“We Built This Place – We Run This Place”.
Something I’ve always heard from Malayali migrants around the Gulf is that “We built this place” and often, too, especially since Emiratisation / Omanisation / Saudization, “We run this place. How do they think they could they manage without us?”
This music video from Saleh Haddad / Abdulkhaliq speaks to that.
There’s some incoherence at work here in the cultural signs: the kafil / sponsor-employer is dressed as Saudi, while the main worker is dressed as Pathan – but is reading a Malayalam newspaper and watching Hindi TV. Perhaps this is deliberate, to produce a sense of generic ‘South Asian’ migrant (which is in fact how many Arabs do think of anyone hailing from anywhere in South Asia, even naming all such migrants ‘Indian’. Because I’m working among Malayalis I have no idea how Pakistanis or Nepalis feel about being labelled ‘Indian’). The Driver character is dressed as Bangladeshi.
The video plays with various tropes of Gulf migrant life: construction, driving, house-servant work, a shouting boss, Ray-Ban sunglasses, the labourer’s resistance tactic of the ‘go-slow’ – and even the risk of jail (2.53).
I recently published (along with Jane Bristol-Rhys) an article about the endurance of colonial stereotypes of masculinity in the Gulf, and the ways in which Arab men and South Asian men are drawing on different gender regimes and norms of what is considered masculine when they assess each other. This video speaks right into a discourse I’ve found to be widespread among migrants: that a proper man would not depend on others to get the important things done.