August 28

The three readings A Part and Apart by Erika Lee, Nation of Migrants by Adam Goodman, and Globalizing Migration Histories by Bruno Ramirez all discuss the common theme of modern shifts in the framework in which immigration studies is conducted. They indicate what the old and upcoming frameworks are, and how their respective applications hinder or advance the field’s scholarship. Within the old framework, immigration historians focused on primarily on immigration and how it developed alongside the conceptualization of nation-states. Within the new framework, however, emphasis is placed on migration as a whole rather than solely immigration. The distinction here is, as the pieces all indicate, immigration refers specifically to people moving from one nation-state to settle in another and typically correlates with processes of developing ethnic enclaves and adapting to the culture of the host county to a degree. Migration, however, encompasses human movements beyond immigration, including: local and regional migrations, forced or coerced migrations, and circular migrations. This perspective allows for an analysis beyond the constraints of the nation-state and includes the experiences of populations crucial to developing a more holistic recounting of world history.

The pieces by Lee and Goodman support this shift in focus to global migration patterns, while Ramirez identifies some precautions. In her piece, Lee recognizes a stark split in the opinions of immigration history scholars regarding what direction the field should take. Prominent figures like Sanchez argued for more racially and ethnically nuanced perspectives to be included in the academia, while other notable scholars such as Voceli pushed back strongly on the notion and argued instead to maintain a broader immigration perspective without such nuanced distinctions. Lee proceeded to assert that these two perspectives are not intrinsically at odds with one another through a global migration framework, and discussed how the works of scholars like Gabaccia did just that. Goodman in his piece also expressed support for the expansion of immigration history academia beyond just immigration to global migration. He argues the necessity of decentralizing the role of immigration and nation-states in the field in order to combat harmfully inaccurate clichés such as American exceptionalism.

Ramirez, however, identified in his piece key drawbacks to imposing a globalized perspective on human migration. While he does not contest with the idea of refocusing on migration rather than immigration, he does assert the importance of distinguishing the regional from the global. He demonstrates this namely in his case study of Canadian migration history, which he describes as distinctly confined to regional movement. He explains how French Canadians tended to almost exclusively migrate to New England, Anglo-Canadians tended to migrate to Washington and occasionally Northern California, and how almost no Canadian migrants moved beyond those confines. Ramirez asserts that this hardly demonstrates a global pattern of migration, and that to impose a globalized perspective would actually prove counterproductive.

I agree with the opinions of Lee and Goodman. Immigration as we understand it today do not fully encompass the significant movements of certain populations throughout history. Particularly in the context of U.S. history, it is counterproductive to our understanding of our nation’s cultural and political history. For one, a sole immigration perspective does not address the coerced movements of indigenous peoples nor the forced and coerced movements of African slaves and African Americans. Furthermore, this framework, as Goodman indicated, propels American exceptionalism. It hyper-focuses on the experiences of European settlers, and later European immigrants to continue the myth that America is this wonderful mixing pot of individuals who chose to build a better life for themselves in a land of unique opportunity. While their experiences are indeed important pieces of the American puzzle, it is important for academia to expand its lenses and construct a more accurate picture.

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