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American Conversations

American Conversations

Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Temple University Press
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  • Book Info
    American Conversations
    Book Description:

    Growing numbers of working-class Puerto Ricans are migrating from larger mainland metropolitan areas into smaller, "safer" communities in search of a better quality of life for themselves and their families. What they may also encounter in moving to such communities is a discourse of exclusion that associates their differences and their lower socioeconomic class with a lack of effort and an unwillingness to assimilate into mainstream culture. In this ethnographic study of a community in conflict, educator and anthropologist Ellen Bigler examines such discourses as she explores one city's heated dispute that arose over bringing multiculturalism and bilingual education into their lives and their schools' curricula.The impassioned debate that erupted between long-time white ethnic residents and more recently arrived Puerto Rican citizens in the de-industrialized city the author calls "Arnhem" was initially sparked by one school board member's disparaging comments about Latinos. The conflict led to an investigation by the attempts to implement multicultural reforms in the city's schools.American Conversationsfollows the ensuing conflict, looks at the history of racial formation in the United States, and considers the specific economic and labor histories of the groups comprising the community in opposition. Including interviews with students, teachers, parents, and community leaders, as well as her own observations of exchanges among them inside and outside the classroom, Bigler's book explores the social positions, diverging constructions of history, and polarized understandings of contemporary racial/ethnic dynamics in Arnhem. Through her retelling of one community's crisis, Bigler illuminates the nature of racial politics in the United States and how both sides in the debate over multicultural education struggle to find a common language.American Conversationswill appeal to anyone invested in education and multiculturalism in the United States as well as those interested in anthropology, sociology, racial and ethnic studies, educational institutions, migration and settlement, the effects of industrial restructuring, and broad issues of community formation and conflict.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-810-4
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Talking “American”
    (pp. 1-19)

    The views of the world expressed in these quotations are not randomly held and idiosyncratic. They reflect two distinct maps of society and two distinct discourses concerning social reality that divide Latinos and particularly Puerto Ricans from older, now largely English-speaking Americans. At the same time, the speakers and the communities their views represent are closer than one might suspect at first glance. Debra Moskowitz, Sonia Cruz, and Carmen Morales are, respectively, a teacher and two students in an upstate New York junior high school. They reside in the same city and are citizens of the same nation. In short,...

  5. 1 The Making of Arnhem, the “Friendly City”
    (pp. 20-31)

    Amhem² traces its beginnings to the late 1700s, when it first emerged as a small, somewhat remote upstate New York village. Native Americans living in the region at that time were rapidly displaced by European immigrants and their descendants, eventually including English, Dutch, German, Irish, and Jewish settlers. In the decades following the Civil War regional industries began to prosper; Amhem, with its seemingly inexhaustible supply of water power and access to a major river, was on its way to becoming the proverbial boom town. The industrialization then transforming the nation likewise transformed Amhem. An 1870 business directory sang the...

  6. 2 Marginality, Mobility, and the Melting Pot
    (pp. 32-56)

    Contemporary struggles over “multiculturalism” in the United States cannot be understood without also considering the sociohistorical context in which these struggles have evolved. From the very conception of the nation people of color were excluded from the imagined national community; it is this marginalization and exclusion, I all but invisible in the public arena until the 1960s, that have fueled the current multicultural thrust.

    From the outset the nation’s founders sought to limit eligibility for citizenship. In 1790 Congress passed a bill limiting naturalization to “free white citizens.” African-American, Native American, Puerto Rican, and Mexican populations, meanwhile, were forcibly incorporated...

  7. 3 Puerto Ricans Enter a Racialized Social Order
    (pp. 57-80)

    Puerto Ricans’ participation in multicultural debates in the United States cannot be fully understood without first looking closely at the island’s mode of entrance into the United States and the subsequent experiences of Puerto Ricans as racialized “others.” The “immigrant analogy” would situate Puerto Ricans as only the most recent in a long line of immigrant groups, each one equally positioned for upward mobility and assimilation into the American mainstream. In this case, however, the analogy is inherently flawed. It ignores critical differences: a long history of racial discrimination and stigmatization, a colonial relationship that shaped Puerto Ricans’ entry into...

  8. 4 Telling Stories
    (pp. 81-118)

    Racialized groups are frequently evaluated for their fitness as members in the national community from the perspective of the “immigrant analogy” or “ethnic myth” (Steinberg 1989). This assumption rests on the premise that “there are no essential long-term differences—in relation to the larger society—between thethird worldor racial minorities and the European ethnic groups” (Blauner 1972:5). All ethnic groups are seen as similarly situated in terms of the structures of opportunity.

    Despite sustained challenges beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, in recent years this assumption has taken on a new life in public discourse. Although arguments for...

  9. 5 Dangerous Discourses
    (pp. 119-161)

    The moment of self-nothingness Adrienne Rich describes points to the role of definitions, knowledge, and exclusion in American education. It concerns the way in which both the stories told and the stories silenced in schools are part of a selective process of self-recognition and self-formation that implicate apparently neutral questions of school knowledge in heated ongoing debates about cultural identity and social conflict. An often -asked question in this debate is whether and how school knowledge builds on and affirms some identities while destabilizing and negating others. A less frequently asked question is how teachers perceive and participate in this...

  10. 6 Inclusion and Exclusion in the Classroom
    (pp. 162-224)

    Among the areas of inquiry considered in the search for explanations for unequal educational outcomes has been the classroom environment itself. “Cultural mismatches” between student and teacher, with subsequent calls for “culturally appropriate,” or “culturally congruent” instruction, were an early focus beginning in the late 1960s. Increasingly, however, such alterations are viewed as only one element in creating classroom communities that enhance nonmainstream students’ opportunities to succeed academically. Multicultural educators have called for greater attention to how traditional classroom practices work to marginalize nonmainstream students. Gloria Ladson-Billings urges the adoption of culturally relevant pedagogy that “provide(s) a way for students...

  11. 7 After/Words
    (pp. 225-242)

    The myth of schools as meritocratic institutions, as the intermediary mechanism through which all Americans are provided equal opportunity to achieve success, functions as an important fiction, an imaginary resolution of the social contradictions inherent in a class-divided society with longstanding social divisions that fall out along racial and ethnic lines. “In a society marked by great disparities of wealth and power,” note the editors of a recent collection of articles that closely examine the role of schools in reproducing societal inequities and the potential for change, “American schools have often been praised as a pathway to equality. But public...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 243-254)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-276)
  14. Index
    (pp. 277-289)