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Thematic Issues
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Pamela A. Geller is a TISR Editorial Board Member and an Associate Professor at Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, USA. Ellen Moore-Boohar is her assistant.



Dear readers, 


Our last issue (Issue 6, published in April 2002), which focused on migrations to Germany and France, has turned out to be very well connected with recent European political events. Most notably, in May 2002, the French presidential elections, the assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, and the legislative elections in Holland highlighted the interethnic problems, social dislocation, and rise of the extreme right in Europe, thereby making our publication very timely and relevant.

In this issue, we present Part II of this discourse on migrations in Europe (Issue 7, published in November 2002). In the current editorial, we will attempt to identify basic parallels and distinctions between key components discussed in the various chapters of the book and our observations of what is happening in the United States. Albert Bastenier (part II, chapter 12) speaks of the increasing movement in Europe towards integration of members of a society within a “determined political space”, instead of within the “culture of this political space”. This is also true today in the U.S., where one is expected to be first and foremost an “American”, and, then, one has his/her particular cultural or ethnic background. This is represented in the way that ethnic groups are classified in the U.S., such as African American, Hispanic or Latino American, Asian American, and so on. Furthermore, it is currently expected that new immigrants can integrate into American society without having to conform to a particular culture. The U.S. ideology strives to embrace the concept of “pluralism,” which refers to acceptance of ethnic diversity within a society, as its ideal. But this ideal has not been truly attained, and over time many “members” of this society seem to have less in common. This is somewhat evidenced by the debate on the “decline of America’s social capital”. There are frequent displays of both subtle and overt forms of discrimination towards minority individuals, as well as cultural misunderstandings, across the U.S. Some majority culture members remain resistant to change, fearing that they will lose their own cultural benchmarks, or possible their biological identity (through intermarriage), or that ethnic minorities will compromise economic stability.

This also is evident in Hervé Le Bras’ discussion in Chapter 13 of this book, when he presents an historical perspective of the rejection of foreign persons in France and Germany, in terms of mistrust and fear of betrayal, during difficult times (e.g., during war and times of “demographic decline”). Furthermore, immigrants may have problems adapting to the mainstream American culture. In principle, “pluralism” does not require ethnic minority groups to assimilate to the majority culture; instead, it allows for ethnic minorities to maintain and express their distinct cultural traditions without fear of prejudice or hostility from majority culture members. However, this does not preclude the need for new immigrants to make certain adjustments in order to function successfully in the receiving society. For example, immigrants may learn the English language and engage in American customs (e.g., celebrating Independence Day), as a means of becoming more a part of the mainstream American society. But these moves towards integration in American society can reflect practical needs or pragmatic strategies, since those who do not speak English will have a difficult time getting jobs and obtaining the resources that they need to survive.  

Also, in this book, Wolfgang Seifert and Bernhard Nauck (Chapters 19 and 20) discuss how immigrants in Germany who have a strong knowledge of the German language or belong to later generations are not necessarily more likely to be better integrated into German society or to have greater identification with the German nationality. This may be the case in the U.S. as well, since many recent immigrants to the U.S. tend to affiliate with and seek support from other persons of similar backgrounds. Latino immigrants, in particular, tend to seek out and reside in “barrios” or enclaves where they can identify with others who understand their particular culture. 

In France today, Bastenier describes how recent immigrants are not assimilating as completely as in the past, which is creating a crisis in the French national identity (Ch. 12). As in the U.S., new immigrants are maintaining distinct cultural benchmarks with greater frequency. In Chapter 15, Michèle Tribalat discusses the evolution of the integration of Algerian and other North-African immigrant descendants in France as the generations progress. Despite the assimilation of new generations into the majority’s culture and language, and the lessening of the practice of Islam - the religion of their heritage, there is still a distance between these ethnic minorities and the majority culture. This distance results in social problems such as high rates of unemployment, poor living conditions and discrimination.  At the same time, there is a distance between the immigrant descendents and the older generations. This is similar to what can be seen in the U.S. where some second-generation Chinese and Japanese Americans are attending less to the cultural traditions of their families’ country of origin, which results in tension and some disconnect between themselves and the older generations. However, this has not resulted in the same sort of social problems among Asian Americans that Tribalat described for North African immigrants in France, since as a group Chinese and Japanese Americans have tended to be more economically successful in the U.S. than other minority groups. In small part, the success of these Asian Americans can be attributed to their integration into and success in the post-secondary educational system in the U.S. On the other hand, in Chapter 16, Dominique Duprez discusses how children of immigrants in France, even when achieving higher levels of education, are still experiencing high rates of unemployment and economic marginalization. Duprez implies that ethnicity alone may be responsible for this “glass ceiling” effect. 

In Chapter 17, Michel Oriol and Marina Hily discuss issues related to family structure of Tunisian and Portuguese immigrants in France.  Immigrant families that maintain “bilateral attachments” to their country of origin and to France are able to adapt to the new culture while avoiding “social disaffiliation” from either country. Having extended family that remains in the country of origin helps immigrant families to maintain social and cultural ties and links to their broader familial network. With immigrants to the U.S., those that remain in contact with family members from their country of origin also have additional social support resources to aid them in their adaptation. Some Latino immigrants that are unable to maintain such contact because of political reasons (e.g., illegal immigrants) are at a disadvantage because there is a complete disruption of their primary source of social support and family network. This seems similar to what Oriol and Hily describe. 

Albert Bastenier showed how the “group identity becomes more unified when it faces a threat from a competitive group” (Chapter 12). Accordingly, since the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, Americans of all ethnic backgrounds have shown a renewed interest in demonstrating their national solidarity. Particularly a short time after the attacks, Americans were displaying American flags outside their homes, at their businesses, on their automobiles, and many were putting aside their bipartisan politics and joining together in the “fight against terrorism”. This was especially apparent when President George W. Bush addressed the Congress in the week after the attacks, and members of the Democratic and Republican parties were rallying in support of the President’s initiatives to wage war against those countries that were “harboring terrorists”. Of course, there was a downside to all of this American spirit and nationalism. Many American citizens of Arab decent suddenly were the objects of suspicion and even hatred, and there was a concern that civil liberties - the freedoms on which the U.S. nation was supposedly built - might be lost in a attempt to make America “safe” once again. These reactions represent an example of how when a nation or society feels threatened, the majority culture turns inward and there is increased prejudice and fear of the “other” group - in this case, Middle Eastern or Arab immigrants. A study of racial attitudes conducted after the terrorist attacks suggested that while many Americans deny excluding Arab Americans from the larger “American” group, these same Americans also make implicit associations that strongly exclude persons of Arab descent from the classification “American” (Clay, R., 2002, « Research on 9/11: What psychologists have learned so far », in: Monitor on Psychology, 33, 8, 28: 30)).  Moreover, although the American ideal is to include members of all races, ethnicities, and cultures, under the rubric “American,” the reality may not have reached this ideal. Events, like Al Khaida’s attacks over New York and Washington, which threaten the American sense of security, also may result in a step backward in acceptance of persons from other cultures. This is likely linked to attitudes toward immigration, and questions like, “Are we letting too many new immigrants enter the country?” and “Do we really know who these people are?”. These are difficult questions for Americans, since the U.S. is a country of immigrants, which has prided itself on being a nation that thrives on a diversity of cultures, religions, racial/ethnic backgrounds, and national origins.  With the present day threat of large-scale war, there is the potential for strong stereotypes to emerge regarding fears of cultures that differ from one’s own, but it is not yet clear how this potential will get played out in the U.S., as well as in other countries, in the years to come

In a similar perspective, in Chapter 18, Peter Noack describes the still common belief that Germans are more xenophobic than persons from other Western societies. He provides evidence that this is not actually the case, but resulted from lingering stereotypes that developed around World War II. One cannot discuss immigration and culture in the U.S. without giving attention to the recent wave of immigration from Mexico, Central and South America, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. These Latino immigrants comprise the largest growing immigrant population in the U.S., and it is anticipated that by 2005, Latinos will surpass African Americans as the country’s largest minority group.  These transitions are having a profound influence on the cultural composition of the U.S., particularly in Southern and Western states, such as Florida, Texas, and California. 

In Chapter 10, Michel Grignon discusses the economic theory of immigration, which argues that both the immigrant and the receiving country must perceive “some advantage” economically in order for that immigrant to “leave his/her country of origin.”  This theory can be applied to the U.S., where this is a complementary process at play between the immigrants, who are seeking jobs in the U.S., and between certain industries in the U.S., who are seeking “cheap labor.”  The migratory phenomenon is not a one-way process; some forces within the U.S. must have some need for these immigrants in order for them to seek employment in the US. In fact, Latino immigrants contribute significantly to the unskilled labor force in the U.S., and many illegal immigrants are working in substandard conditions, for pay that is below minimum wage. 

This is similar to Patrick Hunout’s discussion in Chapters 11 and 14, which highlights that the newest immigrants often enter the receiving country at the lowest socioeconomic level, taking the least skilled jobs, and reinforcing the permanence of the old class structure. However, one major difference between what he describes happening in Europe and what we see in the U.S. is that the European countries have a more stable class structure that is carried from generation to generation, whereas in the U.S., there is theoretically more fluidity and social mobility. The distinction of classes in the U.S. is based largely on socioeconomics, and a particular individual can in theory change from a lower category to a higher class category by pursuing higher education, changing careers and earning a higher income. At the group level, rising from one social class to the next happens at a much slower pace, if ever. Despite the increased acceptance of many aspects of Latino culture, there is concern in American communities about the burden of accommodating the needs of this growing population of immigrants.  Particularly in small towns, Americans are worried about the “drain on local resources” created by this rapid immigration (CNN - Cable News Network, 23 October, 2002.  Special report [Television broadcast]).  There is an increased need for schools to provide language services, such as classes in English as a second language (ESL). Also, there is a greater need for affordable housing and social services as a result of the growing immigrant populations. 

In Chapter 14, Patrick Hunout argues that democracy can only be attained by “limitation of the role of the state compared to the role of society” and that this ideal, theoretically put in place by the laws of France, may not have yet penetrated the public mind of the French people. Although the political and social history of the U.S. is very different from that of France, particularly since the U.S. does not have a monarchal past, there still is a struggle in the U.S. to find a balance between a centralized power and the freedom of the people to make their own decisions. This is represented from time to time in governmental attempts to dictate the values or morals of society, such as through laws on abortion. In both the U.S. and in France, we can observe attempts at the individual level, the group/societal level and the government level to manage the range of sociopolitical issues related to immigration (in the U.S., we also sometimes see struggles at the level of state governments). As presented throughout this book, we also can observe the effects of immigration and related policies on cultural identity. France, Germany, and the U.S. populations all appear to be struggling to maintain a certain level of homogeneity, so as to function as a unified society, while still allowing for individual or group freedoms, such as practicing one’s religion and maintaining the traditions of one’s particular cultural background. Furthermore, the attainment of a true democracy, as discussed by Hunout, where there are clear limits placed on the centralized power, where the people have a strong voice in the government, and where liberties are guaranteed for all people (including all majority and minority individuals), continues to be a challenge in the U.S., France, and Germany.






 Copyright  The Social Capital Foundation 2003, All Rights Reserved

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