Claiming membership: boundaries, positionality, US citizenship, and what it means to be American

Irene Bloemraad, University of California, Berkeley
Publication Date:
Mar 2022
Project Programs:
Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration

How do immigrant-origin residents claim membership in the United States? Chinese, Vietnamese and Mexican-origin parents and their citizen teenagers were asked what it means to be a good citizen and to be American. In discussing good citizenship, respondents underscored legal, moral, civic, and economic actions over ascriptive characteristics or political values. Their emphasis on citizenship acts illuminates how noncitizens, including undocumented residents, can claim membership through behaviours, even as inclusion may be contingent on being law-abiding, hard-working, or a good person. The term “American” is more ambiguous legally, but also more racially and economically fraught, including for citizens, as racialized tropes of illegality or cultural otherness affect those of Mexican or Asian origins, respectively. Membership markers are thus not simply about categorical placement inside or outside a boundary of “citizen” or “American”. Rather, national membership can be felt as partial and gradient, positioned closer or further from multiple ideals.


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