Multiculturalism in the United States: Current Issues, Contemporary Voices
Publication Year: 2000
This reader focuses on the extremely current, important topic of racial and ethnic experiences in the United States today. Most of the essays were commissioned especially for this reader and have been prepared by some of the brightest voices in this cutting edge field. Instructors in search of a current, comprehensive multicultural reader will find this a valuable student resource whether it is the sole focus of their course or to be integrated into another content area.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Titles of Related Interest from Pine Forge Press[Page ii]
Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change, 2nd Edition by Joseph F. Healey
Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World by Stephen Cornell and Doug Hartmann
Diversity in America by Vincent Parrillo
Global Inequalities by York W. Bradshaw and Michael Wallace
Illuminating Social Life: Classical and Contemporary Theory Revisited by Peter Kivisto
Key Ideas in Sociology by Peter Kivisto
Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life, Third Edition by David Newman
Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life, (Readings) Third Edition by David Newman
Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption by George Ritzer
The McDonaldization of Society, New Century Edition by George Ritzer
Social Statistics for a Diverse Society, Second Edition by Chava Frankfort-Nachmias and Anna Leon-Guerrero
Adventures in Social Research: Data Analysis Using SPSSTM for Windows 95/98® Versions 9.0 and 10.0 with 1998 GSS Data by Earl Babbie, Fred Halley, and Jeanne Zaino
Investigating the Social World: The Process and Practice of Research, Second Edition by Russell K. Schutt
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Multiculturalism in the United States: Current issues, contemporary voices / edited by Peter Kivisto and Georganne Rundblad.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7619-8648-0 (pbk.: alk. paper)
1. Pluralism (Social sciences) United States. 2. Multiculturalism—United States. 3. United States-Ethnic relations. 4. United States—Race relations. 5. Minorities—United States—Social conditions. I. Kivisto, Peter, 1948– II. Rundblad, Georganne. E184.A1 M854 2000
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
About the Editors[Page v]
Peter Kivisto (Ph.D., New School for Social Research) is Professor and Chair of Sociology at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. Among his books dealing with race and ethnicity in the United States are Americans All (1995), American Immigrants and Their Generations (1990), The Ethnic Enigma (1989), and Immigrant Socialists in the United States (1984). Active in several professional organizations, he is currently a member of the Executive Board of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society.
Georganne Rundblad (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign) is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Illinois Wesleyan University. The courses she teaches include Marriage and Family; Medical Sociology; Sex and Gender in Society; Race and Ethnic Relations; Class, Status, and Power; and Work and Occupations. She has published journal articles in Teaching Sociology, Multicultural Prism: Voices from the Field (with Thomas J. Gerschick), and Gender and Society.
About the Contributors[Page vi]
Amy E. Ansell is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bard College.
Cheryl L. Cole is Associate Professor of Sociology and Kinesiology and in the Women's Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Sharon M. Collins is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
F. James Davis is Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at Illinois State University.
Sara K. Dorow is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota.
Mary Patrice Erdmans is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Thomas Faist is a Research Sociologist at the University of Bremen.
Joe R. Feagin is Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida.
Abby L. Ferber is Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Timothy P. Fong is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies and Director of the Asian American Studies Program at California State University at Sacramento.
Nathan Glazer is Professor Emeritus in Sociology and Education at Harvard University.
Steven J. Gold is Associate Professor at Michigan State University.
Kevin Fox Gotham is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Tulane University.
Andrew Hacker is Professor of Political Science at Queens College and the City University of New York.
Jennifer L. Hochschild is Professor of Politics at Princeton University.
Gerald David Jaynes is Professor of Economics and in the Program of African and African American Studies at Yale University.
Sut Jhally is Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
C. Richard King is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Drake University.
Samantha King is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Kinesiology and Women's Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Justin Lewis is Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
C. Eric Lincoln is Professor of Religion and Culture at Duke University.
Sarah J. Mahler teaches in the Sociology Department at Florida International University.
Lawrence H. Mamiya is Associate Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Vassar College.[Page vii]
Pyong Gap Min is Professor of Sociology at Queens College and the City University of New York.
Joan Moore is Professor of Sociology, Emerita, at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
Joane Nagel is Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas.
Orlando Patterson is Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.
Alejandro Portes is Professor of Sociology at Princeton University.
Joseph T. Rhea is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Arizona State University.
David O. Sears is Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Rocky L. Sexton is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Augustana College.
John David Skrentny is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California at San Diego.
Charles Fruehling Springwood is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Stephen Steinberg is Professor of Sociology at Queens College and the City University of New York.
Ronald Takaki is Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.
Orlando P. Tizon received his Ph.D. in Sociology at Loyola University in Chicago.
Hernán Vera is Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida.
James Diego Vigil teaches in the Anthropology Department at the University of Southern California.
Roger Waldinger is Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Howard Winant is Professor of Sociology at Temple University.
Robin M. Williams, Jr., is Henry Scarborough Professor of Social Science, Emeritus, at Cornell University.
William Julius Wilson is Professor of Sociology at the Kennedy School, Harvard University.
Alan Wolfe is Professor of Sociology at Boston University.
Min Zhou is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
About the Publisher[Page viii]
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At the dawn of the twenty-first century, it is clear that the United States is a multicultural society. It is, however, not altogether clear what it means to be multicultural.
- Does it mean that the nation inevitably will suffer from a disintegration of a shared sense of national identity as racial groups opt to define themselves primarily in terms of their own particular group identities?
- Or, on the contrary, does multiculturalism suggest openness to diversity and difference and a revived sense of inclusiveness?
- What does it mean to be a member of a particular racial group?
- Are these identities fixed once and for all, or are they capable of changing over time?
- Can people pick and choose their identities?
- Does multiculturalism fuel conflict among groups?
- What does it mean for the future of racism?
- Can newcomers to our shores expect that they, or at least their children, will one day be fully incorporated into the country?
- Do they look forward to or do they fear the prospect of losing their old-world cultures due to assimilation?
- Is it reasonable to talk about the advent of a “rainbow coalition” of people united across racial lines, or will these lines harden and will new forms of conflict mingle with older unresolved conflicts?
- Is multiculturalism as a movement a worthy goal, or is it something to be resisted?
These and a host of related questions must be wrestled with if we are to begin to make sense of the nation's multicultural future. For this reason, in recent years growing numbers of sociologists have increasingly set their sights on these kinds of questions and have begun to offer answers, however provisional, tentative, and subject to debate those answers may be. A rapidly expanding body of sociological research has enriched our understanding of race relations in the United States several decades into the post-civil rights era. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois argued that central to the tensions and conflicts that the nation could anticipate in the future was what he referred to as “the problem of the color line.” In retrospect, his anticipation of the twentieth century [Page xviii]was remarkably prescient. But, after dramatic changes in the latter half of the century, we are forced once again to consider exactly where we have come and where we are headed. Implicitly or explicitly, sociologists are now considering the extent to which Du Bois's claim concerning the century we have just left will apply to the century we have entered. Put simply, they ask, to what extent and in what ways will we continue in the decades ahead to confront the problem of the color line?
This book is designed to address this question. In doing so, it has a very simple goal: to assist students as they attempt to come to terms with the complex, contested, and shifting nature of contemporary race relations in the United States. We have compiled a selection of readings that explores from a variety of angles and with a wide range of concrete examples the kinds of questions posed above. That being said, it should be noted what we do not claim the book does. We do not purport that it offers anything resembling definitive answers to those questions. Instead, it offers compelling partial answers that are intended to stimulate the reader to think more deeply about these matters. As such, the readings are ideal vehicles for stimulating critical thinking and writing as well as for providing bases for focused class discussions. Although a few of the articles have a polemical cast to them and several authors make clear that they are arguing for a particular interpretation or assessment, the articles have not been selected to provoke debates that too often look at race relations in stark either/or terms. Instead, the readings contained herein allow—indeed, encourage—students to appreciate the complexities, ambiguities, and ironies of race relations.
The collection includes articles that explore the social structural constraints on racial minorities, the character of intergroup relations in a multicultural context, and the world inside various ethnic communities. We want the book as a whole to reflect an appreciation of the impact of external social structural forces on people, individually and collectively. However, we also want to show that people and groups have a say in how their lives are shaped. While we examine the extent to which racial minorities continue to be the victims of racism and a legacy of second-class citizenship, we also want to indicate the ways in which they are not mere victims but are actively involved in the construction of their own social worlds.
To achieve this multifaceted scope, we sought to offer a representative cross section of current scholarship by people who have produced work that is at the cutting edge. Among the people represented are some of the most distinguished scholars in the field. On the other hand, also well represented are younger scholars who are only beginning to make their mark in this field. In addition, reflecting trends in the discipline at large, many of the contributors are members of the racial groups they are studying and, as such, are in an ideal position to [Page xix]get at issues related to the internal life worlds of various racial and ethnic groups. At the same time, we also see advantages to looking at groups from the outside, and other articles have been written by people who make no claims to membership in the groups they are investigating.
In all cases, articles were selected for inclusion based on their ability to present salient issues in an engaging and thought-provoking way. The 36 selections are divided into five sections that, we believe, articulate the most central issues framing current scholarship.
- Our introductory essay sets the stage for what follows by offering a brief historical overview of changes in race relations since the 1960s, thereby providing the student with a framework that contextualizes the readings.
- The first section, “Racial Fault Lines,” examines questions about the salience of racism and the new kinds of racial divisions that have emerged in recent years.
- This leads, in “Representations of Race and the Politics of Identity,” to issues related to the social construction of racial identities, examining it from both cultural and political perspectives.
- “African Americans since the 1960s” looks at the largest and most historically consequential racial group in America, taking stock of what was and was not achieved by the civil rights movement and what new dilemmas have arisen in its aftermath.
- The following section, “New Immigrants and the Dilemmas of Adjustment,” addresses the impact on the nation of the wave of new immigrants who have come to the United States since 1965 and examines the ways the nation has had an impact on these newcomers.
- The collection is rounded out with a series of essays that offer different answers to the question “What Is Multicultural America?” thus moving to an examination of the big picture and the questions we raised at the outset of the preface.
In putting this collection together, we incurred a number of debts and acknowledge the role played by several people, who either offered concrete advice about the book or in other ways supported us in this endeavor. Among the people Peter Kivisto thanks are John Farley, John Guidry, Melvin Holli, Rick Jurasek, Susan Kivisto, Stanford Lyman, Martin Marger, Ewa Morawska, Rocky Sexton, and Bill Swatos.
Georganne Runblad thanks Curtis and Megan White for their unending support and care. Thomas Gerschick and Bob Broad provided friendship and encouragement, especially when it was needed the most. F. James Davis, many years ago, and more recently David [Page xx]Schoem, provided invaluable inspiration and direction. Georganne also thanks Janet McNew and the Provost's Office at Illinois Wesleyan University for the opportunity to attend the pivotal American Association of Colleges and Universities 10-day seminar on “American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy and Liberal Learning,” which, with the help of David Schoem, transformed how Georganne teaches about race and ethnic relations. Kristin Vogel was like a wizard at gathering impossible, but necessary, information from the library. Georganne also thanks all of the students in her Race and Ethnic Relations class for being willing and able to take hard steps toward social change. They are what makes all this work worthwhile.
Thanks from both editors to Pine Forge's reviewers (in alphabetical order):
JoAnn DeFiore, University of Washington, Bothell
Doug Hartmann, University of Minnesota
Jeremy Hein, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
David McBride, Pennsylvania State University
Luis Posas, Mankato State University
Bruce Williams, Mills College.
A special thanks to Jean Sottos, who knows how important a role she played and who also knows that we owe her! Working with the Pine Forge crew has proven to be a delight, and we especially extend our thanks to a few of them. For Ann Makarias, this book surely must have been her baptism by fire; we hope she is pleased with the result. Sherith Pankratz at Pine Forge and Karen Wiley and Sanford Robinson at Sage have been most helpful. And, of course, there is Steve Rutter. He has been a delight to work with, even when the adrenaline was flowing. As anyone who has worked with him knows, Steve stands by his authors and makes all of the hard work somehow a labor of love.
Overview: Multicultural America in the Post-Civil Rights Era[Page xxi]and
Diversity has been a hallmark of the American experience. The country's multicultural character has had a profound impact on our sense of national identity and purpose, on our ability to absorb and integrate new arrivals, and on our views of who should be included and who excluded from living among us as equals. One sign of the centrality of this issue in American life is the vigor of the continuing debate about the extent to which we have lived up to the ideals of the “American Creed”—freedom, equality, opportunity for all—and the reasons for the gulf between ideals and reality.
The divisions that have separated us along racial and ethnic lines have produced some of our most enduring and obdurate social problems, and certain minority groups have paid a particularly heavy price as a result of these divisions. We certainly have a legacy of intense prejudice and discrimination. Moreover, persistent attention to race and ethnic differences continues to raise profound questions about what justice and fair play mean.
At the same time, however, we have managed to a large extent to avoid the worst forms of racial and ethnic violence, and people have not fled our borders seeking safe refuge elsewhere (Holli 1999). Rather, just the opposite is the case. The United States continues to be a magnet attracting newcomers from around the world (more than 20 million since World War II)—and they continue to arrive daily, whether landing in a jumbo jet at LAX or passing through a border crossing along the Rio Grande River (Ueda 1994).
The purpose of this book is to try to make sense of these seemingly contradictory facts. Although we consider the history of ethnic and racial relations in this country, our main focus is the recent past, which has seen some noteworthy changes.The Advent of the Post-Civil Rights Era
The 1960s marked the beginning of a new era in racial and ethnic relations in the United States. Two watershed events contributed to the emergence of the new era (Omi and Winant 1986):[Page xxii]
- End of Legalized Segregation and Discrimination. The civil rights movement is generally credited with this achievement, which culminated in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the passage of such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Reinstatement of Mass Immigration. Passage in 1965 of the Hart-Cellar Act reopened the nation's doors to mass immigration after a hiatus of four decades. Since then, we have witnessed a mass influx of newcomers. Unlike the past, when most immigrants came from Europe, today's come chiefly from Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean.
The consequences of these two events are the topic of extensive debate. For example, there is considerable uncertainty about the extent to which the civil rights movement succeeded in achieving its goals. Bluntly put, did the civil rights movement result in the end of racism? Dinesh D'Souza (1995), a conservative thinker, thinks so, whereas scholars on the political left, such as Joe Feagin and Hernán Vera (1994), contend that racism has far from disappeared. Instead, they argue, although only small groups of militant white supremacists still exhibit overt racism, today racism takes new, subtler forms. The larger issue is how far we have come in remedying the worst features of a segregated American society. But because we can point readily to both gains and losses, most of these discussions take on the form of arguing whether the glass is half full or half empty.
The issue of mass immigration offers similar opportunity for debate. Can the United States comfortably absorb new immigrants by the millions, and, if so, how selective should we be in determining whom to welcome? Critics of our current immigration laws, such as Peter Brimelow (1995), have argued that admitting so many “aliens” to our shores (especially poor ones) threatens our economic, political, and cultural well-being. Given the fact that Brimelow is himself an immigrant—from England—there is a certain irony to his complaint. On the other hand, supporters of a liberal immigration policy, such as Alejandro Portes and Ruben G. Rumbaut (1990), believe that “in the long run the diverse talents and energies of newcomers will reinforce the vitality of American society and the richness of its culture” (p. 246). Beyond the matter of who to allow into the country are questions about what we ought to do to help new arrivals to adjust. Should we offer bilingual language programs, or should we demand the immediate acquisition of English? Should we encourage the maintenance of homeland cultures and traditions, or should we promote an aggressive Americanization campaign? These are not new questions—they were raised at earlier periods of peak migration—but they have acquired a renewed salience today.[Page xxiii]
To make sense of these competing perspectives, we should locate the consequences of these two events—the civil rights movement and the change in immigration policy—in larger sociohistorical context. Only by knowing something about where we have been can we make sense of where we are headed.Demographic Shifts
The population of the United States is more heterogeneous than that of any other nation on earth. From the colonial period to the present, the North American continent has exerted a powerful pull on people around the world. Millions of voluntary immigrants—particularly from Europe, Asia, and Latin America—have settled in North America. They came and continue to come for a variety of reasons, but primarily they come because they think the United States will afford them greater economic opportunities than they would have if they remained in their homelands (Kivisto 1995; Martin and Widgren 1996).
The United States has sometimes been referred to as a nation of immigrants (Handlin 1973). The vast majority of Americans are either immigrants or can trace their ancestry to immigrants. However, two important components of the American population—American Indians and African Americans—did not come voluntarily. Between 2 and 5 million American Indians inhabited this continent before the arrival of the first European immigrants (Snipp 1989:9; Thornton 1987). As the indigenous peoples of the North American continent, they were, obviously, not voluntary immigrants. Rather, they were the victims of colonial conquest. Africans arrived in the Americas involuntarily, victims of the slave trade. From the first arrival of about 20 Africans in Virginia in 1619 until the eve of the Civil War, an estimated 480,000 Africans were forcibly transported to the United States (Curtin 1969). The historical experiences of these two groups are unique and must be taken into account when assessing the reasons that they remain the two most disadvantaged racial groups in the country.
These distinctive histories have considerable influence on the current and projected ethnic and racial makeup of the U.S. population. Herein, we briefly examine recent demographic changes that have affected the respective sizes of five major groups in the United States: European Americans, African Americans, American Indians, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans.European American Decline
Since the founding of the republic in 1776, a majority of the nation's occupants have been able to trace their origins to Europe. In [Page xxiv]1810, those of European origin composed 73 percent of the population. Due chiefly to the mass migration of Europeans (and laws that favored them at the expense of Asians and other nonwhite groups), this percentage steadily rose until 1930, when it peaked at around 88 percent. However, because Europeans are no longer immigrating in large numbers and because their fertility rates have lowered over time, since 1930 the percentage of European Americans has declined gradually.
Although European Americans still constitute a significant majority of the overall population, by 1990, they composed only about 75 percent of the total. This figure is similar to the percentage in 1810.
Current trends suggest that this percentage will decline further between now and the year 2050. Because it is difficult to predict both what immigration levels will be like in the future and how group fertility rates might change, the extent of the decline is not certain. However, demographer Antonio McDaniel (1995:183–84) speculated that the European American population might slip to less than 55 percent of the total by the middle of the twenty-first century.African American Trends
African Americans historically have constituted the largest racial minority, but as a percentage of the overall population, they, too, have witnessed decline. In 1810, African Americans accounted for 19 percent of the overall population. However, because of the end of the slave trade and the lack of voluntary immigration from Africa, that figure fell throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, reaching an all-time low of less than 10 percent by 1930. Since then, the relative size of the African American population has grown slightly, accounting for just over 12 percent of the total by 1990 (U.S. Census Bureau 1992).
Some projections suggest that this percentage will increase during the first half of the new century, but this result is far from certain (Parrillo 1996:179). Blacks have a higher fertility rate than whites, but so do Hispanics. And unlike Hispanics, African Americans cannot count on heavy immigration to increase their numbers (Pinkney 2000:61–65).American Indian Resurgence
Colonization of the Americas produced a demographic and human tragedy for American Indians. From a high figure of several million, the population was reduced to less than a quarter of a million by 1890. From this nadir, the absolute numbers grew gradually through 1950, at which point a veritable explosion in the number of Indians occurred. Reaching more than half a million by 1960, the American Indian population continued to grow dramatically, so that by 1990 more than 1.9 million people identified themselves as of Indian ancestry.[Page xxv]
Despite this dramatic growth, Indians remain the smallest of the racial groups, accounting for less than 1 percent of the total population (Kivisto 1995:74–76).
In this case, as Joane Nagel (1996) has shown, the dramatic increase in numbers of American Indians during the past three decades cannot be adequately accounted for on the basis of changes in fertility and death rates. Rather, it must be partially accounted for by the increased tendency for people to self-identify as Indian (especially people of mixed ancestry).The New Immigrants
The two groups that have experienced the most dramatic increases in size are, not surprisingly, the two that have contributed most heavily to immigration since 1965: Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans. These are panethnic terms that incorporate numerous national-origin groups.
The dramatic growth of Hispanic America. Hispanic Americans come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They include voluntary labor migrants, illegal immigrants, and political refugees. The largest Hispanic groups are, in rank order, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans (not technically an immigrant group, because the island is a territory of the United States), and Cubans, followed by smaller numbers from various nations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
Though for some time Hispanics were the second-largest minority group, following African Americans, their population—particularly the Mexican component—has steadily increased since 1970, with the most dramatic growth occurring recently. The 22 million Hispanic people reported in the 1990 census represent a remarkable 53 percent increase since 1980. Since that time, they grew from 7 percent of the population to 9 percent (Holmes 1995). If immigration and fertility rates among Hispanics continue to remain high in the new century, Hispanics could replace African Americans as the nation's largest minority group as early as 2010.
The impact of Hispanic immigration is pronounced in states where the new arrivals are heavily concentrated: California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois. Not surprisingly, given the fact that Hispanics are also heavily urbanized, their presence is especially felt in major cities in these states and in other states along the Mexican border. The 1990 census found that in 4 of the nation's 10 largest cities—Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, and San Antonio—Hispanics already have overtaken African Americans as the largest minority group. This shift also has taken place in a number of other cities. In the largest city in the country, New York, Hispanics constituted 24 percent of the population, only 2 percent less than African Americans (Roberts 1994).[Page xxvi]
Asians: Immigrants from different shores. Among Asian groups, the largest in rank order are the Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, and Koreans, followed by immigrants from Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Overall, Asian numbers have grown significantly during the past three decades—but not nearly to the extent of the Hispanic population. Of the four largest groups, only the Japanese have not increased their numbers appreciably, because, unlike the other groups, they have not been part of the new wave of immigration.
On the other hand, the oldest Asian group in the United States, the Chinese, has witnessed a large new wave of immigration since 1965. These newcomers, who have come primarily from Taiwan and Hong Kong, have swelled Chinatowns in major cities. In New York, for example, the historic boundaries of Chinatown can no longer contain all of the new immigrants, and, as a result, Chinatown has spilled over into adjoining neighborhoods, including parts of Little Italy. At the same time, Chinese enclaves have emerged as a presence in such multi-ethnic neighborhoods of the city as Flushing and Elmhurst (Chen 1992).
Two groups with a very small presence in the United States prior to 1970 have grown dramatically during the past three decades: Filipinos and Koreans. The Filipino population exceeded 1.4 million by 1990, making it the second-largest Asian group, and the Korean population reached a level of more than 800,000 by 1990, making it 12 times larger than it had been a mere two decades earlier (U.S. Census Bureau 1991).
The result of these recent changes is not that the United States has for the first time become a multicultural nation; as noted at the outset, it has always been characterized by its ethnic and racial diversity. What is new is how this diversity is configured. To appreciate this fact, we examine the most significant transformations that have occurred in the nation's five major ethnic groups.The Social Construction of European Americans
One of the key features characterizing Americans of European ancestry has been their great diversity. Until after the middle of the twentieth century, European-origin Americans spoke a wide array of languages, embraced different religious traditions (Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish), held divergent political views, and displayed considerably varied cultural practices. These immigrant groups included small numbers of Albanians from the southeastern edges of Europe, Icelandic immigrants from the northwestern periphery of the continent, and people from every European nation between these two countries (Daniels 1990; Takaki 1993).[Page xxvii]
Nonetheless, certain groups played a more significant role in the peopling of America because of the sheer volume of immigrants they supplied. The largest groups include the English, the Irish, Germans, Poles, Italians, and Jews. These groups have had a greater imprint on the development of American society and culture than have smaller groups.From Immigrants to White Ethnics
Over time, as the members of all these groups adjusted to their new homeland and became acculturated to it, immigrants and their offspring relied less and less on their ethnic communities to sustain them. Rather, they began to merge into the larger society. Acculturation occurred more quickly for some groups because they were more readily accepted by the host society. It occurred more slowly and less completely for those groups that were the victims of prejudice and discrimination. The victims were primarily groups from southern and eastern Europe, such as Poles and Italians, who differed in significant ways from the dominant white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority. However, no group confronted greater ethnic animosity than did Jews, who continue to confront the effects of anti-Semitism (Dinnerstein 1994).
Nonetheless, beginning in the 1950s, a major transfiguration redefined ethnic identity for all European-origin groups (though at different rates of speed for different groups). The children and grandchildren of European immigrants progressively abandoned ethnic institutions. They moved out of ethnic neighborhoods, often for the suburbs. They failed to make efforts to preserve their ancestral languages and abandoned many traditional cultural practices.
The ethnic boundaries that earlier had separated these groups became increasingly permeable. Ultimately, with the extensive intermarriage among European Americans, the ethnic factor progressively became less significant in their lives (Alba 1990; Lieberson and Waters 1988). Although among European-origin groups ethnic differences have not disappeared, their significance has declined appreciably (Alba 1990; Waters 1990).Symbolic Ethnicity
Herbert Gans (1979) suggested that the kind of ethnic identity experienced by most European Americans today can best be referred to as “symbolic ethnicity,” by which he means that ethnicity has a low level of intensity and as a result is exhibited by individuals only occasionally. Gans believes that the erosion of ethnic institutions and cultures makes it increasingly impossible for European Americans to exhibit meaningful signs of ethnic identity or affiliation. Ethnicity is a phenomenon driven primarily by nostalgia for the lost world of the [Page xxviii]immigrant generation. It entails a feeling of being ethnic without “ethnic behavior that requires an arduous or time-consuming commitment” (Gans 1979:203).
Mary Waters (1990) agrees in fundamental ways with Gans's idea of symbolic ethnicity. However, she also contended that ethnicity “is not something that will easily or quickly disappear” (p. 155). She suggested that people who are willing to identify as ethnic have a desire for a sense of community that they see as lacking or threatened in contemporary American society.
At the same time, white ethnics adhere to a sense of individualism that demands the right to make choices. Thus, their ethnicity has a decidedly voluntary quality about it. Taking part in a St. Patrick's Day parade or preparing German cuisine at various holidays are examples of ways to periodically connect with one's ethnic past without great outlays of time and energy. People pick and choose features of the ethnic tradition to embrace and display and ignore or abandon others. For example, the immigrant culture may have defined women's role as limited to the domestic realm, but contemporary European Americans seldom perpetuate this particular gender division of labor (Waters 1990:168).
Simultaneously, because of European Americans’ high level of assimilation, their identities and group boundaries are very fluid. For example, in one household the husband might trace his ancestry to England, Germany, and Italy, and the wife's ancestors might have originated in Sweden, Poland, and Belgium. The result is a complex mix of ethnic identities, and how people put them together varies considerably. Richard Alba (1990) observed that extensive intermarriage among European Americans is gradually producing a kind of panethnic identity:
The transformation of ethnicity among whites does not portend the elimination of ethnicity, but instead the formation of a new ethnic group: one based on ancestry from anywhere on the European continent. The emergence of this new group, which I call the “European Americans,”… lies behind the ethnic identities of many Americans of European background. (Pp. 292–93)
Today, what Europeans of different nationalities share tends to be far more important than the differences among them.The Possessive Investment in Whiteness
One of the things European-origin groups share today is an understanding of themselves as “white.” In the past, however, that was not the case, as not all Europeans were considered to be white. In the early decades of the twentieth century, for example, Italians, Slavs, Greeks, [Page xxix]Jews, and others often were described as members of distinct—and nonwhite—groups. But the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion have changed in the past few decades (Allen 1994; Lipsitz 1998; Roediger 1991).
Today, in viewing Europeans as a whole as a “we,” non-Europeans are viewed as “they.” The social construction of “whiteness” historically has implied the racial superiority of whites. What makes the situation different today is that all Europeans are granted this privileged position. All non-Europeans, especially people of color, are relegated to distinctive positions of subordination based on differing perceptions of these groups by the dominant group (Winant 1999, 1994). We turn now to the new racial conditions confronting these groups.African Americans and the Enduring Dilemma of Race
The history of Africans in America, which is as old as that of Europeans in America, can be divided into three major historical periods:
- Slave era, which extended from the colonial period until the Civil War.
- Jim Crow era, which covered the time from shortly after the Civil War until the 1960s.
- Post-civil rights era, which began in the 1960s and continues to the present.
To appreciate the scope of the changes that propelled us into the third period, we need briefly to look at the system of racial oppression that the civil rights movement sought to challenge.The End of the Jim Crow Era
Much has been written about slavery and its impact, but perhaps nowhere was its destructive capacity captured so poignantly and succinctly as in the words of novelist Ralph Ellison. In his unfinished novel Juneteenth (1999), a revivalist preacher chants variations on the following theme of deprivations endured by African Americans: “Eyeless, tongueless, drumless, danceless, songless, hornless, soundless, sightless, wrongless, rightless, motherless, fatherless, brotherless, sisterless, powerless” (p. 124). Such a legacy, it goes without saying, could not be easily overcome.
Nevertheless, during the Jim Crow period, blacks became intent on undoing the damage caused by centuries of servitude in the slave economy. The African American leader and early sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois ( 1961) wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is [Page xxx]the problem of the color line” (p. 23). Part of the reason he drew this predictive conclusion was his understanding of the ultimate outcome of the post-Civil War years. During the short-lived period of Reconstruction, African Americans voted for the first time, and many were elected to office at the local, state, and national levels. A substantial number entered arenas of the economy from which they previously had been excluded.
However, Reconstruction ended and in its place a new form of racial subjugation and exclusion arose known as Jim Crow. Although the origin of the term is uncertain, it referred to laws in the South that were designed to disenfranchise blacks from politics and segregate them from whites in public facilities, including schools, parks, housing, and public transportation (Woodward 1974). The creation of a segregated caste system was endorsed by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which declared that segregation was constitutionally permitted and thus ratified the doctrine of “separate but equal.” This legal basis for racial oppression was backed up by the perpetual threat of violence and terror, seen most vividly in the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and in the pervasiveness of lynching.
This system of oppression and segregation shaped race relations for the better part of a century. Historian Leon Litwack (1998) described the era of Jim Crow from the perspective of blacks: “No matter how hard they labored, no matter how they conducted themselves, no matter how fervently they prayed, the chances of making it were less than encouraging; the basic rules and controls were in place” (p. 149).The Civil Rights Movement
Beginning in the 1940s, a civil rights movement arose to challenge the color line. It operated on two fronts, one consisting of legislative and judicial challenges and the other consisting of protest activities. Key organizations promoting racial equality and an end to segregation included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC was led by the person who became the most important figure associated with the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. (McAdam 1982; Morris 1984).
Major victories during the 1950s and 1960s ultimately dismantled the Jim Crow system. Landmark events included the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which revisited the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling and overturned the doctrine of separate but equal. A consequence of this reversal was school integration, through what proved to be a controversial policy of court-mandated busing. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in the areas of employment and education. [Page xxxi]The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made possible the reentry of blacks into the political arena in southern states, and the Housing Act of 1968 forbade discrimination in the renting and selling of housing.
These changes did not come about easily. On the one hand, efforts to effect significant social changes met with considerable white resistance. On the other hand, militant blacks associated with the Black Power movement thought the changes were too little too late. Discontent increased among poor blacks, and, during the latter part of the 1960s, urban riots erupted in cities across the country, resulting in hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries, and millions of dollars of property damage.The Post-Civil Rights Era
What have been the net effects of the civil rights movement? What did it accomplish, and what did it fail to accomplish? As we see, answering these questions is a complicated matter.
On the positive side, a substantial majority of white Americans have come to endorse the principles of equality and integration (Sniderman and Carmines 1997; Taylor, Sheatsley, and Greeley 1978). Blacks have found greater educational and employment opportunities, and a growing number of blacks have entered the middle class. According to projections by sociologist Bart Landry (1987), 56.4 percent of blacks will have reached the middle class by the year 2000, compared to 63 percent of whites—a dramatic change since 1960, when only 13.4 percent of blacks could be considered members of the middle class. Growing numbers of blacks have been elected to political office. The role of Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party and the fact that many Republicans would have liked retired Gen. Colin Powell to run for the presidency under their party's banner in 1996 suggest that positive changes have taken place.
However, some contend that the civil rights movement did not accomplish as much as many think it did. Andrew Hacker (1992), for example, believes that we have not moved beyond the conclusion drawn by members of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in 1968. The commission was created to explain why America's cities were rocked by racial riots in the second half of the 1960s, after the judicial and legal victories of the civil rights movement. The members of the commission concluded pessimistically that the nation was becoming increasingly polarized along racial lines. Hacker believes that “separate, unequal, and hostile” characterizes black/white relations at present, as well. He points out the disparity between blacks and whites in terms of incomes and unemployment rates and suggested that white intransigence is the brake that prevents genuine economic parity. He similarly shows that blacks lag behind [Page xxxii]whites in educational attainment and that school segregation remains pervasive. Indeed, in many major metropolitan areas, most blacks attend virtually all-black urban schools, and their white counterparts go to school in the predominantly white suburbs (Farley 1984:193–99; Massey and Denton 1993).
Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1986) support the view that whites are impeding black progress. They have pointed to a shift in the nature of race relations beginning around 1970. A conservative white reaction to the civil rights movement has led to attacks on such controversial policies as school busing to achieve integration and affirmative action in employment and education. Nonetheless, Omi and Winant believe that a “great transformation” occurred in response to the civil rights movement that cannot be totally undone. The question remains: How far have we come, and how far do we have to go as a nation to achieve genuine racial equality?
The Black middle class. The economic status of blacks as a whole improved in relation to whites between 1940 and 1970, but, since then, black incomes have leveled off or declined (Jaynes and Williams 1989:16–18). But looking at African Americans in the aggregate obscures the bifurcation within black America between a now sizable middle class and a remaining core of disadvantaged blacks. Some think that middle-class blacks have, in effect, “made it.”
Yet, considerable evidence suggests that middle-class blacks are far from achieving parity with their white counterparts. In an important recent study, Melvin L. Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro (1995) showed that if we look at individual wealth (i.e., total assets) and not income alone, a huge disparity continues to exist between the black and white middle classes. They found that middle-class blacks possess only 15 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by middle-class whites.
Moreover, middle-class blacks are not immune to the persistence of racial discrimination. For example, Joe R. Feagin (1991) showed the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism that successful middle-class blacks continue to confront in everyday life, including avoidance, poor service, verbal epithets, and various kinds of harassment and threats. Researchers at the Urban Institute have explored patterns of housing discrimination through the use of “audits” (which entail sending out black and white “auditors” to apply for jobs, loans, homes, apartments, etc.). They found that discrimination in housing and employment continues to be far more pervasive than most whites think is the case (Fix and Struyk 1993).
Finally, although increasing numbers of middle-class blacks have moved out of center cities to the suburbs, they are not necessarily now living in integrated neighborhoods. In fact, the white flight from cities [Page xxxiii]that became so pronounced during the 1960s has a contemporary equivalent in the 1990s: Some suburbs that were once entirely or predominantly white are experiencing white flight with the arrival of blacks. For example, Matteson, Illinois, located 30 miles outside of Chicago, went from 84 percent white in 1980 to only 47 percent white a mere 15 years later (Terry 1996:A6).
Poor Blacks. For poor blacks, especially those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, whom William Julius Wilson (1987) characterizes as the “truly disadvantaged,” the world continues to be as segregated—in some instances more segregated—as it was during the Jim Crow era. Inner-city blacks live in segregated neighborhoods, attend segregated schools, worship in segregated churches, shop at segregated stores, and so forth (Massey and Denton 1993). They continue to confront discriminatory practices such as redlining—a tacit practice of denying loans to residents of what are perceived by lenders to be high-risk areas.
The economic situation for this segment of the African American community has become increasingly precarious. Deindustrialization has reduced the number of manufacturing jobs, and new jobs have moved to the suburbs. The result is that large numbers of inner-city blacks end up either unemployed; underemployed; working at dead-end, low-paying jobs; or working in the illicit underground economy (Wilson 1996).
Social problems—including the explosion of drug use, the increase in violent crime, the pervasiveness of gangs, the problems associated with teen pregnancy and low academic achievement, and the AIDS epidemic—have had a devastating impact on poor blacks (Anderson 1990). One need merely note that the leading cause of death for young black men is murder, usually at the hands of another black youth. Not surprisingly, poor blacks—especially younger blacks—have concluded that the American Dream has eluded them, and they see themselves three decades after the civil rights movement as still victims of the “scar of race” (Sniderman and Piazza 1993; see also Fordham 1996; Hochschild 1995;).American Indians: The First of This Land
American Indian identities are complex and multifaceted. In part, this is because American Indians are defined in three different, and sometimes conflicting, ways:
Indians and the Federal Government
- Tribal identities, which are determined in various ways by the tribes themselves.
- Pan-Indian affiliations. [Page xxxiv]
- Personal decisions regarding whether to identify as Indian, especially for many of the more than 50 percent of Indians who have intermarried (Nagel 1996; Snipp 1989:157–65).
The reservation system was a total institution intended to separate Indians from the larger American society. The first reservation was created in New Jersey in 1758, and others were established early in the nineteenth century. Due to widespread expansion of the reservation system thereafter, a majority of Indians ended up residing on reservations by the end of the 1800s.
Since then, the policies of the federal government, administered through the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), have fluctuated between, on the one hand, efforts to end tribal affiliations and to promote assimilation and, on the other hand, efforts to strengthen and preserve tribal cultures, identities, and allegiances. For example, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA)—sometimes referred to as the “Indian New Deal”—promoted cultural preservation and enhancement. The Eisenhower administration in the 1950s sought to undo the IRA, replacing it with a policy that became known as “Termination.” Its goal was to abolish the reservation system, withdraw federal support for tribal sovereignty, encourage the migration of Indians to cities, and sever the unique relationship that had existed between the federal government and tribal organizations. In effect, this was a policy of forced assimilation (Fixico 1986).
The vast majority of American Indians concluded that Termination was not in their best interest. They established pan-Indian organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, which engaged in a political campaign of opposition to the Eisenhower administration's plans. Because of this opposition, when the Kennedy administration came into office, it quickly abandoned Termination. Since then, the federal government has not attempted to implement assimilationist policies (Cornell 1988).
Part of President Johnson's planning for the Great Society (which was seen as a return to and expansion of the policies of the New Deal) was to resuscitate aspects of the IRA. The federal government also attempted to address the endemic poverty that characterized reservation life. The significance of these attempts was that Native Americans were given considerable power to shape and control various aspects of community development and antipoverty, educational, and cultural programs. These efforts were funded through the Office of Economic Opportunity and thus often circumvented the much-criticized BIA and many traditional tribal leaders who were perceived to be pawns of the BIA. The result was considerable conflict within American Indian communities.[Page xxxv]The Red Power Movement
These conflicts were linked to the advent of the Red Power movement, the Native American counterpart to the black civil rights movement (Nagel 1996). Militants demanded Indian self-determination and greater economic and political power. The Red Power movement began at the local level with such confrontational tactics as “fish-ins” and hunting out of season. Defying state laws was intended to highlight the fact that the states had violated treaty rights, which guaranteed American Indians special fishing and hunting privileges.
The movement was catapulted into the national spotlight with three dramatic episodes: the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz (the former federal prison in San Francisco Bay); the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties March, a parallel to the black civil rights movement's historic 1963 March on Washington, only in this case culminating in the occupation of BIA headquarters; and the 1973 takeover of the community of Wounded Knee (the site of the 1890 massacre of 150 unarmed Sioux Indians).
This movement played a singularly important role in encouraging ethnic renewal. It aimed to resist assimilation and acculturation and to stimulate instead a renewed vitality within American Indian culture and society (Cornell 1988:187–201; Nagel 1996).
Although the militancy of the 1960s and 1970s has waned, considerable conflict persists. Recent examples include the ongoing dispute between Chippewa Indians and whites in northern Wisconsin over whether the Chippewa have a right to engage in spearfishing. It can be seen in the conflict between the Blackfeet of Montana and the oil industry over oil exploration in part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. More generally, it is evident in the numerous court cases initiated by Native Americans in attempts to reclaim or obtain land taken by whites in violation of various laws or treaties. One of the consequences of this assertiveness is an anti-Indian backlash on the part of whites.Reservation Life Today
Despite the Indian rights movement, life on reservations continues to be characterized by endemic poverty. Housing on reservations is considerably worse than that of most Americans. For example, as late as 1980, more than half the homes on the Hopi reservation did not have indoor plumbing (Snipp 1989:96–126). Unemployment and underemployment levels remain extremely high. As a result, on 15 of the 16 most populous reservations, between one third and one half of the families live below the poverty line (Snipp 1989:259).
Linked to poverty are a variety of health and social problems. Native Americans may be the least healthy racial group in the country. Their infant mortality rate is higher than the national average, and their life expectancy is 10 years shorter than the national average. The [Page xxxvi]suicide rate slightly exceeds the national average, and the homicide rate is nearly twice that of all racial groups. Alcoholism is an extremely prevalent problem, and the alcohol-related death rate is five times that of all other racial groups. Linked to this problem is fetal alcohol syndrome, which only recently has received much media attention.
Reservation political leaders have attempted to combat these problems, but, to date, they have had limited success. Economic development plans tend to revolve around establishing gambling casinos on reservation land (because they are not bound by state laws regarding gambling) or using such land for the disposal of hazardous wastes. Both of these enterprises are highly controversial in the Native American community and reveal the desperation of reservation inhabitants.Urban Indians
Given the economic plight of reservations, increasing numbers of people have left them for cities—a movement that began during the 1950s but has increased in recent years. Sizable Indian enclaves exist in such major cities as Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Urban Indians are far more likely to intermarry with other racial and ethnic groups and are generally more stable economically than their counterparts on the reservations (Snipp 1989:165).
Cities have been crucibles for an emerging pan-Indian identity. Tribal organizations, which in metropolitan areas are generally weak, have been replaced by supratribal organizations. However, only a small minority of urban dwellers actually participate in Native American institutions (Weibel-Orlando 1991).
The pull of assimilation is strongest for intermarried Native Americans who have made it into the middle class and are not involved to any significant extent with Native American institutions or cultural practices. Their ethnic identity is largely a matter of personal choice and does not involve communal activities. The future of this segment of the American Indian population likely will be quite different from that of the American Indians remaining on reservations.New Immigrants in an Advanced Industrial Society
The newest Americans include immigrants from around the globe. They include, in addition to the groups cited previously, Jews from both Israel and the former Soviet Union living in Los Angeles, Hmong refugees residing in Minneapolis, undocumented Irish workers in Boston, Jamaicans who have settled in New York City, Poles in [Page xxxvii]Chicago, Haitians in Miami, Salvadorans who have fled political turmoil at home, and immigrants from India who call Chicago home. They include highly trained professionals with advanced degrees and people with limited educational backgrounds. Among their ranks are people prepared to enter the world of white-collar professionals, people who expect to work in the service industry or as field hands in American agriculture, and people who will live on the margins and will struggle to survive (Kessner and Caroli 1982; Mahler 1995; Portes and Rumbaut 1990). Collectively, they have had a significant impact on American race and ethnic relations, with the largest groups having the most profound impacts.Hispanic Americans: Immigrants from the New World
The three largest Hispanic groups—Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans—share many things besides a common language, but they also exhibit important differences (Bean and Tienda 1987). The Mexican American community is not only the largest of the three, but it also has the longest history in the United States and contains an extremely diverse population. It includes people who were in regions of what later became the United States long before the arrival of Anglos to the area and also includes the illegal immigrants who cross the border today in search of work. Due to the permeability of the border, Mexicans frequently have headed for El Norte when political or economic conditions at home become difficult. They fled to the United States in the bloody aftermath of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. Between 1942 and 1964, they were encouraged to work in America's agricultural fields as contract laborers under the “bracero program.” Since 1965, they have immigrated voluntarily in large numbers (Gutierrez 1995).
A study in contrasts: Puerto Ricans and Cubans. Neither Puerto Rican nor Cuban immigrants have as long a historical experience as do Mexican Americans. Although all Puerto Ricans have been recognized as U.S. citizens since 1917, they didnotbegin to relocate to the mainland until after World War II and the beginning of inexpensive airfares. Perhaps more than any other group, Puerto Ricans exhibit considerable “circular migration,” moving back and forth, depending on where better economic opportunities can be found at the moment (Fitzpatrick 1987).
In the Cuban case, the exodus began when the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, which gained control of the island nation in 1959, proclaimed itself Marxist and became a client state of the Soviet Union. Cubans came in several distinctive waves, in part of a cat-and-mouse game of international relations between Cuba and the United States: the “Golden Exiles” in the early 1960s, the “Freedom [Page xxxviii]Flight” immigrants, who arrived between 1965 and 1973, and the “Marielitos” in 1980 (Daniels 1990:372–76; Pedraza 1992). Although immigrants from all these groups have had to struggle to adjust to life in their new homeland and have had to deal with considerable prejudice and discrimination, they have had different levels of success in gaining a foothold in the American economy and in achieving a political voice. At one extreme, Puerto Ricans are the poorest Hispanic group, experiencing high levels of unemployment, underemployment, and welfare dependency. In New York City (where second-generation Puerto Ricans are called “Nuyoricans”), many have found work in low-paying blue-collar jobs, especially in the service industry. Given their limited resources and relative lack of economic success, their ethnic community is more fragile and less institutionally complete than those created by the two other major Hispanic groups. The result has been limited Puerto Rican political influence.
In contrast, Cubans are the most successful of the three groups. Their success should not be surprising, given the fact that the earliest people to emigrate from Cuba came from the upper and middle classes and brought both financial resources and educational credentials that gave them a distinct advantage. Moreover, as perceived victims and opponents of communism during the height of the Cold War, they were welcomed with open arms. However, the final wave of immigrants—the Marielitos—were much poorer than the earlier waves, and among them were what the Cuban government called “social undesirables,” including perhaps as many as 5,000 hard-core criminals. Their arrival has been the source of considerable controversy (Boswell and Curtis 1983:51–57).
Cubans in Miami have created an “ethnic enclave” economy, which has provided opportunities for entrepreneurial success. At the same time, it has benefited Cuban workers, many of whom have limited English-language skills. The community has been quite cohesive and has been able to exert considerable political clout, especially in South Florida, where Cubans have tended to align themselves with the Republican Party.
Younger Cuban Americans are moving out of the community and into the mainstream of American society. Among this American-born generation, English is generally their language of choice, they are less likely than most new immigrants to claim to have experienced discrimination, and they have a comparatively high level of educational attainment (Portes and Schauffler 1996; Rumbaut 1996).
Mexican Americans in transition. A well-established Mexican American community has existed for decades. Like African Americans and American Indians, Mexican Americans engaged in civil rights struggles during the 1960s and early 1970s. Chicano politics promoted ethnic pride and entailed an assertive demand for improvements in economic and educational opportunities and greater political power [Page xxxix]in regions where Mexicans were highly concentrated (Gomez-Quinones 1990; Gutierrez 1995). Mexicans were the most important group in the campaigns of a multi-ethnic coalition that made up the United Farm Workers. Given the prominent role they have played historically as agricultural laborers, their role in this effort to unionize the fields to improve economic conditions is not surprising. The period of militancy ended by the mid-1970s, with mixed results in achieving the movement's goals.
Mexican Americans today have a poverty rate similar to that of blacks and have higher-than-average unemployment and school drop-out rates. As with other disadvantaged groups, residents of the barrio suffer from a variety of social problems. Gangs and drugs have had a particularly destructive impact on the locales where poor Mexican Americans reside (Moore and Pinderhughes 1993).
On the other hand, the middle class has grown. In a fashion somewhat parallel to African Americans, Mexican Americans have a bifurcated community composed of a middle class moving into the mainstream; their poorer counterparts are left behind. This middle class is increasingly likely to reside in suburbs; by 1990, slightly more than 45 percent of Hispanics lived in suburbs. Those with English-language proficiency who have resided for some time in the United States are more likely to be suburban residents than are new arrivals possessing weak English-language skills (Alba et al. 1999:451).
The third generation and beyond are especially more likely than recent immigrants to find work today in white-collar professions and to own their own businesses. In contrast, recent immigrants typically are located in the bottom tier of the dual labor market, working in the garment industry, in service industries such as hotels and restaurants, and as agricultural laborers.
Given their geographic concentration in southwestern border states, Mexicans have become increasingly important politically. Both major political parties have courted their votes, although at the moment their allegiances remain fairly firmly located in the Democratic Party. Efforts to mobilize Mexican American voters have produced some notable successes at the ballot box at the state and local levels.
As this brief overview indicates, these major Hispanic groups have had rather different immigrant experiences and appear to have contrasting future prospects. Cubans appear poised to enter the mainstream, Puerto Ricans remain on the margins, and the Mexican American community reveals a split between those who are upwardly mobile and those who remain caught in impoverished barrios. What is clear is that Hispanics have become a more prominent factor in America's ethnic and racial mix, and, given population projections, they will play an even greater role in shaping American society in the twenty-first century.[Page xl]Asian Americans: The Model Minority?
The Asian presence in America also has grown dramatically during the past quarter of a century. Collectively, Asian Americans are sometimes referred to as a “model minority” (Takaki 1989) because they have the highest per capita incomes and educational attainment levels of any racial minority. Indeed, in many ways they appear to do better than whites. For example, as Andrew Hacker (1992:143) pointed out, Asian American students have higher average scores than their white counterparts on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Some of the most negative stereotypes of Asian groups have declined and along with them previous levels of discrimination. Nonetheless, many Asian immigrants have not gained a foothold in the American economy and do not look like success stories. To appreciate why this is so, we turn to brief examinations of the three largest Asian groups that have contributed significant numbers to the new immigration (thus excluding the most successful Asian group, the Japanese): the Chinese, Filipinos, and Koreans.
The growth of Chinese America. The Chinese presence in North America began in the nineteenth century, when adventurous immigrants responded to the discovery of gold in California by sojourning to “Gold Mountain” in quest of fortune. Confronting intense hostility, they became in 1882 the first targets of anti-immigration legislation. After that time, the number of Chinese gradually declined, reaching its nadir by the middle of the twentieth century.
With the relaxation of immigration restrictions after 1965, the Chinese American community once again began to grow. Today, it has risen to more than 1.5 million, a twentyfold increase in 50 years. By 1980, 63 percent of the Chinese in America were immigrants (Kitano and Daniels 1988; Takaki 1989).
At present, Chinese Americans constitute a diverse group, including middle-class Chinese whose ancestors have been in the United States for several generations and recent arrivals who do not speak English and who are highly dependent on the powerful business interests that control America's Chinatowns. Thus, their circumstances bear a resemblance to those of Mexican Americans. Poorer new arrivals live in crowded Chinatowns, work long hours for low wages, and confront a variety of economic and social problems. On the other hand, much of the middle class has chosen to live in the suburbs, where middle-class Chinese Americans no longer live in isolation from the larger society (Fong 1994).
Filipinos and Koreans. Though both groups have had a presence in America prior to 1965, Filipinos and Koreans are largely recent arrivals. Although people from a wide strata of Philippine society have emigrated to the United States, a significant number are college-educated [Page xli]professionals, with a particularly large number being trained in health professions, particularly doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. As a result, despite the fact that many new arrivals experience a period of downward mobility as they adjust to their new society, many (but by no means all) Filipinos are gaining an economic foothold.
In part because Filipinos are divided along regional and dialect lines, and due to internal conflicts over homeland politics, a powerful and coherent ethnic community has not evolved. The American-born second generation that is growing up tends to be quite Americanized (Pido 1986; Tizon 1999).
As for Korean immigrants, they are not typical of most Koreans, who are Buddhists; a majority of Korean immigrants are Christian. Like Filipinos, many are middle-class professionals. These economic and cultural factors contribute in part to the fact that despite their relatively short time in the United States, Korean Americans are generally doing quite well.
Koreans have a high level of self-employment. Many own small family-run businesses, such as grocery stores, fruit stands, flower shops, repair stores, liquor stores, and clothing stores. Recent arrivals have managed to get into business by relying on savings they brought to the United States and on credit associations in the Korean community known as Kye, which provide loans to get business ventures off the ground. Many Korean American businesses are located in black urban ghettos, and considerable tension has developed between blacks and Koreans. In the 1992 Los Angeles riot, Korean stores were targeted by rioters, resulting in destruction of more than 1,000 Korean-owned businesses at a price exceeding $300 million (Abelmann and Lie 1995; Min 1996).
Korean Americans place a premium on education as a means for their children to become economically successful. Thus, it appears that they do not wish for their offspring to continue in family-owned businesses but instead to enter the world of white-collar professionals.
Model minority or competitive threat? Collectively, although Asian Americans are a distinct numerical minority, their presence has become more consequential in recent decades, especially on the West Coast and in such major cities as New York and Chicago (Tizon 1999). Thus, Korean shopkeepers in black neighborhoods, Chinese workers in the garment industry, and many Asians in institutions of higher education are now perceived by some members of other groups as a competitive threat.
On the other hand, Asian Americans have been held up as a model of success. Without downplaying their genuine achievements, we should note that this term is often used to make invidious comparisons between the “Asian American success story” and the failures and presumed personal shortcomings of other racial minorities. The [Page xlii]implicit message amounts to a form of blaming the victim: If only these other groups could emulate the work ethic of the model minority, they too would be successful (Takaki 1989:474–84).Multicultural America
In the preceding pages, we have seen something of the complexity and fluidity of a highly diverse society. Making sense of that complexity and fluidity is not easy. In a multicultural society such as ours, does assimilation or cultural pluralism best characterize the present state of ethnic relations? Are prejudice and discrimination decreasing or remaining constant? Are Americans committed to the notion of racial justice, or have they turned their back on it (Steinberg 1995)? As this overview of the “American kaleidoscope” reveals, there is evidence to support both sides of the argument that each of these questions raises. Some groups—including some recent arrivals—are doing relatively well and are becoming integrated into American society. Others—in particular African Americans and American Indians—continue to experience considerable adversity and are far from overcoming historical legacies of racial oppression. What is clear is that race remains a potent force in the United States, and people's life chances are in no small part defined by their racial identity.
At the same time, no group lives in a vacuum. Each racial and ethnic group interacts in various ways with other groups and with the larger society, shaping and transforming American culture and society in the process. As sociologist Orlando Patterson (1994) has indicated, different geographical regions in the United States acquire distinct “personalities” because of the interplay of differing ethnic and racial traditions. For example, he noted that the Afro-Caribbean influence in the Atlantic region, centered in Miami, is quite different from the Tex-Mex culture of the Southwest—which, in turn, differs “from the Southern California cosmos, with its volatile, unblended mosaic of Latin, Asian, and Afro-European cultures” (Patterson 1994:111).
This description suggests two things. First, diversity will continue to characterize the nation well into the future. Second, because there is nothing fixed about ethnicity and race, the inequality and oppression that have characterized and continue to characterize intergroup relations are not inevitable. Still, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, “the problem of the color line” is far from being solved.References1995. Blue Dreams: Korean Americans and the Los Angeles Riots. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.and . [Page xliii]1990. Ethnic Identity: The Transformation of White America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.1999. “Immigrant Groups in the Suburbs: A Reexamination of Suburbanization and Spatial Assimilation.” American Sociological Review64: 446–60. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2657495, , , , and .1994. The Invention of the White Race. Vol. 1. London: Verso..1990. Streetwise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press..1987. 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