U.S. immigration and racialized assimilation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


When these experiences are related to my undergraduate classes, a typical response from them is: "Wow, you are SO Americanized in the way you answered the question in 2005!" While I certainly agree with this assessment, the above two scenes also prompted me to think beyond the experiences themselves. Yes, I have become Americanized in some ways, but in what specific ways? My answers to the questions about my English, 17 years apart, indeed revealed part of my "acculturation" process; I have become more assertive and outspoken. But at a broader and deeper level, I realize that the second question was asked in a manner that results from a misguided perception of many Americans of minority cultures living in America. They are often viewed as "outsiders," foreigners who can neither understand nor speak English. Many Asians, despite being native-born Americans, or living in America for a considerable period as U.S. citizens, face the same questions that I did because they are still ill-perceived by some white Amer cans due to their non-European features. My airport experience may not seem like a serious offense to some but I believe it is indicative of a serious American problem, one of creating racial categories based on perceived differences from the white American mainstream. Many Americans simply make categorical judgments about people who are different culturally or by appearance. The results range from insulting and insensitive remarks like the one I experienced, to ethnic/racial slurs, or worse, overt discriminatory behaviors. The use of "FOB" ("fresh off the boats") is an example of a racial slur, a derogatory term, used to describe new immigrants. This type of slur is hurtful and unwarranted. It also ignores the fact that immigrants are contributing to America and many have worked diligently to learn English. Perpetual negative white images of non-whites and stereotyping result not only from recent immigration trends that have brought millions of new immigrants from Asia and Latin America, but from the racism that has deep roots in American history and has shaped important parts of its geography. This also results in a full range of mistreatments of non-whites in the workplace, public areas like airports, and other places in American society. The persistence of these racial classifications and white attitudes influence the ability of immigrants to be accepted fully into American society. This chapter briefly focuses on social science theories that have attempted to explain the absorption, or assimilation, of ethnic groups into American society. It begins with a brief discussion of the classical acculturation/assimilation theory of the Chicago School, including its spatial components. More recent work is discussed, including the ethnic pluralism and multicultural approaches, as the basis for challenging the use of traditional explanations of the immigrant experience in contemporary analyses of immigrant settlement patterns. This has become increasingly important given the growing number of non-white cultures in the U.S. and the projections for non-whites in America in the coming decades. Some recent research has argued that immigrants assimilate in multiple ways that are best characterized as forms of "segmented assimilation." In this chapter, I extend this argument to explain more specifically how racial constructs are instrumental in the ways immigrants assimilate or remain separate from the dominant American white culture. This "racialized assimilation" results in various racial/ethnic geographies. Historical examples demonstrate that the use of racial categorization resulted in a number of geographic patterns that are racial geography. Contemporary examples of racial categorization and their impacts also are provided and help explain the variety of suburban ethnic forms in America. The chapter closes with a discussion of some relevant issues for racial/ethnic research in geography.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRace, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America
PublisherState University of New York Press
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)9781438436807
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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