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Immigrant-Native Relations in 21st-Century America: Intergroup Contact, Trust, and Civic Engagement

Awarded Scholars

Michael Jones-Correa, Cornell University
Helen B. Marrow, Tufts University
Dina Okamoto, University of California, Davis
Linda R. Tropp, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Project Date: November, 2012
Award Amount:$368,596
Project Programs: Cultural Contact, Immigration

The notable increase in immigration in the U.S. over the past half century, coupled with its recent geographic dispersion into new communities nationwide, has fueled contact between immigrants and the native-born across a wider front than ever before. However, the consequences of contact within this context of ethnic diversity, particularly for key social outcomes such as trust and civic engagement, are far from clear. Some scholars have been quite pessimistic, suggesting that rising ethnic diversity leads all groups to withdraw from community life and civic engagement. Others have argued for the importance of ethnic diversity and the re-invigoration of American civic life by facing the challenges of a pluralistic society. These debates about the impact of ethnic diversity on civic life in 21st-century America tap into central concerns about the tensions between difference and commonality in democratic societies. Still, they offer little insight into how immigration contributes to this diversity, shapes social relations, and affects trust and civic engagement.

In order to integrate contemporary discussions of immigration into debates about contact and diversity, political scientist Michael Jones-Correa, sociologists Helen Marrow and Dina Okamoto, and social psychologist Linda Tropp propose a program of research that would investigate where and how contact occurs between immigrant and native groups, and how their contact in turn predicts trust and civic engagement. To examine intergroup contact experiences across different social spaces, including status markers beyond race and socioeconomic status, to see how they contribute to contact, trust, and civic engagement, the investigators propose to conduct a random sample survey and in-depth qualitative interviews with two immigrant groups – Mexicans and Indians – and two native-born groups – non-Hispanic blacks and whites. Native-born blacks and whites have been the basis for research on contact and threat to date and represent the implicit racial and economic majority and minority comparison groups. Mexican and Indian immigrants, in turn, fall along different parts of the spectrum on race, socioeconomic status, skin tone, citizenship or legal status, and English language fluency. The study will take place in Philadelphia and Atlanta, two locations with a significant presence, and a history of, black-white relations, with sizeable contemporary immigrant streams from India and Mexico, and yet distinct spatial and political structures.