Reviewed by Kevin R. Johnson, School of Law, University of California, Davis. Email: krjohnson [at] ucdavis.edu.
WHERE WE LIVE NOW is a concise (142 pages of text, with appendices, notes, references, and a subject index), well-written book that touches on a fascinating and important confluence of issues not thoroughly considered in immigration scholarship. Its author, John Iceland, a professor of sociology and demography, employs rigorous quantitative analysis of US Census data to shed light on the complexities of the impacts of immigration on residential housing patterns in the modern United States.
Despite monumental social changes wrought by the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, residential segregation continues to plague the nation. Major cities, North and South, East and West have long suffered from deep and enduring housing segregation. The segregation most often analyzed in academic research has been that of African Americans and whites, with so-called “hypersegregation” of Blacks in American social life prevalent today (Massey and Denton 1993). Due to the nation’s devotion to neighborhood schools, segregation in housing contributes to the segregation of the public schools across the United States.
Going beyond Black/white analysis of the issue, WHERE WE ARE NOW analyzes in a sophisticated fashion residential segregation through the lens of immigration. It specifically considers the impacts on housing patterns of the migration of diverse peoples from Mexico and Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Such an analysis is much-needed. The demographic diversity of the United States has grown exponentially since Congress eliminated discriminatory national origins quota system from the US immigration laws in 1965. The book tells the important story of the integration over time of immigrants of different races and national origins and their offspring in neighborhoods across the country. By so doing, WHERE WE LIVE NOW highlights the growing diversity of the American population and how, in certain instances, the struggle for civil rights implicates Latinos, Asians, and other groups as well as African Americans.
Iceland provides much detail – presented in easy-to-understand tables and graphs – showing how immigration is reshaping housing patterns in the United States. But the analysis goes considerably further than simply housing. It addresses questions important to evaluating the current state of modern immigration to the United States. The book considers the assimilation of immigrants residentially, evaluates whether the process of social integration differs for immigrants of different races [*313] and national origins, and studies how immigration from Asia and Latin America affects the residential patterns of native-born Blacks and whites. Theories of immigrant incorporation (pp.23-30) that attempt to explain the different integration experiences of immigrants of different races and national origins (e.g., Portes and Rumbaut 2006), are tested by the data.
WHERE WE LIVE NOW shows that, despite the critics, immigrants in fact are residentially assimilating in major metropolitan areas and are not splintering into hostile, homogeneous, and segregated neighborhoods. The book specifically concludes that
immigrant groups and their descendants are by and large becoming residentially assimilated in American metropolitan areas. For example, native-born Hispanics, Asians, and blacks are all less segregated from whites than are the foreign born of these groups. Immigrants who have been in the United States for a longer period of time are also generally less segregated from other groups than new arrivals. (p.4)Not surprisingly, the socioeconomic class of immigrants and native-born minorities affects residential segregation, with minorities with higher incomes more likely to live in integrated neighborhoods (p.50). In addition, Iceland shows that the time to residential integration differs by group. Native-born Hispanics, for example, are less segregated than foreign-born Hispanics. I will return to group differences in housing patterns, one of the book’s major contributions to the literature, shortly.
From 1970 to 2000, residential segregation significantly declined for whites, Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics (p.49). One of the central (and hopeful) themes of WHERE WE LIVE NOW is that “immigration has softened the black-white divide. In particular, black segregation from other groups, including whites, tends to be lower in multiethnic metropolitan areas” (p.6). Put differently, “[i]ncreasing diversity was associated with declining African American segregation from other groups” (p.113). The percentage of predominately white neighborhoods fell from 61% in 1980 to less than 43% in 2000, as an increasingly diverse cohort of immigrants came to the United States. Over the same period, the number of integrated neighborhoods increased from one-quarter to one-third (p.117). Although integration at times has resulted in tensions, evidence exists of growing interracial cooperation and harmony, as evidenced by increasing rates of intermarriage.
Rejecting the common perception of Hispanics as monolithic, Iceland scrutinizes residential patterns of various Hispanic groups, recognizing the great heterogeneity among Latinos in the United States (p.82). The results are interesting and rich, if not always altogether surprising. Black Hispanics are more segregated than other Hispanics, both immigrants and native-born (p.85). US Black Cubans are not less segregated from other Cubans than the foreign born (p.103). “[W]hite Cubans and white Puerto Ricans show a strong pattern of assimilation with Anglos but not with Hispanics of other races” (p.103). Hispanics tend not to be segregated from Hispanics of different national origins, which offers support for [*314] the concept of a panethnic Hispanic identity (p.85). Often pointed to as an exception to Hispanic assimilation, Puerto Ricans are more segregated than other Hispanic groups (p.90). “[W]e see a pattern of assimilation of Hispanics not only with Anglos but also with African Americans” (p.102). However, presumably because of a significant immigrant component, “Mexicans are a little more segregated from Anglos than from African Americans” (p.91).
WHERE WE LIVE NOW serves as an effective rebuttal to the persistent criticism of generations of immigrants – that they fail to assimilate, live in separate ethnic enclaves, and cling to non-English languages, foreign cultures, and non-Protestant religions (e.g., Huntington 2004). Time and time again, whether from Germany, Ireland, China, Japan, and southern and eastern Europe, immigrants to the United States slowly but surely have become integrated into US social life. Although often challenged as a visible sign of racial separatism, immigrant-dominated neighborhoods provide the support and comfort that helps facilitate the adaptation to, and success in, a new land by immigrants and often serve as an important stepping stone to their full social integration.
After initially settling in immigrant enclaves, Latino and Asian immigrants tend to see more integration with whites over time. These groups of immigrants seem to serve as a kind of “buffer,” facilitating the greater integration of African Americans and whites discussed previously.
Interestingly, continued immigration also suggests continued residential segregation of new waves of immigrants. As new immigrants come and settle in segregated immigrant neighborhoods, there will – at least for a time – be more residential segregation than there would be without immigration. Thus, continued high levels of Hispanic immigration presumably would translate into continued levels of high segregation of Hispanics (p.78). Although restrictionists might endorse a “close the border” approach ostensibly to reduce residential segregation, policies that promote integration of immigrants, such as increasing access to English-as-a-Second language classes and facilitating naturalization, make more sense given the existing realities of labor migration to the United States.
Although the book provides room for optimism, there may be cause for concern in light of the evidence offered by WHERE WE LIVE NOW for the claim of Black exceptionalism – i.e., that the racism directed at Blacks in the United States is more virulent, and possesses more staying power, than that directed at various immigrant and racial groups. Despite declines in residential segregation, “blacks and black immigrants continued to be considerably more segregated from whites than other groups” (p.78). Levels of segregation among immigrants are highest among Blacks and least among white immigrants (p.5). Most fundamentally, assimilation among Black immigrants lags behind that of white ones. Although white/African American segregation has decreased over time, it has declined much less quickly than it has with most (i.e. non-Black) immigrant groups. African immigrants and Black Hispanics generally experience rates of residential [*315] segregation that remain long past that of other immigrants.
As this discussion suggests, Iceland offers important lessons for students of immigration. However, his discussion of US immigration history (pp.32-37) is not as sophisticated as the rest of the book. For example, in summarizing this nation’s immigration history, which is not without its blemishes (Johnson 2004), the book fails to mention that, from 1790-1952, only “white” immigrants were generally eligible to naturalize (Haney López 2006), thereby stifling the full integration of generations of immigrants from Asia. Similarly, the concluding chapter suggests that an increased emphasis on skills-based immigration in the US immigration laws might decrease residential segregation (p.140) but fails to acknowledge that endemic enforcement problems (e.g., approximately 12 million undocumented workers, many of them unskilled, currently live in the United States) would undermine efforts to limit immigration to exclusively skilled workers and professionals.
In conclusion, WHERE WE LIVE NOW offers important insights into the effects on immigration on the residential segregation in the United States. More generally, Iceland offers much food for thought as the nation strives to guarantee the civil rights of all racial minorities in this country – US citizens and immigrants alike.
Huntington, Samuel P. 2004. WHO ARE WE? THE CHALLENGES TO AMERICA’S NATIONAL IDENTITY. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Johnson, Kevin R. 2004. THE “HUDDLED MASSES” MYTH: IMMIGRATION AND CIVIL RIGHTS. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Haney López, Ian. 2006. WHITE BY LAW: THE LEGAL CONSTRUCTION OF RACE (10th ann. ed.) New York: NYU Press.
Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. AMERICAN APARTHEID: SEGREGATION AND THE MAKING OF THE UNDERCLASS. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Portes, Alejandro, and Rubén G. Rumbaut. 2006. IMMIGRANT AMERICA: A PORTRAIT. Berkeley: University of California Press (3d ed.).
© Copyright 2009 by the author, Kevin R. Johnson.