IMMIGRATION RESEARCH IN THE DFW METROPLEX
Since 2001, a team of researchers (Caroline B. Brettell, Department of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University; Dennis Cordell, Department of History, SMU; Manuel Garcia y Griego, Center for Mexican-American studies, UTA - now University of New Mexico; and James F. Hollifield, Department of Political Science, SMU) has been engaged in a large scale research project examining immigration to the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) metropolitan area. This research was initially funded by the National Science Foundation ("Immigrants, Rights and Incorporation in a Suburban Metropolis") and more recently Dr. Caroline Brettell has continued work focused on the political incorporation of immigrants with funding from the Russell Sage Foundation ("Practicing Citizenship in a New City of Immigration: An Ethnographic Comparison of Asian Indian and Vietnamese Immigrants and their Children"; co-Investigator, Deborah Reed-Danahay, Department of Anthropology, SUNY-Buffalo).
The study of immigration in the United States is often associated with four megacities--New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. In recent years, second-tier metropolitan areas in the Midwest and West, or in the South and Southwest have received large number of new immigrants. However, research on the incorporation of immigrants into the economy and society of these cities and their suburbs has been minimal. Research on the political, social, and economic incorporation of immigrants in DFW contributes to our understanding of the more widespread impact of immigration in the United States. The research compares and contrasts the immigrant experiences of five different groups--Asian Indian, Nigerian, Vietnamese, Salvadoran, and Mexican--who have established themselves in Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton counties since 1980. The NSF-funded study included an analysis of census data from 1970-2000 to track broad trends in demographic and settlement patterns; historical research on changing attitudes toward immigrants in the region; in-depth interviews with state and local government officials, heads of social service agencies and community organizations, and employers; and ethnographic field research. It also focused on immigrant entrepreneurs. In each group 100-200 households, selected at random as well as through convenience sampling, were interviewed on a range of topics including basic social and demographic information; migration, residential and employment histories; social networks; civic involvement; leisure-time activities; cultural values; and general attitudes about immigration and citizenship.
The Russell-Sage funded project, using a "communities of practice" model, has focused on the civic engagement and political incorporation of two of the groups that were part of the larger study - Vietnamese and Asian Indians. This project studies the informal mechanisms by which people acquire civic knowledge, become civically engaged, express citizenship and hence become incorporated into the American polity. The research explores three types of questions:
1) Political and Sociocultural Contexts. What are the main arenas at the community and regional levels that foster civic knowledge and engagement among Asian Indians and Vietnamese -- i.e. institutions (such as work-sites, schools, churches/temples), ethnic-based and non-ethnic based voluntary associations (including PTAs); ethnic and non-ethnic based media (print, internet, film, radio, and television)? What role is played by particular community leaders (ethnic and non-ethnic)? What factors within the communities under study limit civic engagement among these two groups?
2) Modes of Political Incorporation. What are the formal and informal/symbolic modes of civic engagement among Indian and Vietnamese immigrants and their offspring? What is the nature of individual, collective, and "pan-Asian" participation in the public shphere? What examples can be found of successful community participation?
3) Differences Between and Within Each Group. How do the differences between these two immigrant groups affect the ways in which they engage in the public sphere? What factors, including those of gender and generation, affect differences in community participation within each of these groups?