If A Desi Can Be Miniaturized & Automated…

One of those ongoing, identity debates is what term appropriately encompasses “us”. “South Asian” is a little too stuffy, geographic, doesn’t account for some parts of the diaspora, and has a slight of Oriental-ish tinge to it (South of what? Is Europe implicitly the center/norm?). I just don’t go around high-fivin’ South-Asians in da house.

“Desi,” on the other hand, has a nice congenial ring to it and doesn’t seem as loaded with meaning dependent on some relation to the “other”. Plus, it’s “soft” enough that it avoids all those debates about Indian vs. Pakistani vs. Sri Lankan vs. Bhutanese (?) and so on. A 4th gen Fijian Indian is far more easily “desi” than “South Asian”.

But alas, there’s a new sort of Desi out there that might muddy the waters a bit. One use is described here

If a Desi analyzer can be miniaturized and automated into a surgical tool, a surgeon could, for example, quickly test body tissues for the presence of molecules associated with cancer. “That’s the long-term aim of this work,” Dr. Cooks said.

Say whuh? It’s an acronym –

…a tiny spray of liquid that has been electrically charged, either water or water and alcohol, is sprayed on a tiny bit of the fingerprint. The droplets dissolve compounds in the fingerprints and splash them off the surface into the analyzer. The liquid is heated and evaporates, and the electrical charge is transferred to the fingerprint molecules, which are then identified by a device called a mass spectrometer. The process is repeated over the entire fingerprint, producing a two-dimensional image.

The researchers call the technique desorption electrospray ionization, or Desi, for short.

19 thoughts on “If A Desi Can Be Miniaturized & Automated…

  1. “South” Asian is wholly appropriate. It denotes south of “Central Asia”, which is accurate. Specifically, it denotes south of the Himalaya and Karakoram, which are a definitive geographical barrier, and thusly a cultural border.

  2. ‘Soft’ is right. A colleague wondered why a couple of us refer to ourselves as daisies :-) .

  3. 4 · Murali said

    “South” Asian is wholly appropriate. It denotes south of “Central Asia”, which is accurate. Specifically, it denotes south of the Himalaya and Karakoram, which are a definitive geographical barrier, and thusly a cultural border.

    Afghanistan (famously north of the Khyber) is part of South Asia according to many.

    Burma (Part of the Indian empire till 1938 and south of the Himalayas.) is not

    Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia (definitely south of the Himalayas with several shared cultural aspects with the Indian subcontinent including language in some cases).

    Specifically … the term “South Asia” indicates nothing,

    Desi is hardly universally used, but at least is a term that originated from the Indian Subcontinent.

  4. If Black works for a community despite a hazaar and half meanings, a few words out there which are ‘Desi’ hardly seems like a bother.

  5. (South of what? Is Europe implicitly the center/norm?)

    Not south of, but south in. So not relative to Europe at all. Those would be Near East, Middle East, Far East, Orient.

  6. If a Desi analyzer can be miniaturized and automated

    I KNEW this was coming! First to browns, then to robots. They are taking over, people!

  7. I prefer South Asian over desi. The reason? Many of those who use the term desi often seem to think it only covers North Indian and Pakistani Hindi/Urdu speakers. Or only North Indians. Others claim that only those who follow Indic religions are desi (excluding Muslims and Christians). Further, there are many South Asians who don’t even know what desi means or that it is even used as a term, whereas the English ‘South Asian’ makes sense in of itself. I think the only reson the term South Asian sounds “stuffy” is simply because it isn’t used a lot. Personally I think it has a nice ring to it :)

  8. I was somewhat tipsy last night and was leafing through the new Economist that I had just picked up from my mailbox. I love going to the technology sections first, which is the equivalent of reading the cartoon strips first in a daily newspaper, when I spotted this article. The first thought that I had was — this should be on Sepia Mutiny under the category of “non-South Asian, yet Desi”. Then I thought of Desi Arnaz.

  9. South Asia is NOT wholly appropriate, Murali, even if Central Asia is not a eurocentric concept.

  10. I understand that the term “South Asia” comes from the history of 1950s Cold War-funded Area Studies programs, but the subcontinent is truly in the central southern part of the continent of Asia. Relative to Europe it’s way far out there, so I think, relative to terms like “Middle East,” it’s not that bad.

    DizzyDesi, Cambodia, etc., are only considered part of “South Asia” by people who don’t have a strong sense of geography; it’s not a term used commonly in area or international studies when referring to those regions. Much more common is calling that region a) Indochina, or b) Southeast Asia (I’m using these terms in a post-WWI historical context and thus understand they are imperial, colonial, etc., etc.). Afghanistan has shifted over time, but by and large I think most people would group it in Central Asia ever since the 1980 Soviet invasion.

    I like desi, but I understand why it is frustrating for “Southies” (although when you’re from a “North-Western” area everything is South). It’s not really an indigenous or inclusive term, even when it is meant to be, although I much prefer it over something like Hindustani.

    Is the Desi analyzer pronounced “desi” with a soft D, or “Dezzee” like Desi Arnaz? Just curious :)

  11. (South of what? Is Europe implicitly the center/norm?)

    This complaint is simply absurd.

    Uncle Cookiebrown says “what’s the matter, don’t you ABDs study geography? In my day in India, I could draw a map of the world, freehand…yadda yadda yadda”.

    South Asia= The southern part of the Asian continent. South East Asia = The south eastern part. West Asia = Called that for decades by Indians and others. East Asia=China and Taiwan. This is very common usage, as also North East Asia= Japan and Korea.

    How on earth is this geographic nomenclature eurocentric?

    On the other hand, the older terms Near East, Middle East and Far East are definitely Europe centered.

  12. While the cheap Eurocentricism-baiting has been pretty well deconstructed here, I think it’s worth adding that Europeans and Americans refer to Europe/America as “the West,” a term which obviously means “west of the Eurasian land mass.” So the implication that anyone is making Europe “The Center” is pretty absurd, as is the idea that one should be offended to have Westerners consider some place not to be the center of the world. And, anyway, just about every major civilization in history has considered itself to be the center of the world, so it’s kind of ridiculous to single out Eurocentricism for umbrage here. Isn’t the entire pretence for disliking the term “South Asian” itself based on Desi-centricism?

    To the (semi) Eurocentric list, I’d add the Mediterranean, as this literally means “middle of the world.” I say “semi” because that designation still accords North Africa and West Asia with positions just as “central” as that of Europe. And it’s all just relic of the classical period anyway; given the roles that Italy and Greece play in modern Europe, I have a hard time getting too worked up about it.