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To Be An American

To Be An American: Cultural Pluralism and the Rhetoric of Assimilation

Bill Ong Hing
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    To Be An American
    Book Description:

    The impetus behind California's Proposition 187 clearly reflects the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in this country. Many Americans regard today's new immigrants as not truly American, as somehow less committed to the ideals on which the country was founded. In clear, precise terms, Bill Ong Hing considers immigration in the context of the global economy, a sluggish national economy, and the hard facts about downsizing. Importantly, he also confronts the emphatic claims of immigrant supporters that immigrants do assimilate, take jobs that native workers don't want, and contribute more to the tax coffers than they take out of the system. A major contribution of Hing's book is its emphasis on such often-overlooked issues as the competition between immigrants and African Americans, inter-group tension, and ethnic separatism, issues constantly brushed aside both by immigrant rights groups and the anti-immigrant right. Drawing on Hing's work as a lawyer deeply involved in the day-to-day life of his immigrant clients, To Be An American is a unique blend of substantive analysis, policy, and personal experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4484-0
    Subjects: 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-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    proposition 187, an initiative to exclude undocumented children from public schools and bar their families from medical care, passes overwhelmingly in California. Congressional proposals that would reduce legal immigration by a third and preclude legal immigrants from receiving public assistance receive strong bipartisan support. The Immigration and Naturalization Service imposes strict asylum rules: applicants—even the poorest and most sympathetic—are prohibited from working, and any would-be refugee who misses the filing deadline is forever barred from applying.

    Is there any doubt that we are experiencing one of the most potent periods of anti-immigrant fervor in the United States? Nativists,...

  5. chapter 1 A Superior Multicultural Experience
    (pp. 6-12)

    Our experiences, from childhood through adolescence, young adulthood, and beyond, inevitably shape our views of race, assimilation, and a multiracial society. I grew up in Superior, Arizona, a copper-mining town of about five thousand people in the east-central part of the state. The youngest of ten children in one of three Chinese American families (or one extended family, since their members were my uncles, aunts, and cousins), I spoke mainly Cantonese to my immigrant parents,¹ and English to my American-born siblings. We had a small grocery adjacent to our house. Since Superior was predominantly Mexican American, I spoke Spanish to...

  6. chapter 2 A Nation of Immigrants, a History of Nativism
    (pp. 13-31)

    “We are a nation of immigrants.” How many times do we hear this phrase? Most of us encounter it in positive terms beginning in elementary school. Take my daughter’s Fifth Grade social studies textbookAmerica Will Be.¹ Chapter 1 is entitled “A Nation of Many Peoples,” and the first paragraph contains this passage: “From the earliest time, America has been a land of many peoples. This rich mix of cultures has shaped every part of life in the United States today.” The authors continue, as a “pluralistic culture, life is exciting. People work, join together, struggle, learn, and grow.”


  7. chapter 3 Mi Cliente y Amigo Rodolfo Martinez Padilla
    (pp. 32-43)

    I am often asked by students and friends, especially those who work with community-based organizations, why I decided to specialize in immigration law. My sense is that they are seeking a romanticized answer about how I was moved by my parents’ struggles with the immigration process, or that I was inspired by the plight of migrants and refugees seeking freedom or a better life, or that perhaps the inequities of the immigration laws or enforcement procedures sparked my interest. Indeed any of these explanations could be plausible. But the truth is that I fell into the field because the only...

  8. chapter 4 Searching for the Truth about Immigrants and Jobs
    (pp. 44-75)

    Negative images of immigrants and their purported impact on the U.S. economy have permeated the airwaves and print media headlines of late. These images largely revolve around two anti-immigrant arguments, broadly conceived of as “economic” in nature. The first argument posits that immigrants have a negative effect on the labor market, displacing native workers and depressing wages. The second is that immigrants burden the public coffers. The labor market complaint is the subject of this chapter, while the next chapter addresses the costs and revenues of immigrants.

    The image of immigrants as labor market demons is fueled by comments such...

  9. chapter 5 How Much Do Immigrants Cost? The Methodology Wars
    (pp. 76-106)

    Two competing ways of looking at the question of immigrants and the public fisc are apparent. One is the popular image of immigrants as culprits, fueled by a handful of studies and advanced by those calling for restrictions on immigration. The other is a commonsense perception of immigrants as net contributors, promoted by many economists and espoused by pro-immigrant forces. Those calling for immigration restrictions claim that immigrants impose net costs on taxpayers. This argument focuses on the fiscal impact of immigrants on the public sector, and suggests that immigrants consume more in public services such as education, public assistance,...

  10. chapter 6 Contextualizing Immigration
    (pp. 107-128)

    Whether intentionally or not, many who subscribe to restrictionist views today ignore the largely positive economic data about immigrants. Laying the blame for unemployment levels and the fiscal crises in our local governments and schools on immigrants is hard to resist. To restrictionists, the source of these problems is easily identified: too many immigrants cross our borders, take our jobs, and sap our coffers. And the solution seems easy: enact restrictive laws that increase border patrols, that complicate the lives of the undocumented who are already here, that reduce or halt legal immigration, and that block legal immigrants from receiving...

  11. chapter 7 Low-Wage Immigrants and African Americans
    (pp. 129-145)

    During the fall of 1994, I opposed Proposition 187 and participated in many 187 debates on radio, television, and public forums. Time and time again, one of the bases for passage urged by proponents of the initiative was that excluding immigrants—in this case the undocumented—would be beneficial to African Americans. Of course in most debates where this issue came up, the proponent generally was not African American, and was certainly not sympathetic to civil rights issues supported by most African Americans. As far as the drafters and primary organizers of Proposition 187 were concerned, the for-the-benefit-of-the-African-American-community argument was...

  12. chapter 8 Beyond the Economic Debate: The Cultural Complaint
    (pp. 146-159)

    Advocates calling for greater restrictions on immigration in this country do not limit their arguments to economic themes. For some, the millions of newcomers to this country in recent decades represent a challenge to their conception of America itself. For these critics, such as Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan and journalist Peter Brimelow, cultural and racial issues may be more important.

    In this chapter, we will look at the flaws of the Euro-immigrationist and cultural assimilationist positions. These flaws can be merged into two general propositions. The first is the normative premise that America has a strictly white, Christian, European...

  13. chapter 9 The Challenge to Cultural Pluralists: Interethnic Group Conflict and Separatism
    (pp. 160-173)

    In addition to fearing that current levels of immigration threaten to alter our Western cultural heritage, Euro-immigrationists and cultural assimilationists share two beliefs that are not as easily dismissed by cultural pluralists: first, that racial and ethnic conflicts have resulted from changes in the racial and ethnic character of the country, since the amendments to the immigration laws in 1965 permitted so many non-European immigrants to enter; and second, that these changes foster linguistic and cultural separatism which could threaten “the unity and political stability of the nation.”¹ The race assimilationist AIC insists that “[n]o one cause of American institutional...

  14. chapter 10 A New Way of Looking at America
    (pp. 174-181)

    Cultural pluralism is alive in the United States. Its advocates have tired of the assimilationist stridency which envisions a narrow, anachronistic, and European American notion of what it means to be an American. At the moment, a modified pluralism controls an immigration policy which, except for certain restrictive refugee policies, is more open than ever.¹ Asians and Latinos dominate the predominantly family-based immigration system. Recently available diversity visa programs are designed to permit Africans to use them, and many Latinos and some Haitians and Cubans were granted amnesty under a 1986 law. The government is no longer engaged in official...

  15. chapter 11 Back to Superior
    (pp. 182-191)

    Modern-day advocates of immigration restrictions often advance popular, but negative, images of immigrants and the economy. But people like my client Rodolfo Martinez Padilla do not hurt—and most likely help—the U.S. economy. While sometimes contradictory and inconclusive, the empirical results as a whole suggest that current levels of immigration—documented or undocumented—do not create massive job dislocation or depression of wages, nor result in net costs in the public sector as a whole. The fever-pitch charges aimed at immigrants are simply not justified by economic studies.

    Indeed, the presence of immigrants—both documented and undocumented—may actually...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 192-236)
  17. Index
    (pp. 237-244)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)