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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, August 9, 2010

IU professor's book examines immigration and racial politics

Aug. 9, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The United States is often called a nation of immigrants, a "melting pot" where people from across the globe can pursue their dreams. But waves of immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa have strained that image, raising questions about the resilience of American democracy.

Yvette Alex-Assensoh

Yvette Alex-Assensoh

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In Newcomers, Outsiders and Insiders: Immigrants and American Racial Politics in the Early Twenty-first Century, Indiana University professor Yvette Alex-Assensoh and three co-authors examine how changes in immigration have affected the efforts of long-standing U.S. minority groups to gain full democratic inclusion in American society.

Immigration has always had a transformative impact on America, said Alex-Assensoh, dean of the Office for Women's Affairs and professor of political science in the College of Arts & Sciences. But while earlier immigrants from Europe added to the nation's diversity, they assimilated politically in ways that muted their differences from native-born whites.

"Today's immigrants are less capable of merely fitting in because they are of color, speak different languages, are often more highly educated and are, in some ways, engaged in transnationalism," she said. "To that end, they are not only concerned about establishing a home in the United States, but they are also interested in maintaining connections with their kith and kin in their native countries."

The researchers analyze the impact of recent immigration on existing African-American, Latino and Asian-American minorities in the United States, examining four ways in which groups achieve political incorporation: assimilation, pluralism, bi-racial hierarchy and multi-racial hierarchy. While they find evidence for each of the theories, the data show that there will continue to be a multi-racial hierarchy and race will not be irrelevant to America's future.

The book, published by the University of Michigan Press, resulted from three years of research and collaborative work, which began when the authors worked on a collaborative project on the relationship between racial politics and immigration for the American Political Science Association. It is particularly timely, appearing soon after the election of the first African-American president and during a fierce national debate over the status of immigrants and immigration reform.

"America has largely benefited from immigrants in terms of its culture, economy and politics, thereby creating the proverbial 'tossed salad,'" Alex-Assensoh said. "However, when the economy is down, citizens tend to look for a scapegoat, and immigrants are easy targets."

Alex-Assensoh said that Newcomers, Outsiders and Insiders attempts to advance the discussion beyond concerns about how immigration and race affect individuals to consideration of their place in American society.

"There is an ongoing racial rhetoric in American society that peaks and wanes in terms of the level of venom," she said. "About now, it is very high, and our book suggests that the way to turn these problematic discussions around is to focus on policies that balance our country's needs, legal framework and values with the needs, as well as the resources, of today's immigrants."

Additional authors are Ronald Schmidt Sr., professor of political science at California State University, Long Beach; Andrew L. Aoki, professor of political science at Augsburg College; and Rodney E. Hero, the Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame.

To speak to Alex-Assensoh, contact Jennifer Piurek at the IU Office of University Communications, 812-856-4886 or