POS334-L: THE RACE AND ETHNICITY BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION LIST

Home | Index | Schedule | Archive | Syllabus| New Books | Publication | Subscribing | Host
Archives: | A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z |

From Subject
"sarah a. gill-branion" <sagill@ilstu.edu> Immigrant America (Sarah A. Gill-Branion)
ROBERT MILLER <ltrobmil@HOTMAIL.COM> Immigrant America, A Portrait (Miller)

Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 01:05:08 -0600
From: "sarah a. gill-branion" <sagill@ilstu.edu>
Subject: Immigrant America (Sarah A. Gill-Branion)

Alejandro Portes and Ruben G. Rumbaut. Immigrant America: A Portrait (University California Press: 1990)

Review by: Sarah A. Gill-Branion, Illinois State University, February 24, 1999

Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed: “There is no room for two languages… and two ethnic identities under the same national roof.” (p.209) Concerning immigration, it is understandable he was referring to issues including national security, U.S. homogeneity, language preference, and language efficacy. There are more than two issues surrounding immigration. Other issues are types of immigrants, spatial mobility, and socioeconomic statuses. But, ethnicity and language are among the hotly debated ones in America. In order to know where immigration issues are going, it is essential to know the history of immigration in America. Chapters 1-4 of immigrant America: A Portrait addresses much of the history in American immigration; origins, types, settlement patterns, economic differences, identity and political participation. Chapters 5-7 of the 1990 edition (5-8 of the 1996 edition) address immigrant mental health, acculturation, language, and policy.

Western and Northern Europe were the origins of approximately 80 percent of the immigrants arriving in America between 1780-1820. (Martins/Worth, p. 403-4) Opposition arose after 1820 when a greater number of immigrants arrived from southeastern Europe. Xenophobia arose. The main push for restriction came from the differences in religion. Many of the southeastern immigrants were Catholic or Jewish. The northern and western European immigrants were comprised of Protestant beliefs. The Know Nothing Party, a.k.a. the Native American Party (although not one Athepaskin person was in the self-proclaimed “native American” party) created in the 1850s pronounced their dissent for immigrants as a whole because they believed immigrants posed threats to their job security, religious foundations, and political culture. The Civil War was a diversion that split the Know Nothing Party, which lessened the dissenting views of immigrants. Probably because many immigrants were enlisted in the military along side many “native” Americans. By the late 1800s, the Chinese influx of immigrants was added to the list of unwanted people in America. The list included immigrants mentioned above as well as people who practiced polygamy, polyandry, those convicted of crimes, and people with certain illnesses. Also, Teddy Roosevelt used national security as an excuse to abuse many Japanese immigrants at the end of the 19th century. Policies between the U.S. and Japan only allowed Japanese people to migrate into America if they were coming on a labor basis. They were prohibited from owning agricultural land, leases and real estate in America. There have been increasing trends of America closing its doors to immigrants in the 20th century. In 1920, the foreign born populace reached 13.2 percent of the total population. In 1980, it was 6.2 percent. (Portes/Rumbaut, p.6) World War I immigrants were those seeking refuge form Nazi-dominated countries. By the 1940s, World War II caused labor shortages which were the catalysts for immigration policies to change based on the economic needs of America. For example, the creation of the Bracero program (’51-64) led industries to promote the Migrant Labor Agreement between Mexico and the U.S. (Martins/Worth, p.406) A glossary of immigrants was not addressed until 1948 with the creation of the Displaced Persons Act. (Portes/Rumbaut, p.152) The list of terms for preferred immigrants includes: Asylee/refugee, Labor Migrant, Professional immigrant, and Entrepreneurial Immigrant. Additions and revisions have been made through the years such as the 1990 addition of the Investor Immigrant. (Martins/Worth, p. 407) Here are brief descriptions of each type of preferred immigrant: Asylee- same as refugee; anyone unable or unwilling to return to their home country for fear of persecution or physical harm. Labor Migrant- legal (many times illegal); to obtain work (manual labor) through contracted means. Many times illegal aliens gain legal status by marrying a U.S. citizen.

Professional Immigrant- persons (including their spouses and children) for whom American visas have been reserved based on their membership to professions of exceptional ability: physicians, scientists, and artists. One example was the permitted asylum and later naturalization of the Latvian-born dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov-who defected from the former Soviet Union in 1980’s.

Entrepreneurial Immigrant- persons wit familial or community ties to established business owners in the U.S. Often, existing “ethnic enclaves” such as Korean-town business owners sell their earlier businesses to new arrivals. (Portes/Rumbaut, p. 20) Investor Immigrant- a person permitted to immigrate based on the promise to invest $1 million dollars in an urban area or $500,000 in a rural area and to create new jobs.

The current immigration policy enacted in 1990, which was built on the Immigration Act of 1965, limits the total number of immigrants allowed into America at 675,000 per year for all types. An exception exists with the Investor Immigrant and what is called the “diversity immigrant.” A Diversity Immigrant is one allowed to migrate because of low representation of their country in the U.S. population through a lottery process. (Martins/Worth, p. 409)

Each type of immigrant had a vested interest in sticking together with members of the same ethnic groups. Spatial mobility of immigrants tended to center around ethnic enclaves, as with the Entrepreneurial Immigrant. There were several “advantages to spatial concentration including preservation of valued lifestyles, regulation of pace of acculturation, greater social control over the young, and access to community networks for both moral and economic support.” Moreover, there was strength in numbers at the ballot boxes. (p. 54) As more ethnic groups sought solidarity as a basis for mobilizing the collective vote, immigrant political interests and influences could more readily be felt than if immigrants of the same group were dispersed. At the beginning of the 20th century, “immigration was seen as un-American.” But, immigrant Americans have proven they have “learned the rules of the democratic game and absorbed its values in the process by electing their own to public offices.” (p. 141)

Writer, Georgie Ann Geyer expressed fear (in my opinion) towards the growing ethnic concentration of immigrants. She implied how the concentration will tamper with the cultural foundation of the nation. Portes and Rumbaut argued, “Throughout the history of the U.S., communities created by foreign groups have been a significant force in promoting the growth and economic vigor of cities…and entire regions…with 'syncretic' products…presented as local lore-- St. Patrick’s Day parades, German beer fests, Chinese New Year’s celebrations, Mardi Gras carnivals, Mexican fiestas, etc.” Typical instances sited by Portes and Rumbaut for immigrant mental health relate to the five types of immigrants. Increased levels of depression and distress are associated with the labor migrant because of their vulnerability, disorientation, and servitude to menial jobs that keep them in poverty. They tend to be disoriented because of lack of knowledge of their new social surroundings; vulnerable because of the lack of networks to kin/friends. Labor migrants tend to negatively acculturate into deviant behaviors associated with the dilapidated areas in which they live where crime, and drugs are prevalent. Professional and entrepreneurial immigrants have decreased mental symptoms of distress/depression. They tend to have increasingly informed view of the surrounding environment which empowers them to adapt psychologically. Refugees/asylees have less stress related mental symptoms than labor migrants, but more than professional and entrepreneurial immigrants because of the recent welfare reforms effecting government assistance to legal immigrants. However, refugees/asylees benefit from having increased community networks provided by ethnic enclaves.

Vehement debates about immigrants’ language acquisition and language shift center around linguistic pluralism. “Immigrants have seldom felt ‘as American as everyone else’ because of differences in language…” A zero-sum process compels immigrants to speak English only as a prerequisite for social acceptance and adaptation. Acculturation, or assimilation, involves shedding the old and replacing it with the new. It was here that Roosevelt was wrong. >From the 1960s to the present, the tide has turned away from monolinguals to Bi/multilinguals. Studies by Peal & Lambert (among the many) show that knowledge of more than one language represents a resource both in terms of expanding intelligence horizons and in facilitating communication across cultures. This advantage poses a threat to monolinguals who must compete in the same markets. This occurrence is called, subtractive acculturation; “not English, but English only.”

The most common political model to describe labor migration is the “Push-Pull Model.” For example, wage differentials in places like Gabon, Ethiopia, Burma, Bolivia, or Paraguay, account for the push of the inhabitants to seek to fill in the gaps by migrating to the U.S. The pull by the U.S. is suggested by the authors to come from an “expansionist pattern through which the U.S. sought to remold the country’s immediate periphery” as with the case of policy changes (mention earlier) on immigration where Mexico is concerned.

However, there have been countries that have not contributed to the immigration waves to the U.S. Brazil, for example, for its size has been able to keep the seemingly magnetized pull of the U.S. labor market at bay. Most arguably, the reason given for ease of resistance to Brazilian outflow of people is geographic proximity. Costa Rica, British and Dutch West Indies immigrants are used as examples to counter the geographic proximity claim with regards to the lack of contribution to U.S. immigration. Specifically, the B & D West Indies immigrants settle in the “old colonial metropolis rather than to much closer U.S. destinations.”

Other reasons cropped up for policy changes. A study on the Effects of the Presence of immigrant Workers on Native Workers’ Wages, 1980 cited by Portes and Rumbaut revealed three significant results: (1.) the number of Hispanic immigrants tends to increase the wages of native workers, albeit by a marginal amount (2.) the presence of foreign laborers helps sustain the pace of economic growth and revives declining sectors such as manufacturingfifty-five thousand workers replaced by immigrants found jobs elsewhere, resulting in a decline of industrial wages, but stabilization of the sector’s labor force (3.) immigrant workers can push domestic workers up to better paid supervisory and administrative positionssuch positions may disappear or go abroad in the absence of suitable source of manual labor.

Portes and Rumbaut suggest multiple solutions relative to each type of preferred immigrant. (pp.234-244) Some instances of these were to “control legal entry of labor migrants by having the U.S. government agencies to cooperate with other countries in implementing grass-roots employment to reduce excess labor supplies in sending areas” (Mexico). For professionals and entrepreneurs, the requirement of returning home once a degree is earned in the U.S. for scholarship recipients of Less Developed Countries (LDC) should be maintained and strengthened. Finally, for refugees/asylees, the U.S. and other MNC’s “should be willing to absorb a ‘fair share’ of the displaced persons in relation to their resources and humanitarian,” rather than political, advisements. Back to top...


Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 19:25:02 CST
From: ROBERT MILLER <ltrobmil@HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Immigrant America, A Portrait (Miller)

(Immigrant America, A Portrait), by Alejandro Portes and Ruben G. Rumbaut. University of California Press, Berkley, 1996 Robert Miller ltrobmil@hotmail.com

Immigrant America, A Portrait is a statistical recapitulation of the history of immigration to America. It gives every detail of immigration including such data as origin, numbers, destinations, professions, education level, languages, genders, as well as others. The book details the experiences of people who immigrate by giving statistical analyses of the various groups and their development in the United States. The central thesis of the book is that immigration benefits the economic and cultural growth of the United States. The authors point to various factors that influence people to feel otherwise, but gives substantial counter-arguments.

The book's detail of the journey and destinations of immigrants in the U.S. itself is interesting. The authors discuss both the primary and the secondary destinations of immigrants. This distinction is critical. The primary destination of most immigrants is the region of the U.S. that is closest to their country of origin. For instance, Mexicans initially tend to settle in the Southwest. Asians, on the other hand, initially tend to settle on the Pacific Coast. They then do one of two things. The secondary destination is more relevant than the primary destination.

The post-immigration migration in the U.S. follows one of two models. In the first model immigrants concentrate themselves in one geographic location. In the second model immigrants disperse and find other locations spread across the U.S. that accommodate their skills. The book posits that contemporary thought on immigration leads to the idea that as the populations move through generations their densities will lower. The authors do not agree with this idea. They believe that the ethnic concentrations continue. This can be seen in the Chinese population in the West, which has been a constant since the 1800s. They have, however, also moved into other areas. There are now concentrations of Chinese in Chicago, New York, and Houston. Their secondary destinations are still highly concentrated. The dispersion of immigrants across the U.S. geographically seems to depend on their labor niche. For instance, Indian immigrants seem to be far less concentrated, due to their tendency to be professionals. The skills they bring with them offer them greater mobility. The destinations of political refugee immigrants have completely different characteristics. They are dispersed initially, as is the case with the Vietnamese. They then tend to concentrate themselves in specific geographic areas.

Some specific groups have higher concentrations than others. The Indian immigrants are an example of low density population, while the Dominicans are an example of a high density population. The Dominican immigration to the U.S. is marked by this concentration effect. Their largest numbers are concentrated in New York, with Florida having the second highest concentration. Silvio Torres-Saillant and Ramona Hernandez offer a thorough discussion of the Dominicans’ situation in the U.S. in their book, The Dominican Americans. They highlight the progress that some Dominicans are making in the U.S., but also show the high rates of crime and drug use among the population. Like the Portes and Rumbaut book, The Dominican Americans discusses the immigration trends and the acculturation process experienced by immigrants. The greater successes have been among those who were more easily assimilated, while those less likely to be assimilated fell prey to poverty and crime. The Dominican case is one of particular interest due to the political/economic causes of migration, and the tendency to group in high concentrations according to both books.

The Portes and Rumbaut book also gives significant attention to the descendants of immigrants. It details their educational attainment, political orientation, and their affinity to identify with their parents' country of origin. These measures are most easily studied in the particularly ethnic concentrations of the cities. They provide the basis of study for the book. The authors do not clarify the relationship among the various other factors, which we usually cite as reasons for educational achievement. The most commonly cited factors that guide educational achievement are the level of education of parents, socio-economic status, and geographic location. The book instead concentrates on the influence of the first two, without thorough analysis of the impact of urban or rural barriers. The authors seem to feel that these factors can be eliminated, since immigrants’ residence follows similar patterns depending on their country of origin.

Regardless of the destination of immigrants, they all have to face severe barriers to acculturation. The authors' treatment of the psychological effect of immigration is interesting. It details the effects of immigrating to the U.S. based on the individual's origin, reason for leaving, and their socio-economic status, both prior to leaving and after arriving. They found that these factors seem to describe fairly well the differences. It seems that there are four basic groups. The first group, voluntary immigrants with superior education/skills, had the best possibility of successfully adapting to the American culture. The second group, voluntary immigrants with inferior education/skills, found it more difficult to adapt. The third group, refugees with superior education/skills, seems to have an exceptionally difficult time at first, but they then level out and become adapted after a period of time. The fourth group, refugees that have inferior education/skills, never seem to adapt to American culture. The differences among the four groups correlate the demographic characteristics well to their adaptation, but the authors go further in their discussion. The authors detail the available access to mental health services. Unfortunately, these services are allocated in a descending amount through the four groups, although those in the latter groups need the help the most.

The authors pay particular attention to the discussion of immigrants' access and acceptance of the education system in the U.S. Obviously, immigrants do not always speak English, which is the dominant language in the education system. This makes education very difficult for the first generation, but less so for the second. The language factor is one of the most important factors in the acculturation process. Just as posited for the determination of location, the language factor brings the concentrations up for the recent immigrants, and down for later generations. The impact of language is inextricably tied to their choice of destination. Those who chose to reside in concentrated areas are frequently less exposed to the English language and more likely to be able to survive using only their native tongue, or at most, have limited bilingual abilities.

As mentioned, the authors spend a great deal of time confronting the adaptation of immigrants to the culture of the U.S. The assertions they posit are presented in the easily readable format of tables and charts. They show that the acculturation of immigrants' children depends on not only the community they live in, but also the professions and education of the parents. The greater the diversity of the community and the greater the education level attained by the parents, the greater the likelihood that their children will be adapted to the American culture. Conversely, the lower education levels and higher ethnic community concentration levels tend to stymie the ability of future generations to adapt to American culture. As mentioned, the language factor plays an essential role in the children's ability to adapt. On the whole, however, children of immigrants have a greater capacity to adapt to the English language than do their parents.

The authors conclude with a summary of their views and a discussion of immigration laws and control measures. They discuss the variations in restrictions based on the origins of immigrants and their reasons for making the journey. They cite the relevance of political versus economic migration. They also discuss the difference in professional versus manual labor migrants. The political refugees are favored over economic refugees and the professional workers are favored over manual workers. The authors see this as a system that benefits the U.S., since it selects positively from the populations of origin countries.

The data presented seem to bear out the thesis of the book. They show that on average those who immigrate to the U.S. are better than those who are unable or unwilling to migrate. The exception is immigration due to political circumstances. The authors assert that those who immigrate due to political oppression vary widely. Those who make the journey initially are better than are those who make the journey later. They argue that those who make the journey initially either have more money or are more likely to face persecution. Those most likely to face political persecution are also those who hold high positions in the government or private sector. More thorough statistical analysis might be appropriate, though. The reason for saying this is that the sheer quantity of statistics presented in the book would tend to attract certain types of readers. The authors could have better tailored their book to the readers who enjoy considering statistical research. Had they included mathematical analysis of their statistics, it would have made the book more enjoyable.

The argument of the authors is that immigration has a positive influence on the United States economy and society. They believe that immigrants are selected positively from the populations from which they originate. That is to say, that those who have either the means or the ambition to successfully make the move from foreign countries to the United States are better educated, wealthier, or at least more motivated than their countrymen are. This is, in my opinion, a Darwinist point of view, and should not be taken without further consideration. If this were applied to those already in the United States, what would be the implications for those who live destitute in the urban ghettos, or struggle through poverty in underdeveloped rural areas? I think the answer is obvious. Those who do not achieve in the U.S. are less worthy of success. This is a dangerous proposition. Regardless of the implications, the book is overall enjoyable reading, and the authors support their arguments well.