"At the Core and in the Margins"
Dr. Julia Albarracín examines the growing phenomenon of immigrant settlements into new destination sites. Traditionally, immigrants have settled in high numbers in industrial settings or border towns, however, Albarracín argues that as the Latino population continues to grow in the United States, they are increasingly settling in states outside of the West. Secondly, they are choosing to settle in non-metropolitan and rural areas. Her book focused on two new destination sites in west central Illinois: Beardstown and Monmouth. Both of these cities provide an interesting lens into new issues of immigrant incorporation due to the rapid growth of Latinos in each site.
Of concern for scholars in this area is the need to better understand how exactly incorporation functions, and by what mechanisms and processes immigrants and their families attain successful integration within their new homes. The implications of these processes remain significant. Successful incorporation opens doorways to immigrants and their families in terms of education, structural supports, and power. The dimensions these processes are measured on include cultural belonging, institutional supports, and legal rights. When these areas are limited then individuals can suffer estrangement and oppression in their host society. For example, the author notes that recent undocumented arrivals endure significant obstacles to incorporation due to their legal status, which can contribute to patterns of isolation, fear of authorities, vulnerability in the workplace, and discrimination. Scholars have also noted that the environment of the host country plays an increasingly interesting and vital part of the process of immigrant incorporation. Context matters. And the author does give some attention as to how larger geopolitical factors such as neoliberal agendas play into how receiving communities impact the culture of reception. These political agendas, along with fear of immigration in the post-9/11 period have created a new dynamic between immigrant and receiving communities.
Notwithstanding these larger processes, the author argues that “immigrants in new destinations are transforming small-town America…[in] different stages, including contact, conflict/negotiation, incorporation, and full incorporation” (p. 115). Her findings demonstrate that key factors of these processes must account for command of English, the extent to which the immigrants believed they were linked with others in the community, participation in activities of their environment, and the command of political attitudes of the receiving community.
The author expertly demonstrates various aspects of the incorporation process which each community experiences and negotiates. When new arrivals feel hostility directed at them, for example, there is less desire to mix with the dominant community and more of an inclination to associate with only other Latinos. She discusses racism, length of stay, language, social service access, gender, and legal barriers (such as anti-immigration laws and policies). Access to health care and participation in political activities also provided insights into the incorporation process.
Overall, this book is a nice addition to the literature that examines how newly arrived immigrants navigate and negotiate the various individual, social, and political processes at work. Dr. Albarracín does not sugar coat the complexity of how to understand Mexican immigrant incorporation. Of note here is the attention paid to two Midwestern cities who are experiencing a significant increase in immigrant populations. Although perhaps outside the scope for this study, the author does not include any interviews with the receiving community, though the study places a great emphasis on it.
Finally, a major issue that needs further attention is the sample itself. The author notes that most of her sample came from the undocumented community. This population, composed of around 11 million of the United States population, is one of the most highly vulnerable and unprotected groups. Because of this special status, such individuals can not follow the traditional models of incorporation as laid out by the author’s theoretical lens at the start of the book. With a sample of mostly undocumented Latinos primarily from Mexico, some of the results must be tempered. For example, in response to whether immigrants are politically active, one of the questions on the survey was “People express their opinions about politics and current events in a number of ways. In the United States, in the past year, have you contacted any elected official, or not?” and “In the United States, in the past year have you worked as a volunteer for or made a contribution to a political candidate, or not?” These questions more directly address the traditional immigrant, and not one who is in the United States with a tenuous and illegal status. So the questions as to political involvement must be moderated by the immigration status, knowing that individuals who are here without proper documentation would most likely steer away from any situation or volunteer activity that would compromise their status and the status and safety of their family.
This aside, the author’s contribution to the literature is an important one, as it demonstrates how complex incorporation is in new destination sites such as two small Midwestern cities. The interaction between personal, social, structural, and political issues marks this analysis as one worthy of reading. Of worthy note is the new lens used by Dr. Albarracín and other emerging immigration scholars that challenges traditional immigration studies and assumptions. In this case, There is a vital need to examine the social, economic, and political outcomes of new immigrant destinations. Traditional models of core/margin theories have yet to fully understand the impact of how immigrants to new destination sites have impacted the realities of community social life. In this way, Dr. Julia Albarracín’s work points to a much needed area of scholarly attention and rigor.