.”
Choice, July 2013

“It’s directly relevant to the immigration debate being waged at a national level. In particular, it reveals how policies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 continue to dictate who gets to come to the U. S. in terms of country.”
-Shiwani Srivastava, International Examiner, March 2013

“The resulting interviews were so rich in life experience and so telling in diasporic drama . . . Amy Bhatt and Nalini Iyer have collaborated to share some of these stories in book form and provide context for them within the bigger picture of Pacific Northwest history.”
-Barbara Lloyd McMichael, Bellingham Herald, February 2013

“A timely intervention in the field of South Asian diaspora studies . . . this study veritably nuances and complicates the prototypes of South Asian immigrant narratives made popular by fictions of Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, to offer an account that, in its diversity and rich detail, is going to be of seminal interest to students and scholars across disciplines.”
-Sreyoshi Sarkar, South Asian Review

“An intimate, transnational narrative that sheds light on the political turmoil that pushed many emigrants out of their countries in South Asia and the educational and professional opportunities that pulled them to the Pacific Northwest. . . . [A] readable and captivating narrative.”
-Jennifer Macias, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

“Informative, insightful, and a model for using oral histories as the primary narrative mechanism for driving a publication that has appeal for scholars as well as more general readership. . . . I recommend Roots and Reflections to anyone who considers collaboration to be an opportunity for rethinking methodologies in the social sciences and humanities as well as an integral component to feminist praxis. Overall, the book offers an exceptional model for using oral histories as well as archival material in a manner that is respectful to the narrators and both engaging and informative to the reader.”
-Sarah Dziedzic, Oral History Review

Roots and Reflections is an accessible and engaging text. It would be useful in undergraduate courses on Asian American history and help generate productive discussions in other courses about methodology, specifically oral history and community-based scholarship.”
-Seema Sohi, American Historical Review


Book Reviews:

Dearinger, Ryan. “Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 117, no. 4 (2016): 659-660.

Dziedzic, Sarah. Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.” Oral History Review 42, no. 1 (2015): 154-156.

Sohi, Seema. “Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.” American Historical Review 120, no. 5 (2015): 1908-1909.

Macias, Jennifer. “Roots and Reflections.” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 105, no. 2 (2014): 97.

Shah, Nayan. “Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.” Western Historical Quarterly 45, no. 3 (2014): 351-352.

Gerbitz, David, “Roots & Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest,” Journal of the West 52, no. 1 (2013): 78-79.

Hervey, N.J. “Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest” (rated HIGHLY RECOMMENDED). CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries 50, no. 11 (2013): 2084-2085.

Khan, Shehla Aftab. “Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.” Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies: Alam-e-Niswan 20, no. 1 (2013): 111-114.

Sarkar, Sreyoshi. “Roots and Reflections: South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.” South Asian Review 34, no. 2 (2013): 151-153.

Popular Media Reviews:

Interview on Weekday with Steve Scher, KUOW Seattle, April 17, 2013:

Book review in the International Examiner:

Print version of International Examiner review:

Video clip on Firstpost:

Book review in the Bellingham Herald:

Spotlight in the UMBC Weekly Insights:

Spotlight in Seattle University’s Arts & Sciences news:

Sections of the South Asian Oral History Project were featured in an interactive exhibit at the Ellis Island National Immigration History Museum opening in July 2011.

Living history, India Abroad,Nov 21, 2008.

Indian Americans Write Their Own History in Seattle, India West, Jan. 23, 2009.

KUOW Presents: South Asia in the Northwest, Feb 2, 2008.

A librarian’s gift: Oral history project preserves memories of South Asian immigrants, UW Weekly, Nov 29, 2007.