First-Generation Immigrant Organizations

Awarded Scholars:
Cristina Escobar, Princeton University
Project Date:
Mar 2008
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

In November 2004, the Russell Sage Foundation made an award to Alejandro Portes and Cristina Escobar in support of the Comparative Immigrant Organizations Project (CIOP), a comparative study of organizations serving first-generation Colombian, Dominican, and Mexican immigrants. CIOP collects information on organizations’ origins, membership, and goals and builds on the findings of Portes and others who have demonstrated that the role of immigrant organizations is central to the adaptation and incorporation of immigrants into the host society. With its emphasis on transnational relations between immigrant organizations and their host countries, CIOP provides an especially rich data source for insights into the differences between immigrant associations and the groups’ civic participation in the United States and abroad.


Using the CIOP data, Escobar will examine the patterns associated with immigrant organizations and the levels of political engagement across national groups. The CIOP statistics indicate noteworthy differences between various immigrant-serving organizations. Escobar found, for example, that 74 percent of Dominican organizations participate in American civic and political activities, compared with 67 percent of Mexican and 54 percent of Colombian groups. Escobar also found that, despite higher college graduation rates among Columbians, Dominican immigrants have a much higher proportion of professional associations. What factors account for the differences between these immigrant groups in their tendency to participate in formal organizations? Escobar’s new research will address this question.


Escobar will also study the structures of immigrant organizations in comparison with those of contemporary American groups. Scholars have documented the decline of cross-class, membership-supported associations in the United States between World War II and the Civil Rights Era. These groups were replaced with highly specialized, professionally-staffed organizations dominated by members from the upper middle class. Through CIOP interviews, however, Escobar finds that immigrant associations, though connected through national networks, tend to organize along local lines, with high levels of membership support across socioeconomic classes. The structure of immigrant organizations looks similar to American associations before World War II. What causes these differences? Will immigrant organizations maintain their local, membership-driven structure as they face the prospect of increasing membership with limited resources?


Escobar will conduct follow-up interviews with Colombian, Mexican, and Dominican leaders in New York and New Jersey. She will also distribute questionnaires to the organizations’ membership during group meetings and events in the coming months. Using atlas.ti—qualitative data analysis software—she will analyze the interviews to determine the origin, activities, and social significance of the organization, as well as the major problems each group faces. She also intends to document intergroup relationships, relationships with the U.S. government and the country-of-origin governments, and the groups’ participation in civic activities.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


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