How does place-making help migrants understand and disrupt racial narratives? What role does mentoring play in academic progression and in everyday life? How can scholars move past monetary definitions of self-worth as academia becomes increasingly corporatized?

In Episode 38 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach and guest Surbhi Malik discuss the complex place-making practices migrants employ, how she mentors students to consider their whole selves even while in academia, how she went from hosting an American music radio show in India to hosting an Indian music radio show in the US, and how public projects like radio and activism inform all of her scholarly work and taught her how to both identify and resist colonial legacies.

This episode of Imagine Otherwise is part of Signal Boosting, a podcast miniseries collaboration between the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Ideas on Fire, and the Association for Asian American Studies. Each week during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re highlighting an emerging scholar who is building new audiences for the field of Asian American studies. The Signal Boosting miniseries aims to show how interdisciplinary scholars, activists, and artists are producing socially engaged work in multimedia forms, as well as inspire you to create your own.

We invite you to check out the episode, as well as our show notes and highlights below.

Guest: Surbhi Malik

Surbhi Malik is an Assistant Professor of English at Creighton University. As an emigrant twice displaced, from India to Chicago and Chicago to Omaha, Nebraska, she is fascinated by how we imagine place and the role this imagination plays in the direction that diasporic journeys take. Specifically her research on South Asian diasporic literature and film thinks about place as a repository not simply of individual memory or national identity but of the cultural imagination of transatlantic geopolitics. She is currently working on her book-length project titled The Diasporic Itinerary: Place and Transatlantic Geopolitics in South Asian Diaspora Cultures, which argues that place-based imagination explains the comparative mythologies, histories, and fictions of Anglophilia and Americophilia and how these forces have differentially shaped the racial meanings of South Asians. Her work has been published in Journal of Creative Communications, Journal of Religion and Society, South Asian Review, and is forthcoming in the anthology Worlding Asia: Asian/Pacific/American/Planetary Convergences. She was the recipient of an American Association of University Women (AAUW) Fellowship, an honor that has intensified her commitment to mentoring women students. She has also hosted radio shows in both India and the United States.

We chatted about

  • Place-based imagination in the South Asian diaspora (03:00)
  • How South Asian scholars have disrupted concepts of the “model minority,” Anglophilia, and Americaphilia (07:45)
  • How Surbhi’s own placement in the American midwest shaped her scholarship and mentoring (13:00)
  • Finding voice through radio (21:00)
  • Rewarding public scholarship in an era of corporatized academia (23:45)
  • Imagining Otherwise (29:30)


Place-making and displacement

“Usually our response to the idea of place in the case of displacement is placelessness, or metaphorical homelessness. I am trying to instead really think about what places mean in that context.”

Gaining new perspectives through the immigration process

“I was really struck by how the experience of colonialism is almost every day. It is ingrained into your life and you don’t really notice it. That distance that immigration gave me helped me process some of that.”

Shedding a positive light on mentoring

“There is a lot of stigma attached to women seeking help in all the spheres, whether it’s at the professional level or at the student level. That has something to do with how we view ambitious women in society. […] When men seek help, when men seek mentoring relationships with seniors or role models, we call it networking. When women seek similar relationships and help, they are seen as inherently deficient and therefore in need of help. I want to change that narrative.”

Seeking a broad audience for scholarly work

“The one thing that I would like to urge all my fellow scholars, fellow colleagues, and fellow researchers to note is that even though there might not be institutional rewards built in, getting out into public forums enriches my scholarship, enriches my pedagogy, and honestly it makes me a better teacher.”

The importance of speaking frankly about race in the current political era

“I want my language to be very cognizant of my own exclusions and marginalizations. This particularly resonates with me as an Asian American scholar working in the midwest.”

Imagining otherwise

“I want to strive for a world in which our worth as a person, our measure of success is not money. That topic is particularly important to me as I think about the corporatization of the university.”

More from Surbhi

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

About Signal Boosting

This episode and the Signal Boosting miniseries is a collaboration between Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency that works with progressive, interdisciplinary academics, the Association for Asian American Studies, the primary research and teaching hub for Asian American Studies as a dynamic, interdisciplinary field, and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, a migratory museum that brings Asian Pacific American history, art and culture to you through innovative museum experiences online and throughout the United States.

Sign up for our newsletter

Podcast episodes, articles, and offers right to your inbox to help you rock your interdisciplinary career

Our Privacy Policy