An Era of Colonization:
The Changing Geography of American Immigration
review written by Dylan Richardson| book written by Douglas S. Massey
New Faces in New Places deals with the infamous immigration crisis and how it is affecting average American citizens. The author, Douglas S. Massey, introduces an interesting point of view about the new immigrant. Massey connects black people to foreign immigrants by comparing their similar plight. Black people were looked upon as strangers, just like modern immigrants today, but with perseverance, persistence, and patience, black people eventually gained equality—so will the immigrant.
An American sociologist, a university professor, and the author of the insightful, modern book New Faces in New Places, Douglas S. Massey is concerned with how foreign immigration is affecting the United States and as he describes this new and unprecedented wave of immigration, he relates to how Americans are dealing with the sudden encroachment of migrants from Asia, Europe, and most of all, Latin America—specifically Mexico. Massey portrays the controversial topic in two main parts: the first section regarding the emerging patterns of immigrant settlement and the second on the community’s reaction to new immigrant groups. Massey also focuses the main point of his book on new and old immigration destinations; the places most populated by foreign migrants. As with most authors on this topic, Massey gives both sides of the situation and provides personal accounts from the legal and illegal immigrants—or aliens—living in the United States. He illustrates immigrants trying to make a better life for themselves as well as for their family, and the controversial topic concerning Americans unsure and hesitant of uninvited newcomers settling on American land and taking American jobs.
In 1974, Massey received his B.A. in Sociology, Psychology, and Spanish, from Western Washington University, and in 1977 he received an M.A. in Sociology from Princeton University. Continuing at Princeton University, Massey then received his Ph.D. in 1978. Massey is the founder and co-director of the Mexican Migration Project and the Latin American Migration Project, together with his long-time collaborator, Professor Jorge Durand. As he is involved with both Migration Projects, Massey shows himself to be acquainted with and in tune with the needs of modern immigrants. From south of the border in Mexico, Massey has participated in many efforts to let the voice of the new migrant be heard. An active member in MMP and LAMP, he most likely used his knowledge of foreign immigration to his advantage when writing his book. Massey’s research areas include demography, urban sociology, race and ethnicity, and international migration; he utilizes his experience with such sensitive subjects in the form of books, addressing the problems of racial integration and tension in Latin Americans, Mexicans, and blacks. His numerous books, some of which he has won awards and honors, include Strangers in a Strange Land: Humans in an Urbanizing World and Crossing the border: research from the Mexican Migration Project. Although most of Massey’s books are edited—sometimes by himself, the large majority of them are edited along with another writer—he will occasionally be the sole writer to a book.
In New Faces in New Places, Massey addresses the largely unheard and unrepresented groups of the Latin American minorities, specifically Mexicans. Mexicans have been coming to America since 1965 and this steady influx of migrants and foreigners has never really been taken into account due to its previous perceived insignificance and harmlessness. However, with the recent, vast numbers of immigrants from Mexico traveling across the border into America, the once regular stream of migrants has turned into a heated debate affecting the outcome of hordes of people: “the magnitude and character of recent immigration to the United States, popularly known as the post-1965 wave of immigration, continue[s] to surprise policymakers and many experts”1. For demographic experts to be surprised about the recent information about immigrants is reason for concern too, as these people are supposed to be familiar with immigration charts.
There are however many reasons why Mexican immigrants would migrate to America, rather than any other country. Many people speculate that it is because of job opportunities, unfair or undesirable conditions and situations back in their home country, and most of all the hope for a better life. In the case of job opportunities, America is attractive in offering new beginnings and different lives. With so many companies, industries, franchises, and corporations, the average immigrant doesn’t need to look far; advertisements online and in newspapers often require unskilled workers, workers who are neither trained nor experienced in any field of work. Specifying low standards, appealing to the common man, and offering worker’s benefits, American employers recruit recent Mexican immigrants to work for them. For American employers, Mexican immigrants are the best, most efficient, and cheapest form of labor. This is why so many have been targeted for jobs.
This also falls hand in hand directly with the rise of undesirable jobs. The jobs that regular Americans don’t want or wouldn’t work for are then instead handed off to Mexicans. Often, the dirty jobs like meat-packing industries, as Massey mentions, are leftover for Mexicans who are infamously known for taking less-attractive jobs, and working their way from the low end of the public spectrum up to middle-class, to incorporate themselves in American society. Since they’re illegal immigrants and in the United States without authorization or permission, they can’t complain about their low wages. This allows the employers to pay the immigrants less than Mexican-American citizens. The fact is that these immigrants are so set upon coming to America, that they will take any job offered, as it helps them attain a new life, and possibly a better future. In many cases, Mexican immigrants even accept the impossible: to cross the border illegally. This is why there is such a major controversy; for illegal immigrants to come across the American border without papers, let alone identification, is wrong. They come across the border, and since they arrive illegally, they’re not registered in as citizens; hence, they don’t have to pay taxes. This unfair advantage—of secretly living in America without following laws—is the basis for major controversy. And because the American economy is falling so quickly and at a rapid rate in the modern era, American citizens are left jobless, leading to unemployment, homelessness, and poverty.
This is why there is so much controversy: illegal immigrants are taking the jobs of hardworking American citizens. While Massey agrees on this subject, he provides both sides. In an interview with a focus group of Americans, one by the name of Leanne comments that back then, people always said that “you gotta be afraid of ‘em cuz they will hurt you”2. Another participant, Andrea, agrees with Leanne in stating that blacks are “accepted now because there’s somebody else not to like”3. These two comments, from normal, regular citizens speak for the whole country. Almost everyone—mainly adults—would have to agree, that not so long ago, just 40 years ago in the 1960s, blacks were looked upon as inferior and undeserving. The old, bias, and racist point of view was based upon unknown ideas and immature beliefs. But now, in the twenty-first century, people are less strict and more open. One would think this would apply to modern immigration: but no. Instead, according to the points of view presented by Leanne and Andrea, immigrants are the new blacks, and they are being treated as such. Now there is a new threat—one that takes the place of black people. People were afraid of black people integrating in America and, with the sudden onset of new generations and new races of immigration, people are now afraid of immigrants: afraid of incorporating them into daily life, into school systems, or even communities. All of the negative, pessimistic things said about blacks are now being repeated and reused on Mexican immigrants.
And it in a way it makes sense. Immigrants, just like blacks, emigrated from their country and migrated to America, and for most of the same reasons opportunities, benefits, and dreams. Although two very culturally and ethnically diverse races, they both share a discrimination present in modern day society. Immigrants, as well as blacks, took jobs in the United States to better their lives and families. They both tried to make a living for themselves, and faced racial discrimination and prejudice. Blacks have worked hard to get their voice heard—now, immigrants are in the same situation. Massey implies in his book that it is only a matter of time before Mexican-Americans rise up to be heard. With famous figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez fighting for equal rights for both races, the weight of discrimination is slowly being lifted. In this most recent immigration controversy—this sudden boom of colonization from Mexico—Mexicans need only to wait to be heard.
However, there is a positive side to this recent colonization; because a vast majority of Mexicans cross the border into America, most Mexicans send money home to their awaiting families in Mexico, most often to support them. With no one at home to take care of the family as before, immigrants send a part of their earnings back home, so that their family can survive. Another reason why migrants might send money back is so that their families may also cross the border and live in America. As the immigration crisis continues, one thing that Americans are looking forward to is a country based upon racial integration and unification. Parents want their children to grow up in a diversified society without racism or segregation. Schools are gradually starting to become more open about letting foreigners enroll.
For the most part, Mexican immigrants escape to the United States from their home country either because of decrepit situations or unfulfilling lifestyles. With the arrival into a new country comes the advantage of starting fresh as immigrants make a living doing their own work through their own choices. Whatever happens in their former home no longer follows them. Mexican migrants realize this and flock by the numbers to America which, labeled as the land of opportunity, provides migrants with so many more advantages than in their previous country. Among the added benefits are worker-related gains: unions, labor organizations, and minimum wages. And, according to Massey, most immigrants come to America seeking job opportunities. The American work force has strict standards but also very appealing profits, whereas there is no minimum wage in Mexico, there is a minimum wage in America. This is a major advantage for incoming immigrants because they start out with a wage—a salary. If there was no minimum wage, then employers could charge whatever they wanted. In a middle class interview group, some of the participants agreed that “Latinos were hard workers, but with limited expectations and drive compared to Euro-Americans or Asians”4. One applicant, Herb, diverged into another subject, stating that “the good part of the Spanish working for the minimum wage area is that they can live on it. They have less wants…and they [are] happier as workers than the locals”5. Heidi, another participant, went on further to say that “[Hispanics] have a very different attitude towards education too….it has a lot to do with their economic status…to them, education is not as important as earning a living”6. Unions and labor organizations play another key role in Mexican immigration. As Massey states in his book, Mexican immigrants unionize to demand better rights and representation in the work force as on occasion, employers have been known to give jobs to white workers rather than foreign workers. Many Mexican leaders like Cesar Chavez have worked hard to improve the working conditions of Mexicans and in this way, Mexicans are very much similar to black people.
However, another interviewee, Deborah, remarks that Mexicans becoming fully incorporated civilians in communities “would be kind of scary”7 and that she “just can’t imagine it would even happen…in the next ten or fifteen years”8. She, among most all other white Americans feel that, in due time, they will feel like the minority. As the ever-increasing number of immigrants rises—both Asian and Mexican—they will start to overpopulate the United States, leaving the white race to be the minority. Although Americans want their kids to grow up in a mixed and culturally diverse society, they still feel as though their own country is being overpopulated by foreigners.
One of the major concepts Massey points out is the “Hispanic population growth in nontraditional metropolitan and non-metropolitan destinations”9. According to Massey, these shifts have been encouraged by several factors over the last two decades. Among the changes are “border enforcement and immigration policy, the search by migrants for more favorable employment and living conditions, and by formal and informal recruitment by firms seeking to replenish a continuously depleted supply of low-skilled workers”10. Whereas in the past, immigrants used to go to major, popular destinations in the South—states close to the border—because it was more accessible and easier to cross into. But now, with the new, stricter policy of immigration border control and the severity of the consequences, immigrants travel to other states, dispersing themselves throughout the country. What Massey means, is that the distribution of immigrants among states other than the Southern ones leads to changes in the economy, political structure, and society. This new incorporation of immigrants comes from a new demographic complexity: the moving of immigrants to different states. Since Mexicans are more interested in working, they help bolster states’ economies.
Indeed the reason why immigrants have started to spread out to other states is because of employment opportunities. Not only is this the drive for most Hispanics, but also the motivation for other immigrants too as on the one hand, employment opportunities cause migrants to move where their jobs does. Consistent with his earlier statements, Massey observes that “Mexicans… [are] attracted by employment opportunities within particular industries offering low-skill and low-wage jobs”11. Since Mexicans aren’t focused primarily on receiving a good education, they then direct their attention towards easy employment opportunities. And because of the lack of a good education—the majority of Mexican immigrants go to unskilled jobs without a college degree—Mexicans can not work in high class jobs. On the other hand, since immigrants migrate with little money, their price range for a place to live significantly lowers, causing them to move to more affordable places in the mid-west. And, because of overpopulation and overcrowding in metropolitan areas, immigrants have had to move out to less crowded cities, helping disperse and balance the population of states. This balance also has a positive side: “by 2000, fewer Mexicans in nonmetropolitan areas lived in poverty”12. Similar to the gold rush, Mexican migration follows labor opportunities, in which case they can work, create a good life, make a good living, and prosper with a decent salary. Despite recent signs of economic success, Massey argues that encroaching immigrants, limited use of English, and a poor education can all lead to a false sense of success. Massey goes on to say that Hispanic population growth “stemmed from a demand for labor in a major industry that hired large numbers of low-skilled workers for physically demanding and relatively hazardous work”12. Even more recent was the election of Barrack Obama, a black president, an indication that in this new, modern era of colonization and immigration, American citizens can learn to cooperate, incorporate, and integrate themselves with their foreign comrades.
1. Massey, Douglas S. New Faces in New Places. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008. 1.
2. Massey, Douglas S. 171.
3. Massey, Douglas S. 171.
4. Massey, Douglas S. 166.
5. Massey, Douglas S. 166.
6. Massey, Douglas S. 166.
7. Massey, Douglas S. 170.
8. Massey, Douglas S. 170.
9. Massey, Douglas S. 118.
10. Massey, Douglas S. 118.
11. Massey, Douglas S. 95.
12. Massey, Douglas S. 118-119.