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Brokered Boundaries

Immigrant Identity in Anti-Immigrant Times

Douglas S. Massey, Magaly Sanchez R.

Publication Year: 2010

Anti-immigrant sentiment reached a fever pitch after 9/11, but its origins go back much further. Public rhetoric aimed at exposing a so-called invasion of Latino immigrants has been gaining ground for more than three decades—and fueling increasingly restrictive federal immigration policy. Accompanied by a flagging U.S. economy—record-level joblessness, bankruptcy, and income inequality—as well as waning consumer confidence, these conditions signaled one of the most hostile environments for immigrants in recent memory. In Brokered Boundaries, Douglas Massey and Magaly Sánchez untangle the complex political, social, and economic conditions underlying the rise of xenophobia in U.S. society. The book draws on in-depth interviews with Latin American immigrants in metropolitan New York and Philadelphia and—in their own words and images—reveals what life is like for immigrants attempting to integrate in anti-immigrant times. What do the social categories “Latino” and “American” actually mean to today’s immigrants? Brokered Boundaries analyzes how first- and second-generation immigrants from Central and South America and the Caribbean navigate these categories and their associated meanings as they make their way through U.S. society. Massey and Sánchez argue that the mythos of immigration, in which newcomers gradually shed their respective languages, beliefs, and cultural practices in favor of a distinctly American way of life, is, in reality, a process of negotiation between new arrivals and native-born citizens. Natives control interactions with outsiders by creating institutional, social, psychological, and spatial mechanisms that delimit immigrants’ access to material resources and even social status. Immigrants construct identities based on how they perceive and respond to these social boundaries. The authors make clear that today’s Latino immigrants are brokering boundaries in the context of unprecedented economic uncertainty, repressive anti-immigrant legislation, and a heightening fear that upward mobility for immigrants translates into downward mobility for the native-born. Despite an absolute decline in Latino immigration, immigration-related statutes have tripled in recent years, including many that further shred the safety net for legal permanent residents as well as the undocumented. Brokered Boundaries shows that, although Latin American immigrants come from many different countries, their common reception in a hostile social environment produces an emergent Latino identity soon after arrival. During anti-immigrant times, however, the longer immigrants stay in America, the more likely they are to experience discrimination and the less likely they are to identify as Americans.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

About the Authors

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

A book of this length and complexity necessarily owes its existence to many people besides the authors. Our first debt of gratitude goes to Eric Wanner, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, whose faith in the project and extension of a presidential award to the...

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1. Constructing Immigrant Identity

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pp. 1-25

Many Americans view assimilation as a one-way street whereby immigrants arrive in the United States with distinctive languages and cultures and over time steadily adopt American values, acquire American tastes and habits, make American acquaintances, move into American neighborhoods, and eventually come to...

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2. Roots and Motivations

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pp. 26-57

As argued in the last chapter, immigrants play an active role in constructing their own identities by brokering the social and psychological boundaries they encounter in the host society. A key input into the process of identity formation is what the immigrants...

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3. The Rise of Anti-Immigrant Times

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pp. 58-80

Whatever goals and motivations immigrants may have in migrating, their brokering of boundaries and construction of identities depend strongly on the context of reception they encounter in the United States (Portes and Rumbaut 2001, 2006). In this...

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4. Worlds of Work

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pp. 81-118

The primary point of contact between immigrants and U.S. society is usually the labor market. As we have seen, one of the most prominent reasons immigrants give for coming to the United States is economic conditions, and even those who were motivated by the pull of family ties, the fear of violence at home, or some other reason...

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5. Dreams and Disappointments

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pp. 119-146

Although the specific motivations for migration may vary from person to person, most Latin American immigrants have one broad goal in common in coming to the United States: one way or another, they are seeking to improve their lives. It is the details that...

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6. Transnational Options

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pp. 147-182

The last two chapters painted a rather stark picture of how America’s society and its economy are experienced by Latino immigrants in urban areas of the Northeast. Although a few were able to land positions in the primary labor market and enjoy stable jobs with good pay, benefits, and real prospects for advancement...

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7. Verbalizing Identity

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pp. 183-212

The evidence we have marshaled in the foregoing chapters finally puts us in a position to consider systematically the construction of identity among Latino immigrants to the United States—how they broker the group boundaries and manage the meanings they encounter as they move through American society. The data accumulated so far...

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8. Visualizing Identity

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pp. 213-239

The last chapter concluded an extended analysis of the narratives offered by immigrants in response to questions we put to them about their hopes, expectations, and experiences in the United States. Our purpose was to give voice to immigrants’ side of the identity...

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9. Identity, Integration, and the Future

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pp. 240-252

In this book, we have analyzed how immigrants living in the urban Northeast of the United States negotiate the social categories and manage the associated meanings that they encounter as they make their way through American society. We conceptualized assimilation...

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Appendix A. Sampling, Interviewing, Coding, and Data Analysis

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pp. 253-264

Immigrant identity and assimilation have long been of core interest to social scientists, especially in the field of sociology. Indeed, within American sociology the systematic study of immigration goes back to the discipline’s founding in 1892, with the creation of the nation’s first...

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Appendix B. Information Sheet Presented to Potential Respondents

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pp. 265-266

Trabajamos en el Departamento de Sociología y en el Centro de Estudios de Población de la Universidad de Pennsylvania, y estamos realizando una investigación científica sobre “La Identidad Transnacional y Comportamiento: Comparación Etnográfica entre la Primera y Segunda...

Appendix C. Guia de Enstrevista: Primera Generacion / Interview Guide: First Generation

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pp. 267-271

Appendix D. Guia de Enstrevista: Segunda Generacion / Interview Guide: Second Generation

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pp. 272-276


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pp. 277-292


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pp. 293-306

E-ISBN-13: 9781610446662
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871545794

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Assimilation (Sociology) -- United States
  • Immigrants -- United States.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration
  • Identity (Psychology) -- United States.
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