I.  Immigration Policy: Are Asian-American and Latino Experiences Analogous?

To illuminate the uncertain role accorded to Latinos in the policy analysis here, let me begin by summarizing the paper on immigration. In “Centering the Immigrant in the Inter/National Imagination,” Professors Chang and Aoki describe the relationships among immigration, citizenship, and nationhood. They pose two key questions: “What negotiations must the immigrant make in traversing the border to gain entry into the United States? Once ‘inside,’ what other borders remain?” According to Chang and Aoki, “[a]lthough borders have become increasingly porous to flows of information and capital, borders are constricting when it comes to the movement of certain persons.” They argue that “news of the nation-state's demise is premature” because “the nation-state is reasserting (and perhaps re-creating) itself through control over immigration and the immigrant.”

Rather than romanticizing the immigrants' story, the authors insist on acknowledging the full extent to which explicitly racial overtones in immigration law and policy undercut a professed national commitment to colorblindness and equal citizenship. In their view, efforts to exclude immigrants turn on fears that newcomers from some racial groups will not assimilate to an American way of life. To support this view, Chang and Aoki cite Etienne Balibar's description of the European experience with racism and immigration: “It is a racism whose dominant theme is not biological heredity but the insurmountability of cultural differences . . . .” In arguing that prejudice can be linked to culture as well as biology, the authors identify a particular brand of racism: nativistic racism. In coining the term, the authors explain that nativist movements in the United States have never been indiscriminately directed against foreigners--they have been directed against those immigrants who can be racialized.

Chang and Aoki contend that the experience of immigrant populations reveals the dark side of American pluralism, which intensifies an awareness of differences, exacerbates racism, and makes race-neutral colorblindness an impossibility. Nativism and nationalism lead to internal borders that wall out racialized immigrant groups. Indeed, “[f]oreign-ness is inscribed upon [their] bodies in such a way that Asian-Americans and Latina/os carry a figurative border” within them which marks them as “targets of nativistic racism.” Chang and Aoki point to evidence that White Americans believe that they are under siege from racial minorities, resulting in calls for more vigorous border enforcement, elimination of affirmative action, less emphasis on multicultural curricula, and welfare reforms that deny aid to both legal and undocumented immigrants.

According to Chang and Aoki, rising numbers of Latino and Asian immigrants have created fears that America's national identity is in jeopardy. This national identity crisis in turn forces Americans to confront the role of race in defining the “good American.” Americans must decide whether, as historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. claims, “[t]he American synthesis has an inevitable Anglo-Saxon coloration” that must be preserved to avoid “disintegration of the national community, apartheid, Balkanization, [and] tribalization.”

Chang and Aoki argue that even traditional forms of success can not shield a group from nativistic racism, as the case of the “model” minority, Asian Americans, demonstrates. The very success of Asian Americans, shown by high levels of education and employment, makes them a model for less successful racial and ethnic groups, but a menace to “real” Americans who fear displacement by “foreigners.” As a result, an immigrant group prized for its industry and ambition can at the same time become a target of racial hate crimes. The authors argue that Asian Americans, like Latinos, are “perpetual internal foreigners, [who] allow ‘real’ Americans . . . to reassure themselves that the national community begins and ends with themselves, ensuring, at least momentarily, a stable notion of the national community and the fiction of a homogeneous American identity.”

To illustrate the limitations of a model of assimilation, Chang and Aoki turn to a case study of Monterey Park, California. Confronted with rapid growth in both Asian-American and Latino populations, the formerly White, middle-class community experienced interracial and inter-ethnic tensions. These strains were expressed through political demands for slow growth and official English. Throughout the city's struggle to redefine itself, its demographic transformation was seldom linked to global shifts in the economy that influence the flow of capital and labor across international borders. Instead, the controversy focused on domestic policy issues such as redistricting and municipal governance.

Despite common concerns about the backlash against immigrants in Monterey Park, Asian Americans and Latinos at best formed fragile and unstable coalitions. These alliances may have remained weak because of the racial, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and class differences between the two groups. Latinos and Asian Americans in Monterey Park undoubtedly faced similar barriers of racism and hostility from the White community. Yet, these similarities were not enough to overcome the very different experiences of each group, or of the smaller groups within these monolithic labels, so that vital and enduring ties could be forged.

A. The Uncertain Analogy Between Asian-American and Latino Experiences

Chang and Aoki make important contributions to understanding the links between race, ethnicity, immigration, and citizenship. However, their paper seldom attempts to distinguish between Latinos and Asian Americans. Instead, the authors simply analogize Latinos to Asian Americans--at least for purposes of evaluating immigration and citizenship. For Chang and Aoki, the key point is that both Latinos and Asian-Americans are considered foreign and hence undesirable in the eyes of native-born Whites. Undoubtedly, these are important shared characteristics that affect immigration policy. What the authors largely ignore, however, are the significant differences between Latinos and Asian Americans. Still left to be explored, then, is whether their understanding of immigration law and citizenship theory would change if the Latino experience were at the center of the analysis.

The distinctions between Latinos and Asian Americans are significant enough to merit careful consideration before assuming that each group has similar policy needs. First, there is the matter of sheer numbers. Although Asian immigration has grown explosively in recent decades, Asian Americans remain a small part of the United States population. The sense of Asian Americans' foreignness undoubtedly stems in part from the fact that in 1994 nearly two-thirds of this population was foreign-born, and most had entered the United States since 1970. By contrast, the flow of Latinos into the United States has been substantial, steady, and longstanding. The growth of the Latino population is likely to continue. In fact, the Census Bureau predicts that by the year 2050, Latinos will outnumber Blacks, Asian Americans, and Native Americans combined. As of 1994, only 38.5% of the Hispanic-origin population was foreign-born, and most had lived in the United States long enough to be eligible for naturalization. However, a mere 18.3% had become citizens.

Although, historically, Asian immigrants were ineligible for citizenship, these racial restrictions on naturalization were lifted in 1952. The post-1965 Asian immigration to the United States has included significant numbers of highly skilled, urban professionals. By contrast, Latinos continue to enter largely as temporary laborers ineligible for citizenship. Between 1940 and 1992, only 1.2 million Mexicans entered the United States as legal immigrants, while 4.6 million came as temporary contract workers, and approximately four million entered without documents. By 1986, the population of undocumented immigrants who had resided in the United States for a substantial number of years was so large that about 2.3 million were legalized under the Immigration Reform and Control Act. In contrast to the general assumption that immigrants come to the United States with an expectation of citizenship, little more than twelve percent of Mexican-origin persons arrived with the formal option to make the United States their permanent home. Only after a period of uncertainty did the number who could remain in the United States as permanent resident aliens or citizens nearly triple through legalization.

Another significant difference between Latino and Asian immigrants is their proximity to countries of origin. Most Latino immigrants can travel back and forth with relative ease between the United States and their homelands, especially Mexico. As a result, transnational communities develop composed of international workers with ties to both the United States and the country of origin. These dual connections arguably impede rates of naturalization, even among Latino immigrants who are eligible for citizenship. In addition, preserving ties to the homeland is a particularly critical aspect of long-term survival for those who come as temporary workers or without documents because they cannot be sure the United States will remain their place of residence.

Consequently, Latinos do not necessarily fit traditional models of immigration which assume that newcomers will assimilate over time to an American way of life; instead, Latinos may persist as a bilingual and bicultural population to a greater degree than other immigrant groups. Transnational communities of bilingual, bicultural persons are a direct result of the imperatives of international migration and the restrictions of domestic immigration policy. The betwixt and between nature of many Latino migrants can create a sense of foreignness that is neither a figment of the nativist imagination, nor proof of Latino subversion of American values. Rather, the ambiguous status of transnational communities directly reflects unresolved policy dilemmas that pit the economic need for cheap labor against the political demand for linguistic and cultural coherence. In short, America wants the work without the worker.

Moreover, immigration policy cannot account entirely for the Latino experience in the United States. In contrast to Asian Americans, not all Latinos have entered the United States as voluntary immigrants. Persons of Puerto Rican and Mexican origin, the two Latino sub-groups with the poorest outcomes in terms of education and employment, have a history of territorial annexation. Indeed, Puerto Ricans today are not immigrants at all, for they are United States citizens by birth. Despite their status as citizens, they continue to suffer from the lowest rates of educational attainment, the most depressed rates of income and employment, and the highest rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and single-parent households of the major Latino sub-groups.

Although legacies of conquest often are dismissed as nothing more than ancient history, they continue to influence public policy in important ways. In particular, this history of conquest uniquely complicates the links between racial categorization and subordination. For example, in the Southwest, following wars that resulted in annexation of large areas of Mexican territory, treaties provided that formerly Mexican citizens would receive equal treatment from the United States government. As a result, Latinos typically were not included in state statutes that required segregation of Blacks and Asian Americans from Whites. Instead, informal barriers to opportunity were used to exclude Latinos who were “White but not quite.” barriers included discrimination in housing that kept persons of Mexican origin in neighborhoods with low property values and inferior municipal services, including inadequate schooling. Before the advent of civil rights consciousness in the post-World War II era, employers could discriminate against Mexican-origin persons with impunity, keeping them in low-wage jobs with little hope of advancement. The historical treatment of Mexican-origin individuals as formally White and informally non-White has created ongoing ambiguities about the role of race in shaping their opportunities, whether they are immigrants or not.

B. The Implications of Distinct Asian-American and Latino Experiences for Immigration Policy

By equating the Asian and Latino immigration experiences, Chang and Aoki fail to acknowledge fully the distinct conundrums that each group poses for public policymakers. A traditional model of immigration assumes that immigrants arrive by invitation only, remain in the United States and renounce all former allegiances, and by dint of hard work sacrifice themselves so that their children and grandchildren can achieve the American dream. This nostalgic account of the immigrant experience is seriously flawed, even for White ethnic arrivals; still, it continues to dominate popular imagery and policy discussions of the “good immigrant.”

As Chang and Aoki note, Asian Americans have been labeled the model minority because first-generation immigrants, in spite of their racial status, have been able to lay the foundation for the notable educational and economic success of their children and grandchildren. Asian Americans thus appear to be the quintessential immigrant success story, often touted as proof that race need not be an obstacle to achieving the American dream.

For government officials, the challenge has been to determine whether Asian Americans, who are widely regarded as a distinct race, in fact are a racial minority. Numerically, they are a small population, but if the term “minority” depends on disadvantaged status, Asian Americans do not seem to have the same claim to public resources aimed at achieving racial equality as do other groups, particularly Blacks. Asian-American advocates respond that not all Asian sub-groups have enjoyed equivalent success. For example, Indochinese refugees do not fare as well as more established groups like the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. Moreover, those who insist on minority status for Asian Americans point out that even the most successful Asian Americans pay a racial tax not borne by Whites. That is, Asian Americans obtain a lower rate of return on their educational investment than Whites; their remarkable success is due to their willingness to compensate for this discrimination by investing more in education than Whites do.

Policy analysts have not been wholly persuaded by these arguments. Their research often links sub-group differences to recency of arrival, suggesting that the longer the time of residence, the more successful the group. Under this view, sub-group differences will fade as newly arrived populations achieve intergenerational assimilation. Based on evidence of housing integration and intermarriage of Whites and Asian Americans, some policymakers believe that even the residual racial tax on highly educated Asian Americans will disappear with further opportunity for assimilation and the elimination of vestiges of negative stereotyping.

Latinos present a distinctive problem: They appear to be a minority without being clearly identified as a racial minority. Unlike Asian Americans, Latinos are not formally classified as a race. The Census permits Latinos to be of any race, and most of those who select a racial designation choose “White.” Yet, based on their depressed levels of education and income, Latinos seem to qualify as a minority--albeit an ethnic one. Critics of the decision to include Latinos along with Blacks in affirmative action programs argue that Latinos' low socioeconomic status is an artifact of heavy immigration, rather than permanent disadvantage based on race or ethnicity. These critics contend that large numbers of recent immigrants with limited schooling and skills create a misleading impression of disadvantage based on ethnic discrimination. According to this view, Latinos, like other White ethnic groups, will assimilate over time, and disparities in education and income will disappear naturally without substantial government intervention.

Other commentators disagree with this rosy assessment. They contend that Latinos suffer from “blocked assimilation” because ethnic discrimination limits the opportunities of second-generation and third-generation Latinos by confining them to low-income, segregated neighborhoods with inadequate schooling and limited job opportunities. In some ways, these researchers argue, second-generation and third-generation Latino youths are worse off than their first-generation forebears. While newcomers express optimism about and satisfaction with their opportunities in the United States, their children and grandchildren report a sense of skepticism and failure. As a result, second-generation and third-generation Latinos are more apt than first-generation immigrants to succumb to the perils of life in the American underclass. In short, the hard work of first-generation Latinos is not necessarily rewarded by the success of their children and grandchildren.

Asian-American and Latino experiences play very different roles in policy accounts of the interaction of race, ethnicity, and immigration. Asian-American success is used to undercut claims that race is an insurmountable obstacle to success and to argue that race-based remedies like affirmative action are not needed to ensure meaningful access to education and employment. For policymakers, Asian Americans show that through hard work and ability, individuals can make it without government assistance, even if they are non-White.

The Latino experience confounds the links between race and immigration by showing that even if a group's members can formally be considered White, their full participation in American life can be thwarted. As the treatment of Latinos illustrates, official policies about race afford little protection when widespread, informal discrimination persists. Even though a substantial number of Latinos self-identify as White, they continue to be the object of negative stereotyping. Latinos have lower rates of education and income than Whites, and except for the most accomplished, Latinos do not earn wages comparable to Whites. Despite their formal classification as an ethnic rather than racial group, Latinos continue to live in segregated neighborhoods.

Moreover, the Latino experience challenges the assumption that assimilation is a natural phenomenon that automatically leads to intergenerational upward mobility. Blocked assimilation suggests that Latinos acculturate to the role of a disadvantaged minority with limited opportunities. Because of continuing prejudice, Latino immigrants cannot count on the full integration of their children and grandchildren into American society as a reward for their hard work in the marginal jobs that newcomers occupy.

Although the portrait of Latino immigrants is not clearly delineated in their paper, Chang and Aoki rely on a composite image of Asian and Latino newcomers to suggest that an alternative to the traditional model of immigration is needed. The contours of this alternative are not entirely clear. The authors seem to argue that the United States should refrain from a new brand of cultural racism, yet this term conflates culture and race in a way that is particularly undesirable in evaluating the situation of Latinos. Latinos have not been as clearly racialized as Asian newcomers--at least insofar as racialization is measured by formal racial classification schemes and statutes that have explicitly segregated groups based on race. By virtue of their proximity to home countries, however, Latinos develop transnational ties that perpetuate distinctive linguistic and cultural practices, a pattern that may not occur to the same extent among Asian immigrants. Consequently, cultural distinctiveness may be divorced from formal racialization in unique ways for Latinos.

One way of addressing barriers to full incorporation under the traditional immigration model is to insist on its race-neutral application; that is, all immigrants must enjoy the same opportunity to assimilate gradually to an American way of life, regardless of their country of origin. All groups ought to have the same chance to realize the promise of intergenerational mobility, whether European, Asian, African, or Latin American. Of course, Latinos, like Asians, would benefit from efforts to make the traditional model more inclusive than it has been. A large proportion of Latinos has entered the United States without promises of permanency or long-term integration into American society. As a result, they are not even included in a model that offers a promise of equality through intergenerational mobility. If prejudice accounts in part for the tendency to treat Latinos as temporary workers rather than potential citizens, the United States should increase the number of Latino workers who enjoy the opportunity to naturalize and settle permanently under a race-neutral version of the traditional immigration paradigm.

Making the traditional model race-neutral works best for immigrants who, apart from initial negative stereotypes of first-generation immigrants based on national origin, otherwise fit the model's assumptions. That is, they come by invitation, have the opportunity to naturalize, and have attenuated contact with their countries of origin. As already demonstrated, the Latino experience, perhaps more than the Asian-American experience, deviates from this framework. As a result, it is difficult for Latinos to thrive under a traditional model-- even one that aspires to formal racial neutrality. Under a race-neutral model, proximity to the homeland and transnational ties might still make Latinos seem somehow disloyal and foreign. As a result, they could be penalized for failing to acculturate, a sanction that would focus on mutable traits like language and culture rather than the immutable trait of race. To fully include Latinos, the United States might have to adopt an alternative model of immigration, one that recognizes the impact of a globalized economy in which capital and labor regularly flow across international borders. Rather than require immigrants to shed their earlier ties, a transnational model could recognize that dual identities are a natural artifact of the global marketplace, and that bilingualism and biculturalism are assets rather than threats to national integrity.

Chang and Aoki's paper contributes to the discussions about the impact of transnationalism that already are taking place in international law and immigration circles. Scholars are exploring not only what it means to be a good immigrant, but also what it means to be a good American. Some have argued that America is a country predicated on liberal individualism; freedom to make personal choices about one's identity are maximized, and one's Americanness resides in a commitment to democratic processes of self-governance. Under this sort of “thin” liberalism, which requires loyalty to process more than to substantive normative values, transnational affiliations are simply part of the package of liberties that Americans enjoy. On the other hand, prominent constitutional scholars have argued that America is in jeopardy because it has lost a sense of civic republicanism or communitarianism. Bent on the atomistic pursuit of self-actualization, Americans have ceased to engage in meaningful dialogue about core civic values and have lost a sense of community based on a shared culture and heritage. For republicans and communitarians, transnationalism is simply a further assault on American identity and cohesion, one that highlights how a notion of a uniquely American identity has seriously deteriorated.

Chang and Aoki's example of racial and ethnic division in Monterey Park undoubtedly confirms some of the worst fears that republicans and communitarians harbor about the consequences of trans-nationalism. The strife in this municipality seems to suggest that the democratic process alone offers insufficient protection against a vanishing sense of community and a declining commitment to the common good. Rather than simply attribute the conflict to White nativism, republicans and communitarians see this disharmony as the inevitable byproduct of patchwork populations without a shared heritage or experience. To support this view, republican and communitarian scholars could point to the way in which conflict between established and newly arrived residents cut across racial and ethnic lines in Monterey Park. When Chinese immigrants arrived in substantial numbers, not only Whites but also Latinos fled the area. Moreover, although nativist supporters of official English were mainly White, the movement also attracted some Latinos and Japanese Americans alarmed by the influx of Chinese immigrants. As one Japanese-American resident complained to his father, “God damn it, Dad, where the hell did all these Chinese come from? Shit, this isn't even our town anymore.”

If Chang and Aoki truly have in mind a transnational model of immigration and citizenship, it would be useful to provide a positive example of how it might work to shape a successful American experiment with diversity in local government. Chang and Aoki focus on the success of redistricting efforts in managing racial and ethnic conflict and competition, but Monterey Park offers additional evidence of a rapprochement among old and new constituencies that transcends racial and ethnic divisions. For instance, nativist city leaders were defeated in part by declining support among White residents who felt that local politics had become too balkanized, confrontational, and destructive. Coalitions of women from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds played a particularly important role in healing rifts within the community. With the decline of nativist politics, leaders were able to disaggregate legitimate concerns about the problems of gridlock and overdevelopment from the invocation of “slow growth” or “no growth” as code words for anti-Chinese sentiment. By examining the long-term political outcomes in Monterey Park, the authors might provide an even better sense of the resiliency of the democratic process, the accommodation of diverse groups, and the forging of a new sense of American community.