Reflecting on Race, Ethnicity, & Nationality

The three essays we read today were Kathleen Neils Conzen’s, et al. “The Invention of Ethnicity in the United States”, “Race, Nation, Culture in Recent Immigration Studies” by George J. Sanchez, and Matthew Frye Jacobson’s “More Trans-, Less “National””. These three works focus on clarifying nationalism, race, and ethnicity. The task was easier said than done but all offered incite into both the effects of these topics on immigration studies and America.

The easiest to wrap my head around was Jacobson’s essay. The focus seemed to be on economics and how it massively changed immigration and immigrants lives but remains missing from both American studies and immigration history. The fact is that business has globalized and with it jobs have moved around the world, goods have crossed oceans, and technology has advanced; therefore, as goods move and the flow of money changes so too do people. Money moves into the pockets of big businesses as fields privatizations and that changes what low wage jobs are needed and where. As technology advances communication becomes easier and cultural traditions can be preserved and passed on. Economics change the entire life, mobility and development, of ethnic groups and therefore nations as a whole.

Jacobson suggests three shifts in focus. First, that emigration and immigration be merged ideologically and historians study migration of immigrants’ home nations both before and after a migration. Second, to stop focusing on each nation as a separate unit and instead shift to the continents as a whole. In fact, he also points out to shift from civil rights to human rights and national politics to global power. Third, Jacobson suggests acknowledging the significance of corporations on every facet it impacts; individuals, ethnic groups, regions, and nations. There was a push for historians to understand the bigger picture that has yet to be painted in terms of global migration and economics, claiming that textbooks erased conquests, slavery, expansion, and annexation in favor of a national identity that was romantic and fictitious. This was a theme that was sung in the other essays as well.

“Race, Nation, Culture in Recent Immigration Studies” focuses on the station of Latin Americans and Asians in America and in immigration history. It was a rather bleak essay, but only because it laid out the facts of labor and inequality to minorities through histories. Sanchez also discusses the growth and transformation of immigration history due to the 1965 Immigration Act, scholarly expansion focused on race and ethnicity in the 1970s, and even studies in the 1990s to define “whiteness”. All of these are vital, Sanchez explains that the determination to create and preserve a white identity, with immigrants even arriving and using whiteness as a means of adapting to American society only aided in erasure and oppression, particularly with naturalization laws. The laws were to preserve the ethnicity of America, but it forgot that Anglo-Americans were not that first Americans. This declaration of a white ethnicity as the primary ethnicity of America is farther explored in our third reading.

“The Invention of Ethnicity in the United States” covers the evolution nationality in America and how the term ethnicity was created, along with its long-term effects on immigration history. Conzen explains the resistance to Americanization and several scholars varying opinions on ethnicity. There is an emphasis in this essay that ethnicity is constantly changing with generations, by ethnic groups interacting, and by the host society. With constantly changing ethnic groups they will also appear, disappear, and reappear. There is also a discussion of how ethnic groups interact; with cooperation, conflict, and competition –not mutually exclusive. Additionally, she discusses how various ethnic groups were divided; regional origin, political affiliations, dialect, class, and religion. To overcome their differences, Conzen explained, that symbols and traditions were used to unify them and mobilize them to causes that would give them more power and equality in their societies. However, while these symbols and traditions may have bonded each group they differentiated them from Anglo-America and was therefor seen as a threat to political order.

America is defined by diversity, but it was not immediate and the diversity still has massive gaps in historical writing. Nevertheless, there are obvious incorporations of various ethnic groups in our society such as shops closing on Sundays and political debates over ethnic groups and their equality. What I found most fascinating throughout these three essays was the development of ethnicity and how oppression has moved from one ethnic group to the next. In the ‘60’s it was the African Americans, then the Asians and Latin Americans. Now, statistics on the wage gap use white women as the presented standard but leave out the fact that the gap between Hispanic and other ethnic groups is significant. Furthermore, looking at ethnicity on a global scale, surely the dialog will change with the migration of refugees trying to escape terrorism in the Middle East. I am eager to see how things will change and hopefully develop in immigration studies, but I cannot help but be afraid of how the media will continue to negatively portray Muslims and Hispanics to change the dialogue and cause more oppression. Jacobson had it right, we need to focus on human rights more than civil rights and that accept that we will not have the answers we do not yet know to ask.

4 thoughts on “Reflecting on Race, Ethnicity, & Nationality

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