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Disenchanting Citizenship

Mexican Migrants and the Boundaries of Belonging

Luis Plascencia

Publication Year: 2012

Central to contemporary debates in the United States on migration and migrant policy is the idea of citizenship, and—as apparent in the continued debate over Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070—this issue remains a focal point of contention, with a key concern being whether there should be a path to citizenship for “undocumented” migrants. In Disenchanting Citizenship, Luis F. B. Plascencia examines two interrelated issues: U.S. citizenship and the Mexican migrants’ position in the United States. The book explores the meaning of U.S. citizenship through the experience of a unique group of Mexican migrants who were granted Temporary Status under the “legalization” provisions of the 1986 IRCA, attained Lawful Permanent Residency, and later became U.S. citizens. Plascencia integrates an extensive and multifaceted collection of interviews, ethnographic fieldwork, ethno-historical research, and public policy analysis in examining efforts that promote the acquisition of citizenship, the teaching of citizenship classes, and naturalization ceremonies. Ultimately, he unearths citizenship’s root as a Janus-faced construct that encompasses a simultaneous process of inclusion and exclusion. This notion of citizenship is mapped on to the migrant experience, arguing that the acquisition of citizenship can lead to disenchantment with the very status desired. In the end, Plascencia expands our understanding of the dynamics of U.S. citizenship as a form of membership and belonging.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Books are like plays. The efforts of visible and less-visible actors make a final production possible. The production of this book reflects such a process. It is in this context that I first want to express my deep appreciation to an important set of actors: all of the migrants who generously shared their time, life stories, and experiences in their quest to obtain U.S. citizenship...

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Introduction: Locating Citizenships

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pp. 1-20

I am an alien and a citizen of the United States of America. My Certificate of Naturalization locates my political presence and notes that I am “entitled to be admitted to citizenship . . . and . . . admitted as a citizen of the United States of America.” The certificate finalizes my path to citizenship— a status that I respect and feel privileged to acquire, particularly in the...

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Chapter 1: Fields of Citizenship

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pp. 21-50

The fundamental concept of citizenship plays a central role in shaping social and political space in the history of the United States.1 From the colonial period to the present, it is part of a discourse that fosters the bonds and unity among those it encircles. However, the membership circle has never been universal. At different times and across different groups residing in...

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Chapter 2: The Janus Face of Citizenship: The Side of Inclusion

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pp. 51-83

Citizenship is a decisive political marker in the United States. It is a highly prized distinction that demarcates the boundaries of political and social membership. Possession of U.S. citizenship reinforces the imagined circle of membership and belonging, and it fosters the ties of group membership...

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Chapter 3: The Janus Face of Citizenship: The Side of Exclusion

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pp. 84-112

Discussions of juridical citizenship tend to examine inclusionary or exclusionary dimensions of citizenship without taking into account its dual nature.1 A noteworthy exception to this is James Holston’s (2008) detailed examination of the entanglement of citizenship, inequality, and democracy in Brazil, though his focus is not on the simultaneous factors examined...

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Chapter 4: The Making of Citizens: Promoting and Schooling

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pp. 113-142

The path to citizenship is diverse and reflects a combination of individual and external efforts that promote the acquisition of citizenship and assist migrants in the process, including direct local actions encouraging permanent residents to apply for citizenship and citizenship classes for those who...

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Chapter 5: Bearing True Faith and Allegiance: Entering the Circle of Citizenship

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pp. 143-171

For the individuals interviewed in this study, the discourses of citizenship in the United States were productive in creating the subjectivity of citizen because elements in the discourse made sense to them. They recognized the value and privileges associated with citizenship, wanted to be good citizens, and wanted their children to be good citizens, too. They became involved in...

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Chapter 6: Desire, Sacrifice, and Disenchantment

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pp. 172-191

The immigrants I interviewed desired citizenship for many reasons, many of which are parallel to what has been reported in the naturalization literature. For example, a survey of persons in citizenship/ESL classes in Austin, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio reported that 292 out of 526 Latino participants (of which almost 90 percent were of Mexican origin) had immediate...

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pp. 192-198

As evident from the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency, the debate on the meaning of the birth provision in the Fourteenth Amendment, the 2005–2011 efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform, and actions by state and local governments since the mid-1990s to exclude aliens from resources, citizenship is a contemporary concern. Herman van Gunsteren’s (1978, 10) astute observation over three...

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Epilogue: The Boundaries of Birth and Power

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pp. 199-212

On April 27, 2011, a historically unique event took place. The White House posted the president’s long-form birth certificate on its website and President Obama held a press conference to announce the action. The event, on its surface, appears mundane: an elected government official makes his birth certificate public. As such, it is an unremarkable event...


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pp. 213-224

Works Cited

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pp. 225-246


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pp. 247-252

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813553344
E-ISBN-10: 0813553342
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813552798
Print-ISBN-10: 0813552796

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 5 tables
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 795120243
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Disenchanting Citizenship

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Ethnic identity.
  • Mexican Americans -- Civil rights.
  • Mexican Americans -- Social conditions.
  • Mexicans -- Migrations.
  • Citizenship -- United States.
  • Aliens -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Government policy.
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