‘Assimilation: An Alternative History’
Webinar with Catherine Ramírez, University of California, Santa Cruz
Abstract: Assimilation explores the history of the concept of assimilation as a socio-cultural process in the United States. A pillar of the US nation-making project, assimilation is widely regarded as an outcome of immigration: it is the process by which immigrants turn into Americans. Assimilation as Americanization has been defined in relation to racialization, the process whereby racial categories are produced and understood as part of a social hierarchy. Those who do not assimilate, who are deemed unassimilable, or for whom assimilation is not an option are considered outsiders or failed citizens. Assimilation decouples immigration and assimilation and probes the gap between assimilation and citizenship to show how certain social groups that are not immigrants or that are not recognized as real or legitimate immigrants have been assimilated as racialized and subordinate subjects—namely, as denizens, probationary citizens, alien citizens, and failed citizens. Using archival sources and textual analysis, this book brings together the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, African American racial passing, Japanese American internment during World War II, the figures of the model minority and the Dreamer, and indigenous migration. Ultimately, Assimilation argues that assimilation is not only a result of immigration; assimilation is also a consequence of indigenous dispossession, US imperialism, slavery, and an immigration apparatus that ranks migrants and produces illegality. By approaching assimilation as a relational process whereby the boundary between unequal groups and between inside and outside blurs, disappears, or, paradoxically, is reinforced, this book underscores that assimilation is a relationship of power.
Author Bio: Catherine S. Ramírez, Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is a historian of the present and a scholar of migration, citizenship, race, and gender. She is the author of Assimilation: An Alternative History (University of California Press, 2020), The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory (Duke University Press, 2009), and several essays on science fiction, race, gender, and futurity. She is also a co-editor of Precarity and Belonging: Labor, Migration, and Noncitizenship (Rutgers University Press, 2021). She has been awarded fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and the Ford Foundation; UC Santa Cruz’s first Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant for a John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures; and the Excellence in Teaching Award, UC Santa Cruz’s highest teaching honor. A first-generation college graduate, she holds a PhD in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.