The Invention of Ethnicity

The article “The Invention of Ethnicity in the United States” begins by undermining traditional American ideas about assimilation. It makes the claim that immigrants actually fought to preserve their cultures against assimilation in many cases. Pozzetta then brings up differing ideas about what constitutes ethnicity. For Geertz and Isaacs, ethnicity provides a natural place for the human need to belong. For Glazer and Moynihan, it’s more complex than this: ethnicity provides a collective interest group. They explain this by suggesting that the ethnicity provides an easier method of pursuing group interests in light of the uneven distribution of power and wealth than uniting by class. For the author, ethnicity is a social construction grounded in real life experiences which changes and evolves over time. He also rejects individualism and suggests a collective consciousness among immigrant groups in defining culture and tradition. He suggests a dual purpose in the ethnic community in both maintaining its collective identity and pursuing its own interests while also proving their compatibility with the broader American culture.
The essay goes on to say that “ethnicity” became invented as a concept (then called nationality) in the 19th Century as Americans were consciously trying to define their own national identity and explain cultural differences within the United States. He notes that English immigrants, however, were not identified as “ethnic” as other immigrants were. As far as my own experience goes, as the grandson of one English immigrant and 3rd great grandson of another, I can see why he would say this. My grandmother from Lancashire really had no issues being considered part of American society and there wasn’t much of a process of assimilation. So I can see the truth in this statement about English immigrants.
Pozzetta goes on to talk about how both Anglo-Saxon Americans and immigrant groups contributed to the invention of ethnicity. The Americans did so by grounding their idea of a continuous American republic in Anglo-Saxon ethnicity rather than in faith or ideology. At the same time, nationalist ideas which had worked in Ireland and Germany as forms of resistance against occupiers were carried over to the United States to some extent. During the 20th Century, however, ideas about a pluralist “melting pot” society became more and more common. The idea was that the American political system was settled but the American ethnic makeup was continually changing. However, factors like the “periodic unanimity of German voters” put into question the perceived irrelevance of different ethnic groups in the United States.
“Race, Nation, Culture in Recent Immigration Studies,” by George Sanchez discusses the “invisibility” of women among the immigrant workforce, despite their disproportionately large numbers. The article discusses the shockingly poor conditions of many immigrant workers, and how immigrants have been treated like criminals even after being illegally exploited. The article goes on to describe trends in immigration. Since 1965, when immigration laws changed, Asians and Latin Americans have dominated immigration into the United States rather than Europe. This has been dramatic in its implications since immigration historiography has always been focused on Europeans as the standard immigrant, and this is now well out of date. Sanchez describes how scholars now treat race as “relational” rather than biological, and that observing the development of racial relationships is fundamental to understanding immigration. “Foreignness” has continued to be a big racial issue for Asians and Latinos, which played a role in Japanese internment during WWII. In this vein, the article cautions against merely ascribing the history of Asian and Latino immigration to the past since 1965, and instead notes that there is a “longer, complicated history of interaction, movement and border-making.”

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