Ethnic enclaves have long played, and continue to play, significant and normally peaceful roles in bridging the periods between the arrivals of new and culturally different immigrant groups and their assimilation into United States society. At the same time, they have also, to some degree, prolonged assimilation periods, and their presence has sometimes been perceived as an inflammatory refusal on the immigrants’ part to join the American nation.
One of the most enduring self-images of United States society is that of the
The melting pot image also rests on a firm empirical base, albeit mostly on the
Unemployed Chinese men in San Francisco’s Chinatown district around the year 1900, when the city had the largest concentration of Chinese immigrants in North America.
Other factors also work to foster and sustain such enclaves. None is more common or significant than the two-sided nature of the culture shock that groups from differing ethnic backgrounds experience when they first encounter one another. For newcomers, immersion in a foreign culture, adjusting to a different economic setting–such as urban rather than rural–and perhaps encountering a different dominant language and a different religion can all combine to produce a strong desire to recreate a more familiar environment. The re-creation of the remembered homeland by incoming immigrants, often from a single village or province, provides a secure environment to which to return after a daily bath in the outside culture. Such a setting can even serve as a cocoon within which a day-to-day life not too distant from that of the land of origin can be preserved, in which a familiar religion can be practiced, in which an immigrant entrepreneur class can develop, and in which the process of assimilating to the new world can be eased.
Meanwhile, encounters with the newly arrived can also result in a culture shock
As immigrants moved inland from their coastal points of arrival, ethnic enclaves became common in cities throughout the country. Their presence remained strong during the early twenty-first century, though often in less heavily populated centers, and have sometimes taken the forms of small restaurant or tourist districts, rather than the mini-worlds of cultural distinctiveness they constituted a century earlier. At least a score of United States cities, and another half-dozen in Canada and Mexico, contain
Although culturally distinct, these older ethnic enclaves have nonetheless exhibited significant structural similarities. For example,
At least equally important, the ethnic enclaves were sustained by economic cores. Their businesses were generally owned and operated by members of the community, with many of them catering to their communities’ particular tastes and needs, while providing jobs for their members. Indeed, inside the enclaves, discrimination often favored community members over outsiders in the sense that social norms sheltered the housing, investment, and labor markets of the enclaves from outsider competition. Consequently, ethnic enclaves often provided their members with economically secure footings from which to venture into the broader society. At the same time, to the extent that they became restaurant zones or otherwise attracted outsiders, ethnic enclaves fostered interaction between their members and others within secure environments. In so doing, they encouraged their own members to learn English sooner rather than later, thus facilitating the process of interethnic interaction within the linguistic polyglots that were late nineteenth century U.S. cities and, ultimately, the assimilation of the ethnic groups into the wider society.
The history of the United States as an immigrant nation continues to unfold–sometimes over the opposition of such conservative groups as those fearing the “Re-Mexicanization” of the American Southwest–as
The arrival of new immigrants is rapidly transforming the ethnic character of the American nation. Latinos have already replaced African Americans as the country’s largest ethnic or racial minority, and the arrival of large numbers of Koreans, Vietnamese, and others from Southeast Asia in the last third of the twentieth century recast the Asian American profile, which previously had been dominated by Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Like their predecessors, members of these new groups have established their own ethnic neighborhoods, albeit increasingly in suburban areas, rather than the inner city enclaves created by the immigrants arriving from Europe and Asia during the nineteenth century. Indeed, for all the talk of cities like
Abrahamson, Mark. Urban Enclaves: Identity and Place in America. 2d ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2005. Sociological study of ethnic enclaves that is especially useful for advanced research. Bohon, Stephanie. Latinos in Ethnic Enclaves: Immigrant Workers and the Competition for Jobs. New York: Garland, 2001. Focusing on the ethnic enclaves of Latinos in four American cities, this study is valuable both as a snapshot of major recent immigrant communities and as an examination of the competition among members of various Latino communities rooted in the struggle for jobs. Castile, George Pierre, and Gilbert Kushner, eds. Persistent Peoples: Ethnic Enclaves in Perspective. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1982. Older but widely available and still valuable collection of essays on enclaves. A good basic introduction to the subject. Jendian, Matthew A. Becoming American, Remaining Ethnic: The Case of Armenian Americans in Central California. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2008. Focuses on the oldest Armenian community in the western United States; however, the true value of this immensely interesting book lies in its treatment of the multidimensional nature of assimilation in American society. Keyes, Charles F. “The Dialectics of Ethnic Change.” In Ethnic Change, edited by Charles F. Keyes. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981. Authoritative source on the definition of ethnic enclaves, and a useful introduction to the topic offered in the form of an anthology on ethnic groups coping with their minority status. Logan, John R. The New Ethnic Enclaves in America’s Suburbs. Albany, N.Y.: Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research, 2001. Census-based and statistics-laden study of the changing patterns of residency in the United States between 1990 and 2000. Also available online. Ryon, Roderick N. Northwest Baltimore and Its Neighborhoods, 1870-1970: Before “Smart Growth.” Baltimore: University of Baltimore and the City of Baltimore, 2000. Exceptionally interesting account of ethnic enclaves and their gradual transformation in Baltimore, Maryland, a major port city during the nineteenth century.
Melting pot theory