The Invention of Ethnicity in the U.S. & Race, Nation, and Culture in Recent Immigration Studies

For our History 297 class, we had to read Kathleen Conzen’s The Invention of Ethnicity in the United States. In this essay, Conzen et al bring up the argument that the modern Immigration historians have accepted. Specifically the argument that the immigrants who came to the U.S. tried to resist “Americanization” as best they could. From there, the authors show the competing theories of historians on the idea of immigrant ethnicity, with some thinking that it is an immutable part of who they were, while others think that it was something that would simply fade away with assimilation. The authors then posited their own theory, that ethnicity itself is a construct built by the collective experiences of a people. From this, the various ethnicities were able to “invent” themselves, to create cultural guidelines, taboos, etc. This developed as each of the immigrant groups interacted with one another. Ultimately, the created an average between their ethnicity and “American-ness”.

We also had to read George Sanchez’s Race, Nation, and Culture in Recent Immigration Studies. Sanchez starts the paper on one of the darker notes of American history, the indentured servitude of Thai and Latino women in sweat shops. The story spiraled out to highlight the problems with how the U.S. deals with illegal immigration. This event, as Sanchez described it, sat at a crossroads for the major problems that immigrants in American history had to deal with. Both those who came hear voluntarily and those who did not. Sanchez then focused on the historic rise in tensions between the U.S. in Asia, from the ban on “oriental” immigration, loss of citizenship, and Japanese Internment to modern ideas of foreignness and competition with the east.   Sanchez then described the way that Mexicans and Latin Americans are perceived as “foreign” to Americans. The problems with how easily forgotten that everything west of Oklahoma used to be a part of the Mexican Empire before Americans took it by way of military force or purchase.

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