Remaking the American Mainstream: Assimilation and Contemporary Immigration

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Overview

In this age of multicultural democracy, the idea of assimilation—that the social distance separating immigrants and their children from the mainstream of American society closes over time—seems outdated and, in some forms, even offensive. But as Richard Alba and Victor Nee show in the first systematic treatment of assimilation since the mid-1960s, it continues to shape the immigrant experience, even though the geography of immigration has shifted from Europe to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Institutional changes, from civil rights legislation to immigration law, have provided a more favorable environment for nonwhite immigrants and their children than in the past.

Assimilation is still driven, in claim, by the decisions of immigrants and the second generation to improve their social and material circumstances in America. But they also show that immigrants, historically and today, have profoundly changed our mainstream society and culture in the process of becoming Americans.

Surveying a variety of domains—language, socioeconomic attachments, residential patterns, and intermarriage—they demonstrate the continuing importance of assimilation in American life. And they predict that it will blur the boundaries among the major, racially defined populations, as nonwhites and Hispanics are increasingly incorporated into the mainstream.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Alba (sociology, SUNY at Albany) and Nee (sociology, Cornell) are distinguished scholars of immigration and assimilation, and one of the many virtues of their new book is their insightful review of the various, often competing, theories of assimilation. The central argument is that modern immigrants are, on the whole, likely to assimilate and join the American mainstream despite the challenges presented by differences in race and ethnicity, a post-industrial economy that requires post-secondary education for economic success, and the apparent lack of a hiatus in immigration (such as was legislated in the 1920s). Contemporary immigration, they claim, turns out to be not very different from the first wave of mass immigration (roughly 1880s-1920s). However, the authors tend to focus on New York City and California to the detriment of much of the rest of country, some parts of which are experiencing mass immigration for the first time. There are significant differences between, say, North Carolina and Los Angeles, and a closer analysis of these differences would have allowed the authors' argument to carry more weight. Nevertheless, this cogent study is recommended for academic libraries.-David A. Timko, U.S. Census Bureau Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674010406
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/5/2003
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard D. Alba is Distinguished Professor of Sociology, the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Victor Nee is Frank and Rosa Rhodes Professor of Sociology at Cornell University.

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Table of Contents

1 Rethinking assimilation 1
2 Assimilation theory, old and new 17
3 Assimilation in practice : the Europeans and East Asians 67
4 Was assimilation contingent on specific historical conditions? 124
5 The background to contemporary immigration 167
6 Evidence of contemporary assimilation 215
7 Conclusion : remaking the mainstream 271
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