Feminist Genealogies of Public Health: Migrant Survivors, Domestic Violence, and Logics of Citizenship

Soniya Munshi, Associate Professor

Ethnic and Race Studies

Type of Leave
Fellowship Award for Research
Full year starting Fall 2021

Project Description

Marigold flowers
Marigold from Pixabay

My project is a memoir-in-essays through which I trace my journey into anti-violence work in the 1990s Midwest and my pathway back to my family in the context of my father’s health crisis in a post-9/11 New York City. I explore how the lessons I learned (and, un-learned) from gender justice movements about gender and power, the inadequacy of punishment as a response to the harms of violence, and abolitionist feminist practice to build abundant, safe, healthy worlds were both informed by my experiences in my family as well as served to transform my relationships.

The first half of the memoir locates my personal story within the cultural and social history of the anti-violence movement in the U.S. I begin with my first encounters with work to end domestic violence and sexual assault in Minnesota, one of the hubs of the anti-violence movement, soon after the first Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994. I later move to my work to respond to interpersonal and state violence in the South Asian immigrant community in the NYC area in the years before, during, and after 9/11. Through my stories about my experiences in these spaces, I write about the history of the “battered women’s movement,” the ways that neoliberal and carceral feminisms shaped the growth and direction of anti-violence work, and the resistance forged by abolition feminism, working class immigrant women epistemologies, queer and trans visions for safety, and other efforts towards gender justice.

The second half of the book moves into my experiences as a care worker for my South Asian immigrant father during the last years of his life. Here, my personal story is located within the context of South Asian American history. I explore his migration to the U.S. as a social worker in a public hospital in a time when most Asian immigrants worked in STEM fields, the formation of South Asian community in 1970s New York City and how class, religion, caste, and other social positions shaped networks of care, how our communities address issues of mental health, and the long histories of women of color organizing to gain recognition and labor rights for home and health care work. In writing about my experiences with my father in this time of his life, I engage the ways that the anti-violence movement offered me tools to understand how power and violence operate in everyday ways in interpersonal relationships as well as in our interactions with institutions such hospitals and healthcare facilities.

My hope is that this memoir’s engagement with my own story in the context of the shifting terrain of gender justice work in the U.S. offers a contribution to our thinking and action about social change at the individual, interpersonal, and collective levels as well as how we engage questions of healing, illness and disability, and aging in Asian American communities.

Soniya Mushi’s faculty page