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Diaspora 12:2 2003 Foreigners Transformed: International Migration and the Remaking of a Divided People1 Roger Waldinger University of California, Los Angeles Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration. Richard Alba and Victor Nee. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. When it comes to the question of assimilation, the American academy and the American people no longer agree. The people and the professors earlier thought alike, both expecting that newcomers and their descendants would abandon old-country ties and habits for the ways and affiliations of the new national community that they had joined. But whereas the people continue to believe in the old-time religion, the professors have changed their minds. Conceptually , they find that assimilation lacks appeal, mainly because it has almost always overlapped with the ideology and practices it should have analyzed—namely assimilationism. Empirically, the scholars conclude that theory and reality diverge and find that the very best that can be said for assimilation is that it did a good job of predicting the past. The professors generally do concede that the descendants of the Italian, Polish, and other mass migrations of the turn of the twentieth century have now climbed to the higher reaches of American society, leaving behind their ethnic attachments . But that was then, this is now: conditions at the turn of the twenty-first century, at least as the professors see them, make it unlikely that the immigrant past will be prologue to the immigrant future about to unfold. In the new view, associated with the hypothesis of “segmented assimilation” propounded by Alejandro Portes, Ruben Rumbaut, and Min Zhou, today’s reality is far less forgiving of any problems that the immigrants might import or encounter (Portes and Zhou; Zhou and Bankston; Portes and Rumbaut). The newcomers of the last age of mass migration may not have found favor with the elites of the time, but this was just a passing phenomenon: in the end, what mattered was that both newcomers and old-timers were white. Today’s migrants, however, originating from everywhere but Europe and visibly distinctive, enter a mainly white society still not cured of its racist afflictions. 247 Diaspora 12:2 2003 As these scholars see it, getting ahead for these new Americans of color will not be easy. Back then, the children of peasant migrants could drop out of high school and move on to well-paying, secure blue-collar factory jobs; the progression from peddler to plumber to professor could wait for the third generation. There’s little such hope today. While the immigrant parents arrive willing to do the jobs that natives won’t hold, their children want more; unfortunately, the steady shrinkage of well-paid blue-collar jobs makes incremental improvement hard. Immigrant children could acquire the advanced degrees needed to move into the professional/ managerial elite. However, the experience of growing up as stigmatized strangers leads the new Americans to act in ways that imperil success, all the more so because they often hang around with the wrong crowd—namely, the native-born minorities who supposedly think that doing well in school is a synonym for “acting white.” For that reason, the proponents of segmented assimilation tell us that it’s time to start worrying about a “rainbow underclass” of the dispossessed , its ranks swollen by an infusion of first- and, particularly , second-generation Americans (Portes and Rumbaut 45). To be sure, the advocates of segmented assimilation will note that not all immigrants begin at the bottom. Indeed, the fact that so many of today’s newcomers arrive with skills that let them start right in the middle class means that assimilation is not so much dead as very different from the past. On the other hand, these middle-class immigrants have arrived in an America where the pressure to melt has declined, replaced by a new set of incentives to retain and burnish ethnic ties. While some of the newest ethnics will undoubtedly vanish from the fold, globalization will make it impossible for the United States to cut itself off at the water’s edge. Consequently, the contemporary scene is one of continuing linkages between “here” and “there,” which is why the...


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