Krys Boyd, host and managing editor of KERA-FM’s flagship midday talk show “Think,” interviewed SMU anthropologist Caroline Brettell.
The topic was Brettell’s research that found immigrants in North Texas develop their American identity by participating in ethnic community activities, then branching out to broader civic and political life.
Brettell appeared on the show with Prasad Thotakura, an American Indian immigrant and president of the Teluga Association of North America.
Brettell reported the results of her research with co-author Deborah Reed-Danahay in their book, “Civic Engagements: The Citizenship Practices of Indian & Vietnamese Immigrants” (Stanford University Press, 2012).
They found through their research of American Indians and Vietnamese Americans in North Texas that immigrants from India and Vietnam develop and embrace their American identity over time — without shedding their culture of origin, as some say they should.
The research found that, for these groups, becoming a U.S. citizen is distinctly different from becoming American, say the immigration experts.
For new Vietnamese and Indian immigrants, whether naturalized citizens or not, American identity deepens as they participate in activities, festivals and banquets at their churches, schools, temples, business and civic associations, and their social and cultural organizations, say Brettell and Reed-Danahay.
The authors cite as an example Andy Nguyen, now a Texan, who fled Vietnam and arrived in the United States as a teenager. As a young man he was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, went on to become a successful North Texas businessman and served primarily as an ethnic community leader. Later Nguyen ran as a Republican and won election to county government.
From their research, Brettell and Reed-Danahay conclude that policymakers should be cautious with any attempts to integrate, assimilate or incorporate immigrants. They recommend against imposing top-down standards on how citizenship should be expressed — such as requiring full English proficiency or focusing exclusively on formal political participation.
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